In July, some members of the House of Representatives crammed themselves in a hearing room in the National Assembly complex with officials of the Niger Delta Development Commission and journalists.
The sole agenda for the day was for officials of the NDDC, an interventionist agency in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta, to defend the agency against the allegation of financial recklessness at the commission.
For months leading to the hearing, the agency had faced various corruption allegations, with some describing it as an ATM and cash cow for its corrupt top officials.
As the session went on in July, and the nation anxiously watched to see how the probe would end, events took a dramatic turn.
After he was asked why ₦135 billion was spent by its staff “to take care of themselves,” the NDDC boss, Daniel Pondei, dropped his head, fainted and was rushed out of the room.
Other dramas would later play out that day, but none beat the opening scene. Like that fateful probe, similar probes may be due at the National Assembly itself that may unveil a series of scandals.
Since 2012, the National Assembly has kept details of its budget away from the the public, except in 2017.
From 2003 till date, allocation to the National Assembly has ranged from ₦23 billion in 2003 to ₦154 billion in 2010. Since 2012 — save for 2017 when it allocated ₦125 billion to itself— the lawmakers have refused to publish the breakdown of their annual budget. Within those years, the legislative arm has allocated about ₦1.2 trillion to itself.
Estimates by BudgIT, a local civic entity focused on simplifying budgetary information for Nigerians, showed that between 1999 and 2015, the National Assembly has received about ₦1.26 trillion with little accountability.
The 2017 breakthrough under former Senate President Bukola Saraki was forced by a social media campaign tagged #OpenNASS led by BudgIT.
The thrust of the #OpenNASS campaign was to push the legislature to open its books to the public and take possible cuts on its finances, especially at a time of financial uncertainties.
Nigerian legislators are among the world’s top paid. According to last October’s edition of Legislative Digest, a yearly publication of the National Assembly, apart from random allowances, each member of the House of Representatives gets about ₦2 million as constituency allowance. For senators, it is ₦5 million.
|Year||Total Budget (₦)||NASS Budget (₦)||% share|
|2012||4.9 trillion||150 billion||3.07|
|2013||4.9 trillion||150 billion||3.05|
|2014||4.9 trillion||150 billion||3.05|
|2015||4.5 trillion||120 billion||2.67|
|2016||6.1 trillion||115 billion||1.9|
|2017||7.3 trillion||125 billion||1.71|
|2018||7.2 trillion||139 billion||1.94|
|2019||8.8 trillion||151 billion||1.71|
|2020||10.2 trillion||128 billion||1.25|
The annual take home pay of members of the House in basic salaries and allowances is ₦17 million (at current exchange rate, $447,000) — ₦9 million in salary and ₦8 million in allowances — or ₦1.4 million per month. For senators, it is ₦24 million ($631,000) — ₦13 million in salary and ₦11 million in allowances — or ₦2 million per month.
In fact, in 2018, a former senator, Shehu Sani, revealed that each senator earns ₦13.5 million ($35,500) as monthly ‘running cost’, in addition to a monthly consolidated salary of ₦700,000 ($1,800), a revelation the Senate at the the time defended and a lawmaker said was meagre.
Judging by Mr Sani’s figure, the average legislator’s pay is more than 191 times Nigeria’s GDP per capita, which the World Bank estimates at $2,229, in a country where four in ten are poor and minimum wage is less than $80.
Thus, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to deal a hard blow on the nation’s economy amidst a plunge in oil price and reduced consumer capacity, the campaign for a more open National Assembly is expected to gather steam.
The hike is alongside the increase in pump price of fuel and a rise in food prices at a time many are out of job largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has made the Nigeria’s economy see its biggest slump in a decade to be heading towards recession.
But in spite of its humongous allocations, the leadership of the lower House told PREMIUM TIMES in February that the funds the legislature gets have stagnated over the years despite changes in market value and exchange rates, a view shared by chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), Ahmed Amshi, the administrative arm of the parliament.
Although, statutorily, funds allocated to the National Assembly are on the first line charges, but that has not been so for two years, a situation members of the House of Representatives strongly opposed.
Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, told PREMIUM TIMES the revenue shortfall of the federal government is the reason it has not been able to fulfil the provision of the law that says allocations to the National Assembly and the Judiciary be released in full.
But, she added through her aide, Ahmed Tanko, with the signing of the Finance Act into law, the government hopes to shore up its revenue base in order to improve its budget performance.
While the quest by lawmakers for more fund for themselves continues, other key sectors like education and health have struggled for adequate funding. The extent of the neglect to the health sector became obvious at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak as the country struggled to contain the disease.
The spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, said, on Monday, that it would only release the details of the last fiscal spending at the presentation of the Freedom of Information Act.
He added the focus of the parliament when it resumes on Tuesday would be to deliberate on the 2021 budget. He said the 2020 budget circle is not over as it is still September.
“That should not even be the question,” he said when asked if the breakdown of the NASS’ spendings would be publicized. “The question should be why the National Assembly now gets one per cent of the total budget from the four per cent it got in the past.”
Although Mr Kalu refused to give the specific year he meant, since 2012, the National Assembly has never got four per cent of the national budget. The highest it got within those years was in 2012, 2013 and 2014 when it consecutively got 3.05 per cent of the national total.
Mr Kalu’s Senate counterpart, Ajibola Basiru, said he does not understand what is meant by “the budget is not made public.”
Told what the lawmakers have been publishing is the total annual allocation to the NASS, not the breakdown, he gave no definite answer.
“How the does budgit and tracka get their figures for budget monitoring,” he said.