Home ViewpointOpinion Emmanuel Onwubiko: Why cost of National Assembly matters

Emmanuel Onwubiko: Why cost of National Assembly matters

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I met Ahmed Lawan as a candidate for the office of Senate President soon after the controversial and violence prone 2019 election and shortly after the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari for a secondand final constitutionally allowed tenure.

The Yobe State born politician who has been in the Senate since 1999, was obviously the candidate of President Muhammadu Buhari.

I did confront him one -on- one with the much talked about insinuations that he is a political slave (lackey) of the President and I asked him if his absolute loyalty for the head of the executive arm of government will not harm the independence of the National legislature and endanger the constitutionally guaranteed Separation of Powers.

As we sat on a sofa in his cosy and heavily airconditioned private presidential suite at the prestigious Transcorp Hilton Hotel, this bulky looking man from Yobe state with a good educational background looked at me with a mixture of disappointment and shock that I could look him in the face and reduce him to the level of someone who wouldn’t protect the constitutional independence of the National Assembly.

He felt bellittled that I compared him to a lackey of the President who would do all in the attempts to enable the President become the strong man that he has always wanted since 2015 but which he couldn’t get in four years of his first tenure because the then leadership of the National Assembly headed by Senator Bukola Saraki were elected by the Senators and not hand picked by the Executive arm of government.

The long and short of all was that he dismissed my apprehension with a mere wave of hands. I wasn’t in anyway convinced that he is not what most political watchers say that he is- the lackey of President Muhammadu Buhari.

To the consternation of millions of Nigerians, in the last one year, the National Assembly has lost its relevance and strategic place as an independent democratic institution that should provide oversight functions and exercise oversight responsibility over the two other arms of government- judiciary and the Executive.

Rather the National Assembly has become rubber stamp national Assembly thereby making millions of Nigerians to wonder the relevance or other wise of the National Assembly.

At no other time has this critical question being raised about the relevance of the National Assembly than now because of the poor leadership capabilities of the Senate President Ahmed Lawan who ought to be someone whose loyalty should first and foremost be to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria instead of the role he has carved for himself as the political slave literally of President Muhammadu Buhari.

With his own mouth the Senate President Ahmed Lawan told Nigerians that under his leadership the Senate will pass all requests sent to the chamber by the President because in his warped imagination, President Muhammadu Buhari loves Nigeria.

And so the Senate has had to pass all kinds of requests for dubious loans from all kinds of places and all manner of jaundiced legislations are brewed frequently from the Senate chamber with such speed and ferocity that right thinking Nigerians are now wondering what indeed is the essence of the National Assembly if the President can become so powerful that practically all his executive communications to the Senate are passed without critical assessment and evaluations to ascertain the percentage of public interests that such requests from the President meet.

This is why the President has appointed only Hausa/Fulani heads for all the top security institutions against the Federal Character principles of the Constitution and the National Assembly and it’s slavish leadership looks on in admiration of such monumental illegality.

These and many other issues that have to do with the deliberate weakening of the institution of legislation at the National level were matters of interest to me and as I thought about reflecting on these thematic areas, then came the media publication attributed to the Senate President Ahmed Lawan in which he was quoted as asking Nigerians to talk about the relevance of the National Assembly and not worry about the funding.

He is so wrong that even a first year philosophy student can dismiss him as someone unaware of the laws of logical arguments and other matters connected with conversations on the import of the concept of fallacies.

It is a fallacy of the appeal to authority for the Senate President Ahmed to ask us not to talk about the funding of the National Assembly but to worry about the relevance.

It’s like asking a traveller not to worry about the means of transportation but to worry about his destination.

This is laughable on many fronts and I will treat them one after the other.

First, let us even understand what the Senate President Ahmed Lawan meant by this illogicality of asking us to only talk about the relevance of the National Assembly and not what the taxpayers cough out by way of funding to run the National Assembly.

And so it was reported that the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan had challenged those critical of the National Assembly to a debate on the relevance of the Legislature to Nigerians rather than criticising the funding of the Assembly.

Lawan gave the challenge in Abuja on Friday, while declaring open a two-day retreat for top management staff of the National Assembly and National Assembly Service Commission.

Lawan said :“What does the National Assembly mean to Nigerians what does the legislature mean to Nigerians.
“We need to understand what the National Assembly or what the Legislature is to Nigerians.”

Lawan called for a proper debate on what the functions of the National Assembly and Indeed the Legislature should be rather than talking about the jumbo pay.
“Where is the jumbo pay? we should be looking for value for money.
“Without this National Assembly or the Legislature across the country, what we have is no democracy anymore.
“So, the value of the National Assembly or the Legislature to Nigeria is democracy.
“We always debate on jumbo pay instead of what should be the functions and hold us responsible for what we are able to do and for what we are not able to do.
“Ask for what you think we should be doing rather than saying ‘close the Senate’ or ‘close the National Assembly.’ Do you understand the implication of this?
“You close the Senate, for example, not because I’m in the Senate but the Senate is a leveller.

“Because in the House of Representatives, the population is a major consideration and that’s why some States will have five or six members of the House and others will have more than 20.

“So if you say ‘close the Senate,’ you can be sure that there will be a day when people will cry foul of the tyranny of the majority.

“But you come to the Senate, what Kano state produces in the Senate is what Bayelsa produces – three Senators in Kano and you have three Senators from Bayelsa.

“That gives everyone the advantage and the opportunity to be represented fully and properly and equally in the Senate.

“So that stabilises the system. That tells you that that representation in the Senate that provides equality of states is to work to ensure that every part of this country is fully represented and protected.”

The Senate President said that the National Assembly is allocated less than one per cent of the National Budget yearly.

“So, where is the remaining 99 per cent? Yet instead of trying to see how the N125 billion to N128 billion will be utilised by the National Assembly system, what will be the output from the National Assembly, how useful are the output to the Nigerian public.

“We will always argue ‘cut the funding to the National Assembly. ‘It’s bogus.’

“I’m not here to defend the National Assembly but I’m here to encourage a debate on what the National Assembly means to us as a country or what our legislature means to us as a country and as a people.

“If you don’t like the set of members in the Ninth National Assembly, change all of us in 2023.

“Get better people but help support the system to function because that is your protection,” Lawan said.

This Senate President Ahmed Lawan however sounded clever by half by arguing that because the National Assembly does not consume one percent of the National budget therefore they are not wasteful.

This is a fallacy and a fat lie at that.

Is the National Assembly members up to one percent of the total population of Nigerians? This is the critical follow up interrogatory that should logically greet the position being canvassed by Senator Ahmed Lawan.

The statistical and mathematical fact remain that members of the National Assembly are not anywhere near one percent of the National population.

So, how can the Senate President Ahmed Lawan rely on mathematical and statistical fallacy to justify the jumbo salaries collected by the National Assembly members who spend just few Months in a calendar year sitting as legislators most of which some of them use to harass ministers for contracts?

Nigeria has some of the world’s highest paid law makers than anywhere else in the World so reports a United States of America based media researchers. That report was even done in the first tenure of Muhammadu Buhari under the eight session of the National Assembly. Then at least the National Assembly was vibrant to her responsibility but now as I write the National Assembly is a department under the office of President Muhammadu Buhari. However, the relevance of that investigation by the foreign media platform on the high cost of running Nigeria’s National Assembly is still fresh.

According to the researchers: “As president Buhari’s new administration and Nigeria’s 8th national assembly settles into office, a new campaign for transparency, accountability, and possibly a cut, in funds allocated to the National Assembly is picking up steam.

The social media campaign tagged #OpenNASS is led by BudgIT– a local start-up focused on making budgetary information accessible to Nigerians.

The reported that BudgIT was founded in 2011 at the influential Nigerian technology hub, Co-Creation Hub located in Lagos’ Yaba neighbourhood. The start-up has grown rapidly and last year bagged $400,000 in funding from Omidyar Network, the impact investment firm started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. BudgIT generates revenue from consulting and data analysis for private and public organizations.

Primarily a civic start-up, BudgIT is strong on advocacy as it continues to work to simplify budgetary information for Nigerians in a bid to ensure more transparency in fiscal spending. One of its previous projects was ‘Follow Flood Money’, an initiative to track flood relief funds in Nigeria after devastating floods in 2012.

Nigerian legislators, among the world’s top paid, receive annual salaries of between $150,000 to $190,000 per annum depending on exchange rates. At current exchange rates Nigerian lawmakers, would earn around $160,000 more than British MPs who make around $105,000 according to data from The Economist. In fact, until plunging oil prices started putting pressure on the Nigerian naira earlier this year, the Nigerian lawmakers were the second highest paid lawmakers in the world.

The average legislators’ pay is more than 50 times Nigeria‘s GDP per capita. In a country where millions live on less than two dollars daily and minimum wage is set at $90 a month, the legislator’s bumper pay has been described as outrageous. The campaign for a cut in the National Assembly’s funds as a new government comes in is fitting as President Buhari, who will earn less than the lawmakers, has a reputation for being modest and austere.”

www.qz.com the Media which did a vastly learned article on the high cost of governance in Nigeria also states thus: “The main thrust of the #OpenNASS campaign is for the National Assembly to open its books to allow for an assessment of its finances and possibly advocate for cuts particularly in a period of financial uncertainties which has seen the country struggle to pay salaries.”

Between 2011 and 2014, they reports that the National Assembly received N150 billion yearly but will receive N120 billion in 2015 according to the recently passed 2015 budget. BudgIT’s estimation also shows that since 1999, the National Assembly has received about N1.26 trillion yet there has been little accountability.

Significantly, the yearly allocation for the National Assembly, which has less than 10,000 individuals on its payroll, surpasses the annual budgets of 21 of Nigeria’s 36 states including Katsina, Benue and Jigawa all with populations of more than 4 million people.

While the country deals with financial issues which can be traced back to the slump in global crude oil prices, the National Assembly experiences few problems as its fund is in a special category called statutory transfer which mandates the federal government, after receiving revenues, to make the legislators’ funds immediately available before other considerations.

The media reported rightly that the calls for accountability from the National Assembly will resonate with millions of Nigerians who are keen to see public service holders live less luxurious lives while the majority of their countrymen wallow in poverty.

These are the cogent and verifiable reasons why the questions about the high cost of running the National Assembly is critical.

Let us go to Great Britain and find out how their parliamentary forum is funded. On September 3rd 2018, a report came out concerning the cost of administration of the British legislative body.

www.instituteforgovernment.org reports that Parliament cost £551 million to run last year,(2017) a figure calculated for the first time in a new report by the Institute for Government. This is the equivalent of the day-to-day cost of running a medium sized government department such as the Department for Education or Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Published as stated in September 2018, Parliamentary Monitor 2018 offers the first complete picture of Parliament’s work in the year since June 2017. It explains how Parliament spends its time and taxpayers’ money, setting out how MPs and peers scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account through select committees, questions and debates.

The report finds that salaries and expenses of parliamentarians make up less than half this total figure. Each select committee also costs around half a million pounds per year to run.

The report shows how Brexit has consumed Parliament’s time. One in eight select committee inquiries focused on Brexit, with many more touching on related issues. The EU Withdrawal Act took nearly a year and more than 273 hours of debate to become law – almost four times as long as the second-most debated piece of legislation (the Data Protection Act). Other Brexit-related legislation, such as the crucial Trade and Customs Bills, have been slowed down by political disagreement.

The report also finds:
Controversies over Private Members’ Bills (‘up-skirting’) have raised questions about whether Parliament’s procedures are working well enough.
Both Houses of Parliament have sat for more days than most other legislatures around the world.
Since the start of this Parliament, backbenchers have increased their use of parliamentary questions and emergency debates to hold government to account.
The Government’s plan to use secondary legislation including ‘Henry VIII powers’ to deliver Brexit, has renewed longstanding concerns about governments’ use of secondary legislation.
Select committees are discovering their strength – including the Home Affairs Committee’s work on Windrush. More chairs of Commons committees are former ministers, adding clout.
Just 32% of MPs are women and 32% of Commons committee members are women.
Dr Hannah White, Director of Research at the Institute for Government, said:

“This report sets out what Parliament has done, how well it is working, and the key questions it needs to ask itself to ensure it is as effective as possible. But many aspects of Parliament – including its value as an institution of democracy – cannot be measured, so it doesn’t make sense to about Parliament as a whole ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’.”

Dr Alice Lilly, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government, said:

“Parliament plays a vital role in passing legislation and holding government to account. It also exists to encourage debate and represent citizens. So, it is important that Parliament itself understands how well it is working – is able to tell people why what it does matters.”

Once more, there is the urgency of the now to significantly reduce the abysmally high cost of running the National Assembly and as the central government battles to meet up with other national obligations like executing the critical capital projects to address the health, educational, roads and power infrastructures challenges bedevilling the Country, Nigeria needs to see if the National Assembly can run on part time basis or if it will collapse into a single chamber so the cost is drastically reduced. So the conversation on the cost of governance in Nigeria has become increasingly relevant especially now that due to poor economic policies of the Federal government, Nigeria has gone into the second economic recession in less than 5 years under the same administration.

*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @www. huriwanigeria.com, www.huriwa@blogspot.com, www.thenigerianinsidernews.com.

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