DESPITE mounting concerns over the rising cost of governance amid poor revenue generation in the country, Nigerian federal lawmakers are demanding more money to discharge their duties.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan, on December 13, said the quarterly allowances paid to Nigerian senators and members of the House of Representatives was among the lowest in the world.
He said the National Assembly required additional billions to effectively discharge its mandate.
Lawan spoke on the theme ‘The legislature, legislative mandate and the people – The reality and the public perception’ at the maiden edition of ‘Distinguished Parliamentarians Lecture’ organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) in Abuja.
Senators receive about N13 million quarterly allowance, which is meant to take care of office running costs, while members of the House of Representatives get about N8 million.
The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) said its plan to review the emoluments of public office holders, including members of the National Assembly, was aimed at aligning their renumeration with current realities in the country. Nigerians expect that the exercise would result in a reduction of the pay package of political office holders.
However, making a case for upwards review of the renumeration of members of the National Assembly, Lawan said, “The total salary of a member of the Senate is about N1.5 million and that of a member of the House of Representatives is about N1.3 million. The quarterly office running allowance for legislators is what is erroneously conflated with a monthly income to create confusion and mislead the Nigerian people.
“The average office running cost for a senator is about N13 million while that of a member of the House of Representatives is N8 million.
“This (quarterly allowance) is to cover the cost of local/international travel and transport, consulting of professional service, medical services, office stationery/computer consumables, books, newspapers, magazines and periodicals, maintenance of motor vehicles and office equipment and constituency outreach, among others.
“This is one of the lowest of any presidential democracy in the world.”
The Senate president frowned at the criticism that usually trailed purchase of vehicles for lawmakers.
“If civil servants from the rank of assistant director and above are entitled to official vehicles and some ministers have a convoy of cars, why is the allocation of a Toyota Camry to members and a Land Cruiser (to Senators) such a hideous proposition?”, he asked.
The Senate President further complained about the size of the annual budgets of the National Assembly.
“It is well known that the budget of the National Assembly, which has never been above N150 billion since 1999, is a fraction of the budget of the Federal Government, much less than the budget of some ministries in the executive.
“The aggregate budgets approved for National Assembly from 2005 to 2021 and the relative shares in the national budgets show that the budget trended upwards from N54.8 billion in 2006, except in 2009, peaking at N154.369 billion in 2010.
“Thereafter, it stabilised at N150 billion each year. In 2015/2016 and 2019, however, the aggregate allocation to the National Assembly dropped to N120 billion and N115 billion, respectively.”
Lawan observed that in relative terms, budgetary allocation to the National Assembly declined from 4.1 per cent of the total federal budget in 2008 to N1.9 per cent in the 2016 fiscal year.
In the last four years, according to him, the percentage of the National Assembly budget in the federal budget ranged between 0.82 per cent (2021) to 1.44 (2019) per cent of the Federal Government budget.
The National Assembly, on average, accounted for 2.81 per cent of the national budgetary over the six years between 2011 and 2016, and much less in the last two years, Lawan further observed.
Stressing that the budget of the National Assembly had reduced, he said, “Between 2011 and 2014, the National Assembly attracted an annual budgetary allocation of N150 billion, which is about three per cent of the total budgets for those years. Thus, the budget of the National Assembly has actually reduced despite the growing complexity and expansion in the operations of the legislature.”
The Senate president noted that the National Assembly also comprised agencies and institutions such as the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) and the Public Complaints Commission.
Many Nigerians are not even aware of the existence of these agencies, he observed, adding that the National Assembly also included over 3,000 full-time legislative staff and about 3,500 legislative aides assisting legislators both at the National Assembly Complex and various constituency offices.
He canvassed allocation of additional billions to the National Assembly.
“The budget of the National Assembly appears grossly inadequate given its mandate, membership, the scope of operations and agencies under it. For instance, the Assembly will require additional billions of naira if its core committees are to effectively undertake oversight functions, including visits, as mandated in the constitution and the standing committees.”
The Senate president observed that the budget of the National Assembly in the 2022 Appropriation Bill was paltry compared to that of other ‘critical sectors.’
“Consider the 2022 proposed appropriation where defense and security are allocated N2.41 trillion (15 per cent); infrastructure N1.45 trillion (8.9 per cent); education N1.29 trillion (7.9 per cent); health N820 billion (5 per cent); and social development and poverty eradication N863 billion (5.3 per cent) of the entire allocation.
“These are critical sectors of the economy and the importance of adequate funding to them cannot be understated. However, the same level of scrutiny that is given to the National Assembly budget should also be applied to other sectors where bigger chunks of the nation’s resources are utilised.”
* Lawan compares budgets of Nigeria’s National Assembly and United States Congress
Nigeria, with a GDP of $400 billion, is ranked as a ‘lower middle-income country’ by the World Bank and is also regarded as the poverty capital of the world.
However, to justify his push for more money for the National Assembly, Lawan compared the budget of Nigeria’s National Assembly to that of the US Congress.
The US is the world’s leading economy, with a GDP of about $22.675 trillion. It is ranked as a developed/advanced high income economy by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Making the unlikely comparison, Lawan said, “When compared with the legislatures of other democracies like the United States Congress, the following picture would emerge.
“First, while the total appropriation to the Nigerian National Assembly dropped from N150 billion ($955.33 million) in 2014 to N120 billion in 2015 and 2019 ($621.67 million) and about N115 billion (i.e. $527.52 million) in 2016, total appropriation to the United States Congress increased from $4.2 billion in 2014 to $4.3 billion in 2015 and 2019, that is over N1.7 trillion.”
He added, “The budget (of the US Congress) has further increased in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and the recent attack on the Capitol.
“In view of the size of Nigeria as well as that of the National Assembly but more importantly, the broad mandates conferred on the National Assembly by the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly is, in fact, grossly underfunded.”
* House of Representatives spokesman said N134 billion for NASS in 2022 budget too small
The Senate president’s complaint over the funding of the National Assembly is coming on the heels of similar concerns raised by Spokesman of the House of Representatives Benjamin Kalu.
Speaking during a debate on October 14, Kalu noted that a 58.7 per cent increase in statutory transfers in the 2022 budget was not reflected in the allocation to the National Assembly.
He said the development was a major concern for the lawmakers.
“It concerns the House because in the statutory transfer, as we have mentioned, there is an increase from N484.49 billion to N768.28 billion and that is a reflection of 58.7 per cent increase. An increase of about N283.79 billion.
“Do you know that this increase does not reflect in the amount that comes to the National Assembly?”
Nigerian federal lawmakers are pushing for more money despite the country’s weak economy.
Officials of the Nigerian government have repeatedly admitted that Nigeria has a revenue problem, and the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has resorted to massive borrowing to fund capital projects.
The development has led to a large proportion of the country’s revenue being expended on servicing foreign loans.
The government had also embarked on constant hike of tariffs for public utilities and there are plans to remove subsidies, particularly fuel subsidy.
The policies have deepened hardship in the country.
In May The ICIR reported that fear and anger trailed the Nigerian government’s plan to cut workers’ salaries as part of measures to reduce personnel cost and bring down the high cost of governance.
Nigeria houses the poorest in the world, with 105 million citizens extremely poor, living on less than $1.90 daily, according to World Poverty Clock.