By Clifford Ndujihe
LAGOSâ€”FROM his resting bed in London, Chairman of The Patriots and Vice Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council, PAC, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, SAN, yesterday took a critical look at the operation of Nigeriaâ€™s presidential system and returned a damning verdict: The cost of running the system is too high.
In a 76-paragraph and 19-page statement entitled: Perversion/Corruption As A Factor in the High Cost of Running the Presidential System in Nigeria,â€ the former Federal Education secretary and Ohanaeze scribe decried the rising wave of corruption in the polity and picked holes in jumbo allowances for federal lawmakers.
The erudite constitutional lawyer berated the National Assembly over its penchant for upping appropriations and increasing allowances beyond the figures fixed by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, an agency of government constitutionally empowered to fix emoluments of public servants.
He sought prosecution of the lawmakers for increasing their allowances by over 100 per cent above RMAFCâ€™s figures.
Citing numerous newspaper publications way back to 1983, Nwabueze said: â€œThe presidential system in Nigeria has often been criticised and demands made for its abolition, because of the alleged high cost of running it.
Much of this cost is not, however, intrinsic in the system, but is attributable to perversion/ corruption by operators of the system, which has led to the diversion into private pockets of â€˜a large chunk of the national revenueâ€™ that would, otherwise, have been available for the development of the country.â€
Specifically condemning lawmakersâ€™ perversion of budgets contrary to sections 81 and 121 of the 1999 Constitution, which empowers the Executive arm to prepare budgets, Nwabueze said, the lawmakersâ€™ usual increment of appropriations was unconstitutional.
His words: â€œThe effect of the provisions of section 81 (1), (2) and (4) is thus to vest in the President, to the exclusion of the National Assembly, the function with respect to the formulation/ preparation of the annual estimates of both revenue and expenditure, i.e. a budget, and, more importantly, the initiation in the National Assembly of an annual appropriation bill or supplementary appropriation bill.
The vesting in the President of the initiation of an appropriation bill flows from the stipulation that an appropriation bill shall contain only the heads of expenditure in the estimates prepared and laid before the Assembly by him.
It follows from this that, whatever power the Assembly has under section 4 of the Constitution to initiate legislation does not extend to the initiation of financial legislation, i.e. legislation for the payment, issue or withdrawal of monies from public funds or for raising revenue by way of taxation or in any other way: section 59 (1). The Presidentâ€™s is the exclusive authority for this purpose.â€
He added: â€œThe implication of the Assemblyâ€™s lack of power to initiate financial legislation in the first instance is that, whilst it may reduce the total amount of expenditure contained in an appropriation bill initiated before it by the President, it cannot increase it.
This is because any increase over and above the total amount in the Presidentâ€™s appropriation bill must be regarded as having been initiated, not by the President, but by the Assembly in violation of 81 (1), (2) and (4), and is, therefore, unconstitutional.
â€œThe unconstitutionality of such increase and of other encroachments on the Executiveâ€™s prerogative over the budget has been affirmed in a decision of the Kaduna State High Court, which declared null and void amendments made by the State House of Assembly to the Stateâ€™s Appropriation Bill 1980.â€
Citing numerous examples across the globe, Nwabueze contended that corruption was a direct or indirect product of perversion of power. And in Nigeria, he said corruption resulting from the perversion of power by legislators takes place in four main ways.
One of them is increases in the national budget resulting from legislators inserting in it, money for â€œconstituency projectsâ€ at the stage when the appropriation bill is before them for consideration and enactment into law, for which 493 projects costing N45.1 billion, were executed in 2009.
Another way, he said is increases in the budget of executive agencies inserted following negotiations between them and the legislators during the consideration of the appropriation bill in the legislative assembly.
The third is increases in legislatorsâ€™ allowances far in excess of amounts authorised by law; andÂ coercion/perversion/corruption arising from the legislative assemblyâ€™s so_called over_sight functions.
Nwabueze, who is backing the ongoing Nigerian Bar Association NBAâ€™s litigation against jumbo pay for federal lawmakers, urged the citizenry to question the legislatorsâ€™ reckless increases of the their allowances contrary to section 70 of the Constitution.
Section 70 of the constitution stste: â€œA member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall receive such salary and other allowances as the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission may determineâ€.
Said Nwabueze: â€œ The perversion in question here relates, not to salaries, but only to allowances. (An annual salary of N 2,026,400 paid to a senator and N1,985,212 to a member of the House is as approved by the RMAFC). It is a perversion of the provision of section 70, and tantamounts to corruption, for the legislators to vote themselves allowances far in excess of the amounts determined by the RMAFC.
â€œThe total amount of the allowances, exclusive of salaries, that the members of the National Assembly pay themselves comes to N45 million per quarter (or N180 million per annum) for each senator, and N27.2 million per quarter (or N110 million per annum) for each member of the House of Representatives, as against the figures approved by the RMAFC i.e. N 3,115,590 per quarter (or N12,462,360 per annum) for each senator and N 2,630,406 per quarter (or N10,521,625 per annum) for each member of the House of Representatives.
The allowances of the Senate President, his Deputy, the Speaker of the House, his Deputy and other principal officers of the two Houses are higher than the figures given above.
â€œThe allowances, both regular and non-regular, approved by the RMAFC include motor vehicle fuelling and maintenance, domestic staff, utilities, newspapers/ periodicals, constituency allowance (as distinct from â€œconstituency projectsâ€), personal assistant, accommodation, furniture and leave allowance, but not a severance gratuity of N 6,079,200 for a senator and N 5,955,637 for a member of the House payable once every four years.
â€œThe excess payment per quarter collected by each member of the National Assembly over and above the amounts approved by the RMAFC under section 70 of the Constitution is thus N32,737,640 for each senator, i.e. N45,000,000 minus N12,262,360, and N16,678,375 for each member of the House, i.e. N27,200,000 minus N10,521,625.
This accounts for a large part of the N26,423,207,427 difference between the N127,782,027,268 Overheads and Recurrent Expenditure Budget for the National Assembly submitted by the Executive for the 2010 financial year and the N154,205,234,695 appropriated for that item (i.e. the National Assembly Overheads and Recurrent Expenditure).
The unauthorised excess allowances should be paid back into the public treasury, and the members prosecuted for illegally collecting them.â€