National Lawmakers: Are they Part of Our Problem or Solution to Our Problems?

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POLSCOPE

By Eddy Odivwri; eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com   08053069356

Between the Nigeria Police and the National Assembly members, I am not sure which one has a more dismal public image.  But over the years, not many Nigerians attach more than scant regard to the national lawmakers often addressed with patronizing epithets of “Distinguished” and “Honourable”, with many of the latter prefixing their names with “Rt Honourable”

But as exultant  and virtuous as those titles are, many of their bearers in the Nigerian space do so much to contradict what they stand for.

I was not too shocked during the week when an exclusive report by News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) published how many of the national lawmakers defraud the country with their “smart” and fraudulent practices. I have always held them in suspect.

How can it be explained that 469 lawmakers are being serviced by 2, 570 aides in form of Special Advisers, Senior Special Advisers, Special Assistants, Personal Assistants etc.?

Perhaps the argument that  the bloated number of aides, in a way, provides job to the said aides could sway one to let it pass.

But the report confirmed what we had always suspected: that many of the lawmakers indeed give fictitious names of  aides to the National Assembly Commission   that are non-existent and wangle their ways to collecting the salaries and allowances meant for such aides.

Beside the principal officers, each lawmaker is entitled to five legislative aides, as provided for by the National Assembly Act. Principal officers in the senate are entitled to much more aided. E.g, the senate President is entitled to 45 aides, his deputy, 30 aides and each of the principal officers, 20 aides. In the same vein, the Speaker of the House of Representatives is entitled to 30 aides, his Deputy 15 and each of the six principal officers, 10 aides each. Little wonder they fight very dirty to get these positions.

But as if these figures are not outlandish enough, the report further confirmed that the Senate President overshot his limit by hiring 115 aides just as the Speaker hired 168 aides!!! Pray, what are they aiding or advising? And where is the evidence of those advice and aiding in the overall output of the National Assembly? How has the laws so far made transformed our narratives as a people?

Worse still, these lawmakers place their aides on high pay brackets, collect same and in turn, dish out just a measly fraction to the aides, who are too cowed to complain. This is even when the National Assembly Commission should be paying the aides directly.

It only shows that many of the lawmakers are just over-dressed crooks.

So what is the difference between the condemned past, governed by the dethroned Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Change-defined All Progressives Congress (APC)?

These are the same lawmakers who should be championing the Change-Begins-with-Me-Campaign, recently launched by the federal government. Who is fooling who?

It is trite to accuse them of being selfish, as many Nigerians believe that the lawmakers are not exactly representing them in the real sense. “They represent themselves in every way”, is a common descriptive phrase for the lawmakers.

Some of them do not even have the mandatory constituency office. And where they have, it is merely a matter of an idle signboard pointing to no where.

Too many times, Nigerians have complained about the huge cost of running the Nigerian legislature. Our lawmakers are about the most highly paid in the world. This is aside the fact that many of the said lawmakers are contractors and budget-padding experts. They do hideous things with our treasury. In connivance with  civil servants, they circumvent the system and rob our collective treasury. They undertake contracts which they don’t execute, but get paid, because they are smart enough to know how to compromise civil servants who help to clear them of any blame.

Is anyone really surprised that despite all the huge monies voted each year, Nigeria is still as decrepit as we see it?

Is it any surprise that almost always, when there is a row and even fighting in any of the chambers, it is largely about money and power sharing dynamics. It is hardly on how to improve the lot of the ordinary man they claim to be representing.

No wonder former President Olusegun Obasanjo once described them as rogues and robbers.

Obasanjo had said: “Integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the State Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly. What sort of laws will they make

Aside their annual salaries, they earn special amount  every four years which is the life span of a legislative session.  This special payment covers accommodation, vehicle loan, furniture, and severance allowance. Thus every Senator gets N24,090,000.00 and a House of Representatives member to goes home with N23,822,00.00 within the same period.

That way, in every four years, the Federal Government spends N2,625, 810,000.00 on accommodation, vehicle loans, furniture and severance gratuity on the 109 senators and N8,575,920,000.00 on the 360 House of Representatives members, bringing the overall sum expended on  senators to N33, 992, 360 , while House of representative members are maintained with N33,347, 985, 50

Today, 21 of the 109 senators are currently receiving pension as former governors and former deputy governors. Yet, they  still receive this huge salaries and allowances. Why are we looking for what dragged us into economic recession?  Which country crushes public funds like this and wont see the consequences?

It is because of this wild financial outlay that makes our brand pf presidential system of government very expensive.

It is for reasons such as these that Doug Larson once said, “Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.”

They earn so huge and yet do rather too little. They just returned from a two-month vacation! Not even the president of the country can afford such luxuriously lengthy holiday. Even when they are in session, the  hallowed chambers are usually hollow, with many of the lawmakers pursuing other private concerns.

Not more than 40 per cent of the lawmakers are visible. The rest, largely, are benchwarmers, active perhaps only at the committee levels.

Last Wednesday, the House of Reps erupted in smoky uproar as a result of the  Budget-padding scandal that raged during its recess. If the past serves as a guide, the reference of the padding allegations by Abdulmumuni Jibrin, to the House Committee on Ethics and privilges, will be the last we shall hear of the matter, as that committee is often regarded as the graveyard of probes. Or at best, Speaker Yakubu Dogara and his co-accused, will be cleared of any guilt and then the merry-go-round will continue. With the distribution of “I-stand-with-Dogara” aso-ebi caps for Dogara’s supporters, nobody will be shocked at how the melodrama ends.

The pieces of legislations that should be dutifully examined and passed, like the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)—meant to recast the oil and gas sector— which had been in the National Assembly for nearly ten years, is certainly not the priority of our lawmakers. It is straddled down by petty and narrow politics.

It is interesting to hear the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki suggest, among other things, that we should sell our national assets, so we can come out of recession, whereas their manifold acts of financial recklessness contributed to the present economic dip we are experiencing.

One altruistic way of climbing out of the recession, therefore, would have been for the lawmakers to volunteer a pay cut and trim the many excesses they had hitherto indulged in. But they want us sell off our patrimony! Perhaps to the same economic mandarins who had stymied our development as a nation. Pray, when the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) sold off our national heritage including even the Apo legislators’ quarters, over a dozen years ago, where are the proceeds of those sales?

What can we point to today as the monuments or investments where the monies from those sales were put?

How better has Nigeria become as a result of the roles the nation’s legislature has played?

Looking through the ways and actions of our lawmakers, one is bound to ask whether they are part of our problems as a country or whether they are part of the solution to our problems.