IDEAS Radio 17 May 2019

Episode 35: Welcome package for National Assembly members

Rotimi Sankore: And welcome to the final phase of Countdown 2019 on Nigeria Info 99.3 with me, Rotimi Sankore.  As usual, we feature all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 Presidential and Governorship handovers, election of National Assembly and State Assembly leaderships and appointment of ministers and commissioners.  Remember, you can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019NG, and myself @RotimiSankore. Aghogho Oboh is unavoidably away, but you can follow him on @aghoghoobo. You can also tweet at us at the station handle, @NigeriaInfoFM.

Our big topic today on both the IDEAs segment with Ayo Obe and on the main programme: Is the N4.68 billion welcome package for Nigeria’s incoming National Assembly members legal or ethical?  Welcome. With us in the studio today is Nigeria Info Politics Editor Georges Macnobleson-Idowu. Also welcome Ayo Obe.

Ayo Obe: Hello Rotimi.

GMI: Thank you.

RS: And joining us on the line will be the Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni.  Is he with us now? Ok. Alright, so … Adetokunbo are you with us now?

Adetokunbo Mumuni: I’m here, yes, yes.

RS: Ok.  Excellent.  Thank you so much for joining us.  SERAP has been very active on this.  Ok. In the studio with us is Ayo Obe.  Ayo will be leading on the IDEAS segment, and after that, kindly stay with us while we continue into the main programme … 

AM: Ok.

RS: … and I’m sure that our listeners will have lots of questions for you at SERAP.

AO: Ok, Rotimi.  Welcome listeners to the IDEAS segment of the Countdown 2019 programme.  Here we look at issues of Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability and you can contact us on @ideasradiong.  And you can also of course follow me on @naijama, but of course there you find that I’m not necessarily talking only about IDEAS issues.   

We’re looking at the Welcome package that the National Assembly members are due to get.  And you will remember that a few … a couple of weeks ago we were discussing the Farewell package that the outgoing members were going to get, and you might have felt that: Oh, the people who were not re-elected are lucky because they have so much to look forward to, including some lifelong pensions for … just for four years of work.  But, as it happens, the ones who are staying, or the ones who are coming in, are not missing out either, because we have this N4.6 billion package.   Now of course N4.6 billion sounds like a huge amount of money and it’s obviously going to be – if you’re on one side – you will  report it in that way so as to stir the maximum outrage – but then when you look at the fact that it’s disbursed among 469 legislators, you break it down and say what is each individual legislator going to get?  Of course the figures there are not so mind boggling but they are nothing to be ashamed of putting into your pocket either. If we look for example, at the money that an incoming member of the National Assembly will get, that’s an Honourable Representative, they are going to get nine … a total of N9.9 million for accommodation and for furniture, and then on top of that, they also get what is said to be a loan for transport or accom … and so on, but which so far has not entered into the books as anything that is to be repaid by the legislators, whether they are coming or going.  In the Senate, if you’re a Senator you get ten million … N10.1 million for your furniture and for your accommodation ,and these are obviously huge amounts which, for some people they may not look big, but I just wonder Abdulmumuni, what your understanding of the legality or the basis on which these sums are calculated is?

AM: Thank you very much.  I wonder what is the basis of an upfront … the upfront payment for any legislator?  I believe that the idea of salaries and wages, for instance, to be on the basis of work done, and it should be proportionate to the economic realities of the average Nigerian.

AO: Well I … I mean Abdulmumuni, can we really be talking about “the average Nigerian”, when we know that more than half of our population is living in poverty?  And apparently, these figures are based on a prescription by the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission, so there is supposed to be some kind of basis for it.

AM: You see, you see in saner environments, when emoluments or gratuity or what … anything is to be paid to any public worker, they would normally base it on the prevailing economic realities of their various countries.

AO: But, but Abdulmumuni, are we … can we base that on our prevailing realities?  As I said, more than half the population is living in poverty. So do we say that because people are living in poverty, their elected representatives should not be able to move from where they are based in Nigeria to take up their duties in Abuja?

AM: You see what I say is that I don’t see the basis of paying millions of naira in whatever, by whatever name called, to elected representatives of the people.  I don’t see any justification for it, because …

AO: Well can we perhaps look at the situation where an ordinary civil servant, say, as we know, many of them are transferred from their … from one state to another.  I’m not even going to talk about members of the Nigeria Police Force, because I think we know the situation that they are posted up, down, left, right and they have to find their way and sleep where they can, so there’s nothing like accommodation allowance not to talk of furniture in which … to put inside the accommodation.  But you’re not … are you suggesting that our elected representatives should be treated like ordinary policemen who risk their lives facing robbers?

AM: Tell me.  Let us reason carefully about what is special in going to a community  or a [??] to make laws for the good governance of the people. And tell me what is … let us reason what is so important about that?  Any … every Nigerian can easily do that. Police, Nigerian Police, members of the Nigerian Police Force do more serious life-threatening work … 

AO: Well those people are only going out to risk their lives Abdulmumuni, I mean, you don’t expect them to be paid furniture and accommodation allowance?

AM: What I’m saying is that members of the Nigerian Police Force face more serious  challenges … 

AO: Yes.

AM: … to their life and wellbeing, than these so called lawmakers, and that is the point.  If those people who engage, and who are our first responders in matters of security, are not given any special treatment, are not paid any fantastic amount of money, I don’t see a basis for a common legislator, permit me to use that, to be paid exorbitant amount of money for the assignment that he has voluntarily elected to take up!  That is the point that must be made, if this democracy … 

AO: The thing is, that you see, you have a situation where the seat of the law-making at the Federal level is in Abuja … 

AM: Yes.

AO: … and some legislators could be coming from Gwoza in Borno State, or from Port Harcourt, and they 

AM: Ok, let me immediately respond there … 

AO: … so that compared to legislators who are perhaps living in Nassarawa and can afford to commute; is it fair that they should be expected to finance their transport, their accommodation and everything in a place that is far from where they live, while others are enjoying something much more conducive?

AM: What I even think should make sense, is that when people … let me give an instance of when people attend conferences and whatever, they are paid not exorbitant amount of money, but to cover the cost of transportation.  

AO: Ok.

AM: I don’t think that if you are coming from Gwoza in Borno State for instance, and you are coming to Abuja to take up assignment you need millions to get to Abuja and go back home.

AO: Well no no no no, let me clarify something.  The expectation is that … not that you will be coming on a regular basis and staying in an hotel (which would quite frankly probably be cheaper) but you would come, rent accommodation and stay there, and that’s why you need these N9.9 million, or N10.1 if you’re a Senator,  because as a Senator you apparently occupy slightly more space, you know.  But I also to draw your attention Abdulmumuni to the fact that we are focusing on our legislators because when you add it all together, you can come up with this huge sum of N4.6 billion, but we look at what is being spent by the executive, the Presidency, for each Minister, at the state level for the State Governors and Commissioners, and we don’t expect them, we also don’t expect them to live the way that former Lagos State Governor Alhaji Lateef Jakande did, in his own house, driving his own car, do we?  Or is that unreasonable?

AM: You see, like I said the last time I was on the programme, I said we have to start having a reasonable conversation about what would not be ridiculous, but what would also not be exorbitant and outrageous.  You see unless we have this discussion as to a reasonable minimum standard, we would be serving those who are supposed to serve us, and we will all, Nigerians would be terribly endangered for it. I don’t see under any circumstance, in view of the prevailing Nigerian economic reality, that any group of Nigerians, because they are in government – whether executive or legislators – would now corner for themselves resources that would make life [??] for Nigerians.  I don’t think that is proper.

AO: I wonder whether you’ve been able to understand or engage the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission …

AM: You see the problem about that …

AO: … to understand the basis on which they come up with these sums, because as I said, some people would be looking and saying that: Isn’t it cheaper, considering the number of days that they spend in Abuja making laws, for them to stay in a hotel for three or four nights, and go home and live in their houses for the rest of the … and see their constituents and so on.  Have we done any comparative cost analysis for some of these things?

AM: You see, what I know is that when anybody is minimally engaged in what these legislators say they are engaged in, they do … let’s take private establishments for instance.  Let’s look at the standards of private establishments: are we saying when somebody in a private establishment is engaged, from for instance, as far as Borno State to come and work in Abuja, would a private establishment pay such person such hefty amount of money for the work to be done?

AO: But aren’t these the kind of questions we need to be engaging, because I think that in a way, we’re having a kind of instant reaction to the huge amount that is being listed, and we’re not being able to do the kind of comparison that allows us to say: Well, this is what private companies pay.  I’ve already given the example of police officers who, quite frankly if they get it, they get it a month late and a dollar short, or a day late and a dollar short, as the saying goes. And, so we have those two extremes. And of our legislators, are our legislators in between what the policeman doesn’t get and what the private sector gets, or are they way beyond the pale of both?  I think that if we have some of these. Because, the reason why I mention the executive, is this feeling is that it’s as if we’re being encouraged to point the finger at the legislators but to close our eyes to the huge amounts being spent by the executive. We remember the famous State House cutlery that is a recurring bad decimal in the annual Budget, so it’s as if we’re being asked to look at those and point the finger at the people who should be closest to us, and to ignore what is happening at the executive level.

AM: You see, the position that I state, and which is the position of SERAP, is that whether legislator or the executive, they are in no, there is no realistic economic basis for the amount being spent on those who rule … by those who rule us …

AO: Who are supposed to be governing us  …

AM: So we are not focused on the executive alone, we are not focused on the legislators  alone. Wherever we see …

AO: Profligacy

AM: …  thievery and roguery being indirectly made on the Nigerian people, we raise the alarm, and that is the alarm that we are raising here.  I don’t know duty and the basis for the work of the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission, what is the basis of their work. If a private establishment will not pay this … such an amount to his privately engaged worker, I don’t think there is any basis to pay, or to pay what is approved by Revenue Mobilization and Allocation  Commission,

AO: Ok  

AM: … and we should take it that way.  That is the point I want to make.

AO: Ok, Thank you very much.  I want to thank you very much Abdulmumuni for appearing on the IDEAS segment of the Countdown show.  We’re going to close the IDEAS segment now, but I think you’re going to still be on for discussions with Rotimi and Georges, and let me hope that it’s not just a concatenation of outrage, and outrage upon outrage.

RS: Well, SERAP is  … 

AM: Thank you very much.

AO: Thank you.

RS: Adetokunbo please hold on, after the ads for two or three minutes we’ll come back to you.  We want to talk to you about the legal action that SERAP is taking against the National Assembly for this.  We’re looking at those that have signed up so far, you asked people to sign up via your Twitter handle, and I can see that well over a thousand people have joined SERAP in the action, so we want to talk to you about it.  Just hold on for a few minutes.