Many Nigerians are of the view that the National Assembly as it is presently being run is a drain pipe and as such, there is a need for a review of its status. Many citizens feel it is costing the country much more than the value it is adding.
Different permutations have been given to reduce the huge cost of governance through equal representation. A governor recently said the Senate should be scrapped while the House of Representatives is made to hold forte for the masses. Others also suggest that the number of lawmakers should be reduced from 469 to a manageable number that will not affect the purse of the nation.
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And here we are, the amendment of the 1999 constitution is ongoing and there are calls for the involvement of everybody and every part of the country in the exercise. People are expected to make contributions on many issues including how the cost of governance could be drastically reduced taking into consideration the dwindling financial standing of the country.
This is why it is easy to align with the view of Senator Mohammed Ndume, representing Borno South, who has been calling for a part-time legislature for some time now. To him, instead of having legislators on full-time basis, they should be paid according to the number of sittings they hold/attend. This, according to him will enable Nigerians to get the best out of their legislators. Senator Ndume had also urged his colleagues to sacrifice by reducing their perks of office as well as contemplate adopting part-time legislature for the good of the country.
He had added that “in the current system, workers are not being paid living wages, whereas a privileged few are earning luxury wages. The National Assembly members, including me for instance, are paid luxury wages.
“How can we live comfortably when only a few of us are living a life of luxury and the majority is living in abject poverty? The N30,000 minimum wage is too small; it can make workers engage in corruption in order to survive. And yet most state governments are finding it difficult to pay.
“We have a budget of over N10 trillion and only 30 per cent is going to the majority whereas 70 per cent would be spent on a few minorities. The system we presently practice is not fair.”
He maintained that for the sake of equity and fairness, that position should be considered.
Many Nigerians are in support of this position because they are interested in anything that will reduce the amount of money being spent on lawmakers.
Nigeria as a country does not need a full-term legislature. The part-time legislature will serve the purpose. Anytime the issue of the part-time legislature is being discussed, attention is always drawn to allowances, salaries and other benefits associated with the offices.
In the present situation, we have 109 senators and 360 members in the House of Representatives. The annual salary, including allowances, for each member of the Senate, according to the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is N12,766,320:00 (N12.7m). On a monthly basis, a Nigerian senator collects salary and allowances amounting to N1,063,860 (N1.06m).
On the other hand, each member of the lower legislative chamber, according to RMAFC, receives N9,529,038:06 (N9.5m) as annual pay and N794,086:83 every month. But we have heard of other monies they get outside these allocations.
In defence of the legislature, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, declared that there was no such thing as ‘jumbo pay,’ adding that he earned N750,000 as salary.
But the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), had dismissed Lawan position. Sagay insisted that senators earn N15million monthly and not N750,000 as claimed by the Senate president, while each legislator in the Green chamber collects N11.3m monthly.
The full-time legislature is a waste of resources and time. The work of a legislator does not justify his being there on a full-time basis. They can achieve both legislative and oversight functions working on a part-time basis. And going by their attendance at plenary, there are usually empty seats which means that at any given time, some lawmakers are absent. Sadly, with what we have at the moment, whether they attend sitting or not, they get paid. That is a wasteful venture.
Nigerians who are continually being pressured by their leaders to tighten their belts and sacrifice for the good of the country are no longer smiling at the humongous earnings of their legislators.
The practice in the developed countries Nigeria is trying to emulate is different. There, members of the legislature have their professions and they don’t resign their appointments to become lawmakers. The part-time legislature will help to bring more professionals into politics.
There is nothing stopping an accountant, lecturer or banker from venturing into politics and doing it on a part-time basis. This would enable them to still hold on to their jobs and earn their living from there. It will also be beneficial because all these people will be entering politics with skills and experiences that will in no small measure benefit their constituents. It is indeed time to give this issue serious thought and to support all those canvassing for it. We should work together to build this country.
By Abdul Jelil Adebayo. Abdul is a media consultant and public analyst and can be reached at: email@example.com