While there may be nothing so blatantly wrong with our adoption of the American Presidential style of government, the same cannot be said about the costs that come with it
It flies in the face of reason that our legislators are drawing a whopping N9 Billion as wardrobe allowance when the nation is in dire straits economically. Questions have been raised about this rather perplexing issue as per the responsibility of the government clothing its lawmakers. The times are definitely not ripe for such allowances and the amount involved is not reasonable given the current poor state of the nation’s economy. Details of the allowances in the public domain showed that each senator would be paid N21.5 million while a member of the House of Representatives would receive N17.5 million.
This is just one of the numerous allowances on the menu for the legislators which include furniture, housing, transportation and constituency allowances. Dr Bukola Saraki, Senate President, initially made frantic efforts to douse the flame of angry reactions that trailed the proposal. He said that contrary to what the public had been told, each senator would only earn N506,600 annually as wardrobe allowance. He also assured that the appropriate government agency responsible for fixing salaries and allowances would make further clarifications on the issue. So far, this explanation hasn’t come.
But even after that clarification has come and whichever position it supports, the questions arising from the entire idea of a wardrobe allowance for legislators in the country and its timing will still remain relevant.
Wardrobe allowance for legislators is not peculiar to Nigeria. Lawmakers in the United States from where our present system of government was derived receive wardrobe allowances. But in matters involving huge payments such as this, can Nigeria afford to adopt the American style without some form of modifications? This is partly the basis of the wild public rejection of wardrobe allowances for Nigerian lawmakers.
While there may be nothing so blatantly wrong with our adoption of the American Presidential style of government, the same cannot be said about the costs that come with it. In terms of level of economic development and ability to absorb the shocks that come with economic depression such as Nigeria is experiencing now, we are not anywhere near America.
That is the reason many Nigerians including this newspaper are of the esteemed opinion that wardrobe allowance should not be part of the fringe benefits on the plate of our new legislators for now. The country is virtually broke. President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed this when he said he met an empty national treasury. The situation is no better in the states where workers’ salaries are in arrears for as many as seven months. Even the Federal Government has indicated that it may have to borrow money to pay its workers.
A combination of these economic problems acutely plaguing federal, state and local governments makes the idea of wardrobe allowances for legislators ill-timed and repugnant. But we must concede the fact that coming out of fresh elections which, in our unique political clime, costs huge sums of money, the lawmakers must look for ways to recoup their electoral expenses.
This is mainly the reason for the long list of allowances, some of them very frivolous, which the legislators have lined up for themselves. The allowances are meant to serve as their own equivalence of the looting of the public purse by those in the executive arm of government who control huge departmental votes.
This is an unhealthy attitude. It is also a negation of the role of the legislature as a check against the excesses of the other arms of government. We urge the legislators to reject this so-called wardrobe allowances even if the law makes it part of their entitlements. They should do so as a demonstration of their concern for the poor state of the economy and as a sacrifice necessary to help save the nation’s economy from further decline.
In making this plea, we have in mind the millions of our unemployed graduates roaming the streets and for whom something needs to be urgently done, workers at the federal and state and local government levels, particularly primary school teachers who have waited for several months without salaries and who need to be paid regularly, the critical state of public utilities and infrastructure crying for urgent government attention among others.
But we must add that it is not enough to ask legislators and other elected officials of government to sacrifice their allowances without reflecting on those things that tend to make them want to create opportunities to make money for themselves, taking advantage of their positions. This brings us to the cost of electioneering in this country which are excessive, to say the least.
Many of our legislators come into the national and state assemblies and other elected public office holders into government with huge debts from campaign funding. Some had to sell off their very valuable assets to raise money for their campaigns, other obtained bank loans for this purpose. These loans have to be serviced and for this to happen, they explore all avenues, foul and fair, at their new place of work.
This trend is unhealthy and calls for a review of laws guiding our electoral process to become less cumbersome and costly. It will not only help our fight against corruption but encourage the less financially endowed but reputable candidates to show interest in the political process and to aspire to public office.