OrderPaperToday – For a long time the earnings of members of the National Assembly has been a subject of controversies as several bogus figures have been thrown around. Sadly, the legislators who are inclined to hide far more than is good for their public image, have continued to face derision even if unjustifiably sometimes.
Deliberate confusion and limited disclosure…
There is the confusion about statutory salaries and running costs of legislators. It has commonplace to lump both distinct earnings into one and then accuse the Nigerian legislator of being the highest paid in the world. To make matters worse, the legislature and the lawmakers have demonstrated an unbending proclivity to obfuscate the matter by either shying away from making disclosures or become ludicrously economical with the truth whenever they elect to speak on the matter.
For instance in 2017, when Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai tackled Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara on the issue of jumbo salaries, the latter took up the challenge and released his pay slip indicating that his salary was a little over N400,000.00 a month. But while Dogara was not wrong in his documented counter-claim, he dodged the issue by deliberately keeping mute on the allowances and running costs of his office, first as a member of the House of Representatives and secondly, as speaker. Had he braved up to the challenge in full, perhaps, the public would have become better educated on the issue of ‘jumbo pay’. Thus, Mr. Dogara’s intervention raised more questions than answers eventually.
In 2018, Senator Shehu Sani (PRP, Kaduna) had sensationally weighed in on the matter when he revealed the cost of maintaining a Nigerian senator to be about N13.5million every month. According to Sani, this amount is running cost for the office and excludes the N750,000 approved as salary officially and which could be spent without recourse to anyone. “I think what we can say is that the running cost of a senator is N13.5 million every month,” he had said, adding “what you are given to go and spend without any accountability is N750,000.00”
Government official position…
However, the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) which is the body that statutorily determines the remuneration of political, public and judicial office holders in Nigeria had released a public statement immediately after the revelation by Sani to attempt to clarify the issue. The statement signed by Ibrahim Mohammed, head of public relations at the commission, said: “A closer look at the monthly entitlement of senators reveals that each senator collects salary and allowances of N1,063,860, consisting of the following: basic- N168, 866.70; motor vehicle fueling and maintenance allowance- N126, 650; personal assistant- N42, 216.66; domestic staff- N126, 600; entertainment- N50, 660; utilities, newspapers/periodicals- N25, 330; wardrobe- N42, 216; house maintenance- N8,443; and constituency allowance- N422, 166.66.”
Obviously, the figures given by Sani and RMAFC did not tally. To be clear, Sen. Sani never said “salary” but used the phrase ‘running cost.’ Instructively however, no senator has come out to dispute the revelation by Sani even though there had been whispers at the time that the Kaduna senator would be made to face the wrath of his colleagues for exposing their jumbo wages. The implication is that while government officially has a wage and allowance structure for the legislators, the members of the National Assembly have been paying themselves some additional monies not statutorily approved for public officers. And this is made easily possible because the federal legislature is on a first line charge and thereby gets and spends its budgetary allocations directly without any vetting or oversight. Even audit queries from the office of the auditor-general of the federation as it relates to the legislature are known to have been left unattended. Even more disturbing is the opacity surrounding the expenditure as members of the national assembly only need to submit receipts to show that the money was expended. There is no requirement to provide cogent justification for the expenses as is the case with other climes. In other words, the twin requirements of transparency and accountability in public expenditure is lacking in the financial transactions of the legislators.
The case of the US senator…
Since the United States of America (USA) is the inspiration for Nigeria’s democratic practice, it is apt to consider what obtains in that jurisdiction with respect to earnings of legislators. According to a report by Ida A. Brudnick, a specialist on the Congress, a US congress member is not entitled to housing allowance but a senator is entitled to “the Senators’ official personnel and office expense account (SOPOEA)” which is disbursed to each senator on a specific sharing formula to assist senators in the performance of their official and representational duties. And if a senator did not spend the appropriated sum, the balance will be returned to public coffers.
According to the Congressional Salaries and Allowances report by Brudnick, “a senator depending on certain circumstance could spend between $3,192,760 (N1,149,393,600) to $5,052,317.24 (N1,818,834,120). The average allowance is $3,467,971 (N1,248,469,560) annually. In 2018, $424.0 million (N151,200,000,000) was enacted for the Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA).” From the figure above, on a monthly average, a US senator spends N104,039,130 on office personnel and office expenses. It is pertinent to note that these are exclusive of official salary.
“Aside from all these, each senator is authorized to have $40,000 for state office furniture and furnishings for one or more offices, if the aggregate square footage of office space does not exceed 5,000 square feet. The base authorization is increased by $1,000 for each authorized additional incremental increase in office space of 200 square feet,” the report stated.
So the pertinent question drawing from the comparative analysis above: Is the N13.5million ‘running cost’ per senator in Nigeria the highest in the world?
Verdict on running cost: N13.5million for a Nigerian senator is not the highest in the world.
Is Nigerian Senator the highest paid in the world?
According to RMAFC, a senator is entitled to N4,052,800 per annum for accommodation; N6,079,200 as furniture allowance once in 4 years (which comes to N1,519,800, annually); and then a monthly entitlement of N1,063,860 (which is equivalent to N12,766,302 per annum). This comes to a total of N18,338,902 per annumper senator in Nigeria. If this figure is multiplied by 109 senators it will amount to N1,998,940,318 which is somewhat in the range of the N1,856,510,517 personnel cost of the senate shown in the budget of the National Assembly recently released by President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki.
When a conversion to US dollar at the rate of N360 to $1 is made, it becomes clear that a Nigerian senator earns $50,941 per annum whereas a US senator according to Congress Research Service report (2019) earns $174,000 within same period.
Verdict: Going by the above therefore, Nigerian senators are not the highest paid in the world.
This fact-check piece does not seek to justify the hundreds of billions voted for the National Assembly annually. It also does not attempt to gloss over the notorious fact that the gross earnings of Nigeria’s legislators are obscenely disproportionate compared to other public sector workers and officials in the country.
It is an attempt to remove facts from fiction so that the public can have a better understanding of the issues. Although legislative functions require lot of resources to conduct sundry functions including oversight, law making, and constituency engagements, among others; pertinent questions remain unanswered: what are Nigerian lawmakers doing with the monies collected as running costs? Are they spending it for official or personal use? What of members that have not been active and have consistently been on OrderPaperNG’s list of bench warmers for the last two years for example?
The point must also be made that this comparative analysis is not to make a case for higher spending for Nigeria’s legislature as both countries are miles apart in terms of development and size of economies. While the US which has a total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $20 trillion with a per capital income of $62,606; Nigeria has a GDP of $447 billion and per capital income of $2,244.
*Calculations made in this piece based on a conversion rate of N360 to a US dollar.