Against the allegation by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), and denial by Senate President Bukola Saraki of alleged plans to increase salaries of federal lawmakers, OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU examines the controversies trailing the emoluments of members of the National Assembly.
As the clamour for the reduction in salaries and allowances of senators and members of the House of Representatives continue to resonate across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, went to town with the allegation that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is planning to increase the emoluments of the federal lawmakers in the upper chamber of the National Assembly to N15 million.
SERAP had made the allegation in a post on its Twitter page, but reacting through his Special Assistant on New Media, Olu Onemola, Saraki denied such claims. Onemola chided SERAP to get its facts right before raising unnecessary alarms that would heat up the polity.
He said in a statement, “Dear @SERAPNigeria, there is no such ‘alleged decision’ to increase the allowances of senators. An organization like yours needs to be more careful, especially when pushing out information meant for public consumption.
“To avoid any doubt: there is no plan to amend the allowances of senators. The tweet by @SERAPNigeria is baseless and untrue. The public should disregard this entirely.”
But in a nation where rumours more often than not usually becomes reality, many have said that SERAP might not be wrong after all, saying that it could be a ploy to test reactions of Nigerians to such plan.
For many years until recently, what each senator of the Federal Republic and each member of the House of Representatives take home as salaries and emoluments have been shrouded in secrecy, leading to too many conjectures about how much each federal lawmaker takes home every month and annually.
Since the revelation of what federal lawmakers earn as salaries and allowances, there have been strident calls from all walks of life for a downward review of same.
But the higher the decibels of these calls, the more unconcerned the federal lawmakers, who have once been alleged by former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and now Emir of Kano, Muhammed Sanusi II, of taking 25.41 per cent of Federal Government overhead.
Speaking under oath before members of the Senate Committee on Finance in 2010, Sanusi maintained that “figures from the Budget Office show that total Federal Government overhead is N36.2 billion while the National Assembly overhead is exactly 25.41 per cent of the total government overhead.”
That statement stoked more embers of controversy, leading to more calls for the full disclosure of what exactly federal lawmakers earn.
After a protracted debate and controversy over what members of Nigeria’s National Assembly take home as salaries and allowances, the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, finally released details of ‘the legitimate salaries and allowances of National Assembly members’.
The disclosure, which came in form of a release, signed by RMFAC acting secretary, Usman I. Garndawa, stated that the details of the remuneration packages were provided “to avoid misinformation and misrepresentation of facts.”
Describing the lumping of all salaries and allowances into yearly totals as erroneous in the sense that some of the entitlements are “non-regular” and are paid only once in four years, RMAFC said that allowances accruable to federal lawmakers include: accommodation, which gave each senator N4 million while each member of the House of Representatives gets N3.97 million; vehicle loan of N8 million for each senator and N7.94 for each member of House of Representatives; furniture allowance of N6 million for each senator and N5.955 for each House member and severance gratuity of N6.09 million for each senator and N5.955 million for each House of Representatives member.
Ironically, whether a lawmaker returns or not, he collects the severance allowance at the end of every four years.
Vehicle loan and severance gratuities are paid only once in four years, while accommodation allowance was paid once every year.
Other annual allowances, according to the RMAFC release include: motor vehicle fuelling and maintenance of N1.52 million for senators and N1.489 million for members of House of Representatives; and domestic allowance of N1.519 million for each senator and N1.488 million for each House member.
RMAFC also disclosed that federal lawmakers also earn allowances for personal assistants, with each senator taking home N506,600 while each member of the House of Representatives earn N496,303; for entertainment, it is N607,920, and N595,563 for each senator and member of the House of Representatives respectively and recess allowance for senators and members of the House of Representatives stood at N202,640 and N198,521 respectively.
Other allowances include: N607,920 and N397,042 for senators and House members respectively for utilities; newspaper/periodicals allowance for each senator is N303,960, while each House member gets N297,781; senators earn N101,320 each for house maintenance, while their counterparts in the House get N99,260 each; while wardrobe allowance for senators is N506,600 and N496,303 for members of the House of Representatives.
Each senator earns as basic salary N2,026,400 annually, amounting to N168,866.70 per month while each member of the House goes home with N 1,985,212.50 annually and N165,434.40 per month.
Apart from these, the lawmakers also go home with constituency allowance of N5.066 million and N1.985 million for senators and House members respectively, which is paid to them on monthly basis.
And only very few of them use the constituency allowance for what it was originally meant for – provision of certain identified projects for their constituents. Many of them allegedly collect the constituency allowance and pocket same.
And of course, it is different salaries and allowances for the principal officers of the National Assembly. While the Senate President earns N2.484 million as basic annual salary, the Speaker of the House goes home with N2.477 million. For the Senate President, constituency allowance is N7.431 million while the Speaker gets N2.477 million, also payable every month.
And while the Senate President gets paid N50,000 duty tour allowance and $1,300 estacode, the House Speaker receives N45,000 and $1,200 for duty tour allowance and estacode respectively, just as they also both get severance gratuity of N7.452 million and N7.431 million respectively and vehicle loan of N9.936 million and N9.908 million respectively.
The Deputy Senate President also gets a basic salary of N2.309 million, constituency allowance of N5.772 million, severance gratuity of N6.927 million and vehicle loan of N9.236 million, even as he gets N42,000 for duty tour allowance and $1,100 as estacode.
All the federal lawmakers get 10 per cent of their basic salaries as recess allowance, which is however paid once every year. They are also alleged to collect as sitting allowance at committee levels N20,000 per sitting. Thus, a lawmaker who belongs to as many as four or five committees could be raking in between N80,000 and N100,000 within one week, if all the committees he belongs to sit within the week! Other allowances not specified by the RMAFC are medical, responsibility and security.
It is on this basis that Nigerians are asking the question: Why collect sitting allowance when they get paid monthly salary for being in the National Assembly? Ironically, many of the lawmakers have been found to abscond from their duties most of the time, under one excuse or the other, yet they still get paid for doing nothing.
Garndawa said: “Regular allowances are paid regularly with basic salaries while non-regular allowances are paid as at when due. For instance, furniture allowance and severance gratuity are paid once in every tenure and vehicle allowance, which is optional, is a loan which the beneficiary has to pay before the end of tenure. It is therefore wrong and misleading to add up allowances, irrespective of whether they are regular, refundable or non-regular as the regular annual emoluments of political public office holders.”
Dissociating itself from any other allowance apart from the above, RMAFC stated that “the commission also wishes to use this opportunity to state that any other allowance(s) enjoyed by any political, public office holders outside those provided in the Remuneration Act of 2008 is not known to the commission and the chief accounting officer should be held accountable.”
From the foregoing, the remuneration as approved by RMAFC for each senator annually, excluding estacodes of $1,200 per night (where applicable), Duty Tour Allowance of N45,000 per night and other sundry allowances paid as necessary, is about N19.66 million; while for each member of the House of Representatives, excluding estacodes of $900 per night (where applicable), Duty Tour Allowance of N35,000 per night and other sundry allowances paid as necessary, it is N18.26 million.
In addition to this, each senator and House of Representatives member collects N1.488 million and N1.01 million respectively for domestic staff annually.
However, despite these mind-boggling take home, what the federal legislators pay as tax to the coffers of government is insignificant, as their taxes are calculated based on their basic salary.
Salaries and allowances of the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly are slightly higher than what are enumerated above.
Apart from these RMAFC approved salaries and allowances as stated above, the federal lawmakers also pay themselves what they called ‘office running cost.’ They also receive constituency allowance, which very many of them see as their own share of the national cake.
How much this runs to, nobody has been able to say, as the lawmakers have kept mum over it, but in 2009, each senator went home with N192 million every four months while House of Representatives members carted home N140 million each. Insider sources told LEADERSHIP that this bogus allowance has increased drastically overtime.
Towards the end of the lifespan of the Seventh National Assembly, under the leadership of Senator David Mark of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the noise by the generality of Nigerians and civil society organisations, CSOs, among others, forced the federal lawmakers to reduce National Assembly budgetary allocation by N20 billion, from N150 billion annually to N130 billion.
With the inauguration of the Eighth National Assembly also came more calls for the reduction of the allowances of the federal lawmakers, especially against the backdrop of dwindling revenues for government occasioned by the world-wide fall in prices of crude oil, Nigeria’s major source of revenue.
First term senator from Bayelsa State, Ben Murray-Bruce, called for the reduction in allowances accruable to federal lawmakers, a call which received widespread commendation not only from generality of Nigerians, but some of his fellow federal lawmakers, but so far, the lawmakers have remained adamant and recalcitrant over their bogus take home pay.
Also, former president of Civil Liberty Organisation, CLO, and Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, had earlier before inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, called on the President to cut salaries and allowances of lawmakers, opining that what the lawmakers earned as income currently was not only unconstitutional, but was also against RMAFC recommendations.
Agbakoba made the call in a letter he wrote to Buhari in 2015 as the President-elect, titled, “Giving Nigeria a New Deal,” where he enumerated areas of focus for the then incoming Buhari administration.