news/features: Is the National Assembly Trying to Crush Grassroot...

news/features: Is the National Assembly Trying to Crush Grassroot...: By Masara Kim The issue of Local Government administration in Nigeria has always been a very contentious one for years now. This is in...

Is the National Assembly Trying to Crush Grassroots Development?

By Masara Kim

The issue of Local Government administration in Nigeria has always been a very contentious one for years now.
This is in view of the enormous responsibilities vested on this tier of government which is often far greater than the resources at its disposal needed to meet these needs.
While activities at the Federal and State governments are often given prominence, Local Governments are quite often seen as a less important tier of government, so much so that its role as the primary tool which is supposed to engender development at the local levels has been systemically eroded in the last few years.
Additionally, there have been allegations in some quarters that some state governments mostly wouldn’t release funds meant for local governments without having to “edit” some figures for some God-knows reasons.
It is against this background that prior to the 2012/2013 constitution amendment; heated calls for local government autonomy began to emerge. In a swift response to the people’s cry, the National Assembly enlisted local government autonomy among issues of top priority as it commenced the amendment exercise.
Sadly enough however, while people at the grassroots during the members’ public hearings held at the various constituencies nationwide largely endorsed the call for local government autonomy with most people subsequently voting for it when the issue was put to public vote through Short Message Service (SMS), the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly in one of its sittings voted against the clause for Local Government autonomy.
Although the Lower Chamber later endorsed, it the Senates’ position was against direct payment to local government areas from the funds of the federation. Of the 99 lawmakers who registered to vote on the issue, 59 voted in favour (of the striking out of the clause) and 38 against with two abstaining from voting.
At its sitting on Tuesday, July 16, the Senate decided, inter alia to alter Section 84 of the Constitution (by inserting a new subsection 5a and subsection 8) to read that: “Any person who has held office as President or Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent President or Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
The CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi, in his presentation at the Second Annual Capital Market Committee Retreat in Warri, Delta State, said the country spends 70 per cent of its earnings on salaries and entitlements but perhaps the Senate is unaware or unconcerned that it now wants life pension for principal officers of the National Assembly.
The CBN governor had in a lecture last year claimed that 25 per cent of the overheads of the Federal Government budget went to the National Assembly.
“Twenty five per cent of the overhead of the Federal Government budget goes to National Assembly. I have figures from the Budget Office for the year 2010. Total government overhead is N536, 268,49, 280. Total overhead of the National Assembly is N136,259,768, 112 which is exactly 25.1 per cent of Federal Government overhead. The overhead of the National Assembly as a percentage of the Federal Government budget in 2009 was 19. 87 and in 2008 was 14.19”, he had said.
The Senators rather than initiate laws that will help the country out of its thickening economic mud and boost local development however want life pay aside the huge remunerations and allowances allocated to them.
A look at the allocation to the National Assembly since 2000 when they started their oversight of the budget would show that the members love climbing high.
Reports have shown that with the exception of 2006, when the total allocation to the members stood at N39,810,255,969, dropping from N55,422,457,000, the previous year, it had always been on the rise. In fact, that decline in 2006 was consequent upon the schism and chasm in the relationship between the members and then President Olusegun Obasanjo.  But the figures almost doubled in the following year’s budget.
A breakdown of the lawmakers’ take home is reported to be Basic Salary (BS) = N2, 484,245.50, Hardship Allowance: 50% of Basic Salary = N1, 242,122.75, Constituency allowance: 200% of BS = N4, 968,509.00 and Furniture Allowance: 300% of BS = N7, 452,736.50.
Others are Newspaper allowance: 50% = N1, 242,122.70, Wardrobe allowance: 25% = N621,061.37, Recess Allowance: 10% = N248,424.55, Accommodation: 200% = N4,968,509.00, Utilities: 30% = N828,081.83, Domestic Staff: 35% = N863,184.12, Entertainment: 30% = N828,081.83, Personal Assistance: 25% = N621,061.37, Vehicle Maintenance Allowance: 75% = N1,863,184.12, Leave Allowance : 10% = N248,424.55, One off payments (Severance gratuity): 300% = N7,452,736.50 and Motor Vehicle Allowance: 400% of BS = N9, 936,982.00.
“The total sum per month is outrageous. Yet some people who are hard working will not earn a senators one month salary in their entire working life. I see why some people would go extra miles to kill just to get into political offices” as noted a public affairs analyst, Gbadebo Adegode. This is even with the recent suspension of constituency projects by the Goodluck Jonathan administration and the 25% downward review of the basic salaries of public office holders including lawmakers.
In some instances, outrageous amounts close to One hundred Million Naira have been bandied as what members of the senate receive on a quarterly basis as constituency allowances which are often accounted for.
Governor Gabriel Suswam who was a two-time member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives before he became the governor of Benue State, apparently appalled at the turn of events in the House had said, during a lecture at the University of Abuja, that only 20 of the House of Reps members, in a gathering of 360 were useful.
This perhaps explains why Sanusi at the retreat in Delta State, after faulting the ‘wastage’ of the so-called funds on the maintenance of the 774 Local Government Area chairmen, their   aides, councilors and other appendages of the third tier of government, said that the country does not need over 100 senators, 400 members of the House of Representatives to make laws because of the chunk of monies that are spent annually on these institutions without commensurate results.
Nigerian Senators and House of Reps Members’ who self-assigned hefty annual allowance totaled more than N70 billion in 2012, an amount huge enough to inject at least a 450 Megawatt of power into the national power grid, a cost analysis by Premium Times has shown.
In that report, that sum will complete the dualization of one of the nation’s deadliest highways - the Abuja-Lokoja road - which, relative to other highways across the country, is well funded, but in reality, remains one of the most fund-starved projects.
In the 2012 budget, after years of being abandoned, the four lots of that road that leads from the Federal Capital Territory only received N2 billion apiece, a figure lower than the presidency’s 2012 feeding cost and the senates bill for new cars. Both subheads cost N2.3 billion.
The report by Premium Times adds that beyond the cars, the lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives received in 2012, a total of about N71 billion in self-allocated allowances which were widely considered illegal, and famously branded, jumbo.
At an average $1 million (N155million) per megawatt of electricity, - a ratio considered comparatively standard by experts - that can provide extra power to the tune of at least 450MW to a nation shuddering under extreme power shortage.
The illegal allowances for the year is almost the amount the Federal Government needs to fund the Calabar power station, under the National Independent Power Project (NIPP).
Combined with the less than 200MW Ibom Power Plant in neighbouring Akwa Ibom state, the production value is expected to adequately feed both states, minimizing the operational cost of the nation's small scale businesses from running a barbing saloon on road sides to powering the multi-billion naira Tinapa project.
Despite claims they were reducing their huge pay in 2011 and the later downward review of their basic salaries by the GEJ administration, Nigerian senators currently draw a scandalous N180 million illegal allowance each annually, retaining them as perhaps the world’s highest paid lawmakers as reported Premium Times.
The amount, covering the four quarters of the year at N45 million apiece for each senator, is the controversial “jumbo allowance”, an outsized, self-apportioned remuneration enjoyed by the legislators.
It excludes their basic benefits like salary - a far lesser figure -and essential allowances approved by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.
It also does not include allowances and estacodes the senators draw while on committee work within and outside the country.
A member of the House of Representatives also receives N36 million for the same benefit, while the principal officers for the two chambers are paid a far higher amount after every three months.
A purported 63 per cent pay review agreed to by a new session of the National Assembly in 2011 to stem public uproar stirred by corruption charges involving former Speaker, Dimeji Bankole and Deputy, Usman Nafada, has hardly made a significant difference.
An analysis of the lawmakers’ pay structure shows that where such reductions were made, the margins were small, with the members retaining much of the privileges that guaranteed them the leading spot on the list of most expensive lawmakers around the world.
Had that review been appropriately done as claimed, a senator would have earned N22.2 million as quarterly allowance, while House members would get N15.5 million each.
But current “illicit” allowance stand at N45 million for each senator, and N36 million for each House member, indicating a 25 per cent and 14.3 per cent cuts respectively, according to lawmakers interviewed by Premium Times.
For the 109 senators, the earnings they have maintained amounts to N19.6 billion a year, while N51.8 billion is spent for the House for the same period, with a total cost of N71.4 billion.
It adds to a string of cost the National Assembly keeps annually, including hefty multi-billion Naira payout for the latest models of cars reported by Premium Times in 2012.
But how much do these critical tiers of government i.e. local governments get per month? And how much really gets to them in spite of the fact that they represent the closest link between government and the people?
Even though local government reforms clearly articulated the idea of a three-tiered federation in Nigeria, its consequent recognition of “revenue sharing and administrative arrangements” has led to many problems including inter-governmental conflicts, structural organizational problems, and financial problems, shortage of qualified manpower, the place of traditional authority in local government and many others.
The 1999 Constitution outlines the main functions of the local government in Nigeria as 1. The consideration and the making of recommendations to a State commission on economic planning or any similar body on: 2. the economic development of the State, particularly in so far as the areas of authority of the council and of the State are affected, and 3. Proposals made by the said commission or body; 4. Collection of rates, radio and television licenses; 5. Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm; 6. Licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts; 7. Establishment, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences, 8. Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a State; 9. Naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses; 10. Provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal; 11. Registration of all births, deaths and marriages; 12. Assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and 13. Control and regulation of: Out-door advertising and hoarding, 14. movement and keeping of pets of all description, 15. Shops and kiosks, 16. Restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public, 17. Laundries, and 18. licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor.
Additionally, with regard to these functions, a local government council shall include participation of such council in the Government of a State as respects the following matters - 1. The provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; 2. The development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of materials, 3. The provision and maintenance of health services; and 4. Such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of the State.
Local governments worldwide are considered as strategic institutions for the provision of basic socio-economic, environment and other services. Their strategic vantage proximity to the grassroots makes them valuable and viable for providing effective and efficient services required by the community. They can and should be engines of growth and drivers of development. They provide cultural, educational, management, research, commerce and political services. They also offer employment, health facilities and boost the local economy, and by extension, the national economy. Yet, this tier of government has suffered the worst in Nigeria in terms of development with the State and National Assemblies only adding to the pain as can be seen in the recent actions of the NASS during the recent constitution review where lifetime pays were approved for principal officers against the need for a more workable law to boost the financial standing of local governments.
As the constitution review exercise comes to an end, Nigerians must look into this critical sector with a view to restore sanity in the system by speaking out where necessary before it becomes too late. There have indeed been fears that local government officials will misuse funds meant for development but are local governments not part of the country that the nation’s anti-graft agencies cannot investigate them? Is it better to have the funds used at the state level than the local government where someone can be specifically identified and dealt with when the need arises and where there is more need for development?
Rather than continue to operate a centralized system of administration under a decentralized structure as federalism, why not consider the people’s request while exploring ways to strengthen the law touching on local government administration in order to ensure proper service delivery, effective project execution and monitoring for effective grassroots development?
How would life payments for principal officers improve the lives of the people at the grassroots and when will there be laws mandating state governments to stop looking up to these local governments for revenue while looking inwards to find ways of boosting Internally Generated Revenue, leaving what is meant for the LGAs to be specifically for them, but to only monitor its usage where necessary? Perhaps it is true that Nigeria doesn’t need 774 local governments as noted the CBN governor during his speech in Warri, Delta State because apparently, most of these local governments are powerless in all aspects. Why not scrap them to allow for state and federal government administrations alone in the nation’s political system?
Although this is but a correctable opinion, if care will be applied in all the issues involved, it would be realized that something drastic, urgent and magnificent needs to be done, and has to be done fast.