Nigeria reportedly has the second highest-paid federal legislators in the world with each senator earning around $597,000 per year in salaries and allowances. This results in a total of ₦20 billion ($65 million) per year and ₦79 billion ($260 million) at the end of each legislative tenure. Given that the members of the Senate are only required to sit for at least 180 days a year, this equates to ₦1 million a day.
For the entire National Assembly, the annual cost for 109 Senators and 360 House of Representatives comes to around ₦69 billion ($226 million) a year - enough to pay 191,954 civil servants the minimum wage. This is happening in a country that has the highest number of people living in extreme poverty and the majority of its population living on less than $2 a day.
Value for Money
Unfortunately, the country also suffers a greater opportunity cost - we lack basic welfare and infrastructure such as access to clean water and electricity. A significant part of the ₦69 billion spent annually could have been reinvested into income-generating infrastructure or public services particularly in the power, transport and education sectors. Some argue that this is evidence of misplaced priorities, especially when you conder that the proposed capital expenditure for health or education in 2020 is ₦20 billion less than the annual salaries of the National Assembly.
So can paying lawmakers high salaries be justified?
In countries like Singapore which has the highest paid legislators in the world, high pay has been justified on the basis of attracting the best hands to public office. This is hardly the case in Nigeria where the academic qualification required for membership of the senate is a secondary school certificate and the certificates of some of the senators have been regarded as questionable.
Neither can the high pay be justified on the basis of making laws. 274 bills were passed by the Nigerian senate between 2015 and 2019. In the US, 442 laws were passed by Congress between January 2017 and January 2019 alone. While it's difficult to value the impacts of any given bill, the contrast is glaring.
What Are We Paying For?
The National Assembly arguably creates a lot of value for society.
Under the Second Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution, federal lawmakers are exclusively responsible for making laws that affect at least 68 aspects of Nigerian society and share the function with state lawmakers in about 30 other areas. The efforts of Nigerian lawmakers have resulted in comprehensive laws being developed in critical areas such as cybersecurity, child protection, criminal justice and freedom of information.
But they do more than lawmaking.
The Senate is also responsible for other functions such as the screening of ministerial appointments and the establishment of committees for the investigation of the executive and public bodies in general. In 2014, a senate committee was responsible for investigating $20bn oil funds unaccounted for by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation after the Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi raised the alarm. In 2018, the Nigerian Senate also investigated the sum of $3.5 billion allegedly spent by the NNPC on oil subsidies without approval.
Lastly, the election of Senators and House of Representatives from constituencies all over the country also ensures citizen representation at the highest level of government.
So, there is no doubt that these functions are extremely crucial. But whether these they justify the huge financial cost is the real question.
How Do We Change It?
The truth is, exorbitant and unnecessary public spending is a luxury Nigeria can ill-afford particularly in view of its revenue crisis and rising debt profile.
A review of the current payment structure is in order.
A useful starting point would be a specific scale for determining how salaries and allowances are calculated which is available to the electorate upon request. The payment structure should be reviewed periodically as is done in the UK and as is also required by the Constitution in order to ensure that elected representatives are being paid fairly. The outcome of such a review should also be made public in order to enhance transparency.
Another possible measure is reducing the number of elected representatives in the National Assembly.
Nigeria has the 30th largest federal legislature in the world. However, unlike many other countries, Nigeria has three levels of governments with its own division of authority (executive, legislature and judiciary). As a result, there is greater opportunity to decentralise power and lesser justification for retaining a large number of senators at the Federal level.
Is having three senators per state necessary? Reducing the number of senators to one will save us ₦13 billion a year, funds which can be channelled to other economic investments.
Such a proposal is not without its challenges. The legislature is created by Section 47 of the Nigerian constitution and any amendments in that regard has to be by a majority vote of legislators in the state House of Assemblies of at least 24 states. Its hard to imagine Nigerian politicians with that much will power to cut their own salaries.
The recent proposals to increase Value Added Tax on goods and re-introduce toll gates on federal roads indicate that the Nigerian government is currently scrambling to increase available funds. Perhaps it would be more economical and less burdensome on citizens for the government to save money by cutting costs from within.
Fifehan is a research specialist and legal consultant