Nigeria @ 55: Legislators’ pay in perspective By Owette Emmanuel

nigerian flagThe penchant by our lawmakers to (seek to) funnel whatever they like in salaries and allowances into their pockets, has seemingly assumed some similarity in historical epoch.

During the Second Republic, the Joint Special Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives, under the chairmanship of Senator Ibrahim Jalo Waziri, submitted its recommended salaries and allowances for political office holders to the National Assembly which recommendations, were promptly approved by the (then) Senate.

Actually, this was in line with the provision of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which, in Section 78(1), stated that, “There shall be paid to the holders of the offices mentioned in this section, such salaries and allowances as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”

In the Waziri committee’s recommendations, the President of the Federal Republic, was to earn N50, 000 per annum in salary, the Vice-President – N30,000, Senate President- N22,000, Deputy Senate President – N18,000, Senators – N17,000, Speaker of House of Representatives –N 20,000, Deputy Speaker – N17,000, Representatives members – N16,000, Cabinet ministers – N16,000, Junior Ministers – N14,000, Governors – N21- 25,000, Deputy Governors- N17-19,000 etc.

And it has to be pointed out here that by that time, there was no Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, in the (1979) constitution.

This Waziri committee’s recommendations were strongly criticised by both some senators and the press. Some senators thought that the salaries were outrageous in a country where some workers did not earn N2.00 a day. The Daily Times described the salary scale of politicians as “totally unrelated to that of humbled citizens.”

Two well-known Lagos lawyers, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Tunji Braithwaite, described the salaries as “unpatriotic and selfish”, “unreasonable and too high.”

And another thing that added fuel to the fire, in the widespread agitations and condemnations, was that the legislators wanted the salaries backdated to the dates of their elections- July 17, 1979 for senators and July 14 for members of the House of Representatives, as according to them, “We were appointed by the people on the day of the elections and not on the day we were sworn in.”

In fact, another senator argued that they had to resign from their jobs, six months before their elections and therefore, felt that the backdating was not a favour!

Some reasonable ones among them, however, argued that the salaries should be effective from the date the 1979 Constitution came into operation, October 1, 1979 and on the date the National Assembly was sworn in.

But when division (of votes) was called, those in support of the “unreasonable” salaries, carried the day (as stated above). But the agitations continued, so much so that the democratic era was under threat.

Obviously siding with the people, (I mean “the rest of us”), the committee’s recommendations were also strongly criticised by President Shehu Shagari himself “because of the financial situation which is not very healthy.” Shagari also argued that the “the legislators had not taken into consideration the anti-inflationary measures embarked upon by the previous government and endorsed by the current leadership… because with such generous distribution of largesse to themselves, our legislators would have no moral right to retain the wage freeze.”

Accordingly, Shagari went ahead to make the following LESSER (emphasis mine) recommendations: the President (himself) – N25,000 p.a, the VP – N21,000, Senate President – N16,000, Deputy Senate President – N14,000, Senators – N12,000, Speaker of House of Reps. – N15,000, Deputy Speaker – N13,000, House members – N10,000, Cabinet ministers – N15,000, Junior ministers – N14,000, etc.

It could be seen that though under the 1979 Constitution (as seen earlier), the National Assembly had the power to prescribe salaries and allowances for themselves and other political office holders, the Executive, in an obvious exercise of its own power of checks and balances, saw what the lawmakers did as an excessive use of their legislative power in a manner that was very injurious to the health of the nation’s economy at the time. And of course, the mass of the people aligned themselves with him.

And when the National Assembly, seemingly remained unyielding, Shagari had to summon a meeting of the National Economic Council, chaired by the Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, with the 19 state governors as members, to intervene.

After hours of deliberations, the National Economic Council came out with the following recommendations; President – N30,000, Vice-President – N21,000, Senate President – N16,000, Deputy Senate President – N14,000, Governors- N20,000, Speaker House of Reps. – N15,000, Deputy Speaker – N13,000, Senators- N12,000, Deputy Governors – N16,000, House of Reps. members – N10,000, Ministers – N15,000, etc.

In reaction, the National Assembly said that neither the President nor the National Economic Council had that constitutional right to block its pay proposals.

In view of the foregoing, Shagari directed all federal accounting officers to limit the payment of salaries and allowances to public officers, to the levels paid them before the passing of the 1980 Appropriation Act, because of “his intention to propose amendment to the Act.”

Thus, a statement by the Executive office of the President in Lagos stated that payments already made to public officers in the executive, legislature or the judiciary arms of the government in excess of their entitlements (before the 1980 Appropriation Act), should be regarded as advances to them, pending the resolution of the crisis.

Consequently, Shagari called a meeting of all the five political parties, Chief executives of government, and presiding officers of all legislative houses in the federation, to deliberate and decide how much salaries and allowances the nation should pay its public office holders.

At the end of their meeting, the nation’s political leaders agreed on a new salary structure and allowances for political office holders, thus;

President – N30,000, Vice-President – N21,000, Senate President – N17,000, Deputy Senate President – N15,000, Senators- N14,000, Speaker House of Reps- N17,000, Deputy Speaker – N15,000, Ministers – N16,000, Junior ministers – N14,000, Secretary to Federal Government – N16,000, Party Leaders – N14,000, House of Reps. members – N12,000, etc.

We decided to go into this brief historical excursion to show that there should always be an inter-play of economic forces and societal ability to carry such a burden to determine what is appropriate in salaries and allowances for certain political office holders, the fact that the National Assembly under the 1979 Constitution had the power to determine that, notwithstanding.

This is so, because, it is in the nature of man (except an upright person) to corner what would guarantee him the most comfortable living, especially, if he is allowed (unchecked) to determine that.

Now, since the inception of this Fourth Republic in 1999, the demands and agitations by the taxpaying masses of this country to know what the lawmakers (and other categories of public office holders) go home with every month, have been met with a cult-like conspiracy of silence by the legislators.

Just as Shagari did in the Second Republic, President Muhammadu Buhari should convene a meeting of leaders of political parties, Chief executives, Speakers of legislative houses, Civil Society Organisations, Labour Unions, traditional rulers and Organised Private Sector to determine what pay our political office holders should be getting in salaries and allowances. You don’t allow a person to be remunerated to determine what he would be paid.

PUNCH