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Our legislators’ jumbo pay: Fact or Fiction?

The salaries of Nigerian legislators at federal and state levels have been a source of controversy largely based on the ambiguity with which the issue has been handled. Whereas the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, has made provision for the salaries and allowances of political office holders in executive and legislative offices, there is a supposition in many minds that the lawmakers have found surreptitious ways to enhance their entitlements.

Thus, Nigerian legislators have over time been associated with jumbo pay, scandalous allowances and seemingly surreptitious breaches of extant laws in packaging constituency allocations to themselves.

Participants at the conference

While in some cases the allegations are based on ill-founded rumour, some legislatures especially in the states have not helped matters with some of their legislators taking up the role of contractors in appropriating constituency projects to themselves.

Suggestions that Nigerian lawmakers are overpaid are also countered by the privileges that their colleagues in some countries get like in Canada where spouses and children have entitlements.

In the light of the continuing furore over the pay of Nigerian lawmakers, the Vanguard Conference Hall hosted a distinguished panel comprising representatives of civil society to ventilate and shed light on the issue.

The forum which had Emmanuel Aziken as moderator had the following on the panel:

    • 1) Adetokunbo Mumuni, a lawyer with 27 years working experience is one of the country’s leading advocates of social and economic rights of the downtrodden. He is the Executive Director of the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and before then had worked at the Constitutional Rights Project (CRP) Lawyers Committee.
    • 2) Debo Adeniran, a Consultant Educationist, is the Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL); Head Consultant, First Faculty Ventures (FFV) National Coordinator, Child Help In Leadership, Democracy, Rights and Education in Nigeria (CHILDREN) Project with a famed reputation as a terror to corrupt persons in power.
    • 3) Oluseun Onigbinde, an engineer, co-founded Nigeria’s civic tech organization, BudgIT  in 2011. Oluseun Onigbinde is a recipient of the Ashoka Fellowship, Future Africa Awards, Quartz Africa 30 Innovators Award, Draper Hills Fellowship at Stanford University, Aspen New Voices. He sits on the ONE Africa Policy Advisory Board and also worked as a Knight Innovation Fellow with the International Center for Journalists. He also had Executive Education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business on  Social Entrepreneurship.
    • 4) Comrade Joe Ambakederimo: the convener of the South-South Reawakening Group is an Environmental activist, an advocate for Good Governance and Development Expert. He is a member of the World Free zones organization, World Bioenergy Association and Environment Management Association of Nigeria.
    • 5)  Cliford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor, Vanguard,  a seasoned journalist who proved his worth in the trenches during the struggle to return Nigeria to democratic rule.
    • Aziken: Are Nigerian legislators  properly paid?

      Mumumi: I don’t think they are improperly paid? My position is that what they receive compared to the economic prosperity or otherwise of Nigerians, is too much over and above what we can afford. I believe that what they receive is on the high side.

      When you want to compare the pay of any worker in an environment, you look at the life of the people whom those people are supposed to be serving. Now, this is an economy where the basic minimum wage for every Nigerian worker is N18,000. The next question to ask yourself is if you want to do the pay of a legislator in quantitative terms, you will realize that the basic salary of a Nigerian legislator is a thousand times over the salary of the average Nigerian worker if you say the basic salary of a worker is N18,000.

      So, you cannot say you are serving a group of people and your pay package, if you compare it with the average Nigerian worker, is on the excessive side. That is the way I see it, and that is why I say they are improperly paid. The pay they receive is too way out of it compared to the type of work they do. Even the constitution states they shall be entitled to sit for 181 days out of 365 days. Now, the constitution has, in a manner of speaking, directly or indirectly said they should be on part-time more or less. What we normally see is that they will sit for two weeks, then will go on recess. There are various challenges facing Nigerians in terms of existential things of life which they should address but are not addressing.

      So, my position is that their pay is too much on the high side, they are being rewarded over and in excess of what they actually do.

      Ndujihe: The question is direct, and I will answer directly. I think they are well paid. However, looking at what they get, often, we add what their aides, domestic staff get and by the time we sum it up, it looks as if a Senator is taking the humongous sum. If you look at what they get, personally, I think it is okay.

      I won’t say it is jumbo because the legislature, to me, is the symbol of democracy. Any time there is a military coup, the legislature is closed down, we have the executive and we have the judiciary, and over time, those two arms of government have been well developed. As we are talking, nobody is talking about how much a minister takes home.

      To say they are taking jumbo pay, we also have to look at how much the executive gets. For me, their pay is okay. Their sitting days according to the constitution is a minimum of 180 days, but the work does not start and stop with sitting. Often, they do oversight functions, they do committee work, they do visitations and all that.

      Ambakaderimo

      We labeled the issue at hand ‘jumbo pay for our legislators,’ that could be the right word to use, no matter where you want to look at it from. Now, the issue is this, for me, each time this very matter is brought to the fore, or you have discussions with any member of the legislature, you always meet with a confrontation; that is my worry and quarrel.

      It is right if what they earn is commensurate with their work, but why do we always meet with confrontation? As we speak, if you go to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal    Commission, they will give you different figures. We don’t have a clear-cut figure yet meaning that there is something wrong somewhere that we have not been able to place our fingers on and it is very unfortunate.

      There is no need for us to begin to compare the legislature and the judiciary or the executive. That is not the issue.

      What are the legislators earning? That should be the question we should be asking. The singular action that we always meet with confrontation is the problem, if not they should come open and tell us what they earn. For 18 years going, Nigerians do not know what our legislators earn.

      So for me, it is not whether you are a legislator, executive or judicial arm of government, we have decided to pick on the legislature today and do justice to that. Let them come forward to tell us what they earn. So for me, what they earn could be commensurate, we still do not know, and that is my position for now.

      Adeniran: First and foremost, I agree with Joe that whatever salaries and allowances paid to the legislators should be commensurate with the amount of work they have to do.

      Based on the source that is quoted here, we cannot say directly that it is the law, but if it is the law, to answer the question directly, they are not properly remunerated, to the extent that the amount of work is not commensurate with the amount of money they are taking. When you put in parallel what is going on in other public and private sectors, you know that they are excessively paid for inadequate service they are rendering.

      When you hire somebody to work for you, you hire him to solve certain problems, if those problems are not solved by those you have hired, it means that those you have hired have problems that must be solved.

      What we should notice is that our legislators are problems on our neck that we need to solve. They only legislate where they will get more money. They don’t legislate on issues that will generate more money for the public good.

      I agree that they are the symbol of democracy, but the thing is that the dividends of democracy that we think they are going to safeguard and ensure that nothing takes it away from benefiting the people, they have not solved that.

      Now, if you have this kind of humongous amount being paid to those who, before they got to those offices, were already super rich, you are just adding to the gap between the haves and have not, between the government and the people they are supposed to serve.    Many of the legislators do not have the experience and qualification of civil servants.

      We have to look at the conditions of living of an average citizen before we decide that our legislators deserve double of that. They are supposed to first and foremost go to the legislature with a view to serving the people and rendering selfless service.

      If it is public service, they are supposed to come with the mind of surrendering time, energy, expertise and technical know-how to the service of the people. It is then that history will benefit you, but if you take so much money and do so little, definitely, history will not be kind to such people. They are being overpaid for the less job they do.

      Aziken: So, what is the fuss all about? Why are Nigerians agitated about the payment and entitlement of our lawmakers? And I should correct that the claim that the legislator receives 1,000 times the basic minimum wage is not correct. From my calculations, the salary of a senator is 59 times the minimum wage of N18,000.

      Adeniran: First and foremost, the legislator is the representative of his constituents. He should be their voice and eyes in the government. They should interface between the people and the government of the day, meaning that he is supposed to be close to the constituency, he is supposed to know where the shoe is pinching them in the constituency. He is supposed to feel what the constituents are feeling; he is supposed to listen to the yearning of his constituents, he is supposed to identify areas of need from the constituency and take it to the legislature with a view to ensuring that whatever developmental project that is necessary for his constituency is accomplished. He should listen to the people, sample their opinion and needs assessment.

      If the constituents need a road, they should not go there to sink a borehole. The hues and cries come up because they believe that once they get the instrument of office, they can think on behalf of their constituency not minding whether that thought is correct or agrees with the views and opinions of the majority of their constituents.

      So, the constituents do not see the benefit of sending them to the National Assembly or State Assembly as the case may be, that is why they are complaining. When they come back, they exude larger than life image. It is like showing people that you have sent me there to go and enjoy on your behalf but not to serve your own purpose, and those people are not happy because they believe that even if it is not achieved, they should have seen such a representative representing them correctly. If they needed a road, he should put it on the table of the National Assembly and argue in favour of implementation of that project. Everybody will know that he has done his best even if at the end  of the day, the project is not fully implemented.

      So, basically, the reason people are angry is that they do not see the service. Even with the so-called jumbo pay, if they see correlative service delivery, they will still pardon them for enjoying on their behalf.

      Ambakederimo: Nigerians are agitated and angry, and I have advocated that Nigerians regularly storm the National Assembly to protest, it is our right to do that, and we should continue to do it.

      First, I realize Nigerians are beginning to wake up from their slumber, but it is still low. We want to encourage it.

      We need to have interest in governance. We know the characters that want to become our leaders, we know their background, and what they do for a living before putting themselves for the electorate and that is why we want to encourage that kind of engagement.

      Having said that, we must agitate, why should we not? We elected these people, they present themselves to us. Come rain or shine, we elected and they should do our bidding, that is representative democracy.

      I am sorry to say this but which Nigerian will mention one person from the National Assembly as a role model? You don’t have. What was the background of some of these persons that are there but now behave as if they are alpha and omega? It is a very sad development.

      Nigerians must continue to ask questions every day no matter what. We must make it a recurring decimal in our lives. We must ask questions, and that is the way we can put them on their toes. Continued engagement is what we need to do no matter what anybody says.

      How many of us know our councilors from our wards representing us? Even the local government chairmen, how many do we know? These are the issues, let us take this governance issue very seriously, and that is the only way we can make some progress.

      Ndujihe: The legislature, as far as I am concerned is the first estate of the realm if you are talking about democracy- the only arm properly elected. For me, they are the first estate of the realm and so much is expected of them.

      The second estate is the executive; the third is the judiciary, the fourth is the media and the fifth is the civil society. So, because they are the first and the symbol of democracy, we want the dividend of democracy delivered.

      A lot is expected of them, unfortunately, the legislature is the least developed, it is the least equipped, and they are the closest to the people at the grassroots, they are the ones who are supposed to see the market women, the unemployed youths, those looking for jobs, those who want to go to schools and all that.

      So, people see them every day and then, we talk about this jumbo pay, the first thing that comes to the mind of an average person is my representative has taken N59 million and the second thing that comes to their mind is to go to the legislator and seek for financial assistance. When the demand becomes too much, the lawmaker will go and hide, and they will say the lawmaker is not available in his constituency. Because it is poorly developed, you find out that this arm of government is the most vilified, blackmailed, and then the executive wants to put things across, and the assembly refuses to be the rubber stamp, the legislators will be blackmailed.

      So, over time, the legislature has been cast in a bad light in the minds of the people. Whatever is done by the legislature is put on the front burner and this arm of government has been so demonized that we feel they are not needed.

      If you say the legislature is a problem, then democracy is a problem and if democracy is a problem, try military rule and then you will see what will happen.

      Like I said, people really don’t understand the work they do. Under the military rule, who would ask the military head of state why he should appoint somebody? Imagine if we were in a military rule, who would be talking about lopsided appointments? If we were in a military rule, nobody would gather here and talk about how much anybody is earning; you cannot do that. That is why we have to support these people, and then since 1999, these lawmakers have insisted on constituency projects. They know where the shoe pinches. They initiate some projects and ensure that these projects are included in the budget, but these projects are often time sabotaged. These projects are never well funded until they cry and find a way of arm-twisting the executive to get the projects implemented.

      Mumumi: Let me say straight away that in a democracy, it is about the people and once the people who are supposed to be served are not feeling the impact of government and start hearing that their legislators take so much amount of money, then, it is compulsory that the people should be agitated when they are not receiving value for money paid.

      I have said so, and I am repeating it that based on the level of work they do they are overpaid.

      Once you say this is a democracy and democracy is supposed to be the government of the people, by the people and for the people, then the centre point of any government action must be the betterment of the life of the overall majority of the people.

      Now, we are saying the basic salary of a public worker is N18,000, you have done the calculation and stated that the Nigerian legislators’ basic pay is 59 times the salary of an average public worker.

      We have had statistics; we don’t compare ourselves with the USA, we have found out that Nigeria has the highest paid legislature in the world, taking a lot of other variables into consideration.

      Now, they cannot give us the amount that they receive. I would have expected that what we have here, (table drawing the salaries of lawmakers) for instance, should come from the National Wages and Salaries Commission. We don’t have that here.

      Aziken: The National Wages and Salaries Commission responsibility is to make recommendations for the salaries of civil servants. The Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal  Allocation Commission does for political office holders.

      Mumumi: Thank you, that means we have something to talk about. Now that you have done the calculation, we say the basic salary of a Nigerian public worker is N18,000, the average salary of a legislator is 59 times the salary of a civil servant.

      When you say you operate a system where the citizen is now terribly shortchanged, in terms of what comes to the citizens at the end of the month, that system is faulty, that system is unethical, that system is dangerous, and that is the reason people are agitated. That is the reason people are angry.

      No civil servant can legitimately buy a brand new car; it is possible for a Nigerian legislator if all these allowances are added together, to buy a new car. You cannot say you are serving me and you are ripping me off. That is the reason Nigerians are disturbed and angry.

       

       


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.