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Hurdles before old and new NASS members

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By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Outgoing members of the National Assembly are not likely to get their April/May salaries and allowances before they quit on May 29 as the N10billion loan obtained by the House and the question mark over the 2011 budget threaten to affect the payment of their salaries and allowances.

Also, the suspended legislators whose allowances have not been paid since last year November are not likely to receive same before the House winds up May 29 for the same reasons,  according to information gathered by Saturday Vanguard.

Reliable sources said the N10bn loan for which Speaker Bankole is being crucified was obtained at the instance of the entire House contrary to allegations that Bankole acted independent of the principal officers of the House.

“When the budget was not passed and elections were drawing closer, the House asked Bankole to try and do something about the situation. That spurred him to obtain the loan but it appears the law-makers are washing their hands off Bankole’s action”.

However, the leader of the Progressives, a name adopted by the suspended legislators, Mr.  Dino Melaye who exposed the N10bn loan obtained by the House lamented that Bankole has reneged on the promises he made last week that he should  be given until Tuesday to pay off  the salaries and allowances of the suspended but recalled lawmakers  which has already been released by the bank.

Dino Melaye and Independence Ogunewe

Dino Melaye speaking to Saturday Vanguard on phone said:  “We have not received our salaries and allowances. I don’t know the next line of action.Nothing is resolved. Bankole  has no April/May salaries and  allowances for all the House members and what is being owed the suspended members has not been paid. So, let’s just wait and see what happens now because we have not decided on the next line of action”.

Meanwhile, Speaker  Bankole may face a probe by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ,EFCC over the N10bn loan.

A member of the House who craves anonymity said: “Bankole promised to pay the suspended legislators by Tuesday and we gave him the time he requested for. Well, we hope he keeps his word because Tuesday has passed and we also hope this EFCC involvement doesn’t complicate matters.”

It was also gathered that, incoming legislators may experience accommodation problems as their predecessors.
Reacting to the hurdles the outgoing legislators are facing,  Independence Ogunewe, one of the suspended legislators expressed dismay over the problems facing them.

“ We didn’t come back to the House by benevolence of the House but by a court judgement and the court ruled that we must be paid our salaries and that must be done. I don’t have worries about that. Bankole didn’t keep his promises to pay us what he is owing us. It’s only Bankole that can answer the question of when that would be resolved  because right now,  I don’t really know. He has the answers .

The House has not resolved the issue of loan and the  truth remains that he went to obtain a loan on behalf of the House without due process. The legislators are not aware of what he did. It was not debated and does not follow due process and so it’s criminal”.

A former Chief Whip in the House of Representatives in the 1999-2007 dispensation, Arigbe Osula told Saturday Vanguard that freshmen to the National Assembly might face temporary accommodation problem because there are no official quarters for incoming legislators.

“The quarters have been  sold to past NASS members and it was a blanket sale because every member then was forced to buy. Those who didn’t want to buy were not given the opportunity to reject because the money was deducted from our salaries and allowances. Even if you didn’t want, you had no opportunity to say no. This first set of National Assembly members are landlords of their former quarters.

“The houses are now personal properties of former legislators. Those who didn’t want their own official residences  had to resell them and if  you get there now, you would likely meet people who were not in the National Assembly in the quarters .There are no more official residences for legislators.

The quarters are now private residences and you can even see non-legislators living in the quarters. But yes, there are legislative offices and some legislators are already packing their things out of their offices”.

A member of the out-going  House in an encounter with Saturday Vanguard recalled that  they also experienced accommodation problems initially during their own term.

“Some of us had no place to stay in Abuja initially. Some of us were coming from our states whenever the House had to sit until we were given allowances to go and purchase properties. Some of us got between  N50 million to N75 million to buy property and this also included senators.

So, we are not going to move out because we are living in properties purchased by us with the allowances given to us. We only need to vacate our legislative offices and some of us are already packing our things”.

Legislators who retain their positions in the National Assembly collect fresh housing allowance every four years. What the first set of legislators earned as salaries and allowances was nothing compared with what the out-going legislators earned.

“They may not have been paid their April/May salaries and allowances but they made in three months what the first set of legislators made in four years,” one source said.

New legislators, Saturday Vanguard also learnt are  not supposed to get any leadership  position in the National Assembly. Said our source: “A blind man cannot lead a blind man. Committee chairmanship is for those who know how to run committees and know the rudiments.

It is wrong to let new members assume such positions except if they are very serious and even then, leadership in the National Assembly is different from any other role one has played in government in the past. It needs more than two tenures to be a Speaker or Senate President. Freshmen don’t know the intrigues of the legislative arm of government.

So, speakership should be done in order of  high ranking. Only  seasoned legislators  should lead except when there is none and then can it go to rookies. It is not right to give National Assembly leadership to people without legislative background. The fresh legislators have to learn the rudiments. They could be members of committees but no leadership position for rookies.”

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