N’Assembly’s Recurring Remuneration Controversy

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Lawan shortly after being sworn in as Senate President

The question of how much a federal lawmaker earns is again generating a lot of heat as the National Assembly reconvenes Tuesday, after a 19-day recess, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

The last few days have been a beehive of activities for the leadership of both the Senate and the House of Representatives since the two chambers went on recess on Thursday, June 13 to allow necessary logistics to be put in place for the smooth take off of the Ninth National Assembly, which was inaugurated on Tuesday, June 11.

President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, had in the course of a courtesy visit to him by executive committee members of the Senators’ Forum last week, revisited the contentious issue of the jumbo pay of federal lawmakers.

Without any prodding, Lawan, who has been a member of the National Assembly in the last 20 years, declared that there was nothing like jumbo pay for the lawmakers

While appealing to the ex-Senators led by Senator Khairat Gwadabe to join in giving the true narrative to Nigerians as regards the emoluments of federal lawmakers, Lawan said as against erroneous perception of monthly jumbo pay, he as President of the Senate receives N750, 000 salary per month.

“Although as an important institution, monies are provided for office running, oversight functions by lawmakers etc, which are always added up by the ordinary man on the street as monthly salary of lawmakers.

“What I want to emphasize here is that I never believed that there is anything called Jumbo pay to the national assembly. The members both at the Senate and the House receive what is their salaries and I receive N750,000 as my salary. But I need to function as a Senator so my office needs to be properly funded”.

He, however, added that the national assembly was going to be open to the general public in the conduct of its legislative activities, particularly in the area of funding.

“National Assembly is going to be open to the public, I believe that the National Assembly should have everything open, to let Nigerians know what we are doing. I believe that Nigerians need to understand this, we need to continually engage with Nigerians and I will also argue that we continue to explain to Nigerians, they deserve to know how their resources are utilised. I believe that the national assembly needs proper funding, because the legislature is so critical in any national development,’’ Lawan had said.

His explanation soon generated a lot of reaction from the public with a lot of people still expressing concern over the actual amount an average federal legislator takes home monthly.

One of such people is the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay, (SAN), who claimed the President of the Senate was only being clever by half about the total monthly pay of an average Senator,told Lawan, to stop misleading Nigerians, adding that senators earn N15m monthly and not N750,000 as claimed by him.

According to the Professor of Law, Nigerians were more interested in how much senators take home monthly in salaries and allowances.

In his words: “I respect and like him (Lawan), but what he has done is to give half-truth. He is telling us the actual salary without mentioning anything about the allowances. That is where the jumbo pay comes in, when you talk of building, furniture, domestic this or that, 15 items and those items alone bring everything up to N13.5m a month.

“So, simply mentioning the bare salary, which brings it to over N14m, is not sufficient. So, technically, he is right. That is their salary. But what is his income, take-home pay, at the end of the month? It is about N15m and we are not talking about other allowances for now?”

Recall that Senator Shehu Sani was the first to raise the issue of ‘jumbo pay’ by legislators during the Eighth Assembly. He had wondered why the lawmakers were earning as much as over N12 million as allowances monthly. The leadership of the then Assembly headed by Dr. Bukola Saraki, did not controvert the submission of the Kaduna Central Senator.

Now that the current leadership of the legislative arm had promised to run an open and transparent Assembly in the next four years, it will not be out of place for the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate to be bold enough to give a breakdown of the allowances earned by an average legislator outside his monthly salary.

By doing this with a clear explanation of what the funds are meant for, the inquisitive members of the public will have an informed position on the issue and this may possibly douse the tension being generated over the purported jumbo pay of federal lawmakers.

In the period under review, the President of the Senate also played host to the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, during which he noted that the idea of separate budgetary provisions for state police commands would further help in addressing security challenges in the country.

He then assured Adamu on the early passage of the Police Reform Bill, Police Academy Bill and smooth implementation of the Police Trust Fund, to create more responsive and efficient police force. Aside better funding for its operations, Lawan also said the Police needed to be restructured, including the separate appropriations being canvassed for the state police commands by the Inspector General of Police.

“Separate budgetary provision for the state police commands different from the Force Headquarters is a good idea. The current style (of lumped budget) is not giving the deserved result. I can assure you that the Senate Committee on Police Affairs, when constituted, will work with your management on the separate funding for the state police commands.

“This is necessary, because we want you to spend your resources prudently and economically. We want you to always display efficiency on your duties and we will always give you support,” he said.

The House of Representatives, on its part, has started work in earnest, because even while the legislators in the green chamber went on recess, the leadership and members of the four ad hoc committees set up – Selection, Media, Welfare and Rule and Business were already doing the needful for the smooth take off of legislative business when the House resumes on July 2.

While the House Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, had in the last two weeks embarked on ‘thank you’ visits to those that helped him actualise his dream of leading the House, he is also reeling off some key agenda of his administration. This much was attested to last week by the Chairman, House Committee on Media, Hon. Khadija Ibrahim, who gave further insight into the promises made by the Speaker, who raised the hope of Nigerians that the 9th Assembly would meet the aspirations of the citizenry.

“It was during the recent dinner held in his honour in Lagos that the House Speaker emphasised that the 9th House will be a reformist one and that part of the reforms are visiting of constituencies, which he laid emphasis on that he would be visiting Zamfara and Borno States where there is insurgency and he will visit the camps of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to see at first-hand what the situation is all about.

“This is indeed historic because it is the first time a Speaker in Nigeria is making that move. So, we are very proud of him, especially those of us that are from those states. We are very happy for those zones. All Nigerians should be really happy because it shows that Mr. Speaker is indeed concerned about what is happening in these constituencies, because he had stated in his address when he was elected Speaker that he would do this, so he has put it out that he is going to visit these two states; Zamfara and Borno States.”

On when the substantive committees will be inaugurated, she said: “In our last meeting with Mr. Speaker, he did mention that it is only the media committee that will work beyond the two weeks until substantive committees are put in place before the work of the media committee ends. If we have the selection Committee as the chairman said they are working. I think we need to be patient to wait for the House to resume to see how far those committees have worked so far. Then we can be asking further questions regarding those issues.”

Meanwhile, amid efforts to get the House started on a strong footing, there is already underground politicking for principal officers’ positions, and some interested parties have resorted to propaganda to announce that they have been picked for certain positions. But the media committee has denied such positions, saying no official declaration has been made regarding principal officers.

A member of the ad hoc media committee and former Deputy Speaker of Plateau State, Hon Yusuf Gagdi, said: “There is no political party that has yet decided on where the position of what should be zoned to. At the risk of us asking question that will generate issues within the polity that we are appealing to people not to heat up the system.

His words: “Issue of principal officers is not the responsibility of one party. There are principal officers that are the responsibility of even the minority parties in the National Assembly. So, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), call them whatever, that have representation in the National Assembly are yet to sit down and say where should which office be zoned to.

“So, at this moment I don’t think we have received any official communication from Mr. Speaker of the leadership of any political party regarding to the position of principal officers of the National Assembly.”

In the same vein, Hon. Bamidele Salam, said the issue of selection of principal officers will have to wait “until we resume. You know these things have processes. Caucuses are already handling their own. So, when we resume; I am sure by first week of resumption that should be sorted out.”

By and large, with the National Assembly settling down for real legislative business on Tuesday, the leadership of the two chambers should know that all eyes are indeed on the 469- member parliament to ensure that legislative interventions that will have telling effect on the populace are churned out by the Ninth Assembly in the next four years.