The news last week that the National Assembly is pushing for more funding came as a rude shock to a bewildered nation that is just emerging from a recession and is picking up the pieces from economic havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
House spokesman Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia), pleading inadequate funds, said the appropriation made for the running of the National Assembly was done when the exchange rate was N180 to a dollar but that today it has gone up to over N400 to a dollar. Nigerians cannot but be amazed sometimes at how the minds of their legislators work.
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It is elementary knowledge that the sectors that take a severe hit any time the value of the naira falls sharply are development projects and the delivery of social services and the fight against insecurity. At the moment, there is a gaping hole in the funding for education, health, agriculture, water resources, roads, rail and security.
The COVID-19 pandemic has eaten deep into the health budget to the detriment of fighting debilitating diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy and malaria and infant and maternal mortality rates ravaging the lives of ordinary Nigerians. Also, because of the COVID-19 schools are forced to run shifts and put in place elaborate safety protocols. As regard security, the blood of innocent citizens is shed daily as a result of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and cultism.
It is fair to assume that these are more than enough to prick the conscience of our representatives to compel them into action in order to help find solutions to these problems and bring the much needed relief to the country.
But where patriotism is demanded the legislators come severely short. They worry more about their flamboyant lifestyles and personal comfort instead of the peace and security of the nation. It is sad that they see nothing wrong in sharing between N15 – N30m monthly when in the same country, many people can barely feed. By their own admission, they get N200m each in many ministries and agencies as constituency funds for projects that are either poorly executed or not executed at all. By their latest statement, they come across as selfish, greedy and insensitive.
In fact, the general sense in the country is that our lawmakers have become a liability. At a time like this when citizens are thinking of reducing cost across board, all they are thinking of is ballooning it and that is most unfortunate. The lawmakers’ statement is highly condemnable.
We strongly urge the federal government not to accede to this outrageous demand for more funds under any guise, for to do so is tantamount to undermining its own efforts in addressing the current challenges in the country.
At the moment, Nigerians believe that the N134bn allocated to the legislature in the 2021 budget is too much and cannot be justified. But if they think that it is inadequate, like they are suggesting at the moment, they should embark on cost-cutting measures such as reducing their outrageous allowances, innumerable aides and bogus overhead costs.
The behaviour of our representatives in recent years has rekindled the debate on whether the country should not adopt a unicameral legislature or even consider having lawmakers on part-time basis in order to cut cost of legislation. But more than that, there is growing demand for the National Assembly to open up its books and end the dubious secrecy regarding their finances and we urge it to do something about that quickly.
All Nigerians are tightening their belts in an effort to adjust to the current harsh economic realities in the country. The lawmakers must learn to do the same.