Despite huge pay, senators, reps, fleece aides | Dailytrust

Despite huge pay, senators, reps, fleece aides

It was learnt that a sizable percentage of the 2,345 statutory legislative aides are either sitting...

Despite receiving huge pays in salaries and allowances, many senators and House of Representatives members engage in underhand deals by diverting funds meant to hire aides, and shortchanging personal staff in what is due to them, investigation by Daily Trust has revealed.

While there is no official disclosure on the salaries and emoluments of members of the National Assembly, Nigerian lawmakers are believed to be among the highest paid in the world.

In 2018, then serving senator, Shehu Sani disclosed that each senator was being paid N13.5 million as running cost, in addition to N750,000 salary.

Last year, a member of the House of Representatives, Simon Karu, told a public gathering that each member of the House officially receives N8.5 million in running cost, aside N800,000 in salary.

It was learnt that a sizable percentage of the 2,345 statutory legislative aides are either sitting in for children or spouses of lawmakers – who receive the actual pay – or pay a kickback of up to 50 per cent of their official salaries to the persons who hired them.

Each of the 469 lawmakers – 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives – is entitled to five aides; a senior legislative aide, legislative assistant, personal assistant, constituency officer and a secretary.

For the position of a senior legislative aide are typically required to higher persons with a graduate degree and cognate experience who could be placed at up to level 15, or equivalence of a deputy director in the civil service.

The presiding officers of the National Assembly, the Senate President, Speaker, Deputy Senate President and the Deputy Speaker are at the liberty to engage unlimited number of aides, in a discretionary manner. This category of aides, who are in their hundreds, are largely nominal, with no office or official functions attached to them.

The legislative aides, Daily Trust reports, are recruited by the National Assembly Service Commission on the recommendation of individual lawmakers.

Their salaries and other entitlements are catered for by the National Assembly management through bank accounts provided by the aides.

While many lawmakers would not discourse the issue with our reporters, at least two former members, and many aides confirmed the practice, with gripping details.

Checks by our reporters showed that the most affected of the five categories of aides are the secretaries. Most of them statutorily earn about N100,000, but half of it is often remitted back to their bosses.

 Duties of legislative aides

Legislative assistants or legislative aides are engaged to assist legislators in successfully fulfilling their lawmaking obligations. The aides are expected to provide support services in the areas of administration, research, communication, and constituency liaison.

Legislative assistants are expected to conduct policy and legal research, and draft legislative resolutions and memorials.

Since legislators are concerned with passing of laws, it’s critical that legislative aides thoroughly research proposed legislation by attending committee hearings and getting copies of different testimonies and records.

In many countries such roles are filled by experienced researchers and other professionals, after a competitive process.

How lawmakers, under-staff offices, hire unqualified persons

“From the number of staff allotted each legislator, you can sense the importance the system attached to the legislative function,” said a former member of the House of Representatives who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday.

The politician who craved for anonymity so he is not seen as antagonizing his former colleagues, said many lawmakers under-staff their offices by not hiring up to the required number of staff, just to “divert” the money meant for the purpose.

“Those who hire the five aides as provided often do not employ the right persons, with the requisite qualifications; that is another way of short-changing the system. They recruit those who will only be proxies,” he said.

Another former lawmaker who confirmed the practice said there is a cartel at the National Assembly which specializes in providing ‘ghost aides’ for willing lawmakers.

“They do everything and every month they pay the lawmaker the paid salaries while they get their cut,” he said.

The source also said many lawmakers enroll their spouses as their personal assistants or secretaries, with the actual secretary getting paid by the legislator.

How we’re shortchanged – Aides

Mathew John (not real name) was months ago engaged by a member of the House of Representatives from the northern part of the country as his senior legislative aide. In an interview he said that after documentation with the National Assembly Service Commission, his boss told him that he should be paying 30 per cent of his monthly salary to an account.

“My salary is about N250,000 but I have to remit N75,000 monthly. Sometimes he collects the money himself, but most times, I sent it to the accounts he provided,” he said.

He said other aides of his boss were subjected to same treatment.

“My colleagues are paying same percentage, so it is not peculiar to me. All of us remit 30 per cent to him,” he said.

Also speaking, a former secretary to one of the senators said she resigned when she could no longer withstand the situation.

“My boss, a former governor, was paying me N50,000 monthly. My name was not submitted to the National Assembly Service Commission. To perpetrate this atrocity, someone else’s name was submitted to the commission. So, every month when the salary was paid, the person would sends N50,000 to me. I was doing the work but the person was collecting the salary,” she said.

She said she resigned one year after when she could no longer withstand it.

Another legislative aide told Daily Trust that his hope was dashed after he realised that his monthly pay was far less than what he was supposed to get statutorily had his employment been managed by the commission.

“People erroneously believe that all those working in the National Assembly are as heavily remunerated as the lawmakers. I was demoralised when I realised that someone is shortchanging me. The pay gap is too wide. But when you are outside you will not know how things work here.

“Those who get their salaries directly from the National Assembly Service Commission without cut are the real legislative aides. But for someone like me, my salary comes from a third party. Mine is even relatively better; some aides in my category don’t even get theirs regularly. Their pay is not steady,” the aide, who works with a lawmaker in the Red Chamber, said.

Giving further details,  a legislative aide who has been at the National Assembly since 2007, said the scenario, which started about 10 years ago, had become more pronounced among the lawmakers.

The aide, who does not want to be named to avoid the wrath of the lawmakers, said over 25 per cent of legislative aides were affected by the malpractice.

“It is the lawmakers that submit names of their aides to the commission. Before the lawmakers agree to submit the names of the aides, they would enter into an unwritten agreement with them.

“Out of desperation for employment, the prospective aides will agree and submit themselves. Their names will be forwarded to the commission. Some of them are asked to remit half of their salaries to their bosses or their cronies,” he said.

Exonerating the National Assembly management, the aide said the arrangements were between the lawmakers and their aides.

“As far as the National Assembly management is concerned, the salaries are paid to the aides through the bank accounts they provided,” he said.

‘Why we cannot complain’

An aide to one of the principal officers told Daily Trust that they could not complain because their employment is at the discretion of the lawmakers.

“You must play ball because the very day the lawmaker writes to the commission, they will act upon it; hence nobody dares talk about it.

“It is unfortunate that the last chunk of the money goes back to the lawmakers or their cronies. Nobody is ready to complain because if you do that it is at the expense of your job,” he said.

An aide to a House of Representatives member from one of the North-Central states, while confirming the practice, said that apart from the one that involved his boss, he was aware of a couple of other legislative aides who were also affected.

“It happens. On some occasions, it is not the National Assembly Service commission that pays them (legislative aides) directly. It is the lawmakers that collect the money and pay them. Although mine was coming directly from the commission, we had a lot of colleagues that theirs did not come directly. The payment was made directly to their bosses.

“What happens is that some of these lawmakers use their family members or associates to do documentation as their aides, but will bring in other people who will do the job. As such, once payment is made, it goes to their cronies, out which they will now pay those doing the work peanuts. I know of a legislative aide whose boss was giving N50,000 every month.

“It was the lawmaker that was paying him, not the commission. The excuse some of them give is that since they engage more legislative aides than the five they are officially entitled to, they would use the money to settle others.

“What some of them do is that after collecting all the money, they will split it among the aides they engage. But it is only five aides whose names will be with the commission.

“Towards the end of my time with my boss, he did a similar thing. I did not end the term with him. When he was decamping from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he said I should follow him, but I refused because I could not see the prospect in it. He said I should step aside since I could not follow him.

“He got somebody to replace me but he was collecting the money and splitting among other aides he engaged after my exit. This is what majority of them are doing. The excuse they will give you is that they have many people they need to cater for, and as such, the money would go round. But it is just an excuse,” he said.

Pressure from political godfathers

It was gathered that some lawmakers engage aides even after exhausting the maximum five they are entitled to because of pressure from political godfathers.

Since each lawmaker is entitled to five aides, they have to find a means to accommodate others because of the personalities that recommended them. That is why some aides are engaged and paid by the lawmakers, said an aide who has been working for a senator for a long time.

“They have little control over who they engage as aides. In fact, some of them are saying they would prefer civil servants to work with because aides are imposed on them by their political godfathers.

“Powerful figures who contributed to your electoral victory will send all sorts of people to you to employ as legislative aides. And because you can’t turn down some requests because of the strategic positions they occupy in your constituency, you have to find a way to accommodate them,” he said.

Why we cannot act – NASSLAF

The National Assembly Legislative Aides Forum (NASSLAF) said it was not concerned by the plight of legislative aides who are not employees of the National Assembly Service Commission.

The chairman of the group, Salisu Usman Zuru, told Daily Trust that aides engaged directly by their principals and whose employments were not regularised by the commission did not belong to them.

“Those employed directly by their respective principals are not members of our association. Their remunerations are determined and paid by their principals not by the commission.

“So we are not responsible for their welfare. Our members’ discipline and salaries are determined and paid by the commission.

“Our members are comprised of five cadres of aides – Senior Legislative Aides (SLA), Legislative Aides, Legislative Assistants, Personal Assistants, and Secretaries. They are employed by the National Assembly Service Commission and the National Assembly management on the recommendation of the lawmakers,” he said.

 CSOs kick, call for probe

The executive director, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), Ezenwa Nwagwu, a lawyer, said there was an approved number of aides for members of the National Assembly and those in excess of the approved number would be doing that at their expense.

According to him, if these employees are in the payroll of the National Assembly, it is inconceivable that their remuneration will be paid to their principals rather than their personal accounts.

“The second issue in contention will be how possible it is for a staff member whose name is not regularised (meaning it is not on the nominal roll) to be paid.

“Politicians, in a bid to satisfy cronies and dispense patronage, take on unnecessary folks. Employment ought to be a contract. It is pertinent to determine the terms contained in the letters of appointments those who claim to be shortchanged parade,” Nwagwu said.

On his part, the executive director, YIAGA Africa, Mr Samson Itodo, said the non-regularisation of appointments of legislative aides spoke volumes on the weakness of the National Assembly as a democratic institution.

He said legislative aides were considered to be staff of legislators and not necessarily staff of the National Assembly though the National Assembly covers their remuneration.

“Legislators are required to regularise their appointments before payments are processed. A question that begs for answer is why the National Assembly is making payments to legislators to pay aides whose appointments are not regularised?

“Evidently, this whole circumstance is purposely designed to shortchange aides who are deserving of their legitimate pay. If legislative aides are staff of National Assembly during the tenure of their principal, then the National Assembly should process their payments directly to avoid exploitation, corruption and unjust denial of salaries and allowances,” Itodo said.

Also, the executive director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, said it was indeed condemnable that members of the National Assembly, who are already draining so much from the public purse, still go ahead with such schemes that cream off entitlements meant for their aides.

“It is unjust and unfair that fellow Nigerians are being treated in this manner by their principals. The CHRICED calls on the affected aides to organise to lawfully resist these acts of injustice. We call on the relevant agencies such as the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to ensure that legislators who shortchange their aides are held to account. This would require accountability measures such as audits,” Zikirullahi said.

Also, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the news of legislative aides being short-changed by their principals was shocking and most unfortunate.

According to him, this is a time Nigerians need the National Assembly to be fully functional because of numerous issues that require the urgent intervention of the legislature, thus the need to stabilise it.

“With their positions and roles captured by the act, legislative aides have been made integral parts of the legislative structure and the everyday running of the National Assembly. Their work ensures that every lawmaker has the needed assistance to effectively and efficiently discharge his constitutional functions. The current situation will surely unsettle the aides, and by extension, the National Assembly,” he said.

He said the National Assembly as an arm of government must follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and must allow both internal and external actors to investigate, protect, respect the inalienable rights of these workers and also remedy the wrong already committed, while the Consolidated Legislative Salary Structure (CONLESS) should also be fully implemented.

Salaries are paid to aides directly – N/Assembly

The National Assembly said salaries of legislative aides were paid directly to them through bank accounts, except there was a private arrangement between them and their principals.

National Assembly’s director of information, Mr Agada Rawlings Emmanuel, said, “No political aide’s salaries are paid through their respective principals, except they have a private arrangement not to the knowledge of management and the National Assembly Service Commission, who gives such appointments at the instance of their principals based on the laid down procedure of engagement, which is a non-pensionable appointment.

“Payments are made directly to the aides through their domicile bank accounts. To the best of my knowledge and at my last check on the matter, this is the standard practice here.”

Lawyer reacts

Lawyers have criticised the actions of lawmakers who short pay their aides.

Reacting, Okonache Ogar Esq said refusal to pay workers their entitlement is against labour law of Nigeria.

In the same vein, Buhari Yusuf Esq, described the action as both “illegal and immoral.”

Also reacting, Abdullahi Ibrahim Esq said it depends on the terms of the offer, whether it is a contract or regular employment, adding that each case must be examined based on its unique circumstances.

“If the National Assembly pays this amount and they are staff, they must be paid the regular salaries, but if they are his personal staff and they collect certain amount, there are some instances where they can sue,” he said.

Reps Spokesman mum

Efforts to get the reaction of the Spokesman of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Okezie Kalu proved abortive as he neither respond to calls and nor text messages sent to him.

By Ismail Mudashir, Abdullateef Salau, Itodo Daniel Sule, Abbas Jimoh & John C. Azu

 

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