For Nigeria’s legislature, the last few weeks have been somewhat unsavory: the National Assembly seemingly scored three own goals (to borrow a phrase from the passionately, soccer-loving nation) and in rapid succession.
First was the constitutional amendment process, which after ratification by the requisite number of State Houses of Assembly was deemed to be complete without the assent of the President of the federation. This was promptly challenged in the law courts by civil society organizations and a Federal High Court ruled that the amendment process was still “inchoate”, to wit, in progress and required the assent of the President if it is to be deemed complete.
The nation was still trying to unravel the motives behind the first shot when the legislators fired another: they moved to enact a bill that would require all members of the National Assembly to be “automatic” members of their respective political parties’ National Executive Committees (NEC). In addition to the sheer potential unwieldiness of such NECs (there are more than four hundred and sixty members in the federal legislature), the situation would usurp the constitutional rights of parties to free association. In a recent public hearing held by the legislature, speaker after speaker repudiated the proposed enactment. There have been reports however, that the lawmakers are bent on speedy enactment of the bill, just in time for next year’s general elections. That would most probably provoke challenges in courts of law.
Then, just last week, for his comments to the effect that the National Assembly gulped a staggering and economically unhealthy 25% of the nation’s yearly overhead costs, an umbrageous legislature summoned, and stridently demanded an apology from Lamido Sanusi, the country’s Central Bank Governor; but if the lawmakers expected any repentance, they must have been taken aback. Sanusi resolutely defended his figures (which, reports show, tally with those of the Budget Office), and defiantly held that an apology was unnecessary.
The growing public disquiet over federal lawmakers’ earnings meant that in publicly summoning the Central Bank Governor, the lawmakers unwittingly drew public opprobrium and even accusations of coercion and selfishness. According to Punch, each serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria takes home N198.54m (about US$1.34m) annually while each serving member of the House of Representatives takes home N127.18m (about US$847,866.67). That said, Hamman Tukur, the recently retired boss of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the body charged with fixing remuneration of public officers, last week on a nationally televised program furnished what he called the official RMAFC-specified earnings (Table 1 below) for members of the National Assembly; he added that earnings by the said members above the given figures could be illegal.
Members of the National Assembly have over the past few weeks traded words with some State and Federal Government agencies over the former’s alleged interference in the affairs of the latter. Erstwhile president, Olusegun Obasanjo on August 4 ,2010, during a retreat for senior civil servants of Niger State, even reportedly “accused members of the National Assembly of corruption through the padding of the federal budget and collection of billions in unjustifiable allowances”. The Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives has also replied that “… for the record, all constituency projects are attached to the MDG fund and it’s the executive that awards the contract to any contractor. We have nothing to do with it. But we will continue to demand that projects are sited in our constituencies.”
The import of Sanusi’s thesis seemed lost in the miasma of the legislative branch’s apparent political one-upmanship. He, in expressing the need to stem the country’s rising debt profile, added that in terms of inflation, overheads were a crucial component of expenditure. He then spoke about the nation’s unsustainable petroleum subsidies as well as the legislature’s proportion of the national overhead costs among other paradigms. Even the oil-rich Middle East countries (which incidentally have managed their oil proceeds better than Nigeria has) are currently establishing processes for the withdrawal of energy subsidies.
One financial analyst (Kenneth Ife) in underscoring Sanusi’s thesis, added that the percent increases in the National Assembly’s overhead between 2008 and 2009 (about 35%) as well as that between 2009 and 2010 (>20%) substantially exceeded inflation-indexed values.
The assembly members themselves admitted last week during their deliberations on the “Sanusigate” that their approval ratings among the citizenry had tanked substantially; and these three “own goals” most probably, did not help them. There are however, two pending bills that, if properly addressed, would certainly help their ratings. The first is the Freedom of Information Bill, trophied in ten years of the branch’s dust and which would ensure transparency and good governance; two development issues which have plagued Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Donor Agency initiatives for the country. The other is the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which would ensure efficiency and transparency in the country’s economic mainstay. (Oil and gas account for more than 80% of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings).
Finally, in the light of recent political developments, unless the country’s Supreme Court is caused to determine (and sooner rather than later) the limits of the legislative branch’s oversight and appropriating powers, ghosts of the country’s past may yet reprise.