Legislatures all over the world are usually the butt of criticisms and jokes, and Nigerian parliaments are no different. Despite the fact that our Senate and House of Representatives (the National Assembly, NASS) tower above their state counterparts in the core constitutional functions of legislation, appropriation, and oversight, it is still mired in a withering image problem due mainly to the lack of transparency in its internal financial affairs.
The NASS has been under great pressure to fully disclose its budget and the earnings of its members. This year, however, the Federal parliament took the bull by the horns and unveiled the details of its budget as its leadership had pledged. This is the first time it is happening since our return to democracy in 1999. It is a giant leap for our democracy.
A lawmaking body that has powers over the finances of the Federation and superintends the way appropriated funds are spent must also be transparent. Its financial records must be readily available for the media, civil society and interested members of the public to track.
The details of the N125 billion budget for 2017 contained in a 33-page document indicate that the NASS Management will spend N6.7 billion on personnel costs, N6.2 billion on overheads while N2 billion is for the capital vote. Senators’ salaries and allowances will cost N1.8 billion; N25 billion is earmarked for overhead costs and N4 billion for capital expenditure, making a total of N31 billion.
The 360 Members of the House of Representatives have N4.9 billion as personnel costs, N39.6 billion for overhead costs and N4.5 billion for capital projects, totalling N49 billion. The National Assembly Service Commission has a total allocation of N2.4 billion.
The amount allocated to Legislative Aides is N9.6 billion while the National Assembly Legislative Institute will spend N4.3 billion for its personnel and capital expenditure.
With this development, the NASS is inching its way closer to global best legislative practices where transparency, accountability and total disclosure of financial matters are central. Added to the recent intervention to stop the Customs from harassing and forcing vehicle owners to pay fresh duties, the National Assembly is now becoming responsive to public opinions and needs.
We call on the Federal parliamentarians to henceforth eschew unnecessary distraction and attend to other pressing and pending national needs such as the Petroleum Industrial Governance Bill, PIGB, and constitution amendment to wean the country off its military past by yielding more power to the federating units.
If these are achieved, the Eighth National Assembly would leave lasting legacies after its tenure.