10th N’Assembly must cut its running cost, By Yemi Adebowale

The race is gathering momentum. I’m talking about the battle for the positions of President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the incoming 10th National Assembly. The good, the bad and the ugly have thrown their hats in the ring. It’s a coat of many colours. For me, the two chambers need crusaders to pilot their activities from next June. Legislators must look out for genuine reformists and vote them in as principal officers. The chambers need massive transformation and rebranding. The era of cash-guzzling and rubber-stamp National Assembly must end.

This area of funding for the National Assembly is a vital part that must be reformed. Federal lawmakers have become a burden on this country for too long. It is as if they are in the two chambers basically to fill their pockets. In the 2023 budget alone, the National Assembly will gulp N228 billion. That is, the 469 legislators, the civil servants and the two agencies under the National Assembly will gulp N228 billion in 12 months. Trust me, these hawks will get this money out in full.

In traumatised mother Nigeria, the National Assembly is one of the places for amassing megabucks. This has been the pattern in the last 24 years of democracy. The lawmakers feed fat while the masses of the people they represent wallow in abject poverty. When it comes to milking our commonwealth, they unite. At this stage, no lawmaker talks about belonging to APC or PDP. Nobody talks about North or South. Members of the ludicrous ruling “change” party simply bury their “change” mantra and enjoy the draining of our commonwealth. This ugly era must end in the 10th Assembly.

During this outgoing 9th Assembly, senators were each receiving N13.5 million monthly as running cost. Add salary to it and it will jump to about N14.5 million monthly. Those in the House of Representatives each get N9.5 million monthly as running costs. Add salary and it will jump to about N10.2 million monthly for each House of Representatives member.

Thanks to the senator who represented Kaduna Central in the 8th National Assembly, Shehu Sani. But for him, we would not have these facts and figures. Traumatised Nigerians are further devastated by these statistics. Hunger and poverty in our land are becoming unbearable; the eight years of the Buhari government have been horrendous, with millions of Nigerians losing jobs. A country where millions of people go to bed without dinner and wake up not sure of where breakfast will come from can’t continue paying this much to lawmakers.

A country where thousands of civil servants in some states have not been paid for months should not continue a legislative treat like this. This luxury must not continue in a country with a comatose economy, where millions of graduates roam the streets without jobs. It is also necessary to stop these heartless payments so that the National Assembly would be attractive only to people with ideas; not people that are after megabucks.

No doubt, our lawmakers need to cover running costs on things like travels, medicals, consultancy, maintenance of constituency offices, visits to constituency, office work and maintenance of facilities in their offices at the National Assembly and constituencies. They also need good money to effectively carry out their oversight functions. However, continuation of these monthly humongous figures can’t fly amid suffering in our land.
I can still clearly recollect that in 2012, the United Kingdom-based Economist magazine concluded that Nigerian lawmakers were the highest paid in the world. This must not linger. For me, the monthly running cost for each federal lawmaker should not exceed N2 million. These lawmakers must sacrifice their comfort in this era of despair. I believe that the bureaucracy of the National Assembly should be allowed to directly handle the travels and medicals of these lawmakers to end abuse and corruption in this process. Yes, the bureaucracy would try to drag them back with bottlenecks, but with reformist leaders in the 10th Assembly, these bureaucrats will fall in line.

The 10th National Assembly needs reformist leaders who will end spending incongruity in the chambers by cutting down its expenditure in the interest of Nigerians; new leaders courageous enough to end these cold-blooded payments to lawmakers; reformists that will ensure that all outflows to the legislators are transparent.

Lawmakers of the 10th Assembly must cut down running expenses and free the funds for projects that will directly touch the lives of the masses of the people. Our dear legislators must be subjected to greater austerity measures in an era of economic depression in Nigeria. I will like to see aspirants for the leadership positions in the two chambers campaigning along these lines.

Let’s flip to the jesters in the race for President of the Senate. Honestly, I find the candidacy of Godswill Akpabio and David Umahi repulsive. I’m shocked that they have indicated interest in this position. Akpabio and Umahi do not fit into the reformist leaders I have been talking about all along. These two guys have no iota of integrity.

Akpabio’s tenure as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs exposed his true character. I have no regret regularly referring to him as a jester following the manner he messed up as a governor, a senator and then as minister. He confirmed this with his volte-face in the House of Representatives’ probe in 2022 over his earlier allegation that the lawmakers got 60 per cent of the contracts awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission. Akpabio, who made the claim on national television, turned around to deny it a few days after he was told to provide the list of the profiting lawmakers. He went back crawling to the lawmakers, saying he referred to old contracts awarded by the NDDC which had not been paid for, and some of which are part of the constituency projects of the lawmakers. Akpabio is believed to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of NDDC contracts.

Can you imagine Akpabio denying something that was recorded? This is a remark we all heard clearly. Well, this is the true character of Akpabio. It tells you how warped he is and can’t be trusted with anything, right from his days as commissioner in Akwa Ibom State. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila scornfully read Akpabio’s response, which came after he threatened to sue the minister for failing to prove that NDDC awarded contracts to them. With a man like this, Nigeria will continue to lag behind. Akpabio has no business in the race for President of the Senate.

How can Umahi, a Fascist, be talking about becoming the President of Nigeria’s Senate? This man has spent all his eight years as governor pummeling opposition politicians. Umahi has also been using Ebonyi State’s security outfit, Ebubeagu, for all sorts of atrocities. The list of preys is growing daily. I can’t forget how he thumped Labour Party’s Senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South, Linus Okorie.

Okorie was abducted and thoroughly beaten because he did not respond to invitations by Ebubeagu to answer questions on “dealing in hard drugs and other offences, spreading fake news against Umahi and activities/utterances that provoked the violence that engulfed Onicha in 2021”. What is the business of Ebubeagu with drug traffickers? Has Ebubeagu taken over the responsibility of NDLEA? Okorie was kept in Abakaliki prison for weeks and later arraigned in a Magistrate court.

I will also not forget how Umahi harassed and dehumanised PDP’s Publicity Secretary in the state, Chika Nwoba, “for circulating fake news in the social media.” Nwoba was punching holes in the rambling administration of Umahi, with facts and figures and the badly shaken Umahi decided to send Ebubeagu after him. He was arrested, thoroughly beaten and handed over to the police.

Umahi believes not being a ranking Senator can’t stop his ambition of becoming President of the Senate. A few days back, I heard one of his commissioners saying “he is fully qualified.”

The commissioner, a lawyer adds: “Much has been said about ranking in the Senate as if it is a condition precedent for being a Senate President. This sentiment has limited the thoughts of legal minds and suppressed the pre- eminence and considerations of the rule of the Constitution on who qualifies to be elected as Senate President.

“By Section 50 of the Constitution, every member of the Senate who has taken an oath of membership is eligible to be voted for as President. Ranking is not given any iota of pre-eminence… A first timer is clearly empowered by Order 3 of the Senate’s Standing Orders 2015 as Amended to contest for President.”

Much as I agree that the “ranking Senator” requirement for the Presidency of the Senate is unconstitutional, saying Umahi has capacity, pedigree, character, and performance record to lead the Senate is preposterous. This Ebonyi governor lacks all the qualities listed. He has no business in this race for President of the Senate.
My conclusion today is very simple. Senators of the 10th Assembly should look beyond Akpabio and Umahi for leadership. The Senate and House of Representatives should look towards genuine reformists as leaders; people who will berth a new National Assembly. This is the only way forward.

Source: First published in Thisday Newspaper

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