By Tonnie Iredia
In July 2010, renowned law Professor, Itse Sagay, raised an alarm that Nigerian lawmakers were the highest paid in the globe. Sagay found that a Nigerian Senator earns N240 million ($1.7 million) in salaries and allowances while his counterpart in the House of Representatives earns about N204 million ($1.45 million) per annum. Realizing that an American senator earns $174, 000 while a UK parliamentarian earns about $64, 000 per annum, Sagay condemned the Nigerian situation as “a breach of public trust”.
No one in authority took on the legal guru to reveal his source or defend his allegation. At about the same time, an organization-the Global Coordinators Champions for Nigerian Organizations-published all the allowances of a Nigerian legislator inclusive of ‘recess allowance’ which explains why our legislators are always on recess. Public outcry over the subject lingered for another three months until the then celebrated Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido, now Emir of Kano publicly ignited the fire the more with his assertion that 25% of our budget was being consumed by the National Assembly. Lamido who spoke on the topic ‘Growth Prospects for the Nigerian Economy’ at the convocation of the Igbinedion University Okada frowned at the exploitation of the wealth of the nation by a few people and called on Nigerians “to stop complaining about these people and do something about them”. But nothing was done.
Rather than deal with the issue in the interest of the nation, Lamido was angrily summoned by the Senate to explain his audacity. The Senators who had expected an apology from the former CBN boss backed down when he reiterated his point and dared them to remove him from office. Not much was done thereafter until one year later, when the federal government invited Mr. Richard Dowden- an expert on African development issues and Executive Director of the Royal African Society in London to deliver the 2011 Independence Lecture. In his speech titled “Nigeria in Transformation”, Dowden pointedly identified our political leaders, as the highest paid salary earners in the world and begged them to among other things reduce the wide gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria. Interestingly, what he said was in no way different from what Sagay and Lamido had articulated. Again nothing was done. The infamous subject soon died down and our legislators were left in peace to enjoy their fortune. It was perhaps the idea that public opinion on the subject had been vanquished that made the management of the National Assembly to forget to properly guard the subject thereby leading to fresh condemnation of the legislators. This time the annoyance is specifically directed at one of the items in the pay packet of lawmakers-”wardrobe allowance”.
Only last week, the media reported that the newly inaugurated members of the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives are expected upon resumption to receive their allowances including wardrobe, housing, furniture and vehicle to enable them settle down for legislative business. The report stated that to ensure that our legislators are always wee dressed, each Senator will receive N21.5 million as wardrobe allowance while each member of the House of Representatives will get N17.5 million to clothe them for the next 4 years. Although the story is no doubt provocative, it seems wiser to evolve strategies for resolving the situation in this era of ‘change’. Luckily, the first step has been taken by the new Senate President, Senator Saraki who has been kind enough to give the exact figures involved. According to Saraki, the wardrobe allowance is N506, 600 only and not the huge sum previously published. The Second positive step taken so far is that of Senator Ben Murray Bruce who is set to donate 50% of his allowances to meet part of the unpaid salaries of Osun State workers. The argument of the state Government that Bruce was only being spiteful of its workers is neither here nor there, more so as Governor Rauf Aregbesola hitherto known by all as a strategic leader had surprisingly confessed earlier that he was helpless on the matter.
For whatever it is worth, the offer by Murray Bruce is useful in several respects. First, the few Osun workers that will benefit from his donation will prefer Bruce to their governor who is busy delivering lectures on the subject. Second, it could encourage other Senators to do same to the benefit of the dying workers. Third, Bruce has shown that senators do not really need the huge wardrobe allowance being provided for them. We only hope that all legislators will in earnest recognize that what a nation should give to its citizens is what such citizens lack and desire. In this regard, it is wrong to give legislators wardrobe allowance because they do not belong to the category of naked Nigerians. Considering that no legislator was shabbily dressed during the electioneering period when they were canvassing for votes, it would be immoral for them to use our votes as a license for re-equipping their gorgeous wardrobes.
All eyes should now be on the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission which has the constitutional duty to fix the salaries and allowances of all political office holders. If the body was timid in the past and scared of the legislators, the public outcry against their remuneration and the pro-people posture of Bruce and other legislators of like minds should help the commission to have a re-think. It should also note that many of the legislators are big boys especially in the senate which now has several former governors. If the commission fails in its duty to do the needful this time around, the change agents of the All Progressive Congress (APC) should swing into action and let Nigerians see the immediate dividends of “change”. If however the chorus of change was just a vote catching device for the recently concluded elections, then the Peoples Democratic Party have another chance to pull the carpet off the feet of the ruling party if its legislators formally reject the wardrobe allowance which makes it look like if not for the legislature, they would have been naked.