Legislators Must Cut Their Running Expenses


Ring True

By Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com;  07013940521(text only)

The senator representing Kaduna Central in the National Assembly, Shehu Sani, has always been a radical. This nonconformist threw numerous federal lawmakers into uneasiness with his disclosure that senators collect N13.5 million monthly as running costs. Sani said it was necessary to stop the payment to make the National Assembly attractive to only people with ideas: “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 payment system is ended, then parliament would only be attractive to people who contribute ideas.”

The only atypical thing about this current battle by this senator is that he has also been drawing (maximally) from this contentious running cost, which he admits with regrets. “We are all in this mess together,” Sani told me on Tuesday. Perhaps, henceforth, this senator won’t touch this kind of money.
Yes, the monthly N13.5 million for each senator was not disputed by the leadership of the Senate. Those in the House of Representatives can also draw up to N8 million monthly as running costs. This is also factual. Figures like these will always attract negative reactions from traumatised Nigerians because hunger and poverty in the land are becoming unbearable; the last 34 months have been horrendous, with millions of Nigerians losing jobs. A country where millions of people now wake up without breakfast and go to bed without dinner can’t afford these figures; a country where millions of civil servants have not been paid for months can’t afford a treat like this. There will always be a negative reaction to it in a country with a comatose economy, where millions of graduates roam the streets without jobs.

No doubt, our lawmakers need to cover running costs on things like travels, medicals, consultancy, maintenance of constituency offices, visits to constituency, office work and maintenance of facilities for operating offices in the National Assembly and constituencies. They also need good money to effectively carry out their oversight functions. However, this monthly N13.5 million figure can’t fly amid suffering in our land. At the current rate, the Senate and the House of Representatives will need about N50 billion annually to fund running costs. So, the National Assembly must cut down its expenditure in the interest of Nigerians. They must cut down their expenditure and free the funds for projects that will directly touch the lives of the masses of the people. Our dear legislators must subject themselves to greater austerity measures in an era of economic depression.

I still clearly recollect that in 2012, the United Kingdom-based Economist magazine concluded that Nigerian lawmakers were the highest paid in the world. This must not continue. For me, running cost for federal lawmakers should not exceed N3 million. These lawmakers must sacrifice their comfort in this era of despair. I believe that the bureaucracy of the National Assembly should be allowed to directly handle travels and medicals of these lawmakers to end insinuations of abuse and corruption in this process. Yes, the bureaucracy would try to drag them back with bottlenecks, but with good leadership from the National Assembly, these bureaucrats will fall in line.

Costs cutting must also apply to our legislators at the state level. They must cut down their spending in the interest of their people. For example, monthly, each lawmaker in Lagos takes home N5 million as cash advance for overhead costs. In all, a total of N550 million is allocated monthly to the Lagos State House of Assembly for overhead expenses. This amounts to N6.6 billion per annum. This is happening in a state where so many inner roads, schools and hospitals are in shreds. It is a slap in the face of the suffering masses of Lagos State. In Osun, Oyo and many other states where civil servants die daily due to huge salary backlog, lawmakers still draw huge running costs.

Insinuations abound on the abuse of running costs and constituency projects. I can clearly remember that Dr. Mohammed Tahir Bello, who worked as Senior Legislative Assistant to incumbent Senator Ibrahim Gobir representing Sokoto East sent a petition to Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, alleging abuse of the cash advance for overhead costs by his principal. He told me then that I could quote him that senators in the 7th Senate were advanced about N200 million each annually for this purpose. Dr. Bello stated this with good authority because he handled some of the paper work for Senator Gobir. He alleged in the petition: “A cash advance of N51 million was quarterly released to every Senator which was retired fraudulently within three months to qualify for the next release.

The release was directly associated with an imaginary travel tour, constituency visits, office work and maintenance of facilities for operations of the senator in the National Assembly and the Constituency. The attached copies of the documents approved for retirements from the Sokoto-East Senatorial District speak volumes and exposed the fraudulent nature of the fund release. The expenditure was not desirable and therefore must be curtailed.”
Dr. Bello further claimed that there was consistent corruption in the Constituency projects executed for the federal lawmakers. He used his own Sokoto-East constituency as an example. Bello alleged: “A Constituency Project of N190 million was also approved for Sokoto-East Senatorial District and a sample presentation attached for 2012, shows a trend which was open for abuse. The first item on the submission list was a provision of two hundred (200) units of EasyBiz scheme facility at N550, 000 per entrepreneur to the tune of N110 million.

“An Award Contract document attached shows the initial release of about N67 million. However, throughout the project period, only twenty (20) and not the two hundred (200) units approved were delivered and even these were not distributed as scheduled but kept within the constituency office in Sokoto. These same twenty (20) units initially presented, were being cleaned and presented annually to the supervising Ministry (NDE) officials in Sokoto for fresh payments. These processes were maintained severally throughout the tenure.
“The Constituency Project was not delivered but payments were made annually. These projects and many others need to be examined critically to determine the best option to develop the constituencies. The project was for the provision of two town halls but that was converted to a construction and renovation of the residence of the traditional ruler which was uncompleted and abandoned, to date.

“The objective behind the MDG Project(s) was good but these were subjected to various abuses. Please find attached sampled copies of the cash retirement documents for your perusal and necessary action. As a strong member of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) during the campaigns, I look forward to providing the necessary assistance to reduce to the barest minimum the highlighted fraudulent activities in the operations of the National Assembly.”
Senator Gobir did not respond to these allegations. Gobir, who is also in this 8th Senate, evidently has a lot of explanation to do on this.
While tackling our lawmakers, we should also interrogate the Executive and Judicial arms of governments at all levels regarding running costs. All holders of elective and appointive offices still access huge running cost in an era of change. Many will be shocked if they know what ministers, heads of departments and agencies draw as running cost monthly. It was also alleged that Maikanti, who heads the NNPC, collects perplexing figure monthly as running outlays. The lady at the NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman and my friend at NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside, are also said to be drawing frightening figures monthly as running costs. In the Presidency, aides of Mr. President pocket millions of Naira monthly as running expenses. These public servants should come out clean on what they collect as running costs. There should be transparency in an era of change.

Governor Ajimobi’s Absurd ‘Technical University’
All the higher institutions owned by Oyo State Government are in tatters. We are daily assaulted by tales of woes from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso; The Polytechnic, Ibadan; Emmanuel Alayande College of Education, Oyo; The Ibarapa Polytechnic, Eruwa; The Oke-Ogun Polytechnic, Saki; Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology, Igbo-Ora; The College of Education, Lanlate; School of Nursing and Midwifery Eleyele, Ibadan and the College of Hygiene and Health Technology, Eleyele Ibadan. Teachers in these institutions are permanently on strike due to unpaid salaries and decaying infrastructure.
I thought Governor Abiola Ajimobi would use the state’s resources to improve facilities and pay backlog of salaries in these institutions, but the reverse was the case. An apparently muddled Ajimobi recently inaugurated a new university called The Technical University (Tech-U), Ibadan, with fanfare. He said it was established to change the nation’s employment landscape through graduation of innovators and entrepreneurs. This is just a delusion. Just like existing ones, Tech-U will evidently grapple with the same underfunding and infrastructural challenges. Ajimobi has not done any good to the people of Oyo State with Tech-U. This state under this governor has been struggling for survival in the last seven years. Health, education, road and other critical infrastructure in Oyo State are in a mess. Just visit any state-owned public school and hospital, and you will understand what I am talking about. Civil servants are also owed salary backlog. So, why waste resources on a new venture instead of tackling existing enormous challenges in the existing ones? This is food for thought for Ajimobi today.

Who Will Save Lagosians from Visionscape’s Shenanigans?
The main job given to Visionscape, the waste management firm engaged by Lagos State Government to keep Lagos spotless under its Cleaner Lagos initiative, is to collect waste from homes weekly and dispose. We were also told that waste bins would be provided for households. I doubt if a mere 1% of Lagosians are enjoying this service, several months after they assumed duties. This is why most homes in Lagos have been enveloped by waste. Some frustrated Lagosians simply heap their waste on the main roads. What Visionscape has been doing since assumption of duties is to place medium size waste bins on curbsides. Ordinarily, this should not be for households. In sane societies, bins on curbsides are for passersby. Some frustrated household heap their waste into these curbside containers and they spill over within minutes. This is why you hardly see a curbside bin in Lagos not begging for attention. When will Visionscape start collecting waste from homes? This is its main duty. Majority of Lagos households are still waiting for answer.
Again, street sweeping and cleaning by Visionscape is done manually and messily. Haba! How can this be happening in a modern era of motorised street sweeping? This is not the global standard. Lagos State deserves the best.
Visionscape’s trucks transporting waste to the landfill site in Epe often litter their routes because they are always poorly covered. I unsuccessfully tried to stop one of such notorious trucks with registration No EKY 33XV on Thursday March 15, while scattering its content on the road on the way to Epe. Visionscape is evidently unprepared for this task after collecting billions of Naira of Lagos tax payers’ money. There is more to this contract than what Lagosians are seeing. Watch out for a big expose soon.