To speak of a political revolution where power is given back to the people in Nigeria once seemed farfetched. That was until the just concluded elections, where an incumbent government was toppled in a peaceful civilian-to-civilian democratic transition. For the fist time in the consciousness of several generations of Nigerians, the people’s use of their power, through the ballot box, was respected and the clamor and push for ‘change’ became Nigeria’s reality. Hannatu Musawa

But just as Nigerians are getting used to its new-normal, that hydra headed monster of political greed, selfishness and irrationality has already started popping its monstrous head back into our society; as if it had never left. This time it comes by way of an absurd piece of news that our newly sworn-in legislators are about to receive a whopping N8.64 billion as “Wardrobe Allowance.”

If this disturbing revelation turns out to be true, then one has to wonder whether there was some misunderstanding of the mantra of ‘change’ upon which most of the legislatures used to come into power. While most Nigerians understood the ‘change’ to signify a departure from the pilfering and depravity, which was seen to define former administrations, perhaps the vast majority of the legislatures understood ‘change’ to mean a change of outfit from the $1,000 Armani suit they wore yesterday to the $2,500 Givenchy tie they may choose to change into tomorrow.

Now listen, unless Coco Chanel, herself, is going to magically appear and stich every part of every one of the legislatures attire personally, this talk of bungo pay allocated for wardrobe allowance in light of the ensuing circumstance presently in Nigeria is completely out of order. But even ‘if’ the late great Ms. Chanel was to miraculously come back to life and recreate her masterpieces for Nigerian lawmakers, providing N8.64 billion as Wardrobe Allowance for lawmakers is just flipping unacceptable!

But wait… let’s not get it twisted; if everyone thought that every single political biped that climbed on the broom, printed posters with their faces next to that of General Buhari’s and rode onto power on the promise of ‘change’ in the last election was sincerely intentioned to represent that change, then we need to think again. With this preposterous claim that legislators are about to receive a whopping N8.64 billion as Wardrobe Allowance, to speak of a political revolution where real change has come into effect would seem illusionary were it not for the number of times the possibility has been raised, in precisely those terms, by our politicians who continue to nurse the outlandish fantasy that every member of APC truly represents the much needed change.

If this wardrobe allowance claim is true, I daresay, one could possibly be forgiven in thinking that the bubble in the corridors of the National Assembly must have a very strange reverse refractive effect where the world is viewed from the inside out. Otherwise how could any fat-cat, insatiable legislature justify N8.64 billion as Wardrobe Allowance despite the swelling problems our nation faces as a result of poverty, long unemployment lines, insecurity, social and infrastructure decay and general despondency?

If anyone had any doubt that a good number of our political class that speak of ‘change’ are having a laugh, then this allegation of bungo spending by the legislature is enough to stand them corrected; of that there can be no question!

 

Since 1999, the impediments that have ensured the rearward development of this democracy have been fast and furious. And now that we thought that there would be some reprieve, suddenly, we are confronted with this alleged incongruity of our undistinguished lawmakers and their abundant taste of an outrageous fashion sense.

 

If this account of legislature wardrobe allowance is true and allowed to stand, it would effectively amount to a sum of N21.5 million each for the country’s 109 Senators and N17.5 million each for the 360 members of the House of Representatives. Presumably, this amount is separate from other allowances such as; furniture, housing and transportation, which the lawmakers are expected to receive. Apparently, with regards to the housing allowance, each of the 107-senators besides the Senate President and his deputy, will be paid N4,052,800, while each member of the House of Representatives will be paid N3,970,425 upon assumption of office. Furthermore, it is assumed that the Senate President, Deputy Senate President and the Speaker, Deputy Speaker will be provided accommodation by the federal government. Can all this truly be happening while Nigerians continue to suffer from unpaid salaries, dwindling oil revenues, the precarious state of our economy, endemic corruption, insecurity high poverty rates, infrastructural underdevelopment and decay… the list goes on!

Based on the approval of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the housing allowance for political office holders is usually 200 per cent of their annual salaries, the furniture allowance is 300 per cent of annual salaries, while a motor vehicle loan is pegged at 400 per cent of their annual salaries. Honestly, this is preposterous and downright absurd! Where exactly is the Change that Nigerians voted for? Somehow, I don’t think this is the “change” that teeming Nigerians clamored and voted for during the last general elections. It is safe to assume that Nigerians voted for the status-quo to be changed not for it to continue like “the business as usual” manner of previous administrations. The 8th National Assembly members should indeed reflect the change Nigerians desperately wanted; the change under which they were voted into office.

Notoriously tagged as the most expensive parliament in the world, there is a widely held public conception that a significant part of the nation’s commonwealth is wastefully exhausted in the provision of our federal legislators. Since 2010, Nigerians have learnt of the federal legislature’s consumption of one-quarter of the nation’s budget. However, despite the stupendous sum the lawmakers appropriate unto themselves; their output has serially, dolefully and exasperatingly failed to measure up. Since the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and current Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s allegation in 2010 that 25% of the overhead of the Federal Government budget goes to the National Assembly, the money channeled into funding the legislative arm of government has continued to undoubtedly widen the gap between the legislatures and the people they are supposed to represent.

The huge sums allegedly accrued to the out-going National Assembly in the course of its tenure stretching from June 2011 to June 2015, is over bloated against the backdrop of their productivity level. Sometime last month, it was reported that the outgoing 7th National Assembly passed a total of 108 bills into law, out of the 1,068 bills sponsored and brought to its legislative attention. Yet, a good number of the bills passed were mainly thought to be executive-sponsored bills, made up of appropriation (budgetary) and supplementary appropriation bills as well as bills authorizing the Presidency to borrow loans. Hence, expert bills and public interest bills did not feature much. The outgoing 7th upper chamber succeeded in passing 67 bills (i.e. around 0.0925 bills per sitting), while the lower chamber passed the remaining 41 bills. Essentially, all the previous National Assembly members bequeathed the nation is 108 bills, leaving hundreds of other bills still pending, especially the very important and long-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which was re-presented to the legislative arm of government by former President Goodluck Jonathan in June 2012.

When juxtaposed with American legislators, the 108 bills passed by the two Nigerian chambers is one of the lowest for any session of the United States’ Congress, whose two chambers passed 604 in just 1999 and 460 bills between 2007 and 2008. It is indeed a far cry to the busy hub of the American Congress. Between the last two years (2013 and 2014), the American Congress was able to pass 297 bills. Yet, the referenced number of the bills has been considered to be one of the lowest in the country’s legislative session’s history. Nonetheless, while the United States pays its lawmakers an average annual salary of about $174,000 with Britain paying its parliamentarians approximately $105,000, their Nigerian counterparts receive salaries and several allowances amounting to about $1.050,000 per annum. What a joke!

 

Since news of this alleged wardrobe allowance leaked, alarm has been stirred by an upsurge in public anger over this venality that will soon likely to run like a virus through the legislative house. This reported revelation about the unhealthy spending at the national assembly has galvanized the outpouring of scorn and venom from a disappointed general public. At this juncture, with the way Nigerians are feeling, the members of the National Assembly should be grateful that there have been no angry mobs storming their hallowed chambers, nor much of anything in the way of organized protest.

 

But, in all honesty, the mood of anger is growing from a people who united, fought and won a revolution together and had such high hopes of ‘change’ for Nigeria. This piece of news has touched grievances, which had been built against the last administration about the growth of a self-serving political class, arrogant habits of rule and an inward-looking cadre of legislatures, for all of which the most appropriate adjective seems to be high-handed. Thank Goodness this is not happening in the olden days when the lynch mob would have been the opposition long before a public revolt!

 

This ‘business as usual’ attitude of our legislative representatives has got to become a thing of the past if we want this country not to go back to the almost fatal coma it was once in. This change should start with the lawmakers. They need to be reminded that they are in direct violation of section 70 of the 1999 constitution and they have violated their oath of office by appropriating to themselves public funds which they have no business appropriating.

 

In a nation where ordinary people are desperate to find N1,000 that will buy a week’s worth of malaria tablets, it is appalling that an average Senator in Nigeria is allegedly earning 15 million naira every month, while a member of the house of reps earn 10-Millon naira in a month, as reported. These figures are very frightening to the average Nigerian.

 

Nigerians deserve an independent inquiry into the issue of the finances of the National Assembly, including this allegation of jumbo wardrobe allowance. And any member of the National Assembly who supports this unreasonable initiative should disabuse their minds that they are members of a fraternity or a secret cult. Each of the members has a definite duty to come out and lay bare in the public domain any money they may be unlawfully offered. They are also reminded that, whether they like it or not, sooner or later, they will have to regurgitate all they have taken unlawfully.

Nigerians, on the other hand, should demand to be given a detailed publication and analysis of how much each and every one of the legislatures will be paid throughout their tenure. It is the right of Nigerians to have these figures almost immediately and it is a compelling duty on the part of the legislatures to lay bare the income being allocated to them as their salary, just as the president and vice president have. Also, any amount of money offered to any of them and all of them over and above their legitimate entitlement should be exposed to the public and paid back to the treasury with immediate effect.

 

The legislators shouldn’t allow their Ivory Towers to crack and strain under the weight of wholly unacceptable selfish personal advancement. Not after the bridge that Nigeria has just crossed. The members of the National Assembly are hereby reminded that the issue of an expensive designer wardrobe and overblown salary is a matter between them and the Nigerian people, not just an issue that they can hide under a pile in their closet.

We are all anxiously waiting to know the full truth behind the alleged wardrobe allowance and any overblown income that might be flashed their way. And the legislative members are rightfully warned that after what just transpired in Nigeria, people will have no problem marching into the National Assembly and demanding to know the truth about wardrobe allowance or any other allowance that sounds and looks outrageous. We can no longer afford to be complacent to the odium that pervaded the political and social environment in Nigeria in the past administrations.

It may just be time Nigerians #OccupyNASS if the alleged, almost, 9billion wardrobe allowance is confirmed. At this time when the top echelons of the Executive arm of government are canvassing for austerity measures for Nigerians, it may just be time we begin to say “NO” to such allowances. The people’s voice was heard loud and clear via the ballot boxes. Their voice can be heard yet again if they collectively initiate and sustain a public outcry against such madness. N8.64-Billion wardrobe allowance is definitely against the change Nigerians opted for. The National Assembly shouldn’t maintain the status quo of elected legislatures, who are there for themselves first, then their friends, then the people. The NASS members should be vibrant, up and doing, and above all, be compassionate to the plight of Nigerians. The NASS members need to show some sense of patriotism especially at this critical time and juncture of our history. They must initiate across the board, cut on their salaries and allowances to provide worthy example for others to emulate.

It is now the turn of the National Assembly members to have the same courage that was displayed by the Nigerian masses when they moved for change. This is no time for grand standing and it is no time for fat cats that take free rides out of the blood and sweat of innocent taxpaying Nigerians.

We all know that Nigeria is going through a desperate time. And desperate times calls for desperate measures. But even with that, we do not expect our legislators to take that desperation ‘literally;’ to the point of which they reduce the National Assembly, from a hallowed chamber filled with distinguished and honorable House members to a chambers filled with greedy, overdressed and desperate House-guys.

Hannatu Musawa

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