Nigerian Lawmakers are Eating the Country’s Wealth with Insane Allowances

In June 2018, a Nigerian senator, Shehu Sani bore his mind on the outrageous monthly allowance of members of the Nigerian Senate. While each Nigerian Senator earns 162 million ($450,000) annually in allowances, and  9 million ($25,000) as basic salary, the American President, for instance, only earns $450,000 (including bonus) annually. The controversy that Shehu’s disclosure generated only lasted a short while despite the clear absurdity surrounding the monetary compensation of lawmakers.

Since it has gone unaddressed for long, many lawmakers are notorious for splashing these monies on political campaigns, which has become unhealthy in the country. It has given a convenient room for godfatherism and deadly politics of interest. But until the procedures for electing lawmakers is changed, bad outcomes like electoral violence, corruption, maladministration will continue to cripple Nigeria’s democracy.

Four hundred and sixty-nine lawmakers who were elected on the platform of various political parties in the February 23 National Assembly elections and the subsequent supplementary election will get N4.68bn as welcome package immediately after their inauguration in June. – Punch Nigeria

Inappropriate Campaign Spendings

Nigerian politicians spend heavily on political campaigns. Most—if not all of these campaigns—does not entail feasible manifestos that would address critical issues facing the electorates. Instead, they are fronts for slanderous shaming of opposition candidates and their parties. They go all out lavishing money on bribing local leaders and influential electorates in the belief that there will be enough resources for them to recoup when in office. For these politicians, it’s a financial investment. Even as Section 91(4) of the Electoral Act (2010) states that “the maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred in respect of senatorial seat by a candidate at an election to the National Assembly shall be  40 million  while the seat for House of Representatives shall be 20 million,” aspirants typically go above these figures.

There have not been appropriate sanctioning of violators and neither has the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) created realistic measures to check this violation which is sharply linked to electoral violence. While INEC has the powers to make quasi-legislations to further its objectives, it lacks the power to punish on matters of extravagant spending during campaigns. An equally capable agency that may be allowed to prosecute such violations is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. But the agency’s integrity is even questionable.

Looting and Godfatherism

When elected, these lawmakers do not only go home with fat paychecks, but they have glorious opportunities to embezzle national resources at different committee levels because of the lack of transparency with which the National Assembly operates. They focus on personal interests above the interest of their constituents, and there is often little to zero oversight by the judiciary or executive on their financial activities. This is why they go to any length necessary to get elected.

But Nigeria must make political offices less attractive in the first place. Cutting the allowances and salaries of these lawmakers by half should be the first step. It will not only deter future aspirants from spending heavily on elections since it will now be difficult to recoup any monies from the public treasury, it a way of saving the federal government some money, too.

In spite of the desperation to retain power at all cost, Nigerian lawmakers have now entrusted their political ambitions with godfathers. They depend on these godfathers to facilitate their victory through financial sponsorship. Sen. Godswill Akpabio’s alleged godfather activities in oil-rich Akwa-Ibom state is an example. The consequence of this, of course, is the massive looting of the public treasury to repay godfather sponsorships after winning elections. This type of godfatherism has created a chain of corruption that now seem unsolvable, especially as it is taking more dangerous roots in local politics.

Transparency becomes Difficult

The Nigerian Senate has a lot of power to make laws to suit personal interests. Where the executive does not cooperate according to S58(5), the Nigerian constitution allows lawmakers to re-pass a bill rejected by the President and upon achieving a two-thirds majority, the Senate can pass such bill into law.  Despite calls to the National Assembly for more transparency, legislators have refused to allow any. If not for Senator Sani’s revelations, Nigerians would only live in speculation of how much their elected representatives truly earn.

Nigerian politicians are less concerned with the cost they incur in public service despite the fact that about 87 million of the 190 million citizens live in extreme poverty. Monies that can be used to help fight economic hardship through infrastructural development, especially in education, are squandered. Whereas, cutting the salaries of federal legislators could influence salary cuts for state legislators and executive officeholders at the local government level, too. If this happens, it will help Nigeria fight corruption and the money saved from excessive pay can be diverted into infrastructure.

Akinyemi, Muhammed Adedeji is a Writing Fellow at African Liberty, a freelance columnist, and a satirist. He writes about governance, technology, and education. He can be reached on Twitter @theprincelyx.  

Photo Credit: Daily Post.