Nigerians are angry with the senators for rejecting a pay cut as recommended by the Finance Committee of the National Assembly. Prominent opinion leaders expressed shock that the law makers are not bothered about the parlous state of the nation’s economy. They said the law makers insistence on the jumbo salaries, shows they are insensitive to the plight of average Nigerians who have been short changed by those entrusted with the commonwealth.
The salaries and allowances of the National Assembly members have been subject of debate over the years. Many believe it was outrageous when compared to what their counterparts in other climes earn. Others argued that Nigerian economy can’t sustain it. Though the basic salary of the National Assembly members is not in contest but the outrageous allowances they fixed for themselves. The mind bogging allowances include: Accommodation (Senator N4m, Rep N3.9m); Vehicle loan (Senator N8m, Rep N7.94m); Furniture (Senator N6m, Rep N5.9m); severance gratuity (Senator N6m, N5.9m).
They also include motor vehicle fuelling and maintenance (Senator N1.5m, Rep N1.4m); constituency (Senator N5m, Rep N1.9m); domestic staff (Senator N1.5m, Rep N1.4m) Personal Assistant (Senator N506, 600, Rep N496, 303); Entertainment (Senator N607, 920, Rep N595, 563); recess (Senator N202, 640, Rep N198, 521); utilities (Senator N607, 920, Rep N397, 042); newspapers/periodicals (Senator N303, 960, Rep N297, 781), house maintenance (Senator N101, 320, RepN99, 260) and wardrobe (Senator N506, 600, Rep N496, 303). Other allowances are estacode (Senator $950, Rep $900) and duty tour allowance (Senator N37,000, Rep N35,000).
Analysts said the eighth National Assembly largely dominated by members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who rode to power on the vehicle of change, are insisting that the old order must be maintained. They explained that the change Nigerians want is the change that would rejuvenate the prostrate economy, the change that would revamp country’s battered image, the change that would rekindle ordinary Nigerians hope in the country and strengthen his resolve to work for and defend the country that must immediately begin with members of the National Assembly adding the change must be seen in their salaries and allowances.
Irked by the Senators reaction, Second Republic law maker, Dr Junaid Muhammed castigated them for what he described as insensitivity to the general feelings of the populace to their opulent life style which is at variance with the economic situation in the country.
Mohammed lamented that the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions made provisions for the members of National Assembly to fix their salaries and allowances. “It was a mistake that the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions empower the law makers to fix their salaries and allowances. In a normal society or a matured democracy, you don’t allow members of legislature to fix their salaries.
“In a civilised and rational society, the nation pays the people including law makers, based on the content of the service rendered and what the nation’s economy can afford. There is no justification for the outrageous salaries and allowances fixed by them. When the economy nose dive, the normal thing to do is to cut down the expenses and plug all the leakages in the system so that the nation do not go bankrupt.
“As a matter of policy, the salaries and allowances of the National Assembly members must relate to what is being paid to other workers in the economy in relation to what is obtained in advanced democracies like the United States of America, Britain, France, Germany and Canada among others. Paying Nigeria Senators salaries higher than what President Obama of US earns is senseless. The United States is the most powerful country and the largest economy in the world”.
The Kano born politician said: “What I expect from the Senators is to set in motion the machinery for downward review of their salaries and allowances. Anything short of that will portray them as greedy people who care less about the well being of the country and the down trodden who bear the brunt of economic mismanagement and financial recklessness of the few who found themselves in leadership position”.
The Executive Director, Conscience Nigeria, Mr Tosin Adeyanju, was upset by the senators reaction to pay cut. He recalled that in 2013, “the National Assembly allocation and budget was about N50 billion; by 2015, it has astronautically jumped to about N120 billion for just 469 people. This is not justifiable in a country that has over 180 million people, and in a nation that is in economic crises with huge dependence on oil revenue that has dipped by 50 per cent”
The civil rights activist noted that Nigerian law makers were the highest paid in the world and demanded 60 per cent cut in their pay package. According to him, with a national minimum wage of N18,000 per month totalling N216,000 per annum, it will take an average Nigerian worker 60 years to earn the annual salary and allowances of a Nigerian Senator. This is not right and something urgent has to be done to slash the salaries and allowances of the law makers. The demand is imperative in view of the number of Nigerians living in poverty and the country’s revenue, he said.
In the same vein, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku has called for the downward review of the National Assembly Members pay. According to him, the Nigerian law makers were the highest paid law makers in the world. Nigerian lawmakers earn more than their counterparts in the United States, China, Britain, Japan and Canada, among others, he asserted.
Constitutional lawyer Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) described the rejection of the pay cut by the senators as selfish. He said there has been so much talk about their allowances and one should ordinarily expect them to do something and succumb to the public demand. Instead, they have been consistent in their attitude of not being concerned about the interest of the country but their personal interests, he observed.
Sagay noted that “there are six or seven items on their list of allowances that they should remove, for instance, the wardrobe allowance. As a man with wife and children, is it not an embarrassment for me to be waiting for government to clothe me?
“Their actions are tantamount to exploiting and squeezing blood out of the nation. I think we have to decide whether our National Assembly should work on part-time and paid allowances based on the number of times they sit as it was the case during the First Republic. The allowances they are collecting are unrealistic in a developing country like Nigeria. If we cannot iron it out now, we can embark on it in the next dispensation. It should be a campaign issue in the next election.”
Stressing the need for a 60 per cent wage cut for the law makers, Adeyanju said: “We need to save Nigeria from imminent collapse in order not to turn it into another Greece. Political position must be made less attractive; the country needs a unicameral and not bicameral legislation”.
Following the 50 per cent pay cut announced by President Muhammadu Buhari for himself, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and the presidential aides, the expectation of many Nigerians was that the National Assembly members would follow suit. Public Affairs analyst Dr Alex Otitoloju said it was disheartening to hear the Senators seeking to maintain the status quo.
Otitoloju said this attitude surely portrays the law makers as not being on the same page with the president. It is very dangerous to the overall wellbeing of the country, especially the President’s commitment towards resuscitating the economy. Any member of the National Assembly that fails to follow the good example demonstrated by President Buhari is peoples’ enemy and should be treated as a saboteur.
He was disturbed by the reports that the APC law makers in the National Assembly are resisting the change mantra of the Buhari administration and insisting that the older must be maintained. He faulted the argument of the law makers that they use part of their allowances to empower members of their constituencies. “Law makers are not father Xmas. They are not elected to dole out money to their constituents; they are expected to offer quality representation, make laws for good governance and facilitate developmental projects to their constituencies.
“The law makers cannot afford not to be part of or even lead the change that would guaranty quality standard of living for the poor and abandoned ordinary citizens of the country who have over the years being the victims of the tiny but powerful people who have continued to misrule the country.”
Former Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association,(NBA) Mr Monday Ubani was furious over what he described as fabulous salaries and allowances being drawn by the law makers for doing nothing. He noted that each senator has collected N36.4 million and House of Rep member N17m as housing furniture and transport allowances. In the past two and half months, these law makers have not passed a single law, yet the nation had to expend almost N13 billion for their personal comfort.
“How would you expect such people to accept pay cut? They are very selfish; they are not interested in the well being of the nation and the people. They did not work for one week, they have collected colossal sum of money for doing nothing. The total cost on legislative is alarming; it constitutes a drain pipe on the nation’s economy. It is a big mistake that the constitution allows the law makers to fix their salaries and allowances.”
Ubani suggested that there should be an arrangement to make the National Assembly and other elective positions less attractive to maintain modesty in salaries and allowances. “We have states that cannot pay salaries and the law makers in the National Assembly want to live fat at the expense of the masses. I believe time will sort everything out”, he added.