Saturday, 18 December 2010

Aspiring to the Nigerian Senate

Joachim Ezeji

Becoming a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria could be very glamorous. It could also be a prestigious achievement in some circumstances. However, from none senators or members of the public, it stirs sycophancy on one hand or outright scorn and envy on the other. I do not need to adumbrate the reasons for this as they are not farfetched.

Since 1999 that our so called democracy was restored, the conduct of the average Nigerian politician has been everything but salutary. And one bunch of the lot in this maze of political disappointment are members of the Nigerian senate. While some of them are crooks; villains and charlatans; a few are credible.

Mahatma Gandi seems to have had Nigeria in mind when he drew up a list of deadly sins that he felt were appropriate and apposite to humanity based on emerging realities. They consist of; Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Science without humanity, knowledge without character, Politics without principle, Commerce without morality, and Worship without sacrifice. This list captures the enormity of evil that has taken over the Nigerian polity especially the senate.

Generally, what we see in the average senator is a character that drives no vision. Our old men and women in the senate have no vision for the offices they occupy. They seems to have simply come to relax and enjoy their old age while the country burns. None of them seems perturbed that the country is in a hurry to develop. All their talks never move in tandem with their actions. Most things are lip service.

Fully constituting and dominating the Nigerian senate are retired military men, the class that looted and plundered the country while Military autocracy lasted. The bulk of these retired soldiers were kingpins of military coups who immensely benefited there from as Military Governors, Ministers and Members of the Military Ruling Councils that persisted then. They are all back again as senators, feeding fat on a nation they have out rightly parasitized and asphyxiated for the past 30 – 40 years.

Another group, now growing in number, are immediate past and past civilian governors. They have simply gone to the senate in order to remain relevant. Eight years in Government as governors seems not enough to give them perennial relevance and a sense of accomplishment. They still yearn to exercise authority and remain in the forefront.

One glaring nexus in both groups is their lack of vision for the job they were elected to do. They seems largely overfed, and one problem with over feeding is tiredness and the generally tendency to sleep. The result is relative inactivity and lack of progress.

On the other hand their could be elements of hubris amongst the rank and file of the senate especially in our type of milieu where poverty and unemployment is a persisting feature. The ‘lucky few’ would generally tend to look down on those struggling at the bottom of the pyramid as simply the poor folk.

With an age bracket averaging 50 – 60 years of age, one may be tempted to expect better things from the Nigerian senate. But this has simply refused to be the case.
Nigerian Senators to say the least are simply greedy, callous and arrogant. They are presently demanding from their leadership more than 100 per cent increase in quarterly allowance to finance their re-election. They want it raised from N48 million to N95 million every quarter.

A national newspaper had quoted: “There’s nothing like N48 million. Our allowance is only N45 million,” confirmed a Senator who did not want to be named. The demand for N95 million, a mere N5 million save from the initial N100 million sought in the first quarter of 2010, was circulated in a text message from a Northern Senator.

He justified it by saying, “This is an election year” and insisted the Senate can afford the increase as there are “enough padding in the budget” to effect it. But the Senate leadership reportedly ignored the request on the basis that, “This economy cannot sustain that kind of demand.”

Data at the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) showed that each Senator gets an annual basic salary of N2, 484, 242.50. Current built-in allowances are accommodation (200 per cent of basic annual salary), vehicle maintenance (75 per cent), and entertainment (30 per cent), and utility (30 per cent).

Others are personal assistant (25 per cent), wardrobe (25 per cent), domestic staff (75 per cent), recess (10 per cent), newspapers (15 per cent), and constituency (250 per cent). They also include furniture (300 per cent, payable only once in tenure), vehicle loan (400 per cent, repayable in six years), and gratuity (300 per cent). Each Senator is, therefore, entitled to a gross annual salary of N22, 606, 606.75.

The constituency allowance of the Senate President is N400 million every three months or N1.6billion a year. This currently translates to N4.44million a day. When increased by the same rate as that of senators, the senate President will be receiving N3.2 billion annually or N8.8million per day as constituency allowance.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives currently receives N3.84million per day or N350 million every three months or N1.4billion per annum as constituency allowance. When increased by the same margin as that of members of the House of Representatives, the Speaker will be pocketing N2.3 billion annually as constituency allowance.

In view of the fat package available in the senate all serving senators are insisting on being returned. I am yet to see any incumbent senator who has declined returning to the senate. As their desperation continues, those outside who has long been envying them want to take a birth at the cake. To make their case they dangle the politics of zoning or quota. None of them has spoken of the value he will add to the senate. The consequence is that every idiot wants to be a senator hence getting the list of senatorial aspirants longer. For example, in just one party, the PDP, there are a plethora of aspirants. In Orlu senatorial zone, there are already 6 aspirants in addition to the incumbent , while in Owerri zone there are 5 in addition to the reigning senator.

One puzzle in this maze is that all incumbent senators want to be returned regardless of their lacklustre and scandalous performance while aspiring senators are mostly persons out of job who desperately need one and the relevance that goes with it.

Nonetheless, I am also desperate. My desperation is that a free and fair election be conducted so that the number of unpopular persons going to the senate be reduced. This is desired in order to enable a senate sensitive to the Nigerian people.

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