Lawmakers and their running costs – Thisday

The cost of running government is excessive

For years, the sheer lack of transparency that shrouds the remunerations of National Assembly members and the magnitude of their financial outlay had been an issue. Despite repeated promises to make open to the public what they earn, they have always hedged and for the past 20 years Nigerians, have had to rely on speculations on the pay of their representatives. All that changed last week when Senator Shehu Sani (representing Kaduna Central) revealed that each senator receive as much as N13.5 million on a monthly basis as office running costs, in addition to a N700,000 monthly salary.

Although the Senate spokesperson, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, has tried to play down the revelation by saying that it is nothing new, he did not address Sani’s charge that there is little or no accountability for the expenditure of the funds and that the National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent arms of government. While the earnings for members of the House of Representatives are yet to be revealed, it is safe to assume it is close to what their ‘senior’ colleagues earn, assuming they are not the same since they always claim equality. That explains why majority of Nigerians agree with Sani that “if the expenses payment system was ended, then parliament would only be attractive to people who contribute ideas.”

While most people are curious as to what informs Sani’s sudden change of attitude after close to three years of receiving over N170 million annually, the most important thing is to look at the message rather than the messenger. What the revelation has done is to confirm that Nigerian lawmakers are indeed the highest paid in the world. With 109 senators earning close to N170 million each, outside any other perks, (as well as that of their 360 counterparts in the lower house), the nation is obviously expending a fortune on its lawmakers without any commensurate value for money in terms of their performance.

At a period when there is a compelling need for the lawmakers to ensure robust, painstaking and timely legislation and oversight so that Nigerians can begin to derive the benefits of good governance, the only thing that seems to concern them is their privileges. And, as we stated during the controversy over the purchase of jeeps for the lawmakers, this session of the National Assembly, especially the Senate, is about to set the standard on how a legislature can become a subversion of all the ethical aspirations that ought to drive a society.

However, we must also put it on record that this sort of outrageous pay is not restricted to the legislature. The executive is also guilty, both at the federal and in the states. Former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, once said that Nigerians would be shocked to know how much governors earn monthly. Yet, we are talking of a society where hunger has become a staple for majority of the people. By diverting scarce resources to a few private hands at the expense of much needed projects such as schools, hospitals, roads and reliable institutions, poverty is being reinforced.

The most important message here is that it is these outrageous perks that have made political offices very attractive to all kinds of desperados – people who have no inkling of patriotism but motivated mostly by self-interest. That explains why many of them would commit all sorts of atrocities just to get to power, mindful of the fact the coveted offices cast some sort of immunity on them. And unless we change that by reducing the monetary gains of political offices, our elections would continue to be a “do or die” affair.

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