A little over a week ago, outspoken senator, Shehu Sani, disclosed that members of the upper legislative chamber rake in N13.5 million each in monthly ‘running cost’ allowances.
In an interview with TheNews, Mr. Sani (APC-Kaduna) questioned the ‘running cost’ and other similar pay-outs and said they should be stopped because there is no accountability on how they are spent.
“When people are elected into the National Assembly, they should just be involved in law making, raising motions, bills and also performing oversight functions. But we live in a society where people cannot differentiate between the legislators and the executive,” Mr. Sani said of the so-called constituency allowance which has long been identified as one of the most corrupt channels for lawmakers to pilfer public funds.
Sabi Abdullahi, a spokesperson for the Senate, confirmed the pay-outs as true, but said they had previously been disclosed in National Assembly budgets.
“Almost all holders of elective and appointive offices have running costs allocated to their offices and that cannot be said to be part of their salaries,” he said.
Mr. Sani’s latest revelations earned the National Assembly a deluge of condemnation, and some legal experts joined his call for the questionable payments to be scrapped. Many are enraged to learn that senators are receiving humongous pays for undisclosed activities at a time the country’s minimum wage has remained static at N18,000.
The senator is also likely to face a backlash over his campaign for transparency in the National Assembly, PREMIUM TIMES found.
But it wasn’t the first time that Mr. Sani would speak up about the payments, although he appeared more certain about his latest position than he once was.
Below are relevant aspects of an interview he had with PREMIUM TIMES on the subject in 2015. You may read the full interview here.
PT: Did your committee also discuss the illegal allowances that lawmakers take every quarter, which for Senators come to more than N40million?
Sani: No, No No! There is no quarterly allowance any more. It has since been stopped.
PT: When did they stop it?
Sani: In the 7th Senate, there were more resources in the Senate than now. That is why the payments could come in quarters. Now, with the economic situation the country is facing, it was resolved generally that the Senators be paid monthly. Many of the last legislative aides of the 7th Assembly are yet to be paid their entitlements. The agreement we had now was that since the proposed budget was N150 billion, it was cut down to N120 billion. But, now it is also said that it should not simply be a block cutting, but the RMAFC should make it open for all to know those items that would be spent on. It was also generally agreed that those who should speak on the issue, to avoid conflicting positions and versions, should be either Senator James Manager, who is the Chairman of the Committee, or the Chairman of the Information Committee of the Senate, Dino Melaye. We all generally agreed on that. And that is why these two persons were authorised to speak on the issues that have to do with the allowances and the finance of the Senate and public complaint on these issues.
PT: What I can get from your explanation is that it is not as if the allowances were stopped, but that rather than taking the money quarterly, the Senate has now cleverly split the illegal allowances into monthly?
Sani: There is nothing illegal that would happen under President Muhammadu Buhari that he would keep quiet about. There is no way any illegal funds could be paid and the government would simply close his eyes to them. If any payment is made, it must be that it is legitimate. The new order in the country is not one where illegality would be going on without any action being taken.
PT: You said the senators resolved that their pay be cut. Was it the salary that was cut or allowance?
Sani: What I am saying is that the debate in the committee ended abruptly, because even the issue of allowance could not be thrashed for the fact that somebody brought a point of order that the Senate could not go ahead without a joint sitting with the House of Representatives. By name, a senator has bigger portfolio than a member of the House of Representatives. But if one looks at it closely, the senators have five aides, like the House of Representatives. The difference is in what grade level the RMAFC gives to a senator and member of the House of Representatives, which is less than five per cent.
One would be able to speak authoritatively after the harmonization of the issues. For now, only those two persons were authorised to speak on the issue.