N1Tr House of Reps Spending: Was Oby Ezekwesili Incorrect? By Adeolu Oyebode
The national assembly through her spokesman didn’t disappoint me because for a while, they have never surprised me. I had expected the response to Oby’s analytical approach earlier than few hours after she gave the ‘simplistic suggestion’ has said by the critics of her opinion. I was one of those that was opportune to follow the event on the media and also heard when Channels TV reported the news, Oby said “in my own Opinion” and I don’t think there is a crime for anybody to share his/her view on what could save the economic crisis facing the nation, after all, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, a renowned Prof of high repute said “Nigeria is Broke”. She has not said this only for the information of the media and the world alone, I think she must have said this, so that every patriotic Nigerians could come up with an idea to safe this nation from total bankruptcy. If for this reason alone, I think Oby was correct and should not be condemned in the totality by the National Assembly.
I am quite aware that it would be painful to some parliamentarians who comes back home to say that there is no money in government or who could go ahead to publish the little aides they rendered to their constituencies in the pages of newspapers, books and calendars as a result of pressures gotten from their constituencies, all in the name of advertisement as better representative at the upper or lower chambers, but I want to appeal to those minds to be sorry because the cost of pay will be made known in this article and the earlier the better we all sacrifice a pay cut, the better for the system.
Oby wasn’t very incorrect from the remarks of Hon. Victor Afam-Ogene, the Deputy Chairman House Committee on Public Affairs who happens to be the spokesperson of the House of Representatives on this allegation, Hon. Victor has strategically informed the Nigerians that rather than nailing the parliament for the usurpation of the economy of the Nation’s purse, Oby should have made mention of other arms of government, and should also tell Nigerians how much she earned as a minister of the Nation in her terms as the Minister of Mineral Resources and later on Education. In the words of Hon. Victor if rightly quoted, he said that “it would however, suffice for Ezekwesili to tell us what recurrent expenditure was during her tenure and what cost Nigerian taxpayers to maintain her and her aides for a year”, I know that anything we were alleged when we were young, a typical Nigerian child would push his defense with counter allegations rather than presenting facts and figures to squash the claims. We were unconsciously trained that same way and for the sake of helping the parliament, let’s have arithmetic of how much our members of the legislative arm receives for the time being, maybe this will be enough for us to justify if a unicameral or part time legislation could solve our problem as opined by Oby. I won’t even want to use 2005 till date for my brief for Oby but a four year span with the current pay of the members of the legislative arms. Much as we are able to win with the parliament, the overhead cost of avalanche of advisers and assistants with some agencies that have duplicative functions in the executive arm if removed will help boast back our economy before we resume to the judiciary.
I know all of us would be alleged to be wrong by the time we commence giving our own perspectives on the sharing formulae of our taxpayers’ sweat, but in as much as we make do of empirical data analysis and in comparison to the prevalence of poverty, hunger, unemployment and insecurity in this nation, I just don’t think that there is a justification of whatsoever for the parliamentary bicameral system which has drained off our economy. It is on this note that I join my voice with that of Oby Ezekwesili that the National Assembly should call up an open debate on this issue if it is in the best interest of all parties interested to know why we have failed this far. Permit me to give a breakdown of our members of National Assembly average take-home every month so that we will appreciate what we are talking about here. I know if I give a figure without the breakdown, some critics would demand I give the details, so I think without wasting much of our time and to inform those who didn’t know, it wouldn’t cost me anything to put it for the general consumption, remember we have 109 Senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives, summing up to 469members, let’s go ahead:
Basic Salary (BS): N2, 484, 245.50
Hardship Allowance, 50% of BS: N1, 242, 122.75
Constituency Allowance, 200% of BS: N4, 968, 509.00
Furniture Allowance, 300% 0f BS: N7, 452, 736.50
Newspaper Allowance 50% of BS: N1, 242, 122.70
Wardrobe Allowance 25% of BS: N621, 061.37
Recess Allowance 10% of BS: N248, 424.55
Accommodation Allowance 200% of BS: N4, 968, 509.00
Utilities Allowance 30% of BS: N828, 081.83
Domestic Staff Allowance 35% of BS: N863, 184.12
Entertainment Allowance 30% of BS: N828, 081.83
Personal Assistance Allowance 25% of BS: N621, 061.37
Vehicle Maintenance Allowance 75% of BS: N1, 863, 184.12
Leave Allowance 10% of BS: N248, 424.55
One off payments (Severance gratuity) 300% of BS: N7, 452, 736.50
Motor Vehicle Allowance 400% of BS: N9, 936, 982.00
Total Monthly Take Home = N29, 479, 749.00
Coming down to the mathematics of this, four hundred and sixty nine (469) members multiplied by twenty nine million, four hundred and seventy nine thousand, seven hundred and forty nine naira only (N29, 479, 749) equals thirteen billion, eight hundred and twenty six million, two thousand two hundred and eighty one naira only (N13, 826, 002, 281) per month, so per year it is one hundred and sixty five billion, nine hundred and twelve million, twenty seven thousand, three hundred and seventy two naira only (N165, 912, 027, 372) in respect of monthly take home. I think this was the defense of the House of Reps Deputy Chairman on Public Affairs, he must have forgotten to add the quarterly allowances to it. This was why I said all of us must be wrong in the defense of the National Assembly who has claimed that the whole budget is just one hundred and fifty billion naira only (N150b) but for a while had been finding it difficult to make into public how much she earns per month maybe because they have a lot of things to hide.
One of the major differences between the National Assembly’s Lower and Upper Chamber is the quarterly or yearly allowances but for the sake of this analysis, let’s take an average pay for the Reps members and that of the Senate which is about thirty five million (N35m) per quarter or one hundred and forty million naira (N140m) per annum. In a year, if the average quarterly allowance of the legislators is one hundred and forty million naira only (N140m) multiplied by four hundred and sixty nine (469), that equals Sixty five billion, six hundred and sixty million naira only (N65, 660, 000, 000) per month and seven hundred and eighty seven billion, nine hundred and twenty million naira only (N787, 920, 000, 000 per annum).
So, summing the annual take home of the legislators and the quarterly allowances will arrive at Nine hundred and fifty three billion, eight hundred and thirty two million, twenty seven thousand, three hundred and seventy two naira only (N953, 832, 027, 372).
In four years, the federal government has successfully gifted her legislators a sum of three trillion, eight hundred and fifteen billion, three hundred and twenty eight million, one hundred and nine thousand, four hundred and eighty eight naira only (N3, 815, 328, 109, 488), just an arm of the government, when she laments of no money to pay the University academics, provide jobs for the unemployed graduates, and developing the nation!
How on earth would such a nation like Nigeria not be broke, if one out of the arms of the government earns such huge amount of money in the face of hunger?
Even if the analysis is also counter accused of not very correct, which I will be expecting to hear or read in the returns of this article, how on earth would a person use over a million naira to buy newspaper? Over 7million to change furnitures every month, constituency allowances of over N5m when they would soon come back home and say we are broke and there is no money at the National Assembly or rationalize that it isn’t in their pact to assist the youths but to legislate and that the motorcycles they distribute is enough to empower unemployed graduates of their constituencies. I tend to wonder the values of these so-called bills and the socio-economic roles it has on the country’s development even if they sponsor one with the rate of backwardness in our national virtues, values and socio-economic denigration!
Let us not deceive ourselves; there is no justifiable reason whatsoever to have such a sum of money being doled out in a bicameral system of government. I stand to be corrected please, of what value is a bicameral parliament when we aren’t running a parliamentary system of government? Of what value are senators and representatives who do the same things and merry-go-round on the same topic all the time? I am sure that assuming we have bicameral parliaments at the State levels, a lot of state would have a backward growth like that of Nigeria. Let us not forget the fact that it is this same nation that can’t afford a little above N80b for her academic unions; that cannot afford just 40, 000MW for the nation’s electricity consumption; that cannot provide jobs for her youths but rather reserve the little available for their children. Agonizingly, how on earth could this same National Assembly pass a budget that has over 70% to recurrent expenditure and yet expect the nation to move, not even at the tail end of the year that the budget of the year is being passed and such a President wasn’t impeached on the sake of political party proximity? I am yet to know what they are still legislating please, maybe someone will tell me!
Just as I know that in attesting to an argument in my nation Nigeria and in trying to push a defense for one’s errs, it is expected to push a counter-allegation in exoneration. I don’t think a rounding up of Nine hundred and fifty three billion; eight hundred and thirty two million, twenty seven thousand, three hundred and seventy two naira only (N953, 832, 027, 372) to a trillion naira (N1tr) is too far from the truth. If the National Assembly is set to defend herself, I join my voice with that of Oby Ezekwesili to challenge the National Assembly to a debate of figures and facts.
Take for instance, in the last few years after the 2011 National Assembly elections; Speaking for myself and on behalf of the Nigerian Youths, I can count on my fingertips over 60 senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who hasn’t sponsored a bill and a lot of members of the House of Representatives who doesn’t even know what to say. If I don’t know of any, I know of Chief Anthony Adeniyi, a lawyer, from my town and senatorial district who is yet to present a bill, not to talk of sponsoring it and scaling through. Much as we have a lot of them who could only be distinguished by the number of cars and how expensive their convoys are, a reduction in their take-home, unicameral system of parliamentary system or a part time legislature would bring a fall in the urge to be a Senator by name without something legislatively to show for it.
One of the Senators from Ekiti, Senator Babafemi Ojudu had been clamoring for this same pay-cut while as a journalist and activist all the time he was outside the hallowed chambers and during his electioneering days, but in one of my encounters with him at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife in Osun State, the radical Ojudu though didn’t tell us why his spirit was fainted on the pay-cut maybe as a result of the fact that some of the activist oppositions like himself were silenced by the cults of the National assembly, he confirmed in a lecture titled “Legislating for Good Governance in Nigeria” that “many of the legislators are too concerned with membership of juicy committees and are therefore too timid to express their truly-held opinion about the state of the nation and the action and activities of the executive and even the leadership of the legislature”. That is to tell you that majority of all the members of the national assembly are there for money with nothing to offer.
I also want to agree that the pressure of the members of the National Assembly must have been another justifiable reason for the jumbo pay. Babafemi Ojudu, one of the Senators I owe great regards and respect considering his roles in the elimination of Military rule in this nation, justified also in an interview with This Day Newspaper recently and rightly quoted to have said that “The financial pressure is too much! You get invitation for things like house-roofing. You have to pay school and hospital bills for so many people. I always tell my colleagues that we should come together and fashion out a way to take care of our people collectively, to reduce the pressure on us. All the money you claim we receive is returned to the people. Last December, I had to borrow money to buy 200 bags of rice. We have to sit down with the executive and fashion out a way to reduce poverty in the country. We are doing most of the jobs the executive should be doing.”
I won’t also want to shy away from the fact that I have also felt the need for some of the political office holders whom I have relationships with to support my pursuit of academics though I hold no brief for any of them since they all ignored by request for support, probably on the so-called pressure in question, and after the interview of Senator Babafemi Ojudu had I know that political office holders might find it difficult to distinguish between priorities and frivolities in supporting or encouraging their constituents in some chosen career and areas of interests because of the overbearing pressure that they face. But to be sincere, this will persist, not until the parliament can legislate sustainable laws that will provide adequate jobs and empower the youths because this is just the least to be expected, a time will come that the youths would mobilize themselves against the ruling class. We are getting there gradually!
I believe that if all the members of the National Assembly are actually committing their best to the nation in a justification of these huge amounts of money they receive, the nation would have grown better than these. I thus strongly support Oby that part of the measures in resolving this economic and presidential mess is that we change from the bicameral system to the unicameral parliament.
I speak for myself and on behalf of the Nigerian Youths.
A Public Analyst
writes from Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State Nigeria.