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The Salaries Of Legislators

To leave legislators’ salaries mouth-watering as it appears to be at present is to suggest that they are more productive than other workers

he Senate Leader Ali Ndume recent­ly stirred the hornet’s nest when he said that the working days of the legislators in a given week are only three days as opposed to the constitution­al five working days. Beyond the constitu­tionality of the deposition, it leads to the vexed question of how much is the right pay for a federal lawmaker? Some people say nothing more than a million Naira an­nual sitting allowance will do, while the legislators themselves contend that they are not overpaid, and that if they are to take a salary cut at all, it must cut across both the executive and judicial branches.

There has been an endless debate on the matter. And the debate has only become keener since the inauguration of the Mu- hammadu Buhari administration. Yet the debate has hardly been guided by verifi­able facts. Few Nigerians can say with any degree of certainty what members of the National Assembly — the Senate and the House of Representatives– earn to­day. Rather unfortunate is the fact that the wages of our legislators appear to be shrouded in secrecy. All that is in the pub­lic domain regarding the matter is based on speculation. Not even the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Com­mission (RMFAC) has come out with an­ything quite definite on the wages of the legislators.

The renewed controversy over how much a law maker should earn should rightly start with a full disclosure of the salaries and allowances of members of the Na­tional Assembly. At present, many Nige­rians believe that our lawmakers are earning  dispro­portionately huge salaries, hence the clamour for a downward review of their wages.

We have no doubt that lawmaking is a serious business. Yet it can be done on a part time ba­sis as is the case in some democracies.

The problem as it is in Nigeria is that many people perceive our law­makers as doing too little to deserve the jumbo pay that they are perceived to be earning. With only three days of formal sitting in a week, federal legislators should not earn more than the take-home pay of a senior civil servant. Yet when all is summed up, the wages and salaries of an average federal legislator surpasses that of a university professor who puts in a minimum of five days of teaching, aside from research time and students’ project supervision. This sort of fiscal inequity should be unaccep­table in a just society. The suggestion that they take a pay cut by accepting no more than N1million is not a bad idea.

While the legislators’ argument that the pay cut should be extended to both the execu­tive and judicial branches may seem like a red herring, it deserves to be given seri­ous consideration in the wake of the dwin­dling cash flow situation of the country. Many states as well as federal ministries and departments are owing their workers several months in unpaid salaries.

Public wages in the country have generally been skewed in favour of the political es­tablishment. A cursory look at the wages and perquisites of political office holders explains why such offices have become too attractive, leading to deadly rivalry among contestants. For instance, the sala­ry of a local government councillor is such that when put side by side with that of a university professor, the latter comes off as a mere peanut earner. We do not think that this is justifiable given their respec­tive job definitions and productivity levels.

The reported reduction of their pay by both the president and vice president, however symbolic, is a move that should encourage other political office holders to toe that line. At a time when many civil servants are still being owed months of wages at both the state and federal levels, such pay cut is bound to free some funds towards the de­frayment of the unpaid salaries. The RM- FAC should thus hasten the downward review of the salaries and wages of our law­makers at both the federal and state lev­els. They should be realistic and in tune with the fiscal realities of the nation.

To leave legislators’ salaries mouth-wa­tering as it appears to be at present is to suggest that they are more productive than other workers. Not only does this breed resentment towards the legislators but also casts them as in­sensitive to the plight of other Nigerians.

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