A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has asked Nigerian lawmakers to voluntarily return payments made to them outside the law guiding the salaries and allowances of public officers in the country.
In a statement on Thursday signed by its deputy director, Timothy Adewale, the group urged the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, to “persuade their members to voluntarily return running costs and other allowances so far collected, and now declared as illegal by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), and to use any returned funds to establish a trust fund to improve investment in education and health.”
RMAFC on Monday disclosed it did not provide for the payment of running cost to the lawmakers, which has been revealed as N13.5 million monthly for each senator and N10million for each member of the House of Representatives.
According to the commission, the payment is not covered by the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances) (Amendments) Act 2008 governing emoluments of political office holders in the country.
Reacting to the commission’s statement, SERAP said: “Under the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), the National Assembly cannot use its appropriation power for personal gain of lawmakers.
“The revelation that the National Assembly unilaterally increased their own allowances and running costs without any regard to due process of law constitutes a flagrant abuse of governmental powers for personal gain.”
According to the group, the lawmakers would never be able to check abuses of power by the executive or perform important oversight functions if they “are looking after themselves rather than standing up for the citizens.”
SERAP said returning the payments into a trust fund would avail government with more funds to address challenges in the health and education sector, as recently canvassed by American billionaire and major donor to Nigeria, Bill Gates.
“A trust fund can supply health aid, educational support, economic empowerment, dignity and overall improved social welfare of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of the population.
“This proposed trust fund can serve as one of the strategies for addressing the escalating crisis in our educational and health sectors, something which Bill Gates has discussed with the Nigerian authorities.
“Legislative powers are a means; the end is the liberty and prosperity of the citizens. The leadership of the National Assembly should therefore ensure that our lawmakers are more sensitive to the needs of Nigerians in the exercise of their legislative powers and that the powers are used to improve opportunities for the citizens, and access to quality education and adequate health for all Nigerians regardless of socio-economic status.
“To check against corruption, the leadership of the National Assembly should also urgently put in place a system of publishing an account of receipts and expenditures of members including on constituency projects, running costs and other allowances. Nigerians who pay the lawmakers ought to know in what manner the funds for the operation of the National Assembly are expended.
“Saraki and Dogara should take immediate steps to ensure the recovery and voluntary return of the ‘dirty money’, if they are to ensure that the Constitution’s integrity is not undermined by the evasion of political and legal accountability by the National Assembly. The trust funds would contribute to the efforts to improve investment in education and health for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.”
“Without accountability of our lawmakers, the country’s democratic project cannot function according to its constitutional design. By limiting the potential for the abuse of governmental power, the Nigerian Constitution protects individual liberty and requires all branches of government including the National Assembly to strive to improve their welfare and economic and social development and opportunities.”
“The Framers of the Constitution deemed this information essential if Nigerians are to exercise any control over their representatives and meet their growing responsibilities as citizens. Publication of statement of accounts of public expenditures would enhance the responsibility of the National Assembly by informing the public about the purposes and authority for certain expenditures.”
RMAFC, in the statement by its spokesperson, Ibrahim Mohammed, had said only the National Assembly Service Commission could explain how the lawmakers arrived at paying themselves such an unapproved allowance.