© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
ALL THE DATA: The earnings of Nigerian senators ― how much and how fair?
Nigeria is home to numerous controversies. Everything — from police arrests to national budgets — is more often than not either controversial or scandalous. Just three weeks ago, for instance, Yahaya Bello, Governor of Kogi State, was reported to have sacked his cabinet ministers only to reverse the decision after 10 minutes. But despite the never-ending theatre of absurdity, few matters in this country have been subjected to as much controversy as what federal lawmakers make, after making the law.
A 2015 report by Premium Times, based on remuneration approved by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), states that all senators get N2.14 billion annually in salaries and allowances, leaving each with N19.66 million a year. This analysis “did however not include the illegal but hefty quarterly allowances lawmakers pay themselves”, known as office running cost.
A STRING OF DISCREPANCIES
The following year, Sahara Reporters published a report obtained by the Economic Confidential magazine, with similar figures. The report claimed to contain the legitimate remuneration of federal lawmakers, in compliance with the statutory approval of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). While the entire Red Chambers gulped N1.85billion over the year, an average senator was said to have earned N12.76 million, covering both annual basic salary and regular allowances, and excluding non-regular allowances such as furniture, severance gratuity, estacodes and so on.
However, we have seen more astronomical claims. For instance, last year, Itse Sagay, a Professor and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), said from information available to him, “a Nigerian Senator earns about N29 million a month and over N3 billion a year”. He provided a comprehensive breakdown of the lawmaker’s monthly pay, having a basic salary of N2.48 million and several millions-worth of allowances.
Following this disclosure, Bukola Saraki, Senate President, agreed to meet with members of the Socio-Economic and Accountability Project (SERAP) to discuss details of senators’ salaries and allowances. However, after the meeting, Timothy Adewale, SERAP’s Deputy Director, lamented that the promise was not kept. He merely referred his guests to the National Assembly website “which contained vague information on the senators’ emoluments”.
Similar to Sagay’s claim is that of Areoye Oyebola, Initiator and Chairman of the Movement for Nigeria’s Total Transformation, in October 2017 that “A senator, not minding the grinding poverty of Nigerians, earns $1.7 million a year [N612 million using the present exchange rate], which is far higher than the $400,000 yearly income of the United States’ President, whose stupendous country is the richest in the world.” He further said a 90% cut in their salaries would still leave them richer than their counterparts in the US and UK. A particular columnist has in fact asserted: “It is a known fact that Nigerian Lawmakers are the highest paid in world.”
THE SENATE’S RESPONSE
Besides vaguely dismissing the assertions flying from various corners with a wave of the hand, the Senate actually responded in considerable detail as far back as 2015. This response is contained a document titled ‘‘Legislators’ Salaries and Allowances – A Cross-Country Comparison’ and prepared by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILS), an organ of the National Assembly.
The document compares the salaries and allowances of Nigerian senators to those of lawmakers in eight other countries, and, instructively, figures from Nigeria happen to be the lowest in the file. It states that Nigerian senators get a basic annual salary of $10,132 (N3.1 million) and other allowances totalling $174,829 (N53.5 million) – making $184,961 (N56.6 million). One obvious flaw in this document is that while it adds huge sums constituting the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to the pay of lawmakers from India, Tanzania, Kenya and Philippines, it stated “not applicable” to Nigerian lawmakers.
Also, in 2017, for the first time, the National Assembly released a breakdown for its annual budget, totalling a perfect N125 billion. According to the breakdown, the senators get N1.86 billion for salaries and wages, with N17 million going to each lawmaker. What is, however, suspicious about this document is that there is no mention of allowances under the sub-headings for the Senate and the House of Representatives. We only have allowances for legislative aides, the National Assembly Service Commission, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), and the NIL.
Interestingly, there is also no mention of the words “domestic staff”, “wardrobe”, “recess”, “entertainment”, “estacode” and “constituency” – terminologies used by the NILS in its breakdown of the allowances received by Nigerian lawmakers. Ditto for the words “accommodation” (except once for legislative aides), “vehicle loan”, and “severance gratuity”. It almost appears there was a deliberate attempt to bury the many allowances and their implication in stranger, imprecise terms – such as “total goods and non-personal service” to which was allocated N21.1 billion for the Senate alone, or “purchase of utility vehicles” for which the senators got N2.6 billion.
UNVEILING OF AN EPIC RUNNING COST!
The latest addition to the discussion is the bombshell from Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central at the National Assembly. In an interview he granted to The News Magazine earlier this month, he revealed that he and his colleagues receive over N750,000 as basic monthly salary. But this is like saying students of Obafemi Awolowo University pay only N90 as accommodation levy – when they also pay an additional N2,500 as maintenance charge!
Likewise, according to him, the senators also receive N13.5 million monthly as running cost, in addition to a consolidated salary, various allowances, and an annual constituency fund of N200 million (which has been poorly accounted for or not accounted for at all). This revelation confirmed earlier speculations that senators get N41.5 million quarterly as running cost, which is nowhere to be found in the published 2017 NASS budget.
SO FAR, WHAT EXACTLY DO THEY EARN?
So, based on what we know so far, how much exactly is the legitimate pay of our senior lawmakers? Well, using figures from the National Assembly itself – i.e. 2015 figures from the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILS) – they make N56.6 million every year when we factor in consolidated salaries and regular allowances. However, once we add the monthly running cost of N13.5 million, what we have is a yearly takehome pay of N218.6 million.
WHAT ‘SENATORS’ EARN IN OTHER COUNTRIES
THE UNITED STATES
According to the website of the United States Senate, the average senator, just as members of the House of Representatives, has earned $174,000 per year since 2009 when it was reviewed upwards. The website contains the list of what the senators earned from 1789 till date. The President of the United States is the highest-paid public official in the federal government, earning a salary in 2011 of $400,000 a year. The next in command, on the other hand, the US Vice President, earns $227,300.
However, these figures do not include monies earned as part of annual allowances. United States senators also receive what is known as the Members’ Representational Allowance, which is where the true nectar is. It covers supporting personnel, office expenses, district travel costs, and mail for members of the house (otherwise called franking). The allowances are provided for by statute and regulated by the Committee on House Administration.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, in 2016, the MRAs of members ranged from $1,207,510 to $1,383,709, with an average of $1,268,520. However, most of each member’s annual MRA is used to pay office personnel i.e. salary for up to 18 permanent employees. For example, in 2016, the office personnel allowance for each member was $944,671.
If we add the annual basic salary of the senators to the average representational allowance for 2016, what we have is a total of $1,442,520.
THE UNITED KINGDOM
According to the UK Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the basic annual salary of Members of Parliament (MPs) as of April 2017 was £76,011. The country’s laws provide only for post-paid additional allowances, which can be claimed by each parliamentarian, depending on how much, in total, is spent over the period. Members of Parliament, according to a 2009 BBC report, were paid an annual salary of £63,291 and received allowances for the costs of running an office, having homes both near Westminster and in their constituency, and travelling between both. According to figures published in October 2007, the report said the average claimed by each MP was £135,600 a year.
Labour MP, Jim Murphy claimed £86,908.81, the highest allowance for the financial year 2011/2012. And for the same period, Conservative MP, Guto Bebb, claimed £60,644.38. If Jim Murphy’s claim is added to the 2017 basic salary figure, what we have is £162,919.81 – equivalent to $228,675.87.
According to a report by Africa Check, in March 2013, the Kenyan Salaries and Remuneration Commission revised the salary of members of parliament upwards. Following this change, the pay of regular MPs grew to KSh710,000 (US$7,014) from KSh532,000 (US$5,256). But that is not all. A national daily calculated that once we factor in allowances, Kenyan MPs take home at least KSh1.1 million monthly (that is, $130,416 annually). Another estimated a monthly salary of KSh1.387 million (equivalent to $164,442.72 annually).
PRS Legislative Research, an independent research institute and non-profit organisation, says that, following the hike in 2010, Indian Members of Parliament get ₹50,000 per month as base salary. However, they also receive ₹45,000 constituency allowance, ₹45,000 office expenses allowance and ₹2,000 sitting allowance per session days. Based on the assumption that they sit on 20 days a month, it makes a total of ₹180,000 a month and ₹2,160,000 a year – in order words $33,069.60. If we consider that they are also entitled to pension of ₹20,000 per month, then this figure becomes $36,744 per annum. A recent hike has not led to much difference in the legislators’ take-home pay.
It is reported that Ugandan parliamentarians are the second highest-paid in East Africa, lower to figures from Kenya and higher than those obtainable from Tanzania and Rwanda. A Member of Parliament in the country earns a taxed basic salary of Shs 11.18million. But, in addition, they also take home a large amount of untaxed allowances, elevating their total pay package to at least Shs 20 million (i.e. $64,800 per year), according to The Observer. The allowances cover town running allowance, gratuity, medical allowance, committee sitting allowance, plenary sitting allowance, as well as a mileage allowance.
For Liberia, a document by the Institute for Research and Democratic Development, released through the Liberian Lawmakers Watch project, says ordinary members of the House of Senate earned $193,416 that year. The document, containing extracts from the 2015/16 national budget, also stated that members of the House of Representatives got even more: $209,516.
IN OTHER WORDS…
Using the new figure of what Nigerian Senators earn, N218.6 million ($714,846), which is still an educated guess, the country’s lawmakers make much more than their counterparts in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Kenya, India, Uganda and Liberia. They, however, do not “legitimately” make more than senators in the United States, based on available evidence.
The shortcoming with most previous analyses is that while they sum the basic salaries and allowances of Nigerian lawmakers, they only consider the basic salaries of legislators in foreign countries, especially the United States and the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, even with their allowances, many of them still earn much less than Nigerian lawmakers.
But it is not enough to compare the bare facts of what lawmakers earn in various countries. We must also demand for the level of acceptability, using such variables as GDP per capita and national minimum wages. In a nutshell, the salaries and allowances of lawmakers must be considered in the context national realities, levels of poverty and infrastructure, and the dominant standard of living of a country’s population.
For instance, in the UK where the highest a Member of Parliament received for 2017 was $228,675, the GDP per capita is $39,899 and the minimum wage is $1,719. On the other hand, in Nigeria, where lawmakers rake in $714,846 per year, the GDP per capita is $2,178 and the minimum wage remains $59. The difference is both clear and upsetting.
Still comparing the country with the world, according to the 2012 Global Parliamentary Report by Inter-Parliamentary Union and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the global average percentage of state budget allotted to parliament is 0.49%. At 0.77%, Africa is the region with the greatest percentage of state budget allocated to parliament. But with the released National Assembly budget of 2017, Nigeria effortlessly surpasses these figures with 1.71% of the entire budget going to the federal legislative houses. This is no doubt not sustainable.
What then is the solution? The Nigerian Senate should not be treated in isolation from the Nigerian state. Their salaries and allowances must reflect the realities on the streets, and downsized accordingly. We may not need to toe the same path as Senegal which abolished its Senate in order to divert its allocation for the benefit of flood victims, or Mauritius which voted to do the same in a referendum last year. But we certainly need to make governance leaner.
One way to do this is to adopt a constitutional ceiling for lawmakers’ salaries based on economic realities. For instance, the law can state, “Members of the National Assembly shall earn no more than 70% of the country’s GDP per capita as basic monthly salary, with accumulated allowances of not more than 50% of the calculated salary.” With this, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) will be guided by law, and not just sentiments or political arm-twisting; and there will be an empirical standard to which lawmakers’ pays can be held to.
While we do this, we must not forget that the remuneration for senators is just a drop in the lake of the level of wasteful luxury in the country’s budgetary allocations to public officials. Senator Shehu Sani has suggested it, Peter Obi has confirmed it – when he said senators’ allowances was just a tip of the iceberg compared to the earnings of governors. The problem is therefore elaborate and monstrous. And the solution, to be truly effective, must be radical and without delay. Anything short of that is simply an additional scene to the theatre of absurdity.
Please note: All currency conversions in this article were done using official CBN rates.