By Abdul Jelil Adebayo
Many Nigerians have being saying it, the National Assembly as it is presently being run is a drain pipe and as such there was need for a review of its working on full time.
Different permutations have been given to reduce the huge cost of governance through equal representation. A governor recently said the Senate should be scrapped and allows the House of Representatives to hold forte for the masses. Others also suggest that the numbers of Representatives should be reduced from 469 to a manageable number that will not affect greatly the purse of the nation.
And here we are, the amendment of the 1999 constitution is on-going and there are calls for involvement of everybody and every part of the country to feel belong and carried along. And also to see how cost of governance could be drastically reduced taking into consideration the dwindling financial standing of the country.
So then one may not but align with the view of Senator Mohammed Ndume representing Borno South who has been calling for part time legislature. As for him, instead of having them on full time, they should be paid according to the number of their sittings. Many Nigerians hailed his boldness and courage, which he is noted for, for speaking the truth even if the truth also affects his person or position.
Yes, from every indication, there is a need for a part time legislature. Surprisingly, when the issue of part time legislature is being discussed, attention is always drawn to allowances, salaries and other benefits associated with the perks of offices.
In the present situation, we have 109 Senators and 360 Honourable members in the House of Representatives. The annual salary, including allowances, for each member of the Senate, according to Revenue Mobilisation And Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, is N12, 766,320:00 (N12.7m). On a monthly basis, a Nigerian Senator collects salary and allowances amounting to N1, 063,860 (N1.06m).
On the other hand, each member of the lower legislative chamber, Green Chamber, according to RMAFC, receives N9, 529,038:06 (N9.5m) as annual pay and N794,086:83 every month.
However, in the House of Representatives, each of the 360 lawmakers pockets a total annual package of N136.6m or N11.3m monthly (or N33.9m quarterly).
In defence of the legislature, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan declared that there was no such thing as ‘jumbo pay,’ adding that he earned N750, 000 as salary.
But Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), had dismissed Lawan position and asked him to stop misleading Nigerians. Sagay insisted that senators earn N15million monthly and not N750,000 as claimed by the Senate president, while each legislator in the Green chamber collect N11.3m monthly.
Hear him: “That’s where the jumbo pay comes in when you talk of building, furniture, domestic this or that, 15 items and those items alone bring everything up to N13.5 million a month. So, simply mentioning the basic salary, which brings it to over N14 million, is not sufficient.
“What they get, that I have not been able to realise. They were mindboggling; we are talking of one person getting up to N280 million a year in allowances for his position.” Sagay clarified.
Full-time legislature is a waste of resources and time. The work of a legislator does not justify his being there on a full-time basis. They can achieve both legislative and oversight functions working on a part-time basis. And going by their attendance at plenary, many empty seats are noticeable whether you come to plenary or not, your pay is on-going, what a wasteful venture.
Senator Ndume however urged his colleagues to sacrifice by reducing their perks of office as well as contemplate adopting part time legislature for the good of the country.
In his words: “In the current system, workers are not being paid living wages, whereas a privileged few are earning luxury wages. The National Assembly members, including me for instance, are paid luxury wages.
“How can we live comfortably when only a few of us are living a life of luxury when the majority is living in abject poverty? The N30, 000 minimum wage is too small; it can make workers engage in corruption in order to survive. And yet most state governments are finding it difficult to pay.
“We have a budget of over N10 trillion and only 30 per cent is going to the majority whereas 70 per cent would be spent on a few minority. The system we presently practice is not fair in terms of moral, religion or socially.”
“Nigerians should demand a referendum to effect the type of system that would improve their wellbeing through drastic reduction in the cost of governance. The system we are running now, which I’m part of, is not fair to majority of Nigerians.
“Since Nigeria was a British colony, we started with the parliamentary system. All over the world today, parliamentary system of government is more popular than the presidential system,” he insisted.
Reeling off the gains of a parliamentary over the current presidential system, the lawmaker stated that it would engender transparency, reduce cost and become more manageable and effective.
He said, “It is also more effective in the sense that the head of government is more or less one among equals of the parliamentarians. Therefore, accountability is achieved in the chamber in the sense that the Prime Minister has to be in the parliament every day, and he must give account of government to his colleagues. Also, ministers are selected among the elected parliamentarians. The idea is to reduce the cost of governance and make it more effective.”
On his suggestion for the institution of part time legislature, he insisted that: “As far as I’m concerned, we can make the National Assembly a part time arrangement for now since we conduct our sitting once or twice in a week these days.
“For example, even we in the National Assembly, I strongly advocate that the work of the legislature should be made part-time and therefore, pay us on part-time basis to reduce the cost.
“If we make it part time, that means our salaries must be reduced. The reality is that we can’t continue in a situation like this where 70 per cent of the country’s budget is going to personnel and recurrent expenditure as if everything is okay. This is a time when we are borrowing to fund the budget.
There is anger in the land, why not? Nigerians who are continually being pressured by their leaders to tighten their belts and sacrifice for the good of the country, are no longer smiling at the humongous earnings of their legislators.
In all developed countries Nigeria is trying to emulate, members of the legislature have their professions and they don’t resign their appointments to become lawmakers. Part time legislature would be good if the Federal Government wants to attract high-calibre people to politics.
There is nothing stopping an accountant, lecturer or banker from venturing into politics and do it part time. This would enable them to still hold on to their jobs and do politics. It will be beneficial because all these people are coming with skills and experiences from their own professions. So why can’t we use these skills and experiences in shaping our country?
Abdul is a media consultant and public analyst and can be reached [email protected]