The senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Shehu Sani, recently revealed in an interview that he and his colleagues in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly receive N13.5 million as monthly running cost. This, of course, is without prejudice to their consolidated regular monthly salary of N700,000 each. Sani further explained that even though there is no specification on what the funds are meant for, each lawmaker is mandated to provide receipts to back up the expenses.
Arguably, Senator Sani’s revelation is the first reliable information about the lawmakers’ emoluments since 1999. They had hitherto been cagey and even those citizens who supposedly had ideas about the colossal profligacy in the National Assembly had, in the main, relied on mere conjectures. With respect to the controversial constituency projects, Senator Sani said: “The constituency project itself is given on a zonal basis and almost every senator will go home with a constituency fund of about N200 million, but it is not the cash that is given to you. You will be told that you have N200 million with an agency of government for which you will now submit projects equivalent to that amount. And it is that agency of government that will go and do those projects for you. Now, corruption comes in when the projects are not done and the money is taken.”
Although he is a beneficiary of the official largesse, Senator Sani’s candour was voluntary and may have been borne out of the realisation of the stark oddity of a democracy whose legislature is far removed and alienated from the experiences of the people it purports to represent. In theory, the sovereignty of the people resides in the legislature. But to what extent do the legislatures in Nigeria represent the people in terms of real life experiences? Since the minimum wage in the country is N18,000 monthly, how are the people’s representatives in good conscience sitting in such a cosy and lavish comfort? As expected, the revelation made by Senator Sani has generated outrage across the polity. Many people, incensed by the revelation, have been crying foul.
With this revelation from Senator Sani, it is no longer surprising that the cost of governance in Nigeria is unduly high, with a large chunk of the country’s resources ending up in the private pockets of political actors, especially the legislators. Politics in Nigeria is peculiarly lucrative, in fact to such a disconcerting extent that a former Senate President claimed that he had to invest heavily in order to secure his seat. This was the argument he conveniently deployed in explaining the eventual graft and sleaze in the Senate. Against the backdrop of the official admission of the plight of 82 million Nigerians living in abject poverty, Senator Sani’s revelation should call national attention to the unconscionable reward system in the country that is skewed in favour of the legislature and other political actors. Is it not odd that these wealthy political actors claim to be the representatives of the more than 82 million poverty-stricken Nigerians?
It is no wonder that election in Nigeria is warfare. The beneficiaries have become used to opulence and vacating their seats through electoral loss is often desperately and violently resisted. The truth is that democracy in Nigeria is essentially a travesty. There is then an urgent and desperate need to review the country’s democratic experience to bridge the gap of alienation between the people and their representatives in the National Assembly and the respective state Houses of Assembly. The irony, however, is that only the various legislatures can constitutionally effect any change through reforms and it will be a tall order to expect a reform that will rob them of their perquisites.
It is difficult, not to say hopeless, to expect such qualms from the former governors in the Senate who are still enjoying the perks of their former office along with the official heist. If the sense of propriety eludes them and they have not noticed the grave implications of such obscene and predatory acquisition, how can they be expected to embark on any reforms that will end up as self-immolation? Yet there must be reform. For a start, the receipts tendered by each senator for the current regime of “running costs” must be scrutinized to determine their authenticity. Then, pressure must be mounted on the legislature and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to review the remuneration package of office-holders to reflect the country’s economic realities.