By Adisa Adeleye
To many serious Nigerians[someare patriotic]the problems of the country are so diverse and complex that they feel with utmost conviction that only a sovereign national conference would appreciate and be convenient to examine [not cure] the ills of the nation. They perceive that a conference, whether sovereign or not, is an ideal environment to discuss [in truth and in merit] national problems and their solutions.
The attempt by the National Assembly to amend some sections of the 1999 Constitution, is to some, a fruitless exercise in the face of such problems that could affect the foundation of the National Assembly itself.
Many have expressed different opinions on the presidential system of government which, taking into consideration the economic situation of the country, is proving to be costly and where legislators appear flamboyant and frugal.
According to the Central Bank Report, expenditure on National Assembly rose from N22.4 billion in the year 2003 to N35.5 billion in 2006.Â The high cost of maintaining the National Assembly could be associated with the luxurious living and ostentatious behaviour of some legislators who operate on modest salaries and fabulous, but perhaps unjustified allowances.
Some months ago, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission [RMAFC] in its report to President Yarâ€˜Adua issued guidelines on salaries and allowances of political office holders, which according to reports, were rejected by the distinguished Senators.Â The RMAFC had proposed â€˜a reduction of between 5 percent [minimum] to 150 percent [maximum] in the various allowances due to each senatorâ€˜.
A Senator is believed to be on an annual salary of about N2,026,400 [which might appear normal], Deputy Senate President [N2,300,166]; Senate President â€“ [N2,484,242]; Speaker, House of Representatives [N2,437,110]; Deputy Speaker [N2,026,400]; and a Member [N1,986,212]. The RMAFCâ€˜s circular did not touch the salary of each of theÂ Senators andÂ Members of the House of Representatives.
In that report of RMAFC, the severance Gratuity of 300 percent to President and Vice President would be forfeited since they are entitled to pension under the 1999 Constitution.
However, both keep their â€˜hardship allowanceâ€˜ which was reduced from 50 percent to 30 percent.Â One would have asked for the justification of hardship allowance for people who asked and begged to serve the people.Â But now, they are our masters.
However, the real problem is with the Federal legislators.Â The Senate Presidentsâ€˜ fleet of cars was expected to be reduced from eight to six;Â that ofÂ the Speaker of House of Representatives from seven  to six .Â Laymen would be wondering whether the Senate President and Mr. Speaker do engage in car racing contest or what could be the reasonable economic justification for 15 choice cars for our elist legislators.Â And this in a country where its two leading tyre manufacturing plants have been closed.
Of the fabulous allowances, the Constituency allowance was to be reduced from 250 percent to 125 percent for a distinguished Senator while that of â€˜The Honorable Memberâ€˜ was expected to be reduced from 150 percent to 75 percent.
The rent allowance reduction would be related to the zone and the peculiarity of the location.
It is understood that other scandalous allowances that fell under the axe are – vehicle maintenance allowance [75 percent to 50 percent]; domestic allowance [75 percent to 50 percent]; entertainment [30 percent to 10 percent]; utilities [30 percent to 5 percent]; newspapers and periodicals [15 percent to 5 percent].
Also, other allowances include 600 dollars per day estacode and N23,000 Duty Tour allowances.Â Within the local government structure, accommodation and furniture allowances were reduced by 50 percent while Entertainment, Personal Assistant, Severance, Gratuity and other allowances were cancelled.
While the Presidency was reported to have carried out the cost-saving reforms by RMAFC, the Senate was reported to have rejected the assault on their allowances but offered a mere 10 percent reduction in salaries only.Â The estimated monthly salary of a distinguished Senator [with all allowance] is N4 million while that of an honorable member is N2 million
Under Democracy the life-style of political office holders including the legislators, had been revolting.Â In the Vanguard report of November 1, 2002, a distinguished Senator was reported to have saidâ€˜, I am not trying to drag my colleagues into mess,Â but I am duty bound to protect my integrity and reputation.
The way I get my N22 million is the way all Senators claim their committee money and personal votes.Â Every Senator has N18 million personal votes and N10 million committee votes and, Senators draw money from the two votes in the same manner I draw mine.Â In my opinion, the way out of the criminal accusation leveled against me is to invite the Auditor-General to audit the accounts of all Senatorsâ€˜.
If the ex distinguished Senator is to be believed, the reason for â€˜do or dieâ€˜ concept of politics in Nigeria becomes understood.Â The race for governorship seat is even more romantic.Â It is the surest road to wealth and power through â€˜the unaudited security voteâ€˜, in an atmosphere where there is no such security but constant kidnapping.
The problem which has to be resolved is â€“ whether a nation with fractured and dilapidated infrastructures, where life is precarious and living itself is harsh, could afford the affluence of political office holders.Â In the United States â€“ home of the Presidential System of Government; â€“ there is no separate office of the Senate President.
The Vice-President presides over the Senate.Â The number of the political hangers on is severely restricted.Â The need arises whether at our primitive stage of economic development, the country could afford the costly presidential system of government.
Could the British parliamentary system [where the executive is drawn from the parliament]Â more appealing because of its low operation cost, and its ease of passage and implementation of the Budget.Â There is also the French example of a mixture of presidential and parliamentary experiment with a President and a Prime Minister.
If the question of curbing the financial excesses of running the presidential system of government is thrown to the National Assembly to resolve, it will be a waste of time.
It requires the iron will of a statesman president to ponder on the question of a national conference to examine many options of government and act accordingly…