Vanguard: OUR LEGISLATORS’ JUMBO PAY: Fact or Fiction?

Continued from yesterday

Aziken: Are Nigerian legislators properly paid?

Mumumi: I don’t think they are improperly paid? My position is that what they receive compared to the economic prosperity or otherwise of Nigerians, is too much over and above what we can afford. I believe that what they receive is on the high side.

When you want to compare the pay of any worker in an environment, you look at the life of the people whom those people are supposed to be serving. Now, this is an economy where the basic minimum wage for every Nigerian worker is N18,000. The next question to ask yourself is if you want to do the pay of a legislator in quantitative terms, you will realize that the basic salary of a Nigerian legislator is a thousand times over the salary of the average Nigerian worker if you say the basic salary of a worker is N18,000.

So, you cannot say you are serving a group of people and your pay package, if you compare it with the average Nigerian worker, is on the excessive side. That is the way I see it, and that is why I say they are improperly paid. The pay they receive is too way out of it compared to the type of work they do. Even the constitution states they shall be entitled to sit for 181 days out of 365 days. Now, the constitution has, in a manner of speaking, directly or indirectly said they should be on part-time more or less. What we normally see is that they will sit for two weeks, then will go on recess. There are various challenges facing Nigerians in terms of existential things of life which they should address but are not addressing.
So, my position is that their pay is too much on the high side, they are being rewarded over and in excess of what they actually do.

Ndujihe: The question is direct, and I will answer directly. I think they are well paid. However, looking at what they get, often, we add what their aides, domestic staff get and by the time we sum it up, it looks as if a Senator is taking the humongous sum. If you look at what they get, personally, I think it is okay.

I won’t say it is jumbo because the legislature, to me, is the symbol of democracy. Any time there is a military coup, the legislature is closed down, we have the executive and we have the judiciary, and over time, those two arms of government have been well developed. As we are talking, nobody is talking about how much a minister takes home.

To say they are taking jumbo pay, we also have to look at how much the executive gets. For me, their pay is okay. Their sitting days according to the constitution is a minimum of 180 days, but the work does not start and stop with sitting. Often, they do oversight functions, they do committee work, they do visitations and all that.

Ambakaderimo

We labeled the issue at hand ‘jumbo pay for our legislators,’ that could be the right word to use, no matter where you want to look at it from. Now, the issue is this, for me, each time this very matter is brought to the fore, or you have discussions with any member of the legislature, you always meet with a confrontation; that is my worry and quarrel.

It is right if what they earn is commensurate with their work, but why do we always meet with confrontation? As we speak, if you go to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, they will give you different figures. We don’t have a clear-cut figure yet meaning that there is something wrong somewhere that we have not been able to place our fingers on and it is very unfortunate.

There is no need for us to begin to compare the legislature and the judiciary or the executive. That is not the issue.

What are the legislators earning? That should be the question we should be asking. The singular action that we always meet with confrontation is the problem, if not they should come open and tell us what they earn. For 18 years going, Nigerians do not know what our legislators earn.

So for me, it is not whether you are a legislator, executive or judicial arm of government, we have decided to pick on the legislature today and do justice to that. Let them come forward to tell us what they earn. So for me, what they earn could be commensurate, we still do not know, and that is my position for now.

Adeniran: First and foremost, I agree with Joe that whatever salaries and allowances paid to the legislators should be commensurate with the amount of work they have to do.

Based on the source that is quoted here, we cannot say directly that it is the law, but if it is the law, to answer the question directly, they are not properly remunerated, to the extent that the amount of work is not commensurate with the amount of money they are taking. When you put in parallel what is going on in other public and private sectors, you know that they are excessively paid for inadequate service they are rendering.

When you hire somebody to work for you, you hire him to solve certain problems, if those problems are not solved by those you have hired, it means that those you have hired have problems that must be solved.

What we should notice is that our legislators are problems on our neck that we need to solve. They only legislate where they will get more money. They don’t legislate on issues that will generate more money for the public good.

I agree that they are the symbol of democracy, but the thing is that the dividends of democracy that we think they are going to safeguard and ensure that nothing takes it away from benefiting the people, they have not solved that.

Now, if you have this kind of humongous amount being paid to those who, before they got to those offices, were already super rich, you are just adding to the gap between the haves and have not, between the government and the people they are supposed to serve. Many of the legislators do not have the experience and qualification of civil servants.

We have to look at the conditions of living of an average citizen before we decide that our legislators deserve double of that. They are supposed to first and foremost go to the legislature with a view to serving the people and rendering selfless service.

If it is public service, they are supposed to come with the mind of surrendering time, energy, expertise and technical know-how to the service of the people. It is then that history will benefit you, but if you take so much money and do so little, definitely, history will not be kind to such people. They are being overpaid for the less job they do.

Aziken: So, what is the fuss all about? Why are Nigerians agitated about the payment and entitlement of our lawmakers? And I should correct that the claim that the legislator receives 1,000 times the basic minimum wage is not correct. From my calculations, the salary of a senator is 59 times the minimum wage of N18,000.

Adeniran: First and foremost, the legislator is the representative of his constituents. He should be their voice and eyes in the government. They should interface between the people and the government of the day, meaning that he is supposed to be close to the constituency, he is supposed to know where the shoe is pinching them in the constituency. He is supposed to feel what the constituents are feeling; he is supposed to listen to the yearning of his constituents, he is supposed to identify areas of need from the constituency and take it to the legislature with a view to ensuring that whatever developmental project that is necessary for his constituency is accomplished. He should listen to the people, sample their opinion and needs assessment.

If the constituents need a road, they should not go there to sink a borehole. The hues and cries come up because they believe that once they get the instrument of office, they can think on behalf of their constituency not minding whether that thought is correct or agrees with the views and opinions of the majority of their constituents.

So, the constituents do not see the benefit of sending them to the National Assembly or State Assembly as the case may be, that is why they are complaining. When they come back, they exude larger than life image. It is like showing people that you have sent me there to go and enjoy on your behalf but not to serve your own purpose, and those people are not happy because they believe that even if it is not achieved, they should have seen such a representative representing them correctly. If they needed a road, he should put it on the table of the National Assembly and argue in favour of implementation of that project. Everybody will know that he has done his best even if at the end of the day, the project is not fully implemented.

So, basically, the reason people are angry is that they do not see the service. Even with the so-called jumbo pay, if they see correlative service delivery, they will still pardon them for enjoying on their behalf.

Ambakederimo: Nigerians are agitated and angry, and I have advocated that Nigerians regularly storm the National Assembly to protest, it is our right to do that, and we should continue to do it.

First, I realize Nigerians are beginning to wake up from their slumber, but it is still low. We want to encourage it.

We need to have interest in governance. We know the characters that want to become our leaders, we know their background, and what they do for a living before putting themselves for the electorate and that is why we want to encourage that kind of engagement.

Having said that, we must agitate, why should we not? We elected these people, they present themselves to us. Come rain or shine, we elected and they should do our bidding, that is representative democracy.

I am sorry to say this but which Nigerian will mention one person from the National Assembly as a role model? You don’t have. What was the background of some of these persons that are there but now behave as if they are alpha and omega? It is a very sad development.

Nigerians must continue to ask questions every day no matter what. We must make it a recurring decimal in our lives. We must ask questions, and that is the way we can put them on their toes. Continued engagement is what we need to do no matter what anybody says.

How many of us know our councilors from our wards representing us? Even the local government chairmen, how many do we know? These are the issues, let us take this governance issue very seriously, and that is the only way we can make some progress.

Ndujihe: The legislature, as far as I am concerned is the first estate of the realm if you are talking about democracy- the only arm properly elected. For me, they are the first estate of the realm and so much is expected of them.

The second estate is the executive; the third is the judiciary, the fourth is the media and the fifth is the civil society. So, because they are the first and the symbol of democracy, we want the dividend of democracy delivered.

A lot is expected of them, unfortunately, the legislature is the least developed, it is the least equipped, and they are the closest to the people at the grassroots, they are the ones who are supposed to see the market women, the unemployed youths, those looking for jobs, those who want to go to schools and all that.

So, people see them every day and then, we talk about this jumbo pay, the first thing that comes to the mind of an average person is my representative has taken N59 million and the second thing that comes to their mind is to go to the legislator and seek for financial assistance. When the demand becomes too much, the lawmaker will go and hide, and they will say the lawmaker is not available in his constituency. Because it is poorly developed, you find out that this arm of government is the most vilified, blackmailed, and then the executive wants to put things across, and the assembly refuses to be the rubber stamp, the legislators will be blackmailed.

So, over time, the legislature has been cast in a bad light in the minds of the people. Whatever is done by the legislature is put on the front burner and this arm of government has been so demonized that we feel they are not needed.

If you say the legislature is a problem, then democracy is a problem and if democracy is a problem, try military rule and then you will see what will happen.

Like I said, people really don’t understand the work they do. Under the military rule, who would ask the military head of state why he should appoint somebody? Imagine if we were in a military rule, who would be talking about lopsided appointments? If we were in a military rule, nobody would gather here and talk about how much anybody is earning; you cannot do that. That is why we have to support these people, and then since 1999, these lawmakers have insisted on constituency projects. They know where the shoe pinches. They initiate some projects and ensure that these projects are included in the budget, but these projects are often time sabotaged. These projects are never well funded until they cry and find a way of arm-twisting the executive to get the projects implemented.

Mumumi: Let me say straight away that in a democracy, it is about the people and once the people who are supposed to be served are not feeling the impact of government and start hearing that their legislators take so much amount of money, then, it is compulsory that the people should be agitated when they are not receiving value for money paid.

I have said so, and I am repeating it that based on the level of work they do they are overpaid.

Once you say this is a democracy and democracy is supposed to be the government of the people, by the people and for the people, then the centre point of any government action must be the betterment of the life of the overall majority of the people.

Now, we are saying the basic salary of a public worker is N18,000, you have done the calculation and stated that the Nigerian legislators’ basic pay is 59 times the salary of an average public worker.

We have had statistics; we don’t compare ourselves with the USA, we have found out that Nigeria has the highest paid legislature in the world, taking a lot of other variables into consideration.

Now, they cannot give us the amount that they receive. I would have expected that what we have here, (table drawing the salaries of lawmakers) for instance, should come from the National Wages and Salaries Commission. We don’t have that here.

Aziken: The National Wages and Salaries Commission responsibility is to make recommendations for the salaries of civil servants. The Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission does for political office holders.

Mumumi: Thank you, that means we have something to talk about. Now that you have done the calculation, we say the basic salary of a Nigerian public worker is N18,000, the average salary of a legislator is 59 times the salary of a civil servant.

When you say you operate a system where the citizen is now terribly shortchanged, in terms of what comes to the citizens at the end of the month, that system is faulty, that system is unethical, that system is dangerous, and that is the reason people are agitated. That is the reason people are angry.

No civil servant can legitimately buy a brand new car; it is possible for a Nigerian legislator if all these allowances are added together, to buy a new car. You cannot say you are serving me and you are ripping me off. That is the reason Nigerians are disturbed and angry.

When anger piles up, anything can happen, but we don’t pray that anything untoward will happen but what we are saying is that the legislature must look at these things clearly so that what is fair, just and responsible in the context of the Nigerian economy prevails.

Onigbinde — Sincerely, the issue of National Assembly pay has been fundamental in the campaign that we started with EiE and SERAP was also involved. It started with what we called Our NASS and later when we saw that the message was not getting through, we started OPEN NASS.

And our campaign was that over the years, the National Assembly budget was always stuck in secrecy. The details were published before but former Senate President David Mark stopped publishing the details and it was so until this current fiscal year that the National Assembly published its budget.

This was a rigorous campaign and we also met the Senate President (Senator Bukola Saraki) and I am happy that they have taken it forward. By law, it is RMAFC that sets their salary, I think the salary that is being given to the National Assembly members is something that we can even deal with because if you look at the total amount of money that they will need for payment of salary in a year, it is not more than N9 billion for all the 469 legislators.

Now if you add another N10 billion because they have staff, aides, personnel and other overhead, the National Assembly would not need more than N20 billion in a year because a whole university that has over eight colleges, professors, research institutions does not get more than N13 billion in a year from the federal government and maybe another N1 billion from TETFUND. So how is the National Assembly with a single building be getting 10 times of what a university gets or more than 15 times what a teaching hospital gets from the Federal Government? And that has always been the bane of this country.

Another thing is that the National Assembly does not respect itself and does not recognize how important it is within the Nigerian framework. A lot of people say we are always on the National Assembly, we have to watch them because they are supposed to be the highest arm of government with the best accountability in a democracy. So they themselves must be accountable because he who comes to equity must come with clean hands and that has always been the argument.

If you look at the budget that was released this year, over 60% of the budget was overhead, another 20% was for administrative cost, like to buy cars, computers, equipment and sitting allowances and the rest. The entire civil service in the National Assembly, the National Assembly Civil Service Commission did not get more than N2 billion to N3 billion. The aides got almost N10 billion and I am wondering how many aides does a member of a National Assembly need? How is an aide in a National Assembly better paid than a professor in a University? Because the aides in the National Assembly get N9.6 billion and the personnel cost of most universities in Nigeria is not up to N9billion naira!

So why? All of these are tied to something they are not telling us and these are rigorous questions we have been trying to ask.

What could the National Assembly possibly do with N130 billion naira? The Nigeria Army does not get more than N140 billion for a whole year and this includes all the operations across the country.

The Nigerian Police that manages security across the entire country, their budget is about N300 billion for a whole year. A whole university gets about N13 billion and a teaching hospital in Nigeria gets about N12 billion. When you look at the figures, you will definitely agree something is wrong.

So, the question will always be there, what is the National Assembly doing with a N130 billion budget? And that’s why we need to continue to ask them these questions because this country just got out of recession recently with about 0.6% growth rate. I do not know where that will take us to. The issue is that we got out of recession but standard practice all over the world is that anytime the economy is nose-diving, the government is supposed to adopt some belt-tightening measures, so you can free up resources for the capital budget, free up resources for the private sector to expand growth. What you have seen in Nigeria is that they have just been topping the capital part of the budget, they keep the current budget rising as far as they can.

We have never seen the National Assembly even saying let us cut down on the number of our aides, there is nothing to show that we are in a time of want. Even the budget of state houses of Assemblies is around N15 billion naira or less. The judiciary has over 24 High courts in the country, they have the Court of Appeal in over 12 places in the country, the judiciary has their own staff and all the judges of the Supreme Court, their budget was about N70 billion for years and it was until recently their budget was raised to about N100 billion naira. So that’s is the problem because we do not have the details of how the money (National Assembly) get is spent.

But you have a single entity getting N130 billion, it is a travesty of justice and there needs to be more anger because beyond the budget that was published, they should give us a statement of account to say this is what exactly how our money is being spent on. That is where we need to move to.

In the United Kingdom, there is what is called Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority, they fix the salary of every legislator in the UK, so if you are a legislator in London or a legislator in Sunderland, your salaries are different, your constituency allowances are also different. Constituency allowance is a reflection of the average payout within the place you represent. In the United States, when you go to www.disbursement.house.gov you can see that every single member of the House of Representatives in the United States publishes his expenses online, every single expense even up to telephone call. In such places, aides work on the basis of the current work that is at hand, not aides that are permanent with you just like we have in Nigeria. Over there, they get aides based on the context of the job at hand, if they are dealing with energy, they get expert aides on energy that can give you expertise on energy and they are paid based on the number of hours they clock with you.

But here we just created another civil service and that is how we are. We spend more than almost four times of what the South African parliament spends and that is a country that has three times the size of our country’s federal budget. So, we have not sat back to ask ourselves what really is the problem? Let’s even forget about the budget because Nigeria’s budget is a huge joke. You are going to spend almost N2 billion on cars alone, you are going to spend almost N3 billion on committee meetings. We believe when you spend money, there is an audited account or a statement of account to show how you spent public money. I think they should allow Nigerians have access to how the money is spent, that is what we are saying.

Aziken: You led the campaign that the National Assembly should open up its budget, how far has that campaign gone?

Mumuni: Let me tell you, the reason why that thing came out was that Professor Sagay raised the matter. He came out with a certain specific figure. What we simply did in our organization was to ask the National Assembly whether is it true and they should tell Nigerians. That was what happened. When we wrote the Senate President, he said he wanted to clarify it for us. I was out of the country but the deputy executive of SERAP was with them at that meeting with the Senate President. And the feedback that we got was that, what we are asking for is on their website. Somebody raised specific allegations and even quoted figures, you said you wanted to clarify it and you invited us to a meeting, you now asked us to go to your website. When we got to the website, what we got from the website was simply the budget of the National Assembly and that does not address the specifics of what Prof Sagay brought to the public. So, we never received any help directly from the Senate President.

Aziken: What is your reaction to this culture of secrecy concerning the budget of the National Assembly?

Adeniran: The culture of secrecy did not start just yesterday, it has always been there right from the military to the civilian governments. In the military days, the reason why you did not know the extent or the magnitude of corruption that took place was because of secrecy, they didn’t allow you to know anything.

But now that we are in the global village, we have the technology that could guide us, but we have an administrative system that can keep the technology at bay. As a matter of fact, instead of them to open up, they keep closing all the channels which you know. Before we got the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Bill passed, it was herculean, it took several years, several legislative regimes and all that. But when we eventually got it passed, it was a watered down Freedom of Information bill.

So, if you need any information from any public official, you need to be very patient and be deep-pocketed because you will have to go to court on every item that you ask them. They don’t care! Why? Because they can afford the cost of litigation from the government coffers and that is why you cannot keep on going to court and they know that our judicial system is such that you can take for granted and you are not likely to get to the end of that case. So, the culture of secrecy is entrenched by the extant laws that guide the operation of our public offices.

For example, we have the offices of accountant general and auditor general and even within the National Assembly management level, there are internal accountants and auditors, what are they doing? There is nobody playing oversight role over them and if any worker is not closely supervised, he is most likely to slack down and slacking is what all the controlling regulatory authorities over the expenditure of all the government organisation have done.

They are not being supervised and because the law is not operating the way it has been stated, nobody is being punished for not making information about expenditure public. If every month, the office of Auditor General brings out the report of the audited accounts, Nigerians will see what each legislator has spent.

It is the government that pays them all allowances, it is the state that buys them cars, gives them houses, their families use the best hospitals provided for by the government, so there is nothing they use their salaries on. When they travel, they get ecstacode, when they do anything outside their immediate environment, they get allowances.

They call something hardship allowance and you wonder what kind of hardship they go through in making laws, in amending laws and doing oversight functions.

For oversight functions, they have buses and despite that, they still bought several SUV’s that will take them to places they don’t have to go. They don’t use all of this equipment for the benefit of the people.

They know it is scandalous to show Nigerian people what they spend money on and that is why they keep it secret. If the Nigerian people know, when they get back to their constituencies, they will be stoned. And that is why we are campaigning that until when we begin to ostracize these people, who refused to deliver on the dividends of democracy upon which they were elected, they will not take necessary precautions in the way they live a reckless life.

So, to stop the regime of secrecy, we still have to go back to the laws, we have to ensure that all officials including auditor general and accountant general do their work the way they are supposed to do it. The Nigerian populace have to organise themselves towards ensuring adequate service delivery.

Onigbinde: The Holy Bible says if your work is good, you will bring it out for everybody to see. There is nothing much behind these problems more than corruption. That is why people like me find it difficult when people say this administration is fighting corruption when on certain issues, you don’t want to be transparent. The National Assembly intentionally does this because they understand that the lifestyle of its members is not in consonance with the prevailing economic condition in this country. I always tell my staff that a legislator will get a billion naira within the period of four years in the National Assembly. Can you explain to me how the National Assembly has spent over N1.3 trillion in the last 18 years since we started this democracy? So, the conversation would look at how much a Senator is earning. If what they earn is N29 million a month that is probably over a billion naira in four years. So, the transparency has to be there in terms of what they earn.

My mum retired from public service last month as a primary school teacher, her salary was N113,000 and she is even being owed two months salary and this is someone who worked for 35 years in government. But if you come as a politician, you will live large and we need to query this.

The issue of secrecy comes with the issue of corruption. But we are basically talking about people who come to work three times a week, who basically would be on recess at least for four months within a calendar year and besides budgets that are being passed, bills like PIB have been lingering and are yet to be passed, they have audit bill that has been lingering , we have strong punitive laws that have to do with corruption, they have not moved a motion on those things.

So we don’t understand what it is. Their case calls for retrospection because I believe they are the biggest organ of the government, they are people’s parliament and they represent every interest across Nigeria.

If they understand how important that institution is, they will not treat it with levity. The United States President will defer a lot of issues to the Congress and that shows you how powerful the Congress is and the National Assembly should recognize its role. And they should think about their institution alone getting N130 billion when a University of Ibadan or Obafemi Awolowo gets about N15 billion.

And we should not forget that the National Assembly allowances are statutory. Even if we sell 10,000 barrels of oil today, National Assembly will get its own money. We are doing all these to ensure we get an independent National Assembly so that you don’t wait for the executive anytime they need to work. They need to be autonomous and I support that as well, unlike the State Houses of Assembly that has to wait on the Governor before they do anything. So we need them to sit up and be more open with Nigerians.

Ambakaderemo: My friend here (Ndujihe) said the National Assembly has been the most vilified and most blackmailed. Debo also said the most demonized. Yes it is because of the culture of secrecy and I think they have forgotten that they form the first layer of democracy anywhere.

And they are the ones who are supposed to operate an open government but rather, they are the ones now blocking access to information. We recall what they were trying to do on the NGO bill, social media bill and all that. They are trying to gag the Nigerian people and it is quite unfortunate to find ourselves in this situation and to get out of it will be very difficult. The only way I think I can propose for us to get out of it is the continued engagement of these people. Right now, there is nothing we can even propose because they are the beneficiaries of what they are doing. What do you expect from somebody who is already enjoying largesse, how do you expect him to sit down and allow you remove sugar from his mouth? It is very difficult. Over time we have found ourselves in this mess, and we always want to blame the military, is it not enough time for us to have woken up and set a path for ourselves? The National Assembly is supposed to create a pathway for this country to develop, they are the ones who will do it. These people have amassed so much money for themselves to stand against anybody, they can buy anybody, cause disaffection in your community and it’s a hazard we will continue to live with until God knows when. Though to some of us, it is a sad development that we find ourselves in this situation and we don’t even know how to address it. For me, there is no time these people are ready to sit and talk to anybody that concerns their welfare, they are just interested in their own pockets alone and we have not heard any sacrifice from the National Assembly since the beginning of this administration.

NDUJIHE: I am happy when I see NGOs that have things to do with the National Assembly. We have to help them to grow and get policies that will keep them on their toes. I think from there; there is hope going forward.

MUMUNI: The constitution is structured in such a way that the National Assembly is the most important arm of government. If you look at the placement of the arms of government in Section 4 of the constitution, it will be seen that it was stated that legislative powers would be vested in the National Assembly, the executive powers shall be vested in the executive and judicial powers vested in the judiciary. Basically, it is an important arm of government.

The question is: Why the secrecy and how can we can get out of it? It is important that the National Assembly operates in the open. It is when they operate in the open that the citizens will have much trust in them. The reason people are not happy with them is because of the way they do their things. It is in the best interest of the National Assembly to be open in order to generate the desired confidence of Nigerians. Once, the National Assembly is open about its activities especially in budgeting, they would have the confidence of the people to harass other people into being accountable. In a democracy, there is no room for secrecy, everything must be transparent. There is no reason for the National Assembly to be opaque about its activities. It is even more in their interest to be open so that Nigerians will support whatever they are doing. That will help the lawmakers to do their work effectively.

Aziken

In the National Assembly, we have a number of legislators, who receive multiple flows of incomes from the federal treasury. Some receive pensions and other sorts of incomes. Is it proper? How do we address it?

MUMMUNI: When some governors were about quitting office, some state assemblies like Lagos, Rivers, Ekiti and Kano among others passed pension laws for their governors. The good faith behind such legislation is that since they are former governors, they are entitled to the pension from their states. Now, some of them are senators. In an economy that cannot pay regular salary, in an economy that is paying N18,000 as minimum wage which is not regular because of what we have now, is it justifiable to decree that public money should be used as pension for former governors?

It becomes a matter of overcompensation. And that is why our organisation is in court today. We have canvassed earlier that we should have Attorney General of the Federation separately and Minister of Justice separated.A Minister of Justice will be able to say that Attorney General is someone that is appointed to serve the public interest. When we have such, the Attorney General will able to act even against the interest of the government of the day.

Let us look at the original idea behind having pensions for civil servants. A civil servant, who spent a minimum of 30 and maximum of 35 years in public service is the person that should be entitled to a pension. The idea of pension has never been applicable to politicians, who were elected to serve a maximum of eight years. These people (civil servants) have spent all their productive lives for government. So, the idea that a retired governor should be entitled to pension is evil to us. It is never done anywhere in the world. It is also immoral and contrary to the economic state of Nigerians where a civil servant is not receiving his full salary and a former governor is receiving emolument as a senator, minister and he is also entitled to pension as was decreed by the State House of Assembly. And the state houses of Assembly cannot be touched because they are mere rubber stamps.

That is why we want to call to question their bonafides. When someone occupies public office it is because of the benefits of the office, but for the things that will be written about the person.

Aziken: When there is someone who was in the Army, who became a governor and who is now a senator, the person has three streams of income. Some of them were civil servants. For instance, Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim was a civil servant, he became a governor and he is now a senator. I just want you to have that in view.

NJDUJIHE: Double pay should not even be entertained. That is where I will ask the lawmakers and even NGOs to see if we can get a law in place that will stop that. Some people are career politicians. Consider this: eight years as deputy governors, eight years as governors, eight years as Vice President and eight years as President. That is 32 years. Retired people from the military get their allowances or pensions from the Army or Navy and when they find themselves in the National Assembly, they get paid. Civil servants get their pension and when they get elected they get allowances from the new office they occupy.

Also, former governors, who get appointed as ministers or become senators get paid for those positions. Probably, there should be a law. If it is not in place we should get that law. Democracy is a work in progress and we have not had that experience. If we were talking about a country that has been practicing democracy for over 100 years, probably, we would have had that law. We should get the law in place and stop that. If someone is a pensioner and he gets elected, his pension should stop while he gets remunerated as an elected person. If the person is from the military earning pension, once the person is elected, his pension should stop. Whatever someone is getting before whichever is higher, the person should take the higher one and leave the lower one.

Ambakaderemo: Whatever we can do to move Nigeria forward, we all have to be sincere in doing government business. If we are to compare our private businesses with public business, I keep asking why people frown anytime they are asked to be open about what they do in office. They will forget that they are holding the office for the people. It is like an investor giving his money to a bank manager. That investor has the right to ask how his money is being used. And it behooves on the bank manager to give a report about the money to the investor.

So, if it is so at that level in that sector, why should it not be the same in the public sector? Why should the office of a governor be made pensionable?

What are you doing as a governor? Is not it giving directives and at the end of four years, the person will make so much money? Like Barrister Mumuni said, the houses of assembly have become rubber stamps. Whatever the governor tells them is passed into law. There is no accountability anywhere. So, I am asking, why should the office of a governor be pensionable? The Deputy Governor will take pension and I have heard about moves to make ex-lawmakers earn pension. It is a very sad development that people see public office as a means of self-enrichment and not to serve the people.

That is why some go to the extent of killing people to get power. And I ask: If everybody is killed because of peoples’ ambition who will they now govern?

If we are paying too many people that kind of pension, how much do we have for infrastructure? In Nigeria, we don’t have A-class infrastructure. Even in Abuja, there is nothing when compared to some cities in the world and Africa. It is so because so much money is going into recurrent and not capital expenditure. We are just concerned about ourselves. Look at the big cars that we drive in a bad environment. And it affects our psyche and our children’s upbringing. We have to look at the recurring decimal of our actions, it is very pathetic.

ONIGBINDE:

It is a big problem. The Lagos State House of Assembly recently made attempts to ensure that speakers of the House of Assembly get pension. They said if the judiciary gets pension, if the executive governor gets pension, why are they not also pensionable? That is the scale of the crisis that they want to unleash. That is very insensitive. That is why a lot of people get into government and don’t want to leave. The car they are driving is free, the feeding, domestic servant, courtesies and all that make them not to want to leave. The person will want to run for the office of governor, senator, and President. That is a problem.

It occurs because that place has become a magnet for public funds. In a state where public office holders are concerned about strategic thinking, where the entire use of public funds is also a question of the bureaucracy itself, people act to ensure that things go their way. The House of Assembly that is expected to correct the anomaly has become the biggest rubber stamp because they have found some form of relief from the legal and constitutional interpretation of this.

A lot of people are draining the resources of this country. Most of these states can’t pay salaries. Kwara passed a pension for Saraki until recent public outcry that forced him to say that he was not taking the pension, stating that he was donating it scholarships. There are other states that did that including Lagos State.

MODERATOR: Part of the package in Yobe State is that a former governor can go on vacation with his wife for 30 days with estacode for both of them.

ONIGBINDE: That is what some of them have done. They have gone astray. We need to exert more public pressure.

ADENIRAN: Multiple Salary allowances and pensions are indices of the flight of morality in our polity. People have mortgaged their conscience. They know that there are so many Nigerian youths who cannot even earn salary not to talk of allowances while they are earning so much. Apart from their salaries, they earn multiple pensions. It is because they have mortgaged their conscience and they just see the army of unemployed youths as those who are not as fortunate as them. Those youths themselves have not organised themselves into a formidable force that could ensure that they challenge the system.

Most of the youths are disoriented and focused on material possessions rather than common good. When they are asked how the society is to be governed, they don’t have any idea. Ask them how they think money can get into their pockets, they will tell you they want to go into politics for the sake of money. It is not because they have an agenda for politics. We have youths in governments. Most of these people we are talking about started as youths. Go to local governments and state assemblies, the young people there don’t have any idea on how to better the lives of their people but how to make money. It is also an index of systemic failure.

I said that institutions are not functioning; they are dying or better still comatose. If there had been checks and balances nobody would have asked that they choose between current salaries and pensions, whichever is chosen would be the one that will be continued. But we don’t have records. Many of these salaries and pensions are not in any database. So, much will be taken because there is nothing to tell politicians that they are eating the future of the society. He is eating education and healthcare services. It is even BUDGIT that showed what could have been done with what is being frittered away from the common patrimony.

This should be popularised and taken to communities. When people moved to Kwara State and said that Saraki must not take pension from the state again, he was forced to stop it. And he knew that the time was up. In the North, there was a Senator that was beaten in his constituency. If this social justice is meted out on those who are misrepresenting the people at the level of governance, we would have put the practices to check. The institutions should be made to work as the controlling machinery so that there will be database on who is earning what and where.

All the salary payments from local governments to federal level should be streamlined and put in the database. And there should be national ideology that will make it impossible for people to enjoy any income that comes from unholy quarters. If that is done, there will, be true checks and balances and morality in the polity.

AZIKEN: There is another matter of constituency projects. At the federal level lawmakers input the projects they want for their constituencies in the federal budget. It is the executive that executes it. All they do is to say where they want projects and where they don’t want. They make their presentations and most often it is taken. However, in Bayelsa State and other states, what happens is that the lawmakers take the money and say that they want to do constituency projects. I want your take on it

ADENIRAN: The issue of constituency projects should not have come up if the system had been working. What should concern the constituencies is their participation in NEEDS Assessment and that is where participatory governance is entrenched. But this is a governance system that has mortgaged the input of the constituents. The people don’t seem to matter in the type of democracy we are operating. The people should be at the centre of any government but they have sidelined the people. We have said that the budget cycle should start from the people.

It should be led by the legislators both at the local government, state and federal levels. They should sample opinions to know what the people need in their constituencies. These are what they are supposed to take to the state or the National Assembly. And that is what is supposed to constitute the items in the appropriation bill. No legislator is allowed even by the law to take money or insist on executing a project.

Aziken: At the federal level, lawmakers input the projects they want for their constituencies while the executive executes. All they do is to say I want this project here and I do not want this project here. But in the states, like in Bayelsa and some others, what happens is that the lawmakers take the money and say they are going to do constituency projects. What are your views on this; especially with regards to malpractices in the states?

Adeniran: First and foremost, the issue of constituency projects should not have come up if the system was working. I talked about systemic failure. What should concern the constituencies should be participating in needs assessment. That is where participatory governance is entrenched. But this is a kind of governance system that has mortgaged the inputs of the constituents; the people does not seem to matter in the kind of democracy we are operating despite the fact that they should be the centre focus of any democracy.

The budget circle should start from the people, led by the legislators at the local, state and federal levels. They should sample the opinions of the people by administering questionnaire if they cannot hold town hall meetings, to find out what they need in their constituencies. This is what they are supposed to take to the state, national or even local government assembly. And that is what is supposed to constitute the items in the Appropriation Bill.

No legislator is allowed, even by the law, to take money or to insist on executing certain projects. Once you cannot advocate for the inclusion of it in the Appropriation Bill and the bill passes the legislative processes, then it has become a law to which you cannot do otherwise.

That was where the question of padding came in the other time. But some of us did not even have any qualms with padding as long as the legislature, before hand, has made a presentation that certain projects are supposed to be cited in their constituencies. And if they do not find it at the committee stage of passing the Appropriation Bill, they should insist that it should be put into it. And if that law is brought back to the preliminary and it is not there even if it has gone to the executive, they can still bring it back and insist on the increment of the budgetary allocation to their state so that the constituency project is done.

But it should not be handled by the legislator. It should be handled by the MDA that is relevant to the execution of that project. So, constituency project budgets should not be given to the legislators but should be identified by the legislator and then executed by the relevant MDA. That is the only way we can get out of this problem.

But it is unfortunate that legislators do not even know their roles. That is why during campaigns, they promise to build a school here, a road there, etc. It is not their role to build but to identify those needs so they can be included in the budget and executed by the relevant MDA. Electoral promises are not the same as reality because when you get to the legislative house, you are not the only one that will eventually determine what will be cited in a constituency.

So, when people say politicians have certain things in their manifestoes but have not fulfilled them, they should know that it is not automatic. When those intended projects get to the house, so many people have to make contributions to them and they can either be thrown out or approved. That is why when a ruling party says it is going to do something, it is beyond it when it gets to government because other legislators may counter that intended project so that it does not see the light of day.

People should understand the principle of separation of power, and they should ensure that the principle of checks and balances operates; if it does well, it means that the system is working, morality will still be restored, and that good governance will be the end result.

Onigbinde: We did a report where we tracked the implementation of projects in 20 states and what you will see is that these projects are treated as personal projects for most of the representatives. A member of the House of Representatives from Lagos is an example. An ambulance was in the budget, and after it had been purchased, he inscribed on it “Donated by Femi …….” After myself and others queried him, he now went to do another new sticker and wrote: “Facilitated by Femi ……”. The same thing happens in other places even worse. There is a case in Zamfara where someone put the signboard of a constituency project outside the fence of his house and put the borehole inside his building. So how does the public access that borehole which is inside his house?

There is one in Ogun State, an ICT training centre. What the representative did was to put the project inside his constituency office and was collecting money from users. I, at first thought, it was a cyber-café. These are well-documented stories, and I can go on and on. There are so many ridiculous cases of how even a N100 billion constituency project has been abused.

We have seen situations where a community needs a borehole but their representatives will go and get a contractor from Abuja and give them solar street lightings which will work for few months, like one that happened in Ekiti, and will stop functioning.

I am always of the opinion that constituency projects should be scrapped. You can go by the book and say it is the executive that implements the constituency projects but believe me, if you do not want to be called into the National Assembly every week to be explaining one kobo and one naira, you have to, therefore, allow the members themselves to decide which contractor, which location and whatever, and that has been the bane. It has become like a whole bargaining chip for the National Assembly, and it is very evident that their efficiency level is really poor. Now, we are even in a phase that for the current one for 2017, they have avoided putting locations. They will just state: “Construction of primary schools in Isaoke Constituency for N200 million.” So how does one trace that or know which school to check?

That is the problem we have, and it is unfortunate that the Nigerian elite has never been bold and that is why for a lot of us, Buhari has been a big disappointment. We thought he (Buhari) was going to be received with fear and that he was coming to envelope the entire system, but nothing has changed so far about anybody having some level of fear for this administration; and it is really unfortunate.

Ambakederimo: I see constituency projects as a ploy to feed the voracious appetite of some people and nothing more. We must find a way to stop it no matter what anybody wants to say because it only takes money out of government and put it in the hands of some persons.

I have had opportunity to tender for some projects in the past, and they will tell you this and this project is being put in the budget by XYZ legislator or senator, and therefore, it is a no-go-area for you. Number this is for so and so Minister, etc. At the end of the day, there is nothing in the Nigerian budget for the public to tender for. So, by the time the call for tenders is published in the papers, all the projects had already been allocated to certain people. That is how it works; we are only deceiving ourselves, and that is why you see more hunger in the land.

You see, that is where the problem with our National Assembly is; people will put aside their jobs as lawmakers and go to become contractors. There is a clash of interests already, and that is why we cannot make progress. They sit down there in Abuja, input anything into the budget saying it is the needs of the people (even when they do not hold town hall meetings), and then they collect the money and put in their pockets. And mind you, they end up doing this in connivance with the ministries and MDAs. The level of corruption in this country is still high; nothing has changed at all.

These things must stop! In my constituency where I come from, I have not seen any constituency projects even at the state level in Bayelsa. Rather, they collect the money, buy new cars and marry more wives.

Ndujihe: This boils down to what we have been saying all day. I do not want us to fall into the one answer fits all approach. It boils down to the issue of transparency, accountability, trust and good governance. There is so much insincerity, greed, corruption and insensitivity to the needs of the citizenry. We say constituency projects; let us know how it arose, first of all.

The understanding behind it is that these lawmakers are the ones that know the people and their needs. So, they are expected to hold town hall meetings with them, to be sure of what they really need. Often times, when the Ministry of Budget and Planning start their budgets, I doubt if the lawmakers make any input. So, at a stage, they will need the input of the lawmakers.

It is at that stage that the lawmakers will begin to state what they need in their constituencies, such as hospitals, water, electricity, roads, etc. That is the level at which these projects are included in the budget.

Now, coming to implementation, you have cases where the lawmaker is taken to be a bad boy because he is probably anti-president or anti-governor. Thus, you find a situation whereby funds are not allocated to their projects, or if allocated, the projects are given to contractors who will not do the job.

It is at this stage that the lawmaker too decides that he cannot take chances as he has made promises to his people and wants to deliver. Thus, he prefers to award the project to a contractor himself. Although, at this level, because some lawmakers are corrupt and insincere, these projects do not get implemented. At the other level also, you have the executive sabotaging the project. In the long run, who is the loser? The ordinary people.

To get these things right, in a situation where projects are given to lawmakers to handle (which is not too right), we the media, civil society and the other arms of government, must hold them to account. And then if the projects are to be executed by the executive, we must also help the lawmakers to track and ensure that they are implemented.

Mumuni: Let me raise this question as a background: we had operated under the First Republic, and things were moving well. We never heard of constituency projects. We were operating under the Second Republic and I never heard of constituency projects but yet, things were done in the communities. Why is it now in this era that we started hearing about constituency projects?

Let me tell you, to me; it is a terrible idea for a legislator to say he or she wants to do execution of projects; the legislature is to make law. Once a legislator now contributes to the method by which a project is to be executed, there are two possibilities. If he collects the contract himself, how does he oversight? That means he has left the ambits of legislation and moved to execution. Both cannot be done at the same time.

Like the instances given by Seun, when a member brings a project to the community, the first idea, to the people that are close to him, is that it belongs to him. And as soon as he leaves office, that thing becomes more or less misused, disused and abandoned. Let us take for example a constituency project that was not completed before a representative leaves office due to inability to get re-elected. That thing becomes a waste.

A person who wants to contest to enter the National Assembly and says to his people: “I will construct roads,” is a liar. I say this because he has no such power at all since he will be speaking in the midst of hundreds of other legislators that will contribute to the idea because this is a democracy. And once they shut down the idea, that is the end.

Aziken: As we round-off this session, what will be your various parting shots on the topic before us?

Adeniran: Legislators’ jumbo pay is not made reality by the approval of the legislature but by other arms of government and the populace. If the populace do not tolerate such arbitrary behavior, they will continue. Now, if the law is made to work and there is transparency, accountability, and probity and the system is working well, nobody will legislate jumbo pay for himself while the majority of the populace is impoverished every day. There should be checks and balances. Ultimately, what we are advocating is that the people should organize themselves into pressure groups and ensure that they are vigilant because vigilance is the price for liberty.

Onigbinde

My parting shot is that the National Assembly should step up and understand its key role within a democratic setting, and doing that should be in the context of Nigeria’s resources. Nigeria is not a rich country, and it has so many poor people too. Putting this in context means that rigorous transparency has to come from the National Assembly.

Exactly how does the Assembly spend N130 billion? That should be accounted for, and if they cannot, then they have lost the moral right to ask any other person how they spent public funds. The second has to do with the issue of constituency projects. There has to be a holistic framework about the choices of constituency projects, their implementation and value impacts because these are no small money. They all have to be accounted for.

Ambakederimo: We talked about legislators’ jumbo pay, double pay, constituency projects, and secrecy. In all of these, I want to hold the Nigerian media responsible. In other climes, it is the media that takes stories of how government money is being spent, those who spent it, where the funds came from and how they were supposed to be spent. But in Nigeria here, it is the other way round; perhaps they have been compromised because of the environment they find themselves. So, it is very difficult. But I will advice that they try as much as they can to find a way to do so.

We cannot tolerate such in our private businesses, so, why should we show complacency when it comes to public money? The media should be at the vanguard of the fight against corruption by exposing anything and anybody. The Nigerian people will stand up if you take the lead without trying to cover anything.

Ndujihe

I think people must take more active participation in politics and ensure that credible people are elected. Comrade was talking about media, but essentially, I would say the media has not been caged or compromised. It has been on its toes doing the work.

But more work needs to be done though because if a story does not get published in the prints, is not aired on radio or not on television, the social media is there, and it will certainly be celebrated there. Based on that, no serious media organization can afford to be compromised to the extent of being seen as not doing its work.

Then talking about jumbo pay, my take is that whatever is paid anybody, whether in the executive, legislature or judiciary, must be in tandem with the economic realities in the country. It should also be reviewed from time to time; when things are lean, we should cut cost, and when they are buoyant, we can consider increase. The legislature is the symbol of democracy. Therefore, all hands must be on deck to help this organ of government remain afloat through constructive criticisms, offering of ideas, and all, to ensure that it is strong and alive to its duties.

Mumuni

On the issue of pay, whether to a legislator or any person serving in public service, my position is that whatever pay he or she must receive must be commensurate with the economic realities of the time. It is anti-people for it to be otherwise.

We have concluded here that the legislature is the symbol of democracy and I say that it is in the interest of the Nigerian legislature to be open to the Nigerian people so that confidence is built and so that the Nigerian people can support the legislature to be able to do its oversight functions.

The secrecy with which they operate is not engendering confidence; so, it is better that it (legislature) acts fasts to regenerate the much-needed confidence.

Concluded

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