Legislators seem unable to stop finagling with funds
Nigeria’s National Assembly (NASS) members seem to grow in the ugly stature of the proverbial beast that continues to chew unperturbed as the hunter frantically shoots at it. Neither the deafening clamour from the populace to streamline the legislature nor the biting recession seems to be of any concern to the lawmakers. They are just trudging on in their old detestable way.
Our lawmakers have been touted as the highest paid in the world. You would think they would be ashamed of wearing that ignoble badge in a country roiled by much economic troubles. Not in the least; NASS continues to appropriate a budget of between N120 to N150 billion annually for itself.
This budget which is obviously excessive for this tier of government is simply disbursed as if it were some booty; with each member carting home disproportionate sums – not unlike loot – annually. Being a federal legislator in Nigeria has therefore become the most criminally lucrative enterprise ever.
It is under this light that a recent report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) concerning the on-going pillage of the treasury through the instrumentality of legislative aides is particularly alarming. As the story goes, there are no fewer than 2,560 aides engaged by 469 members of the 8th National Assembly.
Apart from the principal officers, the National Assembly Act provides for five aides per legislator: one senior legislative aide, two legislative aides, a personal assistant and a secretary.
For the principal officers, the President of the Senate, by the Act, is entitled to 45 aides, the deputy, 30 and 20 for each of six others.
In the House of Representatives, the Speaker is entitled to 35 assistants; Deputy Speaker 15 and 10 each for the other principal officers.
However, investigation by NAN has revealed that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has hired about 115 aides; Speaker Yakubu Dogara employed 168; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu has 60 and Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun has 58 aides.
The story states that early in the year, the National Assembly management had written to Saraki and Dogara requesting them to reduce the number of their aides but up until this report was published last week, nothing had been done. “They are still carrying on with the over-bloated personal appointees.”
Also troubling is the revelation that most of the so-called aides cannot be verified by the Assembly management as they are reportedly based in their constituency offices. But it is common knowledge that most constituency offices are mere facades consisting only of large sign boards and empty buildings. But the salaries and emoluments of such ‘staff’ are paid through the legislators.
After nearly two weeks of the publication of this report there has been no response from NASS over this damaging report. It is therefore apposite to tag this as another one in the numerous reports of bad behaviour in our federal legislature.
In a period of general depression in the polity, the least one expects from government officials is prudence and proper ethical and moral examples. And for any group to further inflate the cost of running government at this time is unacceptable.
The statutorily allotted number of personal staff is too many as it were; to double or triple the number as reported is fraudulent and indeed reprehensible. This is akin to binging on public funds.
We call on the National Assembly Service Commission to do its job by first insisting on legislators having only the statutory number of aides. It is also incumbent on the commission to run staff audit, especially in the constituency offices to be sure that it is getting value for money.
This allegation is too grave to be swept aside. The commission must investigate it and make sure that appropriate sanctions are levied on defaulting legislators. Where the lawmakers have to refund what they had illegally collected on behalf of their aides, this should be done without delay. This is not the only country where such would happen. British Members of Parliament have had to cough up such illegally collected money in the past, even as many of them paid stiffer penalties. It is sad that since the return to civil rule in 1999, hardly has any legislative assembly gone without Nigerians having to voice concerns over the bogus pay the lawmakers cart home. We started very early in the day with their outrageous furniture allowance; we have had cause to condemn the way their so-called constituency allowance is handled. Today it is all about the ghost aides that they pay with public funds.
This is not the kind of example we expect from people who ordinarily should be the epitome of decency in the country. All hands must be on deck to ensure that our legislators do not lapse into some form of narcissism.