Editor’s note: Do foreign legislators receive as much as their Nigerian counterparts in bonuses and allowances? The Legit.ng columnist 'Yomi Kazeem addresses the fresh issue of ’almost N9 billion’ allocated to cover for the expenses of House of Representatives senators and the eighth National Assembly members that was not well-received by the ordinary Nigerians.
This article expresses the author’s opinion only. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Legit.ng or its editors.
The members of the 8 National Assembly have kick-started their new tenures with a controversy. First, news broke that lawmakers would receive almost N9 billion in 'wardrobe allowances' resulting in reactions dominated by anger and shock. However, the new Senate President has quickly come out to explain the situation intimating that the specific allowances for wardrobe are less than what has been widely reported. The lawmakers will, in fact, receive various bonuses covering housing, wardrobe, and car loans among others with some allowances paid yearly while others are one-off payments. However, the allowances, which will total almost N9 billion, are still significantly high and are not reflective of the country’s financial situation.
Since the turn of the year, oil prices have dropped globally, and Nigeria, being an oil producer, has been badly affected. Projected revenue targets had to be revised resulting in situations where expenses also had to be revised. In all of the adjustments to cater for the drop in oil prices, one thing has remained the same: the National Assembly’s bumper pay.
More than anything else, the news of the billion naira allowances highlights a distortion of priorities in government spending and there are other ways in which such funds can be utilized.
Alternative uses for the N8.64 billion
Nigeria has its well-documented set of problems, all of which could use extra funding. While Boko Haram remains, by far, the biggest concern, others like the high rate of kidnapping across the country need to be addressed. As such, law enforcement, especially the police, are in real need of being better equipped and upgrading their technology as well as training. Yet, the Ministry of Police Affairs will receive N4.3 billion. Similarly, the Nigerian Army will spend N697 million – less than 10% of the lawmakers’ N8.64 billion allowances – on procurement of ammunition as they continue to tackle the Boko Haram menace.
An effect of the Boko Haram menace has seen millions of Nigerians in the North-East displaced. As the country battles the insurgency, it also faces a problem with catering to citizens adversely affected. As at last year, Nigeria has the third highest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world – behind only Syria and Colombia. With IDP camps struggling to meet the needs of its occupants and requiring significantly more funding, the lawmakers’ billions could come in handy.
New data from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics for the first quarter of 2015 establishes that 17.7 million Nigerians are either unemployed or underemployed with the majority being between the ages of 18 and 34. For very obvious reasons, job creation is vital; yet, the National Job Creation Scheme will get less (N6 billion) than the lawmakers will receive in allowances. One of the key ways to solving the unemployment problem is encouraging entrepreneurship, and the N8.64 billion allowances could provide N1 million entrepreneurship grants to almost 10,000 business owners.
Another critical issue for Nigerians is power or, more appropriately, the lack of it. Around 90 million Nigerians are without access to power and it remains the bane of growth in the local businesses. The sector is in clear need of work and investment but its budgetary allocations of N8.8 billion are only slightly higher than lawmakers’ allowances.
The minimum wage for Nigerian workers stands at N18, 000 and is clear evidence that there is a vast difference in the realities of regular Nigerians and their lawmakers. With an ever-increasing cost of living, the average Nigerian worker faces an uphill task staying afloat and meeting daily needs. In a situation where the federal and state government is struggling to pay salaries, it is absurd that the National Assembly continues to receive so much funding – for so little output. To put this in context, the proposed N8.64 billion allowances for 469 lawmakers would pay minimum-wage salaries of nearly half a million workers in Nigeria.
Comparisons with foreign lawmakers
The US congressional allowances cover members of the US House of Representatives who receive Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) to cover personal, office and mailing expenses while Senators can access the Senators Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA) which is made up of administrative and clerical assistance allowance, the legislative assistance allowance and the official office expense allowance. In 2012, US House members received an average MRA of $1,353,205 while the size of the average Senate SOPOEA allowance in 2013 was $3,209,103. In the UK, members of parliament can also claim expenses for travel and accommodation, but the highest claim made by a single MP last year totaled 229,000 pounds. Significantly, lawmakers in both countries earn less than Nigerian lawmakers.
In Nigeria’s new dispensation, the general sentiment is that plugging leaks in the economy, reducing wastage and maximizing savings should be a priority, and Nigerians will be hoping that, when they resume from the current recess, the lawmakers will begin the process of establishing a more prudent and transparent National Assembly.
'Yomi Kazeem is a media professional based in Lagos, Nigeria.