By Emmanuel Aziken, Cliford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu, Emman Ovuakporie, Gbenga Oke, Joseph Erunke & Omezia Ajayi
ABUJA—Against the background of the N1.6 trillion allocated to the National Assembly since the advent of democratic rule in 1999, Nigerians from different quarters are asking for constitutional amendments to compel members of the National Assembly to serve on part time basis.
The call, which was recently reignited by former President Ibrahim Babangida, is, however, opposed by principal officers and members of the incumbent National Assembly, who termed the advocates as being ignorant of their work.
This came as indications emerged, yesterday, that senators and members of the House, 469 in all, have received a total sum of N6.78 billion as their official salaries and allowances this year.
Babangida had in an interview to mark his 75th birthday, said that if he had his way, he would make membership of the National Assembly be on part-time.
He said although a proposal by his regime to make the National Assembly part time in 1989 never came to fruition, he still strongly believed in it.
“In 1989, we proposed that the National Assembly should be made part-time, and I still believe if I have the opportunity, I will make it part time.
Babangida’s proposal was endorsed by some prominent Nigerians, including the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay; Second Republic presidential liaison officer to the National Assembly, Tanko Yakassai; Deputy National President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Monday Ubani; former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav; Chief (Mrs.) Rita Lori-Ogbebor and Afenifere spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin.
The proposal was, however, pooh-poohed by senior legislators who were also backed by Auwal Ibrahim, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, one of the country’s leading non-for-profit organisations involved in building the capacity of the legislature.
Sagay, Odumakin, Yakassai, others react
Supporting the proposal, Sagay said: “I support it absolutely. That was what we operated in the First Republic and up till 1979 and it was very effective. The legislature then cost us little or nothing because they only collected sitting allowance. The present crop of legislators are collecting virtually 25 per cent of overhead in our budget and simply sucking the blood out of our system and they do little or nothing.
“So yes, I absolutely support it. They have their professions, like lawyers, doctors and so on. They just sit for a few weeks, pass a little bit of legislation and they add little or nothing to the system.”
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “There is nothing a legislator is doing that desires being on full time. I support only people holding regular jobs coming in as lawmakers and take only allowances.”
Speaking in the same vein, Yakassai, who served as President Shehu Shagari’s legislative liaison between 1979 and 1983, said: “It (part-time legislature) is a good idea, provided that we are going to transit from executive presidential system to parliamentary system. Otherwise, it will be meaningless.
“Each time there is an election, we run five different elections, and it is expensive for both the system and the contestants. To change the situation, all questions of restructuring, making the legislature part-time and so on, will make much difference because of the cost of governance and it is the same scenario in the 36 states,” he said.
Mr. Ubani on his part, affirmed that the legislators were, in practice, already on part-time but being paid for full time and, thus, called for the adjustment of their salaries to reflect their part-time function.
“Are they not on part time now? What are they doing? Go and look at what they are supposed to do and what they have done so far. They don’t put in the amount of time they are supposed to sit, and we are deceiving ourselves paying them fat salaries. How many times do they sit there?
“We are only deceiving ourselves by sustaining them with our money when they are inflicting collateral damage on our democracy. Those who work in the public sector have a specified time for closure, and they have to abide by that but go and check how many days these people sit.
“I think we have to start paying them based on the number of days they work. They have not helped this democracy to grow. What is the need of keeping two houses? If I had my way I will suggest we scrap one.”
In his contribution, Tsav said turning the legislature into a part-time function would remove the culture of making politics a profession.
He said: “What IBB said is the best for this country because the culture of seeing politics as a profession has not been helpful to our democracy. Look at how the lawmakers consume a large proportion of Nigeria’s wealth. Babangida’s suggestion would go a long way in discouraging the professionalism of politics in our political culture. I am in support of it.”
Babangida was right— Rita Lori-Ogbebor
Also supporting it, Chief Rita-Lori Ogbebor said: “The suggestion is very good. There are some people who should be given some credit whenever they talk on topical national issues, no matter what you think of them.
“Babangida was there; he saw the troubles, he saw the pressure, therefore, for him to have called for a part-time National Assembly makes that idea an excellent one for Nigeria. What I believe Babangida is saying is that political office holders are too many, and he has gone further to say that lawmaking should be on part time bases, it should be so.
“What are they doing to make them remain there permanently for four years? How many laws do they pass in a year? They are not thinking for us; they are just there and we are paying them. And all of them have a retinue of hangers-on.
“They are the ones ruining this country. Babangida is very right because Nigeria cannot continue like this.”
Part time legislature without restructuring is waste of time – Ikokwu
Second Republic politician and lawyer, Chief Guy Ikokwu was, however, non committal, saying a part time legislature in Nigeria’s type of federalism will yield little or nothing in terms of reducing the cost of governance.
Clamouring for the adoption of the paramilitary system of government and restructuring of the polity, he said: “If Babangida is talking of part time legislature in the context of restructuring Nigeria, it is okay but if it is in the context of reducing the cost of governance in our presidential system, it is irrelevant.
“The question is: Is IBB in favour of restructuring the polity or not? By restructuring the country into fiscal federalism or adopting the parliamentary system, we will make progress. The parliamentary system will not only ensure strong parties based on ideology, it will also reduce the high cost of governance. A restructured polity in a parliamentary system is the way to go.
“The presidential system encourages corruption. About 85 per cent of former governors across the political parties in the last 10 years embezzled public funds. The EFCC is aware of this.
“The APC campaigned and got to power based on the promise of restructuring, which is in their manifesto but after getting to power, they are no longer talking about restructuring. The recession we have in the country now is because of the system we have. ”
That’s not our problem —Etiebet
Former Minister of Petroleum, Chief Don Etiebet, however, said the full-time function of the National Assembly was not the basic problem of the country, asserting rather that corruption was the main problem.
“The problem of the country is corruption, corruption, and corruption. We can all see how Nigerians are suffering today because the economy is a rickety draft floating on a sea of corruption waiting to be punctured for it to sink. Now President Buhari has punctured it, see how it is sinking”.
He went further: “Will that remove all the ills we hear about in the legislatures across the country? Why did they forget to put it in the Constitution in the first place?
“Please let us look at the real thing afflicting the country, which is corruption and let’s see how we can contain it and every other thing shall go well with us.”
It’s not advisable —Ibrahim
The call was opposed by Auwal Ibrahim, executive director of CISLAC. He said: “If we expect our legislature to perform well, then the constitutional and legislative responsibilities in the context of Nigeria ’s environment, it is not advisable to have a part-time legislature, given the time required to do proper work.
“In my view, what is more important is to have responsible, patriotic, committed, knowledgeable and experienced people to be our legislators both at national and state levels. This means that our political parties must work very well to ensure that political recruitment and candidates have the credentials required for a serious legislative work.”
Call made out of ignorance — Legislators
Legislators, who are at the centre of the call, were unanimous as they pooh-poohed the idea of turning their duties into part-time, noting that it was a call for dictatorship based on ignorance.
Among the principal officers of the Senate who reacted, were the Deputy Senate Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha; Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Francis Alimikhena and the Deputy Minority Whip, Senator Biodun Olujimi. They were also backed by former Speaker, Ghali Na’Abba.
In an interview with Vanguard, Na’Abba said those who are calling for the National Assembly members to serve on a part time basis didn’t know the workings of the legislature.
“It is not appropriate for the National Assembly to be part time. Most people offer valued judgement on the National Assembly without really knowing the way it functions.
“Just as it is not appropriate for the executive and judicial arms to be part time, the legislature should not be part time. I do not know the reason the former President offered such a suggestion,” he said.
Senator Alimikhena, APC, Edo North said: “I do not support part-time legislature as that will not solve our problems. It will make the executive so powerful and make the President a dictator. We are not yet developed for that.”
Senator Bwacha, PDP Taraba South on his part, said: “What becomes of the presidential system we are practising? Substitute it for a dictatorship or which model that works without a functional legislature?”
Senator Olujimi, PDP, Ekiti South also opposed it, saying that the time for such was not ripe.
For Senator Kabir Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central, he simply said: “I need to know why they think part-time is better than the present arrangement. The present system was borrowed from somewhere. Where are we going to borrow the part time from?”
Also reacting, Senator Gershon Bassey, PDP, Cross River South said: “What the country is spending on the two chambers of the National Assembly is less than one per cent of the budget. So, there’s no need to talk about that. So what are they talking about? What we cannot run away from is the fact that we must have adequate representation, it’s not an issue of self-determination. It’s very important. Every part of this country wants to have the right to fair representation and proper representation.”
On whether the House of Representatives should give way to the Senate in this situation, given that a larger part of the money goes there, Senator Bassey said, “I think the House of Representatives plays a very crucial role because they represent the smaller unit of the society.”
Also in his contribution, former deputy whip in the 7th House and a serving member, Garba Datti, APC, Kaduna, pointed out: “Those advocating a part time legislature are ignorant of the volume of work we do here.
“You, as a journalist, should know better than people who can’t assess how we work. The military operate their structures without the legislature, and it has dictatorial ways of managing a country.
“The amount of money the former NSA, Col Sambo Dasuki, allegedly shared is enough to run the entire NASS activities for four years. The executive should operate on part-time first because they manage the economy and execute all the contracts yet they complain.
“Civil servants that are on level 12 live in affluence, yet the little we earn to attend plenary locally and internationally are queried. We carry out oversight functions, hold public hearings, attend interactive sessions, and all the executive does is to implement our laws.
“Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo cannot advocate a part-time legislature because he knows that we are doing serious legislative business. As for our allocations, you can’t compare it to that of the Central Bank of Nigeria that collects twice of what we get.
“The impression created about our earnings is larger than life as even the Amnesty Programmes gets more allocation than NASS.
“Today, we have journalists like your former president, Sani Zorro, Shehu Sani, Golu Timothy and many other professionals, including activists, who can see the difference as insiders. Some professionals, who left the oil and banking sectors, are already biting their fingers because they know better now.”
Speaking almost in the same vein, Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma, PDP, Egor/ Ikpba- Okha Federal Constituency, Edo, said: Babangida might have been quoted out of context.
“He couldn’t have said we should operate on a part-time basis because the functionality of such a legislature is not possible in Nigeria. As far as I’m concerned, part-time legislature cannot fly in this clime.”
When contacted, spokesman of the House, Abdulrazaq Namdas, APC, Adamawa simply said: “Nigeria is not yet ripe to practice legislative business as part-time.
“The military distorted civil rule for a long time we need to give our brand of democracy more time to develop.”
Salary Breakdown: How Senators, Reps earn N6.78bn annually
Meanwhile, it has emerged that senators and members of the House have received a total of N6.78 billion as their official salaries and allowances this year.
The report obtained by Economic Intelligence magazine showed the ‘legitimate’ remuneration of the federal legislators in compliance to the statutory approval of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC.
The remuneration packages include annual salaries, accommodation, vehicle maintenance and fuel, Personal Assistants, House maintenance, domestic staff, entertainment and utilities allowances.
Other allowances are constituency allowance, Annual Leave, Hardship allowance, wardrobe, newspapers and responsibility allowances.
A careful scrutiny of the report shows that each senator has annual salary of N2.02m, while a member of House of Representative receives N1.98mn as annual basic salary.
The basic salary of the Senate President is N2.48mn, while that of the Speaker of House of Rep is N2.47mn. The Deputy Senate President has N2.30mn as annual basic salary, while his counterpart, Deputy Speaker earns N2.28mn annually.
In addition to the annual basic salary, each member of the National Assembly receives 200 per cent of the annual salary for accommodation, 75 per cent for vehicle maintenance, 25 per cent for Personal Assistants, five per cent for house maintenance, 75 per cent for domestic staff, 30 per cent for both entertainment and utilities.
Others are, 25 per cent for wardrobe, 15 per cent for newspapers and responsibility allowance of between 10, 7, and 5 percent respectively as the case may be on the position of the legislator. While each senator receives 250 per cent for constituency allowance, a member of House of Representative gets 100% for the same annually.
In all, the Senate alone, numbering 109 senators, gulped the sum of N1.85billion in the last one year, while the 360 members of the House of Representatives got N4.93 billion.
According to estimates from the report, there are Non-Regular allowances federal legislators are entitled to. They include furniture and severance gratuity which are due only once in four years.
Other non-regular allowances include Estacode allowances which is paid in US Dollars for foreign trips and Duty Tour allowance which is paid in Naira for local trips within Nigeria.
Further analysis by Economic Confidential reveals that an average Nigerian worker with a minimum wage of N18,000 a month will have to work for four years before earning the utility allowance for one legislator. Unless the remuneration package is reviewed downward or upward by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the legislators will continue to enjoy the current official salaries and allowances.