Senate President Ahmad Lawan yesterday spoke on the controversy over salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly.
He said contrary to allegations of “jumbo pay,” the National Assembly is grossly underfunded in Nigeria compared to other presidential democracies.
The Senate President, who was a guest lecturer at the maiden edition of the “Distinguished Parliamentarians Lecture, 2021,” organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), in Abuja, said the budget of the National Assembly is one of the lowest in the world.
Speaking on the theme: “The legislature, legislative mandate and the people – The reality and the public perception”, Lawan reflected on the misconceptions, budget of the National Assembly and constituency projects.
He also spoke about the corruption, stigmatisation and negative characterisation of the National Assembly as a “rubber stamp,” and purchase of operational vehicles for legislators.
On the National Assembly budget, Lawan said: “This is perhaps one of the most persistent and vexatious issues that has dented the image of the National Assembly in Nigeria, with widespread presumptions that the budget of the National Assembly is not known.
“It is well known that the budget of the National Assembly, which has never been above N150billion 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 N54.8billion in 2006, except in 2009, peaking at N154.369 billion in 2010.
“Thereafter, it stabilised at N150billion each year. In 2015/2016 and 2019 however, the aggregate allocation to the National Assembly dropped to N120billion and N115billion respectively.
“In relative terms, the budget 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.
“However, in the last four years, the percentage of the National Assembly budget in the federal budget ranged between 0.82 (2021) to 1.44 (2019) per cent of the Federal Government budget.
“The National Assembly, on average, accounts 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.
“Between 2011 and 2014, the National Assembly attracted an annual budgetary allocation of N150billion, which is about 3 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 National Assembly requires the full complement of institutions and agencies to deliver on its constitutional mandate. The key agencies and institutions of the National Assembly include 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.
“Yet many Nigerians are not even aware of the existing of these agencies. This is in addition to over 3,000 full time legislative staff and about 3,500 legislative aides that assist legislators both at the National Assembly and the various constituency offices.
“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.
“Consider the 2022 proposed appropriation where defence and security are allocated N2.41trillion (15%); infrastructure N1.45trillion (8.9%); education N1.29trillion (7.9%) health N820billion (5%); and social development and poverty eradication N863billion (5.3%) 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.
“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 N150billion ($955.33 million) in 2014 to N120billion in 2015 and 2019 ($621.67million) and about N115billion (i.e. $527.52 million) in 2016, total appropriation to the United States Congress increased from $4.2billion in 2014 to $4.3billion in 2015 and 2019, that is over N1.7trillion.
“The budget 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.”
Lawan noted that another issue that has contributed to the poor perception of the National Assembly is salaries and allowances of the legislators.
The salaries of the members of the National Assembly, as approved by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), he said, are included in the budget allocated to the National Assembly.
He said: “The total salary of a member of the Senate is about N1.5million and that of the House of Representatives is about N1.3million. 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 N13million while that of a member of the House of Representatives is N8million.
“This 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.”
On contentious constituency projects, he said: “I am the first to agree that we need a sustainable framework for the management of these projects after completion. This should include formal handing over to the states or local governments for maintenance.”
On corruption in the National Assembly, the Senate President said: “Allegations of corruption must be supported by evidence to avoid ‘media trial.’ The National Assembly has taken an active step in improving accountability by establishing bodies such as the EFCC and ICPC to combat corruption. We also passed the Freedom of Information Act that grants access to the public on the activities of government agencies.”
Lawan said the purchase of vehicles for use of legislators has also received extensive media attention.
He noted that the argument against the purchase of official vehicles for legislators is at best counter-intuitive and at worst malicious and intended to turn the public against 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?
“While I am not against constructive criticism and engagement, I think it is important that our analysis of issues are fair and objective.”
President Muhammadu Buhari who declared the event open said that the introduction of the Distinguished Parliamentarians Lecture offers a verifiable platform to enunciate outcomes of research, comparative analysis, best practices, practical reasoning and policy implications of the choices available to the country in her quest to enthrone good governance.
Represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Buhari noted that the theme for the 2021 lecture: is very apt and “I hope that it will present an opportunity to the legislature to remind itself of its mandate and the exercise thereof, to all Nigerians, so as to avoid the frictions always associated with some interpretation.
“I therefore charge the National Assembly and the institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies to ensure that outcome is well documented and circulated.
“l similarly charge you to ensure that this lecture series is sustained and targeted at addressing key national and constitutional issues in a manner that would strengthen our democracy, eliminate grey areas and enthrone best practices.
“The executive arm of government shall continue to build on the existing good working relationship with the legislature to ensure that the interest of every Nigerian is advanced and public good delivered.”
Former Senate President, Dr. Ken Nnamani, who was chairman of the event noted that the present National Assembly is raising the bar by organizing the lecture where people come to exchange and cross-fertalise ideas because the art of law making is an ongoing process.
He said, “It evolves. It is not static. It is dynamic. And for daring to deem it necessary to organise a gathering of this nature and to have the chairman of National Assembly himself deliver the first of the series, I think it is quite commendable. They have shown that nothing is so good that it cannot be improved upon.”
In his welcome address, the Director-General of NILDS, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, noted that the lecture series has been initiated by the National Assembly as a bi-annual event to broaden legislative experience by bringing together eminent Nigerians, speakers, parliamentarians to share knowledge and encourage thought provoking conversations on issues of national importance especially those having relevance to the Nigerian legislature.”