Some Nigerian lawyers have reacted to a recent revelation of N13.5 million “running cost” allowance that senators receive monthly.
The revelation, which was made by Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna Central) stirred up mixed reactions not only among the electorate but the lawmakers as well.
Mr. Sani had in an interview with TheNews revealed that he and his colleagues receive N13.5 million monthly as “running cost”, aside a N750, 000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances which they also receive.
Mr. Sani’s revelation is the first by a lawmaker from the Senate since the clamour by Nigerians for a full disclosure of lawmakers’ earnings.
The money is illegal as it is not approved by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). It is also separate from the salaries and allowances approved by RMAFC which, Mr. Sani says, totals about N750,000 monthly.
Following this revelation, some lawmakers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES but asked not to be named said the revelation by Mr. Sani had damaged the reputation of the federal legislature while possibly pitting constituents against their representatives.
The aggrieved senators and members of the House of Representatives said some of their colleagues were already discreetly working out modalities to deal with the Kaduna lawmaker.
The lawmakers vowed to take necessary steps to make the next one year difficult for the outspoken Kaduna senator.
PREMIUM TIMES also reported how the Senate spokesman, Aliyu Abdullahi, said the revelation by Mr. Sani that senators receive N13.5 million monthly as “running cost” is nothing new, adding that details of what Mr. Sani said were already “contained in various line items and expenditure heads of the budget of the National Assembly which has been made public.”
Lawyer and human rights activists, Femi Falana, while commending the lawmaker for his revelations, said the emoluments of the lawmakers goes beyond what was declared by the senator.
He added that the exposure confirms a statement by the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council, Itse Sagay, that Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world.
He blamed the RMAFC for condoning such payments without questioning since 1999 and tasked the Buhari administration to ensure that no public office holder is paid unapproved salaries and allowances.
Mr. Falana also called on Nigerians to support the whistleblower (Mr. Sani), especially now that his colleagues ”are planning retributive measures against him for making such revelation”.
Another lawyer, Lekan Alabi, also condemned the lawmakers for the illegal allowances.
“There is something fundamentally wrong with their approach to running the business of the government of Nigeria. There is something fundamentally wrong with their upbringing.
“It is only in Nigeria that people who are doing nothing are being paid hugely for idleness. It is only in Nigeria where people don’t work; yet receive N13.5million per month for running cost. Running cost for what? How many times do they sit in a year? When they resume, you hear that they are going for recess, when they come back, they’ll say they’re going for Easter. After Easter, they’ll say they are going for Ramadan break. After Ramadan break, you’ll hear New Year break. So what is the justification for N13.5 million monthly running cost?
“What I think is that because the Nigerian society is very weak, there is a lot of injustice; economic injustice, oppression, depression, a lot of wrong doings in the society. That is why the crime rate is high. How many of them can go to their constituencies and move on the street without being kidnapped. That goes to show that in a society where you have economic injustice, you cannot have peace”, he said.
Mr. Alabi said it is wrong for the lawmakers to allocate such amount to themselves, adding that it is is ”a reflection that the Buhari-led administration is weak’”.
”What are they running? They have their aides, their aides are collecting salaries. The clothes that they put on, we buy the clothes for them, so what is the definition of the running cost? What do they run for one month that they are entitled to N13.5 million in a country where staff are being owed salaries, where workers are not being paid?
“As far as I’m concerned, the running cost is illegal, it’s immoral and it can only be induced by people who are insensitive to the state of economy in Nigeria. And it also reflects that Buhari’s presidency is not just weak but also inefficient”, he said.
Olayinka Ogunmodimu, another lawyer, said that the power given to the lawmakers to make laws, prohibits Nigerians from ”calling the running cost allowance a fraud”.
“It is unfortunate that our law gives with one hand and takes back with another. Ordinarily, it should have been an offence or rather, something that is not right. But the law allows the lawmakers to make laws and regulations. So that’s what they rely on in making such laws which they feel is for the betterment of the constituencies that they represent.
“We need to go back to the law reviewing their remuneration so that before the legislators can pass and make any law, they should do it in conjunction with another arm of the government. Because they just have these powers and they just use it to their own advantage and unfortunately to the detriment of the members of the society.”
Another legal practitioner, Wale Balogun, said the lawmakers misuse their powers and as such allocate such illegal allowances to themselves.
“If you look at it, in my view, there’s a whole lot of illegality but they are cleverly covered under one guise or the other. Just like the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission is the body responsible for fixing all these monuments, not only to National Assembly but to other public officers, however, what they do in the Senate and in the House of Reps too, is to now create allowances for themselves, outside of the body of what has been legitimately covered by law from the RMAFC.
“What they do is create a law for themselves and give it a name like ‘running cost’. Take for instance, the N13.5 million running cost, nobody knows the full details of it, because there are obviously other allowances that cover whatever this one is said to be covering.
“This is part of what the legislators do. It is not subject to anybody’s approval. The legal question to ask now is, under what law is this money covered?”
He also called for transparency at all levels of government.
“My view candidly has always been, everything should be done transparently. One of the promises made by the senate president, Bukola Saraki, is that he will open the books of the National Assembly for everyone to know what they earn. Unfortunately, till date, they have not done that.
“The budget of the National Assembly is still not open for public scrutiny. It has always been N115 billion but nobody knows the details, which is the curious aspect. So I am of the view that anything that has not been legitimately budgeted for and approved by the RMAFC, should be deemed to be illegal until they prove otherwise”, he said.
Ola Adeosun, a lawyer, commended Mr. Sani for making the revelation.
“To start with, if you read through Senator Sheu Sanni’s interview where he provided the details of what almost all Nigerians already knew, he said the senators earn N750, 000 or so monthly. That is their legitimate salary as known to the law.
“Like every other Nigerian political office holder, they only created other means of earning more money for themselves. That is, N700 million constituency allowances created during the OBJ era to get political stability and the N13.5 million monthly running cost.
“I know as a fact that this running cost thing is a “fraud”, which virtually all public office holders fraudulently create for themselves outside the budgetary earnings, just like the phoney “security votes” of governors and presidents.
“I can assure you that if you investigate the running costs of ministers and heads of parastatals, you’ll realise that some ministers and heads of parastatals get more than double of what a senator gets as their “running cost”. No wonder the NNPC said they’re not bound by any law to disclose how they spend our money!
“We should all be grateful to Senator Sani for finding the courage to speak out on how himself and his colleagues have been sharing our common patrimony.
I’m however convinced that only insanity will make someone take such heavy amount of money from the common purse, in view of the pervasive poverty in the land and not get pricked by conscience.”
He also called for citizen action to curb the rot.
“What should be done is, Citizen action! Only a mass action of the people can put an end to the ongoing shameless and endless thievery of the Nigerian political class.
“And such action must be holistic and not a mere tokenistic attack of the legislature alone, it must be targeted at both the executive and legislature.”