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Lawmakers And The Burden Of Jumbo Pay

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Following the longstanding confusion over the emoluments of senators which has been shrouded in secrecy, SOLOMON AYADO writes on the generated crisis as Senator Shehu Sani who of Kaduna Central Senatorial District blew the lid off salaries of lawmakers

Since the salary and allowances of senators assumed a critical issue of discourse owning to how secret it has been in the country from when democracy returned in 1999, concerned Nigerians have wondered how lawmakers who supposedly should fund projects and execute same in their various constituencies, over the years, have appeared like they are not being paid satisfactorily.

Lawmakers, expected to embark on effective legislation in order to initiate policies that would enhance rapid development and transform the lives of the generality of people, are often seen to be more concerned with personal aggrandizement than the responsibility of serving the constituents.

Many legislators have reportedly been involved in varied financial scandals, among others. In fact, the general impression about the lawmakers which the people hold in most cases is that they fix their eyes on the financial benefits that come with the duties of legislation.

This, among several reasons, is the key to why many lawmakers have failed to sponsor even a single bill on the floor of the Senate since elected into office. To some extent, some of them are more concerned with playing politics alone and to keep winning elections, rather than achieving their actual purpose of representation.

Coming at a time the country is plunged into serious economic crisis that has defiled all purified ways, and when the citizenry are daily struggling to feed as they battle with lack of basic amenities, with the lawmakers seemingly globetrotting and building edifices using tax payers monies, there have been calls to the government and anti-graft agencies to investigate the senators and establish whether they are actually living up to their mandates or not.

The throw open of the senators’ jumbo pay by one of their own notwithstanding will not end corruption. Just before now, the people have shown their worry because they seem to see little being done with funds allocated to senators than alleviating the suffering conditions of the constituents.

Senator Shehu Sani (APC Kaduna Central), Chairman, Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, had taken to public domain where he revealed that he and his colleagues, receive N13.5 million each as running cost on a monthly basis, aside a N750, 000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances which they also receive.

This disclosure sparked crisis especially within the ranks of the senators themselves, wondering what motive has their colleague and why the revelation of the issue that has existed under cover for decades.

Before Jumbo Pay’s Lid off

Like stating the obvious, before the salaries and allowances of senators were revealed by their colleague recently, the lawmakers had similarly become disturbed about the huge monies being paid political office holders and appointees.

Precisely in November, 2017, during the debate on the 2018 budget, the senator representing Osun Central Senatorial district, Olusola Adeyeye, called for a reduction in allowances of all politicians including the senators.

Surprisingly, the position of Adeyeye did not go down well with his colleagues. The chamber had quickly become rowdy when he spoke. Many senators became jittery because Adeyeye, if not controlled, would have eventually revealed their jumbo pay.

For Adeyeye, the budget cannot be realizable unless the allowances of all senators give way. “If we are all going to complain, let’s face it,” he said. “I don’t want deficit budget. If we don’t want it and we want to slash the budget of N8 trillion to N4 trillion, some things must give way including the allowances of all politicians”.

This means that the senators are mindful that the huge sums they are being paid is not commensurate with their mandates.

Why Sani Revealed Jumbo Pay

From reports, it seems obvious that Senator Shehu Sani may certainly have a squabble to settle with his colleagues and or he is infuriated over some issues in the Senate hence revealing the highly secretive jumbo pay.

Although known to be very outspoken, an activist-cum legislator who is very sagacious and fearless, he is, however, always surrounded by controversies when matters of the Senate arise. Referred to by many as a coat of many colours, like a chameleon, Sani is known for not always playing to the gallery and to be one person who prefers to tell the truth and be hanged.

Just recently, he disclosed how monkeys allegedly carted away N70 million from the farmhouse of his colleague who was accused of diverting funds belonging to the Northern Senators Forum. When the matter came up, many senators were shy of letting the cat out of the bag, but Sani, without any fear, did, and gave a headway on the issue.

On the jumbo pay of senators, however, Sani insisted that he let the matter open because he was no longer comfortable with the huge sum being received by senators without any justification and he wants the payments to be scrapped.

Not because of any pecuniary gain but to foster development of the institution, Sani explained he stood for stoppage of payment of N13.5 million monthly running costs and other such bogus payments to senators in order to make the National Assembly attractive only to people who have ideas.

To him, it means many senators are bereft of ideas and as such cannot legislate well or bring development to the door steps of the constituents.

According to media reports, Sani, apart from saying the senators are insincere and unaccountable, he also attests that the National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent organs of government. He spoke to the BBC recently.

His words: “I decided to burst it open. It was a moral issue. The National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent organs of government. It pricked my conscience and I decided to burst the bubble and open the National Assembly to public scrutiny.

“If the expensive payment system was ended then parliament would only be attractive to people who contribute ideas,” he said.

Is Senate Dented or Disturbed By The Disclosure?

Rather, the boldness and forthrightness of Senator Sani to reveal the salary and allowances of senators has sent shivers in the spines of almost all the lawmakers. Of course, others are not moved as they know their colleague of having the penchant for truth telling, even when everybody is afraid for fear of being molested or humiliated.

With Sani’s fearless revelation, some people are already alleging that the senator is backed by the powerful political and business cabal in the country.

Whatever is the situation, be it sponsored or not, it seems glaring that since the matter was hidden under the carpet for long, there is no wrong in making it open. The secrecy of payment of Senators however, mainly may be to keep the constituents in the dark and tactically confuse them from making pressured demands to the lawmakers, especially ones that bother on finance and development.

But the Senate has said the disclosure by Senator Sani is nothing new. It admitted this time, as not always, that the running cost of the offices of Senators were contained in various line items and expenditure heads of  the budget of the National Assembly which has been made public.

Although stating categorical that the Senate would not want to join issues with Sani, owning to the constitutional obligation of the Upper Chamber not to do so, Senate Spokesperson, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, however, dismissed insinuations that lawmakers were unhappy with Sani for stating what had not been disclosed for decades.

“Almost all holders of elective and appointive offices have running costs allocated to their offices and that cannot be said to be part of their salaries. If people had looked critically at the budget of the National Assembly which has since been made public, they would have seen that various line items like travelling, medicals, consultancy and the rest were captured in the budget and they were the funds divided for each Senator’s use,” he stated.

Will Sani Be punished?

Although it is not established if Senator Sani would be called to face the consequences of his actions, it was gathered that the senators are obviously not happy with the way and manner their colleague revealed what they have hidden for several years.

Apart from Sani being dexterous when issues of public interest are involved, he is equally conversant with political manoeuvrings that often play out in the National Assembly. He is a lawmaker that is well respected by colleagues, anyway.

Already, there are purported moves to place Sani on suspension and to ensure he is harassed for exercising his fundamental right to freedom of expression.

But a competent NASSA source, that preferred anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter and owning to the constitutional obligation that Senators should not speak against their colleagues, however, intimated that Sani must not escape the wrath of the senate because what he did could be considered a blatant sell-out and betrayer.

The chairman senate committee on media and public affairs, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, while fielding questions from senate correspondents recently, said there was nothing that would make the senators unhappy over disclosure of their pay and allowances. He, although, did not state whether senate would sanction Sani, when and how.

Constituents React

Since the salary and allowances of senators was revealed by their own, constituents and public affairs analysts have not hidden their feelings. While others are joyful that at least, they have come to be aware of what their representatives receive, compared to the meagre development projects they offer to the constituencies, some are peeved that the senators have been deceiving them all these years.

They further noted that the revelation had serious implications for public accountability in the country.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, in a statement commended Senator Shehu Sani for exposing the secrecy which had enveloped the salaries and allowances of federal legislators in Nigeria before now.

He further recalls that it is crystal clear that the statement credited to Professor Itse Sagay, the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council not too long ago to the effect that Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world cannot be faulted.

“However, the federal legislators cannot be blamed alone for paying themselves skyrocketing salaries and allowances outside the ambit of the wages approved for all political office holders in the country. The members of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission empowered by section 70 of the Constitution to approve the salaries and allowances of the legislators have always wash their hands of the matter while the Budget Office has never questioned the payment of unauthorized salaries and allowances to federal legislators.

“The revelations by Senator Sani should, therefore, provide an opportunity for the Nigerian people to review the entire costs of governance under the rickety democratic dispensation. The Buhari administration owes the nation a duty to ensure that no political officer is paid salaries and allowances that have not been approved by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, halt the payment of double salary and allowances to a number of legislators and ministers,” Falana insisted.

Also, a public affairs analyst in the Ifo Area of Ogun State, Mr. Peter Ovie Akus, believes the revelation by Sani is apt.

He said: “If only on the grounds of productivity, I sincerely do not think that our lawmakers deserve to earn such humongous sums as salaries and allowances. Most of these senators do not have constituency offices. They do not hold town hall meetings and some rarely visit their home states. Secondly, the quality of debate in the Senate is very poor and often characterized by absentee and sleeping senators during plenary. Despite their lavish salaries, members are often accused of soliciting and collecting bribes to pass bills and from agencies that they oversee.

“One knotty issue that baffles and defies logic is the issue of constituency projects for lawmakers. Just like their name implies, lawmakers all over the world make laws, carry out oversight functions, and are vested with the power of appropriation while it is the role of the executive to implement projects. The earlier we do away with this democratic aberration, the better for our treasury. I commend the courage of Senator Shehu Sani in making this disclosure.”

Any way forward?

At the moment, there are several unanswered questions begging for explanations. If the revelation by Senator Sani does not sufficiently expose the discretion in handling of resources meant to develop constituencies by senators, the secrecy of the jumbo pay received by the lawmakers should further attest whether or not the representatives of the people have ever lived up to their expected mandates.

But with the usual happenstances in the Senate, it is either Senator Sani is served with a hot meal of suspension as always done to his colleagues who ‘err.’ Or can he be saved because of his perceived closeness to Saraki? As events unfold, it shall be seen what will happen.

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