By Wale Fatade
Nigerians got a kick in the mouth on Sunday, August 15 with a story published by The Nation on Sunday. Entitled “Naira rain as senators collect N23.4m each,” it affirmed what some Nigerians have always suspected: our National Assembly is a sybaritic enclosure where members might not be able to contribute meaningfully to the task of developing Nigeria. My mind was made up on this week’s topic last Wednesday when the Senate decided to go on another vacation, the third since inauguration, till September 29, having rejected a pay-cut and setting up a 13-member ad hoc committee to probe the power sector under former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.
Too often we focus on the executive without beaming our searchlight on the legislators who, if things continue the way they are, are nothing but parasites on the country’s increasingly scarce financial resources. The Nation revealed that nearly N13 billion may have been spent on maintaining our senators and representatives just for two months even when our senators have sat for a mere 11 days since their inauguration on June 9. The exact amount spent on maintaining 109 senators and 360 representatives was N12.967 billion with each senator collecting N36.4 million and each representative pocketing N25 million, I’m not sure even drug traffickers make as much as our federal legislators have earned in just two months.
Last Wednesday, the Senate rejected a suggestion by its Finance committee to cut senators’ salaries and allowances. Their argument was that other beneficiaries of the N120 billion National Assembly budget must accept a cut too in their salaries. Of course, this was at an executive session, a euphemism in the Nigerian context whenever they want to talk about money due to them. A newspaper reported that the senators rejected the recommendations because they were not practicable. Excuse me, what is not practicable in cutting down emoluments in a country where millions are wallowing in acute poverty? What is so difficult in following the example of the president and vice president who slashed their take-home by 50%? Some of us criticized President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of tokenism by slashing their salaries, but why can’t our legislators follow suit with such tokenism?
It is the height of insincerity and clownishness by suggesting that civil servants working at the National Assembly must be consulted before cutting the budget. Pray, has any Nigerian complained about the salaries of civil servants? Are they the ones sucking Nigerians like leeches without a corresponding productivity? By the way, the last two months of both chambers did not witness any innovative lawmaking or groundbreaking bills that will advance Nigeria except the usual resolutions and probe panels. A smarter senate would have taken into cognizance a similar probe organised by the House of Representatives some years back on the power sector and actually asked for that report before settling for another probe which report most likely might not see the light of the day. Further, if our legislators are not fighting each other over who will lead them with some forging the rules used in such elections, another leader will hire a helicopter with millions of naira to go and open a sanctuary. These and other sundry duties like accompanying someone accused of fraud to the EFCC are also what occupy their time in the past eight weeks, yet they pocketed millions of naira for doing practically nothing. It is now clear that possibly the gentleman paid for the helicopter from his pocket having collected N25 million for eight weeks worth of work, if we can call it that.
Have you also noticed that they are united in swindling Nigerians? Party affiliations are jettisoned whenever our commonwealth is involved with no discernible difference between the political parties. Lest I forget, where is our dear Senator Ben Murray-Bruce who promised us a copy of his pay slip? Will his constituents, the people of Bayelsa East, remind him of his promise? So why keeping such luxury at a period oil price is dropping regularly and how long are we going to support such inanity? A group of Nigerians some weeks back started a campaign asking for greater openness of the National Assembly demanding that the opacity, which is the main feature of the way and manner 469 people conduct their affairs be removed. It will be to our advantage joining this crusade as too often we have been taken for a ride. We are tired of the well-worn excuse that we stigmatize legislators forgetting the rot of the executives, as all eyes are on the legislators presently.
It was the Senegalese who felt they don’t need two chambers and thereby scrapped their senate in September 2012, it is high time we followed suit. Or we ask our legislators to work part time only and pay them accordingly, we can’t continue with this fraud.