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How much do federal legislators earn?


IT was by all standards meant to be an innocuous gathering as part of the celebration of the 47th birthday of Barrister Opeyemi Bamidele, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy. At best, organisers must have planned to use it as another podium to educate the electorate in Nigeria. Hence, legal luminary, Professor Itse Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was invited to deliver a lecture on "Legislating for Common Good: Contemporary Issues & Perspective." If educating the electorate was the motive, the organisers hit the bull’s eye.

The outcome of the event has now put the Nigeria Legislature, especially, the National Assembly (NASS) once again, on the spot light. The questions on the lips of many Nigerians now are: Exactly how much does a federal lawmaker earn? How much does a senator or a House of Representatives member earn per month and per annum?

People’s interest in knowing the exact take home of the federal lawmakers has soared after Sagay at the event dazed Nigerians with what many could have sworn never existed. So far, clearly more than 10 days now, nobody has come out to controvert all the presentation by the learned gentleman and academic.

Instead, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has added fuel to the raging inferno. On Wednesday, he slammed the federal legislators for constituting a heavy drain on the nation’s lean purse.

Obasanjo argued that the amount expended in maintaining the lawmakers is a serious burden on the nation’s coffers and must be looked into urgently. He sang the same tenor with Sagay at a retreat organised for the Niger State senior civil servants. The former number one citizen expressed shock that it was difficult to fathom exactly how much a senator takes home annually. He even marvelled at the concept of ‘constituency project’.

Delivering the obviously well researched lecture, Sagay had announced to the consternation of his listeners that despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income of just $2,249 per annum as against $46,350 in the United States (U.S.), Nigerian senators are the highest paid in the world with each earning more than President Barack Obama of the U.S.

Not done, the erudite constitutional lawyer declared that Obama, reputed to be the President of the richest country in the world, earns $400,000 per annum while his counterpart in Britain, the British Prime Minister, earns 190,000 Pounds," he had said.

He reeled out even more benumbing figures. The Senate President in Nigeria, Sagay alleged, "earns N250 million quarterly or N83 million per month whilst his deputy earns N50 million monthly and that while N1.024 billion was allocated as quarterly allowance to the 10 principal officers in the upper house, collectively referred to as Senate Leadership, each of the other principal officers earns N78 million every three months or N26 million per month," Sagay said.

"In other words, Nigerian lawmakers in Abuja are the highest paid in the world. In 2009, a Senator earned N240 million in salaries and allowances, whilst his House of Representatives counterpart earned N203million. A senator earned about $1.7 million and a member of the House of Representatives earned $1.45 million per annum," the lawyer said.

Painting a contrasting scenario, Sagay opined that, an American senator in the same year, earned $174,000, while his counterpart in Britain earned $64,000 per annum. He said: "This tragic state of affairs is clearly unsustainable. Those engaged in this feeding frenzy are endangering our democracy."

The Senior Advocate added that rather than operate to protect the interest of the nation, the lawmakers have jettisoned the interest of the nation for self interest. "Instead of serving the people of this country, they are engaged in the pursuit of self interest, to a degree that can only be regarded as shocking," he said.

He said by the current computation, the 109 senators and the 360 members of the House of Representatives gulp five per cent of the total annual budget while less than 150 million Nigerians receive about N1,000 each.

Obasanjo, in his trademark bluntness, questioned what is called ‘constituency project.’ He accused them of padding the budget proposals to ensure that their interests are adequately catered for.

Obasanjo asked in exasperation: "They came up and say something is constituency project, what is this constituency project? They insert it in the budget, they would find the contractor and the contractor would work for them, that is constituency project? They then accuse some people of corruption, who are not corrupt.

"Now let us talk truly to ourselves seriously. We can’t continue to have a National Assembly that is consuming a disproportional part of our resources and then expect that we would be able to make progress. They pass budget that can’t be implemented, because it has to be beefed up to satisfy their whims and caprices. Even what the ministries did not ask for they put it," Obasanjo declared.

Last year, the federal lawmakers awarded themselves N60billion as constituency fund allocation for 2009 fiscal year. They drew the ire of opposition leaders who called it a big fraud. Beginning from fiscal year 2000, allocations for Constituency Projects have always been among the several items in Federal Government budgets, which the National Assembly routinely processed into Acts. But the explanation from the NASS members for the fund and what a groundswell of Nigerian public think has always been in conflict.

The perception of many Nigerians is that senators and members of the House of Representatives have become used to this process as an avenue for generating money for ‘empowering’ the horde of hangers-on around them and enjoy ostentatious lifestyle.

Critics say very few, if any, among the lawmakers ever undertake projects of a worthwhile value in their respective constituencies. It is also very common for some of the lawmakers to announce plans, projects and, sometimes, even do some foundation laying, and the rest becomes propaganda stuff and eventually pales into history.

In many cases, projects earmarked for execution overlap with similar ones by either one or all of the three tiers of government. Besides this duplication of efforts, proponents of separation of powers express fears that the development blurs the almost invisible difference between the executive and the legislature.

And in many states, the constituency projects allowance has become a potential weapon in the hands of the executive for muzzling the legislative arm. As an instance, the Osun State government once paid N5 million into the account of lawmakers in the state which it dubbed constituency allowance. The opposition party in the state directed its legislators to return the ‘grant’.

More importantly, anti-graft crusaders claim that funds for constituency projects easily oil the wheels of corruption in the country. It is therefore not surprising that lawmakers have made it a habit to fight with the last drop of their blood during the yearly budget ritual to ensure its retention no matter the level of public outcry against it.

Besides the outrageous salaries and emoluments, the leadership of both the senate and the house of representatives control a huge amount of security votes which they dispense without any form of accountability.

They live larger than life and acquire state of the art bullet proof vehicles, virtually competing with the executive governors in the outlandish way they live.

Speaking to The Nation on Thursday evening, Founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr. Fredrick Fashehun, described the jumbo salary of the lawmakers in the country as an unpatriotic act. He said it is an act that is just a little short of armed robbery.

He lambasted the lawmakers, many of whom he described as not as qualified as the civil servants that are to earn a paltry N30,000.00 a month, nor do some of them even know their constituencies.

"I think the truth is that they are just being unpatriotic. What they are doing in the name of earning salaries and allowances is just fleecing the nation, it is stealing. I mean what they are doing is just a little short of armed robbery. They are using every means to feather their nests. Is it not absurd that the minimum wage just approved would be N30,000 and most of the people that would be going home with such ridiculous amount are better qualified than the lawmakers? It is even more annoying when you discover that most of them don’t know their constituencies. If you mention some villages in the constituencies and ask them where they are, don’t be surprised if they tell you the villages are in China. Not that only, they don’t know the level of poverty in the constituencies and the nation. It is so bad."

Engr. Martin Onovo, the national leader of the pressure group, Strategic Union of Professionals for the Advancement of Nigeria (SUPA –Nigeria), not only condemned the development, he described it as an abuse of privilege. The oil and gas consultant told The Nation on Thursday in a telephone interview that the lawmakers should have applied a lot of tact in allotting to themselves such outrageous salaries and allowances simply because they have the power to determine what they should take home.

"They have the power to fix their salaries and they abused it. How can only one person take home N2billion annually? They need to do a lot of soul searching because it is inhuman, period!

Interestingly, this would not be the first time the issue of the salaries and emoluments of Nigerian lawmakers would be an issue in the country. Obasanjo had at a point in time confronted the late Senate President, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, to be bold enough to tell the world how much a senator of the Federal Republic earned. He had expressed his bewilderment, even as a sitting president, at his inability to know exactly how much a senator was paid. He alleged secrecy and lack of transparency on the salaries and emoluments of lawmakers.

It will be recalled that frontline journalist and former Minister of Information, Mr. Tony Momoh, once wrote in an article, entitled "The Salary Time Bomb" about the bloated salaries of political office holders in the country, arguing that unless something is done about it, Nigeria will gradually grind to a halt.

But whether the latest attention to the salaries and allowances of the lawmakers would make them change their minds and ‘sacrifice’ a little in the interest of the nation or not, only time will tell.

In 2005, a deposed senate president caused a stir when he declared that because some of them borrowed money to contest elections, they must do everything possible to recoup the same. When such a mind set and perception would be exorcised from the body polity of the nation, nobody can tell for now.