By Tony Ademiluyi
AFTER the George Washington-led forces roundly defeated the military forces of King George III of the British Empire, something akin to a constitutional conference was held. It was mutually agreed by the founding fathers of the United States that there should be a bicameral legislature to legislate for the new nation.
The Senate and the House of Representatives made up the Congress. They took into consideration the demographics of the nation and deftly struck a balance. The Senate would have two senators representing each state to ensure equity while the House of Representatives would be based on the constituency delineation. The senators would have a six-year tenure while the lower chamber would have a two-year term. The Senate had more powers and would attract legislators who wanted to make a career in law making.
The 1979 Constitution made Nigeria shift from the British parliamentary system of government to the American- style presidential system. Invariably, we copied their system to a large extent and this has remained so till date.
Many critics of the bicameral legislature contend that the cost of getting into the hallowed chambers and the subsequent maintenance is too high. They argued that we should do what Senegal did by getting rid of the upper chamber to cut cost. The national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, once called for the scrapping of the Senate as well.
Member of the incoming ninth Senate are set to receive a whopping N4.68 billion to help sort out their furniture and accommodation issues. The accommodation is paid annually while that of the furniture is paid once every four years. Their counterparts in the lower house are set to receive N3.57 billion to help out with their living costs as well as furniture.
They are also entitled to motor vehicles allowances as well as other perks of office which are paid on a monthly basis – personal assistant – 25 per cent; domestic staff – 75 per cent; entertainment – 30 per cent; utilities – 30 per cent; newspapers/periodicals – 15 per cent; wardrobe – 25 per cent; house maintenance – five per cent; and constituency – 250 per cent.
There are other entitlements that are not paid to them directly but provided and paid for by the government. These are for their special assistants, security and legislative aides. The lawmakers are also entitled to tour duty allowance, estacode (when they travel) and recess allowances. For a senator, the tour duty allowance is N37, 000 per night; the estacode is $950 per night and the recess allowance is 10 per cent of their annual salary.
For a member of the House of Representatives, the tour duty allowance is N35, 000 per night; the estacode is $900 per night and the recess allowance is 10 per cent of their annual salary. Their medical expenses whether at home or abroad are also borne by the government.
These jumbo pay that our lawmakers are getting is extremely obscene and insensitive to say the least. Many states are practically insolvent and cannot pay workers’ salaries. A state like Kogi is owing 38 months salary with no hope of respite anytime soon. Why should our elected representatives who are supposed to be representing our collective interests join the bandwagon of our oppressors? Our lawmakers earn far more than the President of the United States who is supposedly the world’s most powerful man.
The mind boggling pay of our legislators has historical antecedents. In the defunct Second Republic, the then President Shehu Shagari, alarmed at the outrageous demands of the parliamentarians, was determined not to give in to their demands. The Sokoto-born politician was threatened with impeachment and was forced to be whipped in line. In the Fourth Republic, former Senate president, the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo was quoted to have said that they were not in Abuja to spread poverty.
Many workers in the private sector work without their salaries being paid at the end of the month and there are no sanctions by their cruel employers from the National Assembly.
Many are known to have died from work- related accidents without their compensations being paid and no legislation to protect them by their so- called legislators. Many Nigerian workers working for foreigners, especially the Chinese, Indians and Lebanese, are worse than indentured serfs in their own motherland. Their fate is worse than the African slaves in the Trans-Atlantic slavery in the days of yore as they are brutally dehumanised by hard-nosed employers in their country – worse than second class citizens in their own country.
The heart-wrenching labour conditions that their countrymen are subjected to doesn’t cut an ice with these hustlers who masquerade as lawmakers. What about the fate of pensioners who worked hard for 35 years and end up retiring as destitutes with no economic buffer in the twilight of their lives? Many cannot access their pensions and are subjected to so much hardship in the name of verification exercises. Many even die from preventable ailments and are made to look extremely foolish for not dipping their hands into the public till while in service.
Honesty is certainly the worst policy for these workers and their lives are filled with bitter regrets as they could have been better off if they were corrupt. The entrenched corruption in the civil service is as a result of the fact that many of the bureaucrats in service don’t want to end up like the impoverished senior citizens.
I advocate that the legislature should be run on a part time basis as it obtains in the developed world. The legislators should have their daytime jobs and professions and should desist from seeing politics as a meal ticket and the only full time job that they can do competently well.
Beyond the usual protests against this financial sleaze, Nigerians should emulate the Arabs by making the seat uncomfortable for these heartless lawmakers. The protests should be virulent and should include recalls of these greedy lawmakers and the de-emphasis of money during electioneering campaigns. They can take the money from these corrupt politicians but should vote for their conscience to ensure good governance for all.
The docility of Nigerians should stop; we should demand the names of our legislators at all levels and demand the dividends of democracy from them. They are our servants and we should treat them as such and not some pot-bellied overlords. The fawning over them should cease forthwith.
I implore Nigerians to resist this poverty expansion agenda by our legislators who will stop at nothing to make us paupers in the name of ‘democracy’.
Ademiluyi, a political commentator, wrote from Lagos