Senior lawyers and activists have lambasted Nigerian Senators who are members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, over their decision to suspend hearing for two days, last week, to press the PDP for automatic re-election tickets.
To compel the ruling party to grant them the right of first refusal for re-election, a clearly intra-party matter, the PDP lawmakers who are in majority in the Senate, refused sitting for two days while apparently continuing to draw earnings paid by the Nigerian public.
Last Tuesday, the Senate sat for only 30 minutes after resuming from a week-long recess.
On Wednesday, the Senator suspended all items listed for discussion and for adjourned for a week.
The Senate President, David Mark, said the Senate could not sit as a result of scheduled meeting of the PDP caucus immediately after the session.
But lawmakers, speaking anonymously, said they were angry because President Goodluck Jonathan and the party would not approve automatic tickets for them.
Nigerian Senators are rated the highest paid in the world with basic salaries nearly N30 million yearly, and perks, which Nigerians refer to as “jumbo allowance”, over N45 million. Some estimates place the secret pay as high as N56 million every quarter of the year.
The lawmakers readily dismiss the claim they receive huge pay for doing less. If pressed for their wages, they often point at the basic salary statutorily assigned by the Revenue and Fiscal Mobilization Commission.
The lawmakers say the “jumbo allowance” are merely “running cost”, or administrative costs for their offices.
Since 2011, the National Assembly, including the Senate, House of Representatives, National Assembly management and the Legislative Institute, draw a huge N150 billion as annual budget.
Details of the spending are not made public.
The decision of the Senators to boycott hearing last week, while apparently not prepared to let go of their wages for the two days, revived the controversy over their earnings.
Renowned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Itse Sagay, and some leaders of civil society groups expressed outrage over what they called the continued abdication of duties by members of the Senate.
In refusing to sit, some of the Senators also claimed the move was in solidarity with the embattled Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, who recently drew the party’s anger after defecting from PDP to All Progressives Congress, APC.
Mr. Sagay said the action of the senators was akin to the general conduct of majority of politicians in the country, who he said are only working for their self-enrichment.
He accused senators on the platform of the PDP of holding the nation to ransom, saying “they are in government for themselves.”
Given the quality of work done by the country’s lawmakers, the lawyer insisted that they do not deserve the jumbo perks they get annually from taxpayers’ funds.
“The salary they earn is out of proportion with anything on earth,” he said. “These are people who are earning N450 million per year, per person and they virtually determine whether they will work or not.”
He said Nigerian lawmakers are self-serving in their conduct and described it as the “malaise of Nigeria.”
“They use all our resources, the time and the privileges for themselves. It is part of the underdevelopment orientation of self service at the expense of the nation.
“Until we are able to get new breed of politicians who believe in selfless service, who believe that they have an obligation to the people, who have some sense of morality and commitment to service, the cycle will continue.”
Mr. Sagay, therefore, suggested that the country goes back to the parliamentary system where lawmakers were paid sitting allowances and not salary.
When the country operated a parliamentary system, members of the parliament were paid according to the number of times they worked and their services where on part-time basis.
“We don’t need a fulltime legislature, so they should be paid for the days they sit and let them go home and engage in their professions,” Mr. Sagay said.
He argued that the Nigeria’s vast resources are being pocketed by less than one percent of the population while majority languished in abject poverty.
The legal practitioner urged electorate in the country to be prepared to vote out candidates and political parties whose conducts pauperize the people.
“We live in a country where 70 per cent of the people are living on less than $1. Nigerians should wake up and throw these people out and bring in a breath of fresh air by electing people who will serve the nation.
“If we don’t change the way we vote this time around, then we should accept whatever we get,” Mr. Sagay said.
Another legal practitioner and chairman of an Abuja-based non-government organisation, Egalitarian Mission for Africa, Kayode Ajulo, said his organisation is concerned about the attitude of Nigerian senators.
Mr. Ajulo, who is also the National Secretary of the Labour Party, LP, said the country’s lawmakers have continually failed to live up to the expectation of the people.
“In spite of the huge amount of money they collect annually, our senators have not shown serious commitment to the cause of national growth and development,” he said.
“It is a very unfortunate situation and it has been going on for a long time. We have found that what they are doing is not commensurable with what they are getting as salaries and allowances.
“Nigerians should not just condemn them but should use their votes wisely come 2015. Nigerians should vote undesirable elements out of power.”
Another civil rights activist, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, condemned the action of the senators and called on Nigerians to ensure that they are not voted back to the National Assembly, come 2015.
Mr. Nsirimovu is the President of the Port Harcourt-based Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
“The civil society in Nigeria is getting tired of saying the obvious,” Mr. Nsirimovu said. “These senators swore to an oath by virtue of their position to uphold the fundamental requirement of lawmaking for the good governance of the country.
“They did not swear to an oath to serve their personal interests. But what transpired last week is purely the transcendent of personal interest over the collective interest of the people of Nigeria.
“It was an abdication of responsibility on the part of members of the Senate on the platform of the PDP.”
If the lawmakers were better representatives of their constituencies, Mr. Nsirimovu said, they would not have gone cap in hand to beg the PDP leadership for automatic tickets.
He cautioned political parties against giving automatic tickets to their members, saying that by providing a level playing field, the best candidates will emerge.
Mr. Nsirimovu noted that the PDP is an amalgamation of people whose aims are basically to usurp constitutional powers in the country in order to undo the people.
“While one is not calling for violence, Nigerians should be ready to use the most powerful instrument they have, which is their vote to weed them out.
“Nigerians should be reasonable because for 15 years, the PDP has shown that it cannot take us to the next level.”
Similarly, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Auwal Rafasanjani, said it is unfortunate the country’s legislators were not demonstrating any commitment to national interest.
“We are seriously concerned with the way and manner in which legislative duties are being abandoned because of personal interest,” Mr. Musa said.
Comparing the country with other democracies, Mr. Musa said Nigerian lawmakers have never shown transparency and accountability in their legislative assignments.
He also insisted that Nigeria’s senators do not exhibit responsible conduct in spite of the huge perks and exclusive privileges they enjoyed within and outside the country.
“We are not happy that despite the enormity of work before them, the approaching elections and the winding down of the legislative year, they failed to do what they are supposed to do and for which they are being paid for.
“In spite of the cries by Nigerians, the Senate has up till today not declared that corruption is unacceptable. They have failed to take strong steps against corruption and looting which have gone on for a long time now. They have not spoken up against acts of impunity in the country too,” Mr. Auwal noted.
He said Nigerians would have been happy to see the National Assembly and the Senate in particular, taking a strong stand against President Goodluck Jonathan in the fight against corruption and impunity.
On the contrary, he said the senators go on auto drive when it comes to matters affecting their personal welfare and political interest.
“It is only at such times that they would rise up to hold the President and the whole country to ransom. Nigerians have long found out that the Senators are not protecting the national interest.
What our senators have been fighting for has nothing to do with good governance and the improvement of the living conditions of the people,” said Mr. Auwal.
“We are gradually getting to a time when Nigerians will rise up and tell the political class they are fed up with the lies and deceit that have characterised governance in the country.
“We are getting close to when the people will rise and kick against the selfishness and corruption of public office holders in Nigeria.
“Because of the way the political class has plundered Nigeria and the high level of impunity demonstrated by most public officers, Nigerians are becoming more conscious of their right and would soon rise up to challenge the system.”
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Business and Rules, Ita Enang, told this newspaper that the Senate sat on Wednesday and Thursday.
“On Wednesday, we sat and considered report from the Nigerian Football Federation. We completed work on the report today (Thursday) and passed the bill to ratify FIFA’s statutes,” he said.
“Yesterday too, we received a request from the President to confirm the appointment of the new Chief Justice of the Federation.”
When asked why members of the PDP disrupted Senate’s proceedings for two days consecutively, he declined to speak, insisting that the matter was an internal issue of the ruling party.
Mr. Enang said, “It is a political party matter and I am a senator on the ticket of the party. We can only speak on such issues through the leadership of the Senate.
“I am very reluctant to speak on the matter because it is very sensitive. I pray you excuse me from speaking on it. I can only confirm that the Senate sat on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, Deputy Leader, Abdul Ningi, refused to respond to repeated requests to comment on the senators’ decision.
The Minority Leader, George Akume, also did not respond to calls to his telephone.
The Senate spokesperson, Enyinnayya Abaribe, said in a brief text message “The Senate sat yesterday and also today, showing that there is no crisis.”