By Fred Itua, Abuja
Protagonists and antagonists of pay cut for senators and members of the House of Representatives are yet to echo ‘uhuru’ even as the chairman of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Mr. Elias Mbam gave an indication recently that no Nigerian lawmaker should earn more than N1 million. Nerves might have been calmed by the pronouncement, but the bone of contention surrounding other allowances of federal lawmakers are yet to be resolved.
The fireworks surrounding the alleged jumbo pay for federal lawmakers did not start today. Many key observers and interest groups echoed it in the past, but the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and current Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi gave an impetus to the national outcry in 2010 when he told Nigerians that the cost of running the National Assembly constituted 25 per cent of the overhead of the Federal Government budget.
Former minister of Education, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili added salt to injury when she alleged in 2013 that the federal legislature was a drain on the country’s national purse. She had stated that the National Assembly had between 2005 and 2013 received over N1 trillion. Ezekwesili had further revealed that in 2005 and 2006, the National Assembly was allocated N54.79 billion respectively, but the amount rose to N158 billion in 2010 and that the allocation had been steady at N150 billion since 2011.
Apparently eager to be in President Muhammadu Buhari’s good books, Mbam who was equally RMAFC boss when the agitation for the reduction of lawmakers’ jumbo pay started, told State House correspondents after a meeting with the president last week, that no senator or House of Representatives member should earn more than N1m monthly, going by the recommendations of the commission, which fixes salaries and wages for public officers. According to him, a new pay structure that will reflect the economic realities will be proposed next month for all categories of public officers.
Mbam had insisted that if the lawmakers’ salaries are cut by the RMAFC after the review, they must abide by the decision. “They do not have a choice; we are guided by the Constitution and we are going to be guided by such laws that are provided for in the Constitution and the oath they swore to obey the laws of the country. We are currently reviewing the subsisting remuneration packages and it is going to reflect the socio-economic realities of today.
“We expect that before the end of next month, it will be ready. But it will go through a process. It is not something that you will just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It will go through a process and it should be obvious to you the economic realities of the day and it is going to reflect that. Recently, the oil price dropped. Many government agencies, the states and local governments have not been able to pay salaries. These are some of the issues that made it necessary to review it.
“It did not start with this administration; we started the review as far back as last year. It is not because of the present administration that we commenced it. We will ensure that we use all legitimate means to make all public office holders take home the remuneration as determined by the Commission and ensure that leakages are blocked and we try to expand the size of the cake.
“I do not want to give a definite date because it is beyond my control. I do not determine when the process will be concluded but as far as the Commission is concerned, we have concluded our work and announced to the general public that we have a draft. But you know it goes through a process before it finally becomes a law,” he had revealed.
Unlike the Senate, the leadership of the House of Representatives has not entirely expressed indications that it might succumb to public pressure and reduce salaries of members by a sizable percentage. The tactical delay by the House leadership might have been borne out of the refusal by members to adopt the initiative. As it stands now, members appear to be sharply divided.
Sani Zorro, chairman, ad-hoc committee on Media and Public affairs of the House in a chat with Daily Sun gave credence to insinuations that the lower chamber of the National Assembly was not entirely ready to embrace the pay cut that has dominated public space since the inauguration of the 8th Assembly.
”Let me say that this perception or agitation did not start with the 8th Assembly. It’s been there since the return of democracy in 1999. But the present House leadership is concerned, the House of Representatives as a result of the outcry of Nigerians who have been taking critical exemption to the funding of the National Assembly, has decided to review the holistic funding of the activities of members.
“This review will also result in the right-sizing and the funding of various aspects of our activities. We have already put a mechanism in motion to achieve that. It will also result in drastic cut of our finances, including salaries, allowances and running cost. What I can assure you is that we are submitting to the will of the people as a responsible legislative institution. We can no longer ignore the popular observations and wishes of the people who elected us in the first place. By the grace of God, the House will be credited with addressing issues of persistent agitations against our finances,” Zoro stated.
Some lawmakers who are vehemently opposed to pay cut have warned that overtime, it could have adverse effects on the performance and credibility of members. According to a member representing Esan West, Esan Central and Igueben federal constituency in Edo state, lawmakers might explore other ways to make money, especially during committees oversight functions. He believes that lawmakers should be well remunerated in order to stay focused and deliver true dividends of democracy.
Chief Edionwele said: “I think people are speaking out of ignorance. Even before now, I was one of those who believed in the same thing. The records will be made public. We will ensure that National Assembly does that. Nigerians need to know. The salaries we earn are not in any way close to what people speculate. People in the oil and gas sector, banking and even lecturers earn more than the president and us.
“By the time we make it public, everybody will have peace. It will give you peace. One of my friends told me that the salary and allowances I will earn will be N40 million. I told him if I get that for 10 months, I will resign. I can tell you that by the time it is made public, people will sympathise with us. Legislators should earn well so that he will not be corrupt during his oversight functions. But it should not be bloated,” Edionwele told Daily Sun.
While many Nigerians still hold the view that salaries and remuneration of federal lawmakers should be reduced to reflect the current financial state of the country, observers have warned of its adverse effects on effective lawmaking. They argued that many lawmakers might be compromised and sacrifice their integrity in order to maintain the high financial demands.
Another class of observers equally believe that certain records must be set straight before RMAFC goes ahead to tinker with the salaries and remuneration of lawmakers. A social media activist, Mr. Chukwudi Ahamafuna argued: “I am in support of pay cut for lawmakers. But we must address certain issues first. These lawmakers spend millions of naira during elections just to win. They have to find a way to get these monies back if we do not want crisis. I am aware of a member of the House of Representatives who took N40 million as loan to run for office. How will he get his money back?
“That is not all. These federal lawmakers have dependants who are in their hundreds. They are in all the constituencies. How do you intend to take care of these people? Nigeria is not ripe yet where you expect a lawmaker to ignore his people while in office. The unemployment rate is very high and these lawmakers bring succour to them. We must factor that in. Unless you are saying that they should ignore their people and lose elections.
“During the last elections, some aspirant’s bought bags of rice and clothes for the electorate. Some even gave out money. You think they will not get these money back? If you cut their pay, they will find other means of getting these monies. They will definitely compromise when they go for oversight functions. They will mount pressure on departments and agencies of government to make up. Is that what we want? Their budget is small and should not even be a subject of discussion.”
Unlike the legislature, Nigerians seldom beam their searchlights on the judiciary which also corners almost N80 billion annually as budget. Although Professor Itse Sagay has repeatedly argued that the amount is insufficient to run the third arm of government, critics who are calling for pay cut for lawmakers believe that the judiciary should be affected as well.
Sagay had argued: “The budget for the judiciary is inadequate. I think it is a setback for the judiciary. We need a government, particularly the executive, which appreciates the importance of the third arm of government as a matter of culture and duty,” Sagay said. The judiciary does not have the bargaining power like the legislature has by approving budget. They, in fact, add money to the budget, in their favour. We need to have a culturally elevated standard to reason that whether the judiciary has the bargaining power or not, it is as well important. We dare not leave the judiciary behind in the budget.”
As the pay cut mantra sweeps across the nation, Nigerians are patiently waiting to see how events will unfold. Whether or not members of the House of Representatives will contest plans by RMAFC to cut their pay is still uncertain, but with time, Nigerians will know where the pendulum will shift.
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