How Saraki and co squander N265bn passing 96 bills

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It’s no news any longer that the cost of running Nigeria’s National Assembly is the direst compared to others elsewhere around the world. Now they also have the unenviable record of being one of the worst productive.

By Gbenga Ogundare

Senate President Bukola Saraki will like every Nigerians, especially students of government, to keep this in their scrap books: the 8th Senate just broke a record by passing 96 bills in two years, the highest ever in the history of the national assembly. Their best effort used to be 65 bills passed within the same period.

That’s some interesting history, right? Add this too: Saraki can swear on oath the 8th Senate is also the most open arm of government in the history of Nigeria till date.

“Distinguished colleagues, our invited guest today, it can be said that the 8th senate has led the way in open government and transparency, aside opening our books to the public, we have also opened what we do to the world and we are the first to adopt live streaming of plenary and deliberations globally… He announced to a plenary session on June 10.

Now here is a piece of interesting history the clever politician will do anything to make you forget in a hurry: the Senate President and his gang in the National Assembly lavished a princely N265 billion of tax payers’ money in order to break the legislative record he bragged about on June 10.

The arithmetic is not exactly difficult for any curious mind. In 2015, the NASS cornered some N150 billion in the year’s Appropriation Act—more than the entire capital votes of 20 Ministries, Departments and Agencies [MDAs] put together.

The following year, the legislators also plunked down N105.4 billion as recurrent expenditure while N9.6 billion went into capital projects—making a total of N115 billion spent to keep the lawmakers building the nation in their own ways.

Now, place that side by side the record 96 bills Saraki told Nigerians the Senate passed between May 2015 and May 2017, then it would have amounted to an average of two bills per month. And for each bill, the lawmakers would have also spent no less than N2.7 billion to make the feat possible!

Don’t wince yet. They are just a band of 469 nation builders–consisting of 109 senators, 360 Representatives, legislative aides, the National Assembly Commission and the Legislative Institute, so, maybe that’s not too much to lavish on the lucky Assembly. Well, except that the return on the huge investment has been woeful compared to their ilks elsewhere in the world.

While Saraki and his kindreds are raising the roof for passing 96 bills into law in two years, members of the United States Congress, within the same period, introduced a total of 10,078 bills and passed 329 of those into laws just between 2015 and 2016.

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Yet, statistics showed that the figure is indeed one of the lowest for any U.S. Congress session compared to the 604 bills passed by the two chambers in just 1999, and 460 between 2007 and 2008.
And on top of that, the Nigerian lawmakers earn more than those hardworking legislators in other climes, according to a 2012 analysis by the UK-based Economist.

The report compared lawmakers’ earnings with their countries’ GDP – what each citizen is worth if their nation’s total wealth was shared by the population.

The analysis showed Nigeria is ahead of all other democracies around the world, with its lawmakers taking 116 times what an average citizen bites off the GDP.

Kenya and Ghana are said to follow with ratios of 75 and 29.8 respectively.

Norway’s ratio was 1.8, while U.S. lawmakers took 3.8 of what their citizens received.

They are set to pamper themselves the more in 2017—with N125 billion already set aside for business as usual. Out of the largesse, the Senate will get N31.4 billion, out of which N1.856 billion is allocated to personnel (salary) cost. By inference, this simply translate to N17 million per annum as the basic salary of each of the 109 senators.

The upper chamber also assigned N4.4 billion for capital spending and N25.1 billion for overhead costs, although failed to break down the sub-head for overheads, thus supporting the conclusion that this is where the senators get paid the controversial quarterly allowance for each of their offices.

The House of Representatives, too, got a total of N49 billion, with N4.9 billion shelled out for personnel cost (N13.7 million per member per annum), N39.6 billion for overheads and N4.5 billion for capital projects. The lower chamber also offer no specific details of its overhead cost.

Also, N2.4 billion was proposed for the National Assembly Service Commission, with N961 million for personnel cost, N1.1 billion for overheads and N310 million for capital, while legislative aides got N9.6 billion, with N8.9 billion for personnel, N535 million for overheads and N150 million as the capital component.

The sums of N119 million and N142.7 million were proposed for the Public Accounts Committees of the Senate and House respectively, while the sum of N12.6 billion was proposed for general services, with N11.7 billion for overheads and N817 million for capital spending.

The National Assembly Legislative Institute got N4.3 billion, with N416.5 million for personnel cost, N1.2 billion for overheads and N2.72 billion as capital. The sum of N391 million was also budgeted for the service wide votes of the legislature.

And here is another history worth keeping in the memory. The lawmakers are compelled to make laws for only 181 out of the 365 days in a legislative year. In addition, they also have plenty of time to waste while they embark on their endless recess, so that gives them plenty of time to enjoy their chunks of national cake.

National Daily found out the senate sat for four days between June 9 and June 12, 2015 before taking off for a two-week break. It resumed on June 23 and had legislative sittings for another three days before going on another break again to resume July 28. The senators sat for 13 legislative days and again embarked on its annual vacation for six weeks.

That took them till September 23 from when they sat for six days before going on break to observe the October 1 independence day celebration. They didn’t resume legislative responsibilities until October 5 from when they held Plenary sessions till December 17, 2015 when they zoomed off for the Christmas and New Year break.

The Senate resumed on January 12, 2016 and worked for another 52 days before going on break for the Easter holidays for eight days. They sat for another 50 days that ended on Thursday, June 9, 2016.

In all, that’s approximately 155 days out of the mandatory 181 days they ought to discharge their legislative responsibilities to Nigerians. And the shortfall is aside from the almost 15 weeks of unrelenting recess the lawmakers observed within the same period.

By the way, the 2017 budget allocation for the National Assembly is N10 billion more than what it wolfed down in 2016. But don’t protest yet. Whether or not Saraki and his brigade will justify the investment is still some months away.

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