NASS: Hidden Wealth Without Work

By UMAR SA’AD HASSAN — After the Senator James Manager-led ad-hoc committee on finance set up to reduce the salaries and allowances of senators submitted its report, many people started counting down to the day its recommendations would be debated on the floor of the Senate. No matter how rancorous it gets, we just hoped we would be able to hear what was being suggested as their new pay and to also identify the chief “enemy of progress” who would kick-start any opposition to the recommendation that they make their financial books open.
It is sad what nature has thrust at us. Everyone is annoyingly helpless when it comes to the large sums our lawmakers command as remuneration. They cannot be compelled to do what is right by anyone including the president.
As a matter of fact, many think that helplessness birthed the calls by some to scrap the Senate in the heat of the #OccupyNASS campaign. So it was a most welcome development that they seemed serious about conforming to the “mood of the nation”, to borrow the words of the Senate president.
A reduction in the budget of the National Assembly from N150billion to N120billion isn’t enough to make us bring out the drums; only a clear drastic pay cut would. For all we care, it may be “mathematical gymnastics”, which will though save us some money but ultimately end up having a minimal effect on extravagance and that would amount to a “beautiful nonsense”. It could end up meaning just a N2million deduction from their salaries and less trips. The term “budget” encompasses a lot.
It was most disappointing that the Senate opted for a closed-door session on Wednesday, August 12, the day slated for the debate, and emerged with a decision to stand it down for further legislative input, effectively making many lose hope in the process. Perhaps we needed to be jolted back to reality. The decision to interface with the House of Reps seems most pleasant on the face of it, but barely conceals the fact that they aren’t favourably disposed to implementing the recommendations. Why wasn’t a joint committee of both chambers formed in the first place? My gut tells me we may have to end up settling for any amount necessitated by the cut in the NASS budget and just how would we know that amount if the lawmakers don’t want to stop sharing their money behind “closed doors”? The recommendation that their books be made public is one that got me highly exhilarated at first, but the thought of a majority “nay” shooting it down switched me back to straight-face mode.
The good people of Nigeria deserve to know not only how much is being sent the way of the NASS but also how it is being put to use. It is embarrassing for a democratic government in this age and time, and its people to whom sovereignty belongs, to have salaries of public officials and public expenditure hidden from the public even after countless applications under the Freedom of Information Act, a law made by our lawmakers themselves.
It’s absurd for a senator to earn N29.5million monthly and take home quarterly allocations of N45million in a county where the minimum wage is N18, 000. Things have to change.
I was disgusted by comments credited to some unnamed senators in a couple of news reports. While maintaining that the cut in their budget was enough, one cited the cost of his house rent (N10million) in opposing a further reduction while the other said he had to “settle” people from his constituency who visit his office. I wondered if I would have been any more surprised if another had said his wife wore only Gucci and Ferragamo.
To be candid, I don’t think a senator and his rep counterpart ought to earn more than N7million and N4million respectively in a month. Public officeholders are meant to serve the people and not the other way round.
As the senators continue to interface with the reps, I hope they realize it’s time to face reality: What is right is right and nothing can change that. Earning what they should and making their financial records public would amount to giving their relationship with the people its true meaning: a master-servant relationship. We are the masters and they, the servants. I pray it turns out that way.

 Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano. Twitter:@alaye26 Email:[email protected]


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