- Clerk denies lodging allowance in interest-yielding account
Chuks Okocha in Abuja
Concerns have been raised over the non-payment of the N8.1 billion severance allowance of lawmakers and aides who served in the eighth National Assembly, which is contained in the 2019 Appropriations Bill.
The Clerk of National Assembly has, however, denied the allegations that the allowance was lodged in banks to yield interest for the management of the National Assembly.
But the former lawmakers and their aides said they were not convinced by the explanation as the funds were on first line charge.
The 109 senators, 360 members of the House of Representatives, and over 3,000 legislative aides, who were appointed in various capacities in the federal legislature, had accused the National Assembly management and leadership of failing to pay their stipulated severance funds, more than four months after the end of the tenure.
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) in its Remuneration Package for Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders, senators, members of the House of Representatives and many of the legislative aides recommends payment of 300 per cent of annual basic pay to them as severance entitlements.
Each of the 109 senators and 360 House members has five legislative aides, totaling 545 and 1,800 respectively or a cumulative total of 2,345, who are collectively entitled to varying amounts that add up to N8.1 billion.
The additional benefits of principal officers in both the upper and lower chambers include a large number of additional aides serving as chiefs of staff, advisers, special assistants and others and severance packages are to be paid to them too.
According to sources at the National Assembly, the severance benefits for senators and members of the lower house have been finalised while a special committee, which is working on those of the legislative aides, is about finalising details so that legislative aides can be paid before the end of next month.
The lawmakers, including those who were re-elected, already had part of their severance benefits deducted for payment on ‘depreciated asset and equipment’ such as television sets, refrigerators and computers, among others.
THISDAY gathered that the entitlements of each aide will receive will depend on his salary grade level and the number of years spent serving his principal.
“Severance benefits of those on Level 16 and above are calculated with the formula of 38.5% multiplied by the annual salary and then, multiplied by 300 per cent for those who served for upwards of four years while those who served for two years will have theirs calculated on the basis of 150 per cent,” one of the sources said.
A senator who served in the eight Senate, told THISDAY that he had tried to reach the management of the National Assembly to find out why the funds have been delayed, and had been told that the money had been approved, but the payment was yet to be made.
“I don’t know which is worse – the fact that the money which has been approved has not been paid; or the fact that the funds are not available, despite the exorbitant spending that the lawmakers are doing with the purchase of luxury vehicles.
“The severance benefits have not been paid but were duly appropriated in the 2019 budget. So, where is it now? The Senate and House have commenced moves to buy luxury cars for their legislative duties but the benefits of those who served in the 8th National Assembly have not been paid. Is it how it should be done? The broom used in sweeping away the old wife will still await the second wife. This message is directed to the members of the ninth National Assembly to see to it that our severance benefits are paid.
“I don’t want to believe the rumours that have been going around that the funds are kept in banks by the National Assembly’s management to yield interest for them, but with this obnoxious delay, I really don’t know what to believe anymore,” the former senator added.
Another former lawmaker who served in the Eight House of Representatives and is now a senator, said committees had been meeting since the end of the Eighth Assembly but no progress was recorded in the how to pay the benefits.
“I don’t understand what the delay is. Everyone is afraid to speak out because they are afraid that they will get penalised if the payment comes. I know that people, some of my former colleagues, have been reaching out to me to get me to find out via back-channels when the payments will be made, but I don’t really know what to tell them.
“Many families need this money to start new lives. Many people are banking on these funds to plan and start new businesses. The National Assembly needs to stop this secrecy and tell us what is happening,” he added.
A senior legislative aide (SLA) to one of the former principal officers in the House, also stated that many of the former members of the National Assembly aides are worried, due to the fact that even the leaders of the legislative aides forum and other organised bodies in the National Assembly are silent on the issue of the payment of their severance.
“By now, we should have seen the Chairman of NASSLAF protesting and calling for this payment. I suspect complicity on the part of some of the leaders of the legislative aides forum, NASSLAF”, he said.
However, Media Aide to the Clerk of National Assembly, Mr. Andrew Aota, dismissed the allegation that the Clerk lodged funds set aside for severance benefits in any interest-yielding accounts .
He said: “The said severance package for the 8th Assembly, like any other funds, are domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and can only be released for whatever purpose if, approved by the Federal Ministry of Finance .
“What the Clerk of National Assembly (CNA) as the head of the National Assembly bureaucracy did was to write the relevant authorities for the release of the severance package for the 8th National Assembly and, that money has not been released up to this moment. I can assure you that once the money is released, payment will commence immediately. It is therefore, totally false that the severance package for the 8th National Assembly has been released and its yielding interests in the private accounts of the CAN.”