The 2nd Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, explains to TOBI AWORINDE why he took members of the National Assembly to court over their jumbo pay
What is the motive behind your lawsuit demanding that senators refund their N13.5m monthly running costs?
How much the senators and House of Representatives members have been earning has been an issue over the years. It didn’t start today. It happened even under (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s regime and it has been under pure speculation. People were not aware how much each senator collected as allowance, not even these constituency projects we have been talking about over the years. So, from the realm of speculation, it was then confirmed by a serving senator in the current republic that a senator, who is not a principal officer of the Senate, collects N13.5m every month (as running costs). If you multiply that in a quarter, that is almost N50m, and in the House of Representatives, it is over N10m also in a month.
The man also went further to tell us how much they are paid monthly for constituency projects. This amount does not include the normal allowances — the housing, vehicle, newspaper, inconvenience and all manner of allowances. Also, when they engage in committee work and oversight functions — there are so many other allowances that are being paid. If you calculate these money in a month, for legislators that meet only three times in a week, in our fragile economy, you will agree with me that it is a big scandal.
Youths are suffering and groaning due to unemployment. The economic indices are not favourable to the average Nigerian. The middle class has actually disappeared in Nigeria. It is either you are very rich or you are poor. So many people are poor. The states cannot even afford (to pay) the N18,000 minimum wage for their workers. What then is the rationale behind having some people collecting up to N50m in a month as salaries and allowances? There is a body that is constitutionally empowered to fix allowances and salaries for public officers. So, we want to know the body that actually fixes this money for them. We want to know whether it is the same body that also fixed these allowances and the running costs for the lawmakers or not. We want to establish whether the National Assembly can, singlehandedly, allocate those remunerations to it members. That is what we want the court to determine. If the court determines that the body that is constitutionally empowered was not responsible for the allocation of the jumbo package to the lawmakers, then, they should stop it until the proper thing is done. Let the body that is empowered to fix salaries and allowances be the one to do that in accordance with our laws.
That is the main reason why I am in court, because we had been hearing these things, necessarily as rumours, until they were confirmed by a member of the Senate. I have a publication of the newspaper where the member confirmed it, and it was further confirmed by the chief spokesperson for the Senate that what the man said was actually the correct thing. It is outrageous; it is something that is bloated. These are salaries and allowances that we consider as jumbo pay, despite our economic situation.
But RMAFC, the body which fixes salaries of all public officers, said it is the National Assembly Service Commission that can explain the jumbo pay. Is the NASC empowered to fix salaries for lawmakers?
In fact, that is the main reason we are in court. We also have a newspaper publication to that effect and have noted it in our process. If the body that is supposed to fix salaries and allowances says it is not the one that fixed it, we want to find out whether that power can be exercised by any other person or body; whether the RMAFC can even delegate the powers to fix those salaries and allowances; whether there is any such provision? And the body — that is, the NASC — which is alleged to have done that, should come forward and tell us under what law it allegedly did what was said to have been done by it, whether it has the right to fix those jumbo running costs and allowances to members of the National Assembly. We also included the RMAFC in the suit because there was a rumour that it actually fixed the jumbo salaries and allowances for the National Assembly members.
President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo announced that they will only receive 50 per cent of their salaries when they assumed office. Does this not contradict the jumbo pay of the lawmakers?
It doesn’t speak well for a government of change. It came with that promise. When they made that promise, one expected that every member of that political party would have imbibed that philosophy of the party and the change mantra. If you see the executive trying to cut down its own salaries and allowances, going by what we read in the papers, one would have expected a reciprocal gesture from the legislative arm of government of the same political party, especially taking into cognisance that immediately they came in, we ran into recession and people were asked to tighten their belts.
The economic indices and indicators are not favourable to the average Nigerian. So, one would have expected the political elite of a political party that came into power on that mantra of change to adjust and allow Nigerians to see the sacrifice they are making in order to revive the economy. In other words, what we saw was a different ball game entirely from that arm of government. They (officials) are supposed to have shown some level of commitment and responsibility to Nigerians. They are our direct representatives; they are known as our representatives and sovereignty of the people is exercised through the legislative assembly. So, what we are seeing is flamboyant, obscene expenditure borne by that arm of government. And if you consider their input to what we are getting, you find out that it is not commensurate.
What laws have they churned out that are actually in the favour of the masses? What have they done that would make you feel like ‘we are getting so much out of these members of the National Assembly’, so that we can even afford to forgo all this money we are spending? In a week, how many times do they sit? What quality laws have they passed that are actually in favour of the poor Nigerians? We felt that we cannot continue this way. So, let them come and explain why such flamboyant salaries and allowances should be paid to them in the light of the output.
How many laws have they passed? Do those laws affect the average Nigerian or laws that are actually meant for them and for their interest? Most laws they amend, of course, have to do with electoral laws, laws that favour the political elite. Those laws that favour the masses are left in the dustbin. So, I feel we should question this present National Assembly. In fact, we begin to ask whether we should have the bicameral legislative assembly that we have in Nigeria. And if we must, must it be full-time?
Nigerians are asking why we have a government that came in on the mantra of change; yet, we are not seeing any change. The mantra of founding members is weak in terms of behaviour. They are extravagant, their expenditure is obscene and they don’t care about us.
The jumbo pay for federal lawmakers has reportedly spanned several years. Do you expect some pullback by the National Assembly members?
I don’t think so. They are very enlightened people. They would even want a situation where they would be an interpretation as to this act going on presently. Most of them are not happy. I am not too sure they are happy with this bogus pay and that is why (Shehu) Sani had to voice his displeasure. That is why, over time, we had not been able to get the correct amount of money they earn until Sani spoke out.
For the first time, we were able to get a federal parliamentarian to confirm the actual amount of salaries, allowances, running costs and constituency projects they have been collecting over the years. We have been trying to get information on how much a member of the National Assembly earns even from those who were regarded as progressives, over the years, to no avail. They had been hiding this information from us until, finally, it came out. That is why that man will remain a hero in the history of this country — because he was the only one who came out to tell us how much legislators collect, especially from the Senate. So, to me, he would be very happy that somebody is taking this step to find out the constitutionality of the jumbo pays and allowances. They would rather be happy that there is an interpretation of the illegality. They are lawmakers, for God’s sake. If you are involved in making laws, you are breaching the laws you have made and somebody has gone to court on the correct interpretation of the laws you have enacted, I don’t think you should be angry. I think you should rather be happy that the laws you have made are being strengthened by the judiciary.
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