NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OVERHEAD: When Figures Don’t Lie

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By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor, Ben Agande & Luka Binniyat
This report attempts to clear the fog concerning the allocations to members of the National Assembly and the needless controversy over what constitutes the percentage of the overhead to national assembly members.

It also computes the allocations to the national assembly and concludes that there is a disconnect between what members allocate to themselves in the annual budget and the responsibilities they have discharged on behalf of the long-suffering people of Nigeria

Bankole, House Speaker; Aganga, Finance Minister, Suffers colateral consequences; Mark, Senate President and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank

Defiance could be righteous.
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank demonstrated that last Wednesday. He may have been right because figures do not lie (See table of allocations to the National Assembly between 2000 and 2010). But just earlier in the year, Governor Gabriel Suswam took a long hard look and declared that only 20, in a gathering of 360 were useful.

He was referring to members of the House of Representatives. Suswam, who was a two-time member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives before he became the governor of Benue State, was appalled at the turn of events in the House.  He said, during a lecture at the University of Abuja, that a good number of the members are “uneducated” and “immature”.

He said less than 20 of the members make useful contributions at plenary session, sponsor motions or bills. He may be right. A leader in the National Assembly had once charged: “The members are just illiterates”. But the legislators gave it back to Suswam immediately, calling him a “baby governor”.

Back to Sanusi! He gave a lecture penultimate Saturday where he said federal legislators gulp about 25% of federal government overheads.  He drew their ire. In truth, it works out simply thus: If the overhead of the federal government of Nigeria stands at N536.2 billion and the National Assembly, NASS, gets N136, 259, 768, 102 (N136.2 billion), what does it constitute?  Is it 25.41% or 3.5%?

Pooh-pooh that! What the members of NASS wanted in calculation should be an addition of the service-wide votes which also amounts to N660.8 billion which tallies the allocation of the federal government to N1.3 trillion, in a total budget of about N3 trillion. Therefore, whereas Sanusi says NASS’ overhead represents 25%, the members are claiming that it is 3.5%

But who is wrong?
MONEY AND THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
Between 1999 and 2007, the news that dominated the headlines from the National Assembly were allegations of corruption against members either to influence the inclusion of certain amounts in the nation’s budget or requests by members of the national assembly to various government agencies for kick backs as a way of compensating them for  their roles in inflating budgets for such agencies.

In the senate, between 1999 and 2007, the removal of almost all the presiding officers from office were either directly or indirectly linked to the issue either their complicity in money matters or the members were induced to remove their principal officers.

The famous Banana peels which the former late president of the senate, Dr Chuba Okadigbo alleged had been strewn on the path of many a senate president was in fact a euphemism for money. In fact the birth of the present national assembly unfortunately was sired in controversy surrounding money.

With the sixth Assembly of the federal republic of Nigeria, there appear to be a paradigm shift in the attention of Nigerians on what their concern is.

Despite the published details of what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission said is the official remunerations  of all political office holders including members of the national assembly,  controversy has continued to trail the money received by members of the national assembly as their legitimate entitlements.

In some instances, outrageous amounts in the neighbourhood of One hundred Million have been bandied as what members of the senate receive on a quarterly basis as constituency allowances. This is apart from the monthly salary of more than one Million Naira which each senator is said to be entitled to as his monthly salary.

Despite repeated denials that such outrageous figures could not have been collected by senators as alleged, the controversy has continued to dog the every step of members of the senate and indeed the national assembly.

The outlandish life styles of some members of the national assembly as well as the secrecy with which issues of the real remuneration of legislators have been shrouded have all combined to present members of the legislature as the real problems of the economic woes of the country, prompting members of the public to view national assembly members as worse than armed robbers.

Though this sad perception by members of the public is not lost on the legislators, the seeming confirmation of what many legislators consider products of public discussions by the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that 25% of the total budget of the nation is spent on the national assembly made the anger of the senate spill over.
SANUSI ON FIGURES
In a lecture at the University of Benin, the governor of the Central Bank alleged that ‘the situation whereby 25% of the country’s revenue spending yearly goes to the national assembly is unhealthy for the country and its economy.

‘If you look at the budget, the bulk of government revenue expenditure is on over head, that is a big problem, 25% of overhead of the federal government goes to the national assembly. We need power, we need infrastructure so we need to start looking at the structure of expenditure and make it more consistent with the development initiative of the country’ the CBN governor stated emphatically. Expectedly, the remarks by the CBN governor sparked outrage both in the nation and the legislature.

While many Nigerians were outraged that what they had been hearing but secretly wished that was not true had been confirmed by those in government who should know, the legislature saw in the remark by the CBN governor a deliberate attempt by an official of the executive arm of government to instigate the populace against the legislature.

In deed for casual observer of the economy, the mathematics of 25% being the expenditure of the national assembly from the 2010 Budget may not add up. With a total Budgeted expenditure of about 3trillion Naira, it would appear to even the most profane observer that for the legislature to corner for itself N750billion (against the real expenditure of N136, 259, 768, 102) is not only obscene but immoral.

It was this sense of morality that perhaps propelled members of the senate to react angrily when their attention was drawn to the comment of the CBN governor by the Deputy leader of the senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba.

SENATORS’ANGER IN A TEA CUP
Moving a motion under a matter of privilege, Senator Ndoma-Egba who submitted copious copies of relevant screaming newspaper headlines that heralded Mallam Sanusi’s declaration affirmed that ‘to suggest that the budget of the National Assembly which constitute only 3.5% of the national budget was responsible for the economic woes of the country is not only unfortunate but calculated to tarnish the image of the national assembly.

He said the remarks of the CBN governor represent ‘a trend of a calculated attempt to bring the national Assembly to disrepute. I see a plot to incite the public against us. I see a plot to bring the national assembly to disrepute. I move that the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank appear before us to justify their allegations’.

After expressing what they perhaps thought was justified indignation at the reckless remarks by the CBN governor, the senate resolved to invite the governor of the CBN to appear before four committees of the senate to, in the words of the Senator Nuhu Aliyu of Niger State, ‘give him a dressing down’. And to rob in the anticipated humiliation they expect to mete out to the CBN governor, the president of the senate, Senator David Mark gleefully announced that the ‘dressing down’ should be done in the full glare of the nation’s media.

ENTER SANUSI
Twenty four hours after the senate resolution, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria walked into the hearing room one, venue of his proposed slaughter room.

Bespectacled, lanky and dressed in his traditional French suit, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s skimmed frame belie the weighty utterances that forced his appearance before the distinguished committees of the Senate. If he harboured any fear or even trepidation of the encounter that lay ahead, this risk manager whose ascension to the throne of the number one banker of the country caused a near earth quake in the banking sector did not betray any emotions.

When the chairman of the senate committee on Appropriations, Senator Iyiola Omisore asked the governor of the Central bank to explain why he chose to peddle wrong information in the public to set the Nigerian people against the national assembly, the response that flew from the CBN governor did not leave any body in doubt that, this man indeed, did not come before the senate committee  with tail in between his legs.

SANUSI: RIGHTEOUS DEFIANCE AS AN ARMOUR
Defiant and even adjudged cocky by some senators at the hearing, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi told his hosts, majority of whom displayed open antagonism towards him that the figure he used to arrive at the conclusion that the national assembly is responsible for 25% expenditure of the over head spending of the federal government was from the Budget Office as such he does not have any reason to retract the statement accredited to him in the media.

“First of all let’s talk about the text of what I said and the context. If you read the story and not the headlines, many of the newspapers have what I said as quotation.

Now take the Vanguard. Vanguard says ‘National Assembly drains the economy, gulps 25 percent of the recurrent expenditure’ on page one and if you read the story, you come to page 53, it is quoting me in quotation mark, ‘if you look at the budget, the bulk of government spending is on recurrent expenditure, that is a big problem. 25 percent of the over head of the federal government goes to the National Assembly. 25 percent of over head of the Federal Government goes to the National Assembly that is what is said in quotation mark.

If you go the Tribune, ‘the government is in trouble’ front page, if you look at the budget the bulk of government spending on recurrent expenditure, that is a big problem, 25 percent of over head of Federal Government goes to National Assembly in quote. I saw the same quote in the NATION. 25 percent of over head of Federal Government goes to National Assembly.

“I confirm Mr. Chairman that I did say in my speech at the Igbinedion University that 25 percent of the overhead of the Federal Government goes to National Assembly. I have figures from the office of budget for the year 2010. Total government overhead is N536, 268, 49, 280.

Total overhead of the National Assembly is N136, 259, 768, 112 which is exactly 25.1 percent of Federal Government overhead. The overhead of the National Assembly as a percentage of the Federal Government budget in 2009 was 19. 87 and in 2008 was 14.19.

“I think it was important for us to say what context that statement was made, I was giving a lecture on the growth prospect of the Nigerian economy, I talked about financial plans, economic policies, banking system and government finances and as the Finance Minister has mentioned if you look at the structure of government financing especially in 2008 and 2009, we have had a rapid increase in recurrent expenditure and decline in capital expenditure. I was warning against this” he said.

“I gave a number and I said where this number came from. I did not abuse anyone. I did not attack anyone.  I did not say anybody stole money. I was not given a chance to say the context in which I gave this number. “Nobody has heard my side of the story on why that number came in; why the 25 percent came up…

“There’s need to reduce the overheads, to reduce the expenditure, especially in government spending. I would like to add that I also spoke about government subsidy on the petroleum sector; I spoke about the banking system but the newspapers decided that this was the bit they wanted to talk about. I did not go there to talk about the National Assembly. The reference to NASS was just one sentence, in a two and a half hour lecture” he sermonized to the chagrin of most senators present.

Despite repeated attempts by the senators to draw the attention of the CBN governor to the official budget of the federation which put the budget of the National Assembly at N153Billion (3.5%) of the total budget and confirmed by the Minister of Finance who was also present at the hearing,  the CBN governor remained adamant and stuck to his gun.

“By my upbringing, if I’m wrong, I don’t need to be told to come and say I’m wrong and I would apologise. By my nature, if I am not convinced that I’m wrong, I do not apologise and this is really where the point is” he said defiantly. For the senate, the decision to summon the CBN governor to appear before its committees turned out to be a melodrama.

For while most members, based on what they know to be the truth felt that the appearance of the governor would provide an opportunity to prove to the Nigerian people with facts and figures that the figure being bandied around about the expenses of the National Assembly was anchored on a faulty premise, the intransigence of the CBN governor to accept the figures as contained in the budget made the effort futile.

SHORT END FOR SENATORS
The views of a senator at the hearing appear to have summed up the feeling of other senators and indeed the issues at hand. According to the senator who declined to be quoted, ‘in giving the figures at his lecture at the University of Benin, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi appears to be sincere in believing that what he had at his disposal were the correct figures.

But with the benefit of additional information which he could not controvert, it appears that he was sincerely wrong. Unfortunately, he resorted to narcissism and did not allow his head to guide him. The tragedy is not in the fact that he remained arrogant. The tragedy is that Nigerians, sadly, believe that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is a victim and we are the villains”.

WHEN FIGURES DON’T LIE
A look at the allocation to the national assembly since 2000 when they started their oversight of the budget would show that the members love climbing high.

The figures (see box) show that with the exception of 2006, when the total allocation to the members stood at N39,810,255,969, dropping from N55,422,457,000, the previous year, it had always been on the rise. In fact, that decline in 2006 was consequent upon the schism and chasm in the relationship between the members and then President Olusegun Obasanjo.  It was a time when Obasanjo was attempting to get his tenure elongation project on course but discovered that the members would not play ball. He cut them to size.

But the figures almost doubled in the following year’s budget. And again in 2009, there was a drop from N104,825,787,521 in 2008 to N96,052,352,760.

For 2010, it rose again. The figures, representing a computation by Sunday Vanguard may suffer a slight margin of error but such would not in any way affect the veracity of the sizeable chunk of funds annually allocated to the National Assembly.

2010                     2009                   2008                  2007                 2006                     2005                  2004                    2003
Senate          41,993,644,134             29,768,664,134    33,768,644,134   18,523,899,686   16,008,142,776    16,108,142,000    11,241,962,802    9,682,666,000

Reps               59,323,316,247            49,148,215,964   56,148,215,964    30,326,330,880   23,802,113,193    24,102,112,000    16676533426            15,851,000,000

NASS            13,245,942                  8,315,921,645-    8,505,921,645     8,283,633,290     6,582,338,290     6,802,986,000       2553536999        3,057,340,000
NASC                                                   1,372,551,027              1,370,004,788     1,425,329,000     5,976,778,125                                212,537,517       570,337,703

Legis
aides              8,090,295,679               5,493,000,990             4,793,000,000      3,616,228,694     3,489,892,686.   414,000,000          1399753591

Senate
Account
Cmttee          150,000,000                     120,000,000                120,000,000        75,000,000          75,000,000                       75,000,000           72,500,000         40,000,000

Reps
Account
Cmttee          162,500,00                    130,000,000       130,000,000         75,000,000          75,000,000         75,000,000           72,000,000         40,000,000

General
Services        29,585,507,136            Na                     8,097,000,000      4,165,445,733     4,268,685,988     Na                      Na                     2,256,650,000

Total             154,200,000,000  96,052,352,760   104,825,787,521   66,488,865,233   39,810,255,969   55,422,457,000    32,229,324,335    23,347,116,682

2002 (N)             2001 (N)                               2000 (N)

Senate                  9,623,380,000       3,057,817,000

Reps                   14,248,000,000      5,409,750,000

Legal. Aides                        Na                     Na

NASS office         3,350,212,000

NASC                      400,000,000              Na

PAC Senate         50,000,000

PAC Reps         50,000,000

TOTAL         28,161,930,000    26,380,808,000    19,569,922,761

GRAND
TOTAL
(2000 – 2010)

Naira         636,568,819,761

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