9th N’Assembly Lawmakers Must Cut their Running Cost

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Ring true

Yemi Adebowale; 07013940521; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

In traumatised mother Nigeria, the National Assembly is one of the places for amassing megabucks. This has been the pattern in the last 20 years of democracy. The lawmakers feed fat while the masses of the people they represent wallow in abject poverty. When it comes to milking our commonwealth, they unite. At this stage, no lawmaker talks about belonging to APC or PDP. Nobody talks about North or South. Members of the ludicrous ruling “change” party simply bury their “change” mantra and enjoy the draining of our commonwealth. This ugly era must end in the 9th Assembly. During the 8th Assembly, senators received N13.5 million monthly (each) as running cost. Add salary to it and it will jump to about N14.5 million monthly. Those in the House of Representatives each received N10 million monthly as running cost. Add salary and it will jump to about N10.7 million monthly for a House member.

Thanks to the senator who represented Kaduna Central in the 8th National Assembly, Shehu Sani. But for him, we would not have these facts and figures. Traumatised Nigerians are further devastated by these statistics. Hunger and poverty in our land are becoming unbearable; the four years of the Buhari government have been horrendous, with millions of Nigerians losing jobs. A country where millions of people go to bed without dinner and wake up not sure of where breakfast will come from can’t continue paying this much to lawmakers; a country where millions of civil servants have not been paid for months should not continue a legislative treat like this. This luxury must not continue in a country with a comatose economy, where millions of graduates roam the streets without jobs.

It is also necessary to stop these heartless payments so that the National Assembly would be attractive only to people with ideas. Not people after megabucks.

No doubt, our lawmakers need to cover running cost on things like travels, medicals, consultancy, maintenance of constituency offices, visits to constituency, office work and maintenance of facilities in their offices at the National Assembly and constituencies. They also need good money to effectively carry out their oversight functions. However, continuation of these monthly humongous figures can’t fly amid suffering in our land. At the current rate, the 9th National Assembly will need about N61 billion annually to fund running cost.

I can 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, monthly running cost for each federal lawmaker should not exceed N2 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 abuse and corruption in this process. Yes, the bureaucracy would try to drag them back with bottlenecks, but with good leadership from the 9th Assembly, these bureaucrats will fall in line.

So, the new leaders of the 9th National Assembly must end this anomaly by cutting down its expenditure in the interest of Nigerians. They must cut down and free the funds for projects that will directly touch the lives of the masses of the people. Our dear legislators of the 9th Assembly must subject themselves to greater austerity measures in an era of economic depression. I sincerely hope that the new Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila will be courageous enough to end these cold-blooded payments to lawmakers. All outflows to the legislators must also be transparent.

Cost cutting must also apply to our legislators at the state levels. They must cut down their spending in the interest of their people. For example, each lawmaker in the last Assembly in Lagos was taking home N5 million monthly as cash advance for overhead cost. In all, a total of N550 million is allocated monthly to the Lagos State House of Assembly for overhead expenses. This amounted 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 happening in a state where over 98 per cent of the population lack access to public water supply. 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 drew huge money as running costs.

While tackling our lawmakers, we should also interrogate the Executive arm of governments at all levels regarding running cost. They still access frightening 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. Ministers rock around with a convoy of at least three vehicles, with policemen, drivers, soldiers and all manner of nonsense. It will be interesting to unmask the figures received monthly as running outlays by big boys like Maikanti Baru, who heads the NNPC, the lady at the NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman and my friend at NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside. Presidency aides also pocket scary amounts as running expenses. These public servants should come out clean on what they receive as running cost. There should be transparency in an era of change.

Bandits Clearly Not Behind All Attacks in North-west

Each time there is a terror attack in the Northwest states of Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto, security agents blame bandits. I have checked the meaning of the word “bandit” and most of these unending attacks clearly do not align with it. In most cases, the terrorists strike, kill scores of people and leave without stealing anything in affected villages. Let’s take the case of the recent attack in Rabah and Isa local governments areas of Sokoto State.

In simultaneous and coordinated attacks last Saturday evening, the gang killed over 50 people in five villages in these local government areas. They did not steal anything in all the villages attacked. They simply entered, slaughtered people and disappeared. A villager, Abdullahi Maiwada, who witnessed the attack on Sapiru village, said: “The bandits stormed Sapiru village at about 5pm on more than 50 motorcycles on Saturday. They entered the town shooting sporadically. Eighteen people were killed instantly, while another seven later died.”

Let’s flip over to Kanoma in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara, which was attacked on Sallah day, June 5. A large number of people on motorcycles invaded the area and fired gunshots sporadically, which led to the death of the 16 persons. They then disappeared without stealing anything.

These are clearly not attacks by bandits. The mode of operation has all the trappings of Boko Haram. I challenge our security agents to dig deep and stop blaming bandits.

Falana’s Incisive Stance on AIT’s Closure

The position of the National Broadcasting Commission that it could shut any broadcasting corporation in line with the powers granted it by the NBC act is clearly misleading. Where any law is in conflict with the constitution of a country, that law becomes a nullity. The NBC lacks the power to suspend licences of broadcast organisations without an order from the court. This is the bitter truth that the NBC boss, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, must swallow. The suspension of the licences of DAAR Communications Plc, owners of African Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower over “breach of broadcasting code” by the NBC is an illegality.

Lawyer and Human Rights activist, Femi Falana puts it fittingly: “No doubt, the NBC has been empowered by the NBC Act to regulate all broadcasting organisations in the country. But, in exercising its wide powers, NBC has to be made to appreciate that it can no longer operate outside the ambit of the Constitution as was the case under military rule. Since fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, can no longer be curtailed or abrogated except in a manner permitted by law, the NBC ought to realise that it cannot suspend licences of media houses, ban radio houses from playing records of artistes or impose fines on alleged offenders without a court order. Alternatively, the NBC may request the Attorney-General of the Federation to charge a media house for breaching the provisions of the NBC Act or penal statutes. Otherwise, the powers of the NBC may be arbitrarily exercised to the detriment of law and order in the society.”

There is nothing to add. This lawyer has shut down Kawu and his cronies. Closure of media houses is a dangerous trend. The NBC must learn to act within the confines of the law. We must all join the battle for press freedom, an essential ingredient for the sustenance of democracy.

Lessons from Mexican President Obrador

Andres Lopez Obrador campaigned for the Presidency of Mexico with a vow to sell all aircraft in the country’s Presidential Fleet because they are “too lavish” and use the proceeds to tackle huge challenges facing the country. He won and he immediately fulfilled his campaign promise when he assumed office last December. Obrador instantly pushed out for sale a posh Boeing 787 Dreamliner used by his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, along with 60 government planes and 70 helicopters.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the equivalent of United States President’s Air Force One, with spacious interior. It is equipped with several luxurious meeting rooms, a presidential bedroom (complete with marble-lined bathroom) and several flat-screen TVs. The jet was acquired in late 2012 for $218 million by Nieto. Obrador has since shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s previous presidents, choosing to fly commercial aircraft only. He has also rolled out a string of welfare programmes for the poor and the elderly, while cutting salaries of top civil servants.

On Wednesday, President Obrador announced that proceeds of the sale of the former presidential jet and other aircraft from the last government would also help fund efforts to curb migration, under a deal struck last week with the United States. The leftist said the price tag of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner would start at $150 million.

Our own President Buhari vowed to cut the number of aircraft in his Presidential fleet way back in 2015, in order to reduce cost of governance. As I pen this piece, the ten aircraft in the Presidential Fleet are still intact. For those unaware, the 10 aircraft in Nigeria’s Presidential Fleet are Boeing 737-800, Gulfstream 550, Gulfstream 500, Falcons 7X (2), Hawker Sidley 4000, Agusta Westland AW 139 helicopters (2) and Agusta Westland AW 101 helicopters (2). Each of the two Falcon 7X jets was purchased in 2010 for $51.1m, while the Gulfstream 550 costs $53.3m. Between May and November 2015 alone, N2.3 billion was released to the Presidential Air Fleet by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation for maintenance.

Considering the poverty in this country, the way to go for Buhari is the way of President Obrador of Mexico. He should sell these aircraft and use the fund to tackle poverty. Nigeria has displaced India as the world poverty capital, with over 98 million extremely poor as ranked by Brookings Institution’s World Poverty Clock. This is made worse by a joint research by Oxfam and the Development Finance International, which ranked Nigeria last – at 157 out of 157 countries surveyed – in the commitment to, and progress in addressing poverty.  Just how adrift the country has become is further demonstrated by the Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index findings that Nigeria’s social spending is “shamefully low.” The number of out-of-school children has risen to over 13 million. The World Bank’s Human Capital Index rates Nigeria 152 out of 157 countries; it has the world’s 21st  highest HIV prevalence level (2.9 per cent) and remains, along with Afghanistan and Pakistan, one of only three countries that are still polio-endemic.

The President of a country facing this type of hunger and poverty should not be seen living big.