A tale of two parliaments
By Obo Effanga
(Sunday June 26, 2011)
Recent revelation of how our federal legislators have been running down our economy through fixing of personal allowances for themselves has been nothing but atrocious. The issue though had always been discussed albeit without cold facts while few of the legislators who cared to respond refused to say how much they actually earned. What has brought the issue back to limelight is the allegation of corruption levelled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against the immediate past speaker of the just ended House of Representatives (Dimeji Bankole) and ‘others at large’, in connection with bank loans collected by the House under Bankole’s watch to the tune of N10billion.
The details and purport of the loan had become a source of embarrassment in the twilights of the 6th Session of the National Assembly (NASS). It seems, from the reports in the media, that from January 2010, the Reps of the now extinct 6th Session approved/accepted increase of their quarterly ‘allowance’ for ‘running cost’ from N22million to N42million for each ‘ordinary’ member (that comes to N14million monthly). This was made to at least close the yawning gap between what they collected and what their principal officers got, which was much more and a source of discontent by majority of the members.
In a manner of speaking, the ‘genesis’ that led to this ‘revelation’ was the enhanced allowance approved by the Reps for themselves. Rep Tambuwal (who is now the speaker of the House) reportedly told the House in one of its now notorious ‘Executive’ Sessions of the “restiveness of members and the possible crisis that may erupt in the House because of the issue of enhanced allowances that members have been clamouring for”. I had said a few weeks ago that it was this effort to sustain ambrosia for our Reps that led to this burst bubble.
By the way, it would be reasonable to assume that their senior colleagues in the Senate earn much more than that sum in allowances.
There is no doubt that our legislators are saddled with very important tasks, the principal one being the making of “laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation and any part thereof”. Certainly no one will expect such tasks to come with run-off-the-mill salary or allowances. But to fix such outrageous allowance as we have seen here is scandalous.
While pondering over this, I stumbled upon an interesting piece of information about the Indian parliament. For emphasis, India is the world’s largest democracy. The news report (dated August 2010) showed public resentment against the members of parliament (MPs) for increasing their allowances, which the cabinet approved anyway. The summary of the increase were as follows: monthly salary increased from Rupees 16,000 to Rupees 50,000; daily sitting allowance from R1000 to R2000; monthly constituency allowance (that allowance ehn?) from R20,000 to R40,000 and office expenses from R20,000 to R40,000. The report said the MPs (from this increase I can call them money doublers) were still angry with the Cabinet for not approving the increase of the monthly salary to R80,001 as recommended by the appropriate committee of Parliament. Some even referred to Cabinet’s decision as “an insult to Parliament”.
Let us do a little calculation and reasoning together here to see what this whole sum amounts to each month for each Indian MP. Let us even assume that the Indian Parliament sits 30 days in a month (which is not the case), their monthly allowance for daily sitting would come to R60,000. If we add that to all the other ‘enhanced’ payments (salaries and allowance) for the month, it could only come to R190,000 per MP. Hold your horses though, that amount in Nigeria’s Naira will translate to N660,741.26. Hello!
You must wonder what the Indian public mean by such complaint. Is that all they can pay to their MPs? Could that explain why that country’s MPs are not as ‘hard-working’ and ‘respectable’ as their Nigerian counterparts who are so respectable that they go by such hollow epithets as ‘Distinguished Senator’ and ‘Right Honourable’? I mean we know what mettle our Nigerian lawmakers are made of so we spoil them (or allow them to spoil themselves) at the expense of our economy by splashing a whopping N14million each month in allowance only on the least paid federal parliamentarian. We are not even talking about their salaries here or the fact that at the end of every four years, we pay them a tidy ‘severance allowance’ for a job ‘well done’, even when some of them return to the National Assembly term after term and collect the severance pay over and again.
At the rate Nigeria’s pampered federal legislators are paid, each of them can afford to employ several Indian MPs as their legislative aides and pay them more than they currently earn in India or ever could dream of. Yet, Nigeria’s democracy and economy is still struggling, when compared with India’s.
As the 7th National Assembly begins, that enhanced allowance must still be running. I don’t see these new members, as beneficiaries’ voting to reverse this windfall. In fact, if they have their ways, they would love to sweeten the honey or money pot, as their predecessors did, unless they are a new breed of Nigerians with a different thinking.
I daresay that some of these new members were drawn to the National Assembly in the first place by the evidence of stupendous transformation in the personal circumstances of their predecessors by merely attaining the position of ‘right honourable’ members and ‘distinguished’ senators. If in doubt, ask those who failed to retain their seats and find out why some of them are so bitter at their losses.
In plain words, are we merely inaugurating the 7th Session of Nigeria’s National Assembly or this is the making of our 7th mega-millionaire politicians’ club? Oh, in fairness to our legislators, they are not alone in having their fangs on our national wealth. Those in the executive arm of government (elected and non-elected) are equally involved in this “authority stealing”, as Fela would say.
This is the time to tell our over-pampered politicos that our economy can no longer sustain their ambrosia and they must urgently cut their bloated salaries and allowances.
• Published in The Nation newspaper, Sunday June 26, 2011