By EMMA UJAH, Abuja Bureau Chief
Former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, yesterday, gave a breakdown of how the National Assembly spent about N1 trillion in the last eight years and challenged the legislators to organise a public hearing on their pay.
She insisted that she was right in her claims of an unduly high expenditure by the federal legislature.
The former minister maintained in a statement in Abuja that Nigeria’s federal law-makers were the highest paid in the world, quoting an analysis of the Economist magazine in a recent publication.
Contrary to claims by some legislators that they earn N1 million basic salary, Mrs. Ezekwesili put their basic salary at N30. 6 million annually, as revealed by the Economist.
She said that she had been threatened by some legislators and also came under other forms of attacks since she was reported to have criticised the huge expenditure outlay of the National Assembly and criticised the law-makers for attacking her personally, rather than producing their own data to contradict her position.
She said: “On Monday, August 19, I was the keynote speaker at a Civil Society Roundtable on “Cost of Governance” hosted by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC. My presentation approached the topic more broadly, by calling attention to the fundamentally unsustainable economic structure that has caused Nigeria’s development over the last 53 years to lag behind those of countries with similar political history with attendant high poverty level of 69 per cent of our citizens according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
“As part of the aspect of my presentation that touched on management of public finance, I provided eight years data on budgetary allocations or transfers to the National Assembly.
“The data in question is available from the Ministry of Finance which reveals that the allocations to the National Assembly between 2005 and 2013 were approximately N1trillion as follows: 2005 N 54.79billion, 2006 N 54.79billion, 2007 N 66.4billion, 2008 N114.39billion, 2009 N158.92billion, 2010 N 150billion, 2011 N 150billion, 2012 N150billion, 2013 N150billion.
“ I also provided information available in a recent global comparison of legislators’ remuneration across the world recently published by the United Kingdom based The Economist magazine. I stated that the report alleged that Nigerian federal legislators with a basic salary of $189,500 per annum (N30.6m) were the highest paid lawmakers in the world.
“In reaction to various versions of news media report of my speech a number of members of the House of Representatives and Senators speaking as spokesmen of the National Assembly (NASS) and perhaps without the benefit of my full speech, strangely chose to haul verbal assaults and threats at me. The NASS in its prestige as the most important symbol of our democracy has a duty to promote at all times the democratic culture of tolerance for dissension.
“Would it therefore not have been more dignifying of our democracy if the spokesmen had used the opportunity of their reaction to offer their own data to contradict or clarify anything conveyed in my speech after reading it? Is the issue of management of our public finance is the core of good governance not too important for the personalizing politics of their reaction?
“I wish to state with absolute respect for our lawmakers and our institution that it will be more valuable and enriching for our democracy if instead of the abusive language of their recent reaction, the NASS immediately offered me and the rest of the Nigerian public, the opportunity of a Public Hearing on their Budgetary Allocation and the very relevant issue of their remuneration.
“Doing so would be consistent with Global Practice across countries of the world where emphasis is on tenets of Open Budget to enable citizens to track to the disaggregated level all use of public resources across every Arm and Level of Government. In the United States for example anyone can find the US House of Representatives Statement of payment to each member of the House of Representative on the website -http://disbursements.house.gov/.
“I shall make myself available to the NASS as soon as it decides to host a Public Hearing on this and other related issues of the lawmakers’ interest”.