For good or ill, majority of Nigerians have a low opinion of members of the two chambers of the National Assembly who are widely seen as self-aggrandising sybarites whose lives and interests are mismatched with those of the citizenry. Recent media reports that the 360-strong House of Representatives is subtly canvassing for an increase in its members’ quarterly allowances show that the House is not in any hurry to disavow its ugly reputation as a body of men and women who only meet to approve money.
Each member of the Red chambers currently takes home a princely N27million quarterly in dedicated allowances, and were the body to have its way; it would be the third time in as many years that it has managed to increase members’ allowances.
Nigerians have every reason to be miffed at the lawmakers’ request. For one, because of their abysmal record in coming up with laws that actually improve the quality of lives of the majority, there is a strong feeling that both chambers are poor value for money. Second, studies have shown that Nigerian lawmakers are already the highest paid legislators in the entire world, which makes it difficult to justify increasing the House members’ allowances to N45million, as they are demanding.
Besides, these outlandish allowances are only a portion of their total known remuneration. In addition, members receive salaries and other benefits under various categories, including entertainment, utilities, hardship, house maintenance, entertainment, hiring of a personal assistant, and vehicle maintenance. Finally, it goes without saying that these staggering sums are being paid to the lawmakers even as the national monthly minimum wage is a paltry N18,000, 54 per cent of youths remain unemployed, and 61 per cent of the population continue to live in absolute poverty.
Whenever they are accused of living high off the hog, the lawmakers have usually pushed back by arguing that all their benefits are legal, as they have been approved by the Nigerian Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Members of the House of Representatives have also argued, rather tendentiously, that while their remunerations are admittedly outsized, they that is, the remunerations) are on a par with those paid to the Executive and the Judiciary.
We find both arguments dubious in the extreme. In the first instance, the legislators are putting a narrow legalism before ethics. Instead of insisting that their obscene allowances are legal, the body ought to ask itself whether it is right. The same principle ought to be applied to their second argument. Rather than say that they are not the only ones riding the gravy train, the distinguished members of the House of Representatives should worry that they are on board to start with.
It is not unlikely that, as on previous occasions, the members will have their way and secure the hike they so desperately want. This might happen not because they have a superior argument — they don’t — but because many Nigerians are simply tired of the legislators’ shenanigans (for example, their penchant for holding budget negotiations to ransom) and have, in resignation, decided that protest is pointless. This situation should worry the lawmakers, for in the long run, no democracy can survive without the commitment, dedication, and passion of its citizens.
The current conjuncture therefore, demands astute and selfless leadership, the kind that we are confident the House Speaker, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal possesses in abundance. We charge him to rein in his rank and file and remind them of their constitutional obligation to put their bodies and minds to the service of Nigerians. Lawmaking is an honourable calling, not a money-spinning enterprise.