The British parliamentary system of government is assumed to be the global reference point in the area of administration of operational funds for the work of law making in such a way that transparency and accountability are deeply enshrined.
The law makers of Great Britain are paid by the people of Britain and are therefore expected to justify the payments. Parliamentarians render proper accounts to their constituents and run open offices in their constituencies.
The democratic institutions of checks and balances are so viable that for every expense, the legislators are expected to show cause and indeed retire those expenditures through a verifiable mechanism.
The British government is a very transparent institution so much so that a citizen does not need to first of all file a freedom of information request before a response can be offered on the expenses spent to run the government.
These critical financing information are broadly uploaded on a publicly funded website.
So what exactly does a British parliamentarian earn?
This information is necessary before we can holistically analyse the Nigerian setting in which the financing of parliament is opaque and there is no transparency or accountability.
The basic annual salary for an MP from 1 April 2019 is £79,468. MPs also receive expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London or their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has set and administered MPs’ pay since 2011.
Further, we learnt that since the May 2010 General Election the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has been responsible for the regulation and payment of expenses to Members of the House of Commons.
The official website of the British Parliament also states that the House of Commons provides cash limited sum per year for the provision of postage paid envelopes and House of Commons stationery to all Members; this sum is in addition to any costs that may be reimbursed under the IPSA expenses scheme.
The beauty of British politics is manifested in the fact that precisely in June 2009 more than a million documents and receipts were made available to the public online. These related to MPs’ claims dating back to 2004/05 and up to 2007/08.
Relatedly, on 24 May 2011 the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was made responsible for determining MPs’ pay and setting the level of any increase in their salary. IPSA is also responsible for the oversight of the MPs’ pension scheme.
In the Commons, some MPs are paid more because of the special jobs they hold. For example, the Speaker and the Chairs of committees receive an extra salary.
Most MPs who are also ministers in the government are paid an extra ministerial salary.
The MPs’ Pension Scheme is part of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund. Further information about the scheme can be found on the PCPF website, so says the officials running the website.
To ensure that plural democratic institutions are alive to their responsibilities to the people, we are told that some money is paid to those political parties represented in Parliament who are not in government. This is to help ensure that the Opposition and minority parties have enough funds to carry out their parliamentary role and to put across their views. The amount given to each party depends on how many people voted for them at the last general election and how many of their candidates were elected. In the House of Commons this is known as ‘Short Money’; in the House of Lords it is known as ‘Cranborne money’; (https://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/pay-mps/)
Why do I have to dwell extensively on the British parliamentary system and the peculiarities of their ways of transparently administering public fund?
This is done because Nigeria gained political independence from Great Britain in 1960. The British spent well over a century governing Nigeria and so it is expected that as rational beings we have no reason why we can’t be transparent and accountable. Why is Nigeria accursed with thieving political elite when the British that gave us independence are very much practicing transparency?
Nigeria is also practicing partly British parliamentary system and the United States of America’s presidential system of government.
The United States of America is also a bastion of transparency and accountability. Then I ask, since we practice both British Parliamentary system and the USA presidential system of administration why don’t the political elite borrow those values of transparency and accountability?
How come then that it took the courage of an ‘internal rebel’ like Senator Shehu Sani who represented Kaduna Central senatorial constituency for Nigerians to know what each national law makers earn.
What then is the role of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, which is statutorily charged with fixing remuneration of public office holders?
Why are there wide disparities between what is allowed by this statutory body as payments for the legislators and the actual benefits they draw from the public fund?
Why would one senator for instance draw as much as N36m as monthly take home payment? This amount is almost the entire yearly salaries of half dozen university professors.
The skewed payment module adopted for the National Assembly members is actually one of the painful inanities of the current parliamentarians.
Other inanities are the humongous amount of public fund to be funnelled by the National Assembly to renovate the National Assembly complex and to purchase foreign sold exotic automobiles for these legislators.
Perhaps, it was in a bid to attempt to divert our attention from the huge financial wastages in running the National Assembly that prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to publicly defend the criticisms that the Federal law makers are overpaid. The President however shot himself on the leg because available statistical data shows that Nigeria pays more to run the National Assembly than even advanced economies like Britain and the USA.
As if Nigerians are imbeciles, president Buhari asked us to stop accusing the legislators of over paying themselves.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) said it is wrong for Nigerians to perceive the National Assembly as being “highly overpaid” for doing little.
He said the lack of trust in the lawmakers had made their critics not to see the enormous work they were doing for the country.
Buhari said this in Abuja last Wednesday when the House of Representatives launched The Green Chamber Magazine, a publication by the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs.
Buhari, speaking through Lai Mohammed, said the parliamentarians did not share money without working.
He said, “Hitherto, the public perception of the National Assembly is that of a bicameral legislature where overly comfortable and highly-overpaid members merely stuff wads of currency notes into their pockets for little work done. This wrong perception has resulted partly from the lack of understanding of the enormous work of lawmakers, especially outside the glare of television cameras.
“But with a magazine that will be the authoritative source of anything that goes on in the House – motions being moved, bills being passed, national issues being discussed and constituency projects – the public will be better informed on the activities of the House, and this will in turn reflect in an improved public perception.
“In addition, it will help the House to tell its own story, rather than relying on others to take charge of their narrative. It is said that no one can tell your story better than you.”
Even from that venue there emerged strong disagreements. The Guest lecturer seems to be saying that these legislators are motivated by cash. Just like the guest speaker said, Nigerians know that the legislators see Nigeria as a cash cow.
Perhaps, that true reflection of the National Assembly as being cash driven informed the mindset of the former Director of Kenya’s Anti-Corruption Commission and Director of the Kenya School of Laws, Prof Patrick Lumumba, who was a keynote speaker at the event, who then asked if the lawmakers were following the footsteps of Nigeria’s founding fathers who, he said, had a clear vision for the country.
He said, “I read your great founding leaders. I read the works of Nnamdi Azikiwe and I listened to him in those early days. He was as eloquent as he was passionate in telling Nigerians and Africans – because he was called the Zik of Africa – that leadership is about service. This magazine is an occasion for you to demonstrate to Africa that you are servant-leaders.
“I did not only read about Nnamdi Azikiwe, I also read about Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in his younger days – eloquent and passionate about Nigeria. You may not have agreed with all that he said and did, but you cannot deny the fact, the clarity of vision and the need for marshaling the people as the only antidote to the problems that have afflicted Nigeria, and by extension Africa.
“Now that you have been given the honour and privilege of serving Nigeria, now that Nigerians and Africans refer to you as honourable members, the question is: are you honourable members or horrible members? The question as to whether you are honourable members is determined by the service that you render to the people.”
The answers to the above interrogatories are notorious.
This is self-evident because over 90% of Nigerians view the current federal government officials as being very dishonest. So, the citizens simply laughed at the president for the above statement.
Yes! Mr. president’s statement defending the huge funding commitments to meet the running costs of the National Assembly does not meet the threshold of honesty because if you look at the decision of president Buhari to deprive Nigerians of the opportunity to buy foreign rice and then watch the same president allow the national assembly to buy multimillion dollars’ worth of foreign cars, all that you can say is that political hypocrisy is a religion amongst Nigerian political elite.
How can President Buhari banned importation of rice but permit importation of cars?
Why protect the agro-allied local industry but at the same time turn a blind eye to the need to protect the local automobile industry?
This is even as Kaduna and Nnewi in Anambra state have successful brands of strong automobiles but the National Assembly prefers to patronize foreigners rather than encourage local car builders to grow.
Look at this executive and legislative hypocrisy as follows: President Muhammadu Buhari last year, directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to block food importers’ requests for foreign currency in a bid to boost local agriculture in Africa’s most populous country.
It is a continuation of a policy that the president began after coming to office in 2015, when he banned the use of foreign exchange to import dozens of items including the staple food, rice.
Since then, domestic rice production has increased, says BBC Africa business, but the policy has been criticized for not taking the low capacity of local farmers into consideration.
The policy has also coincided with a rise in food prices, which has been blamed on insecurity in some of the country’s main food producing areas.
Then the annoying hypocrisy of the President shows up when it emerged that the Nigeria’s house of Representatives has concluded plan to purchase 400 exotic cars at the price of N12.6.646.800.00 each, which is $35,130 equivalent.
The lawmakers will purchase the cars abroad, with a clear rejection of the country’s local vehicle.
The cars which are 2020 Toyota Camry will serve as their official vehicle.
Insider sources say the lawmakers rejected patronizing the locally manufactured cars, describing them of low quality.
The idea to purchase the cars from Innoson motors Manufacturing, a Nigerian brand based in Nnewi, Anambra State, was rejected by the lawmakers who argued that the Innoson brand of cars do not have the kind of quality they prefer, and, hence opted for foreign cars.
However, checks on the Toyota website shows the 2020 Camry model cost averages between $25,000 (N9, 000,000 at N360 to a dollar) and $35,000 (N12, 600,000). (Says West Africa Reporters.)
The cost does not include shifting and delivery.
This is even as 14 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado Jeeps have been given to principal officers of the house. Another monumental inanity is the plan to renovate the National Assembly complex with humongous cash that can build the same housing assets many times over. A usually intellectual online newspaper has even compared this wastage to the negligible amount of money approved for strategic national infrastructures. These approvals by President Muhammadu Buhari for the pliant national assembly is said to be a bribe to keep them as hostages of the powerful office of the President and the unelected cabal in Aso Rock.
In the 2020 budget signed recently by President Muhammadu Buhari, the renovation of the National Assembly complex is set to gulp ₦37bn.
Details of the spending were first given by the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who said Mr. Buhari approved the amount after lawmakers met with him to explain the poor condition of the legislature building in Abuja.
The plan to spend the equivalent of $100m on repairing just one building at a time key infrastructure, hospitals and schools across the country remain in terrible shape, has angered many Nigerians, says Premium Times.
Many Nigerians have questioned how much would be required to build a new National Assembly if mere repairs cost that much.
For comparisons, while National Assembly votes that much for its own building, all that is earmarked by the government for capital projects by the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) — the agency saddled with repairing broken federal roads across Nigeria — is ₦36.6bn.
While the Federal Ministry of Works oversees the building of all federal roads, it is FERMA that is in charge of their repairs. Both agencies have struggled with poor funding over the years and have left hundreds of roads in the country in disrepair (see Premium Times; December 18, 2019). The education ministry got just N42bn.
This executive hypocrisy and legislative inanities stand absolutely condemnable and are hereby condemned. Nigerians must wake up and protect this democracy from being hijacked by cash-and-carry politicians populating the Presidency and the weak national assembly.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria