National Assembly jumbo pay: Can Nigeria afford Bicameral legislature? – Seye Olaniyonu

National Assembly jumbo pay: Can Nigeria afford Bicameral legislature? – Seye Olaniyonu

The social media is still going agog with the news that incoming legislators of the National Assembly will get a jumbo pay, put in the region of a whopping N4.6 billion as a welcome package, in a country where the National Minimum wage is still N30,000.

It may be easy to blame the legislators, but when we look deeper into the issue, the nuance takes shape.

Blame not the lawmakers, if anything, the blame should be placed firmly at the feet of ‘our copy-cat attitude’, specifically the blind importation of the United States template during the drafting of the 1979 constitution.

As espoused back then, the adoption of the US system, it was promised, will take Nigeria to Eldorado.

But like most poorly thought through decisions, the cost was completely ignored.

The 1979 constitution abolished the Westminster-fashioned parliamentary system for the Bi-camera legislature with 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives members, all full-time positions.

According to details of the new jumbo pay of the legislators, a senator will be entitled to about N10.1million, of which N4.05 million per annum will go into accommodation and N6.07million once in four years will cater for furniture (furniture implies everything in the House) while their counterparts in the House of Representatives will spend N9.92million, of which N5.95million once in four years will be for furniture and N3.07 million voted for accommodation.

The figure above is definitely mind-boggling and unjustifiable, especially in the light of Nigeria’s status as the poverty capital of the world. It is worth stating, nevertheless, that the proposed pay package is not the highest in the world as against the erroneous belief that Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world.

According to Sen Shehu Sani, the running cost of a senator is N13.5 million, out of which the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMFAC) already claimed that N1.06million is for salary and entitlement (including Domestic Staff, personal assistant and constituency office support) while the remaining N12.45million is for running costs, of which all expenditure must be backed up with receipts.

The total annual package for a senator in the National Assembly – Housing Allowance: N4.05 million; Salary and entitlement: N1.06million which, when totalled over 12 months’ amounts to N12.7million per annum; Furniture Allowance: N6.07million which, divided by four years comes to a figure of N1.51million – all add up to N18.7million annually and when compared to $174,000 (N62.4million) earned by a US Senator, Nigerian Senators are still some way off the top.

That is not the issue though.

The problem is that there is enormous opacity around the disbursement of the running cost, and most times, lawmakers treat the fund as their personal salary to be expended any way they deem fit.

This unwanted situation can be attributed to the fact that we borrowed the concept from the US.

According to Congressional Research Services, the US Congress has the Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA), and from its latest report, a US senator in every financial gets between $3.12million to $5.09million depending on the population of his district and distance of his state to Washington DC.

The fund covers administrative and clerical components, personnel and official and office assistance allowance.

However, senators are to retire the unspent funds to the appropriation committee of the National Assembly.

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This is not trying to justify the humongous cost but to point out the fact that the bicameral legislative system is expensive and perhaps, Nigeria may not be able to afford it.

Going back to the N4.6billion package, anyone familiar with the real estate market in the Federal Capital Territory will know that the sum of N4.5million budgeted will only get you a decent accommodation in Abuja and not a luxurious one befitting a Nigerian senator.

According to Amos Kassim, a realtor based in Abuja, the rent in the Abuja Municipal is unarguably one of the most expensive in the country.

He explained: “Most people prefer to stay in Phase 1 which are: Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse, Wuse 2, Garki, Garki 2 and Phase 2; Jabi, Utako, Gudu areas.

“The rent in Phase 1 in Maitama and Wuse 2 (A8) for a conventional house without service, for a five-bedroom duplex is N12-N14 million.

“If serviced, it is between N20-N25 million, a four-bedroom unit in Maitama and Wuse 2 goes for between N9million and N12million.

“For a flat in Wuse 2, it is between N2.5-N3million for a three-bedroom unit excluding service charges, but to get that in Maitama, it’s between N2.5-N3.5million which is very rare.

“The sum of N3million will only get you the basic flat in Maitama, nothing more. The only place you can get a comfortable three-bedroom flat of N3million is probably in Garki, not in even in Jabi or Utako.

“Even N7million will not get you a luxury house in Phase 1 and Phase 2, probably only in Phase 3 but even at that, N7million will be a rare opportunity.”

Realistically, the fund voted as Housing Allowance can only secure basic accommodation in Abuja and the reality is that, not every senator owns a house in Abuja or can afford to pay from his or her pocket.

If the Apo Legislative Quarters had not been monetized, there would have been no need for accommodation allowance for the lawmakers in the National Assembly.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had sold off the property to the then-lawmakers during his second term.

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The-then FCT Minister, Mallam Nasir Elrufai was responsible for making the recommendation to President Obasanjo to sell all properties owned by the Federal Government in Abuja, of which the Apo Legislative Quarters was included in the sales frenzy.

The quarters of the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker were not included in the initial sales but were subsequently sold off during the late Umar Yar Adua’s administration.

As it stands, Speaker, Yakubu Dogara and Senate President, Bukola Saraki do not live at Apo Legislative quarters, while Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu lives at Apo Legislative quarters as he benefitted from the monetization exercise. Same applies to Deputy Speaker, Lasun Yusuf who lives at Apo Legislative Quarters Extension.

The main focus should be on running cost, not the benefit.

Demanding accountability on how the funds are spent is the real deal.

Exaggerating the figure is nothing but a distraction.

Nigerian Senators are not the highest paid in the world but a bicameral legislature may not be the best option for the Nigerian situation as it is too expensive to sustain its National Assembly.

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A writer with a keen interest in human stories and topical issues around the world. [email protected]

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