By Obike Ukoh
Since Mr Elias Mbam, the Chairman, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission ( RMAFC), hinted about a possible review of the salaries and emoluments of political office holders, there has been raging debate on the desirability or otherwise of a review.
Mbam was not too specific on the direction the review will go, but according to him, it will reflect the current economic realities.
RMAFC is empowered by Section 32(d) Part I of the Third Schedule of the Constitution to determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders.
Mbam said that at the conclusion of the review, the entitlements of the political office holders might either go up or down. “The review is a process and preliminary issues are currently being worked on.
“ If the process is followed judiciously, we would get to the appropriate entitlements due the office holders. The review is to ensure that their remunerations reflect current realities.”
There were reactions, including newspapers’ editorials on the proposed review, and there was consensus that it should be reviewed downwards.
One of the newspapers in its editorial opined that since the RMAFC is carrying out this long overdue review of public office holders’ remunerations, it should be true and forthright with the public under whose mandate it operates.
“It should access and factor in all necessary inputs that should play a part in the determination of what is ideal and fair.
“In this regard, the commission should, of necessity, take into account, for example, the current level of government revenue, inflation rate, slow or negligible gross domestic product growth rate.
“ Huge and unsustainable cost of governance, increasing and intolerable rate of poverty and insecurity in the economy, poor and overtly non-functional infrastructure across the country. Enormous amount of outstanding salaries, gratuities and pensions of serving and retired civil servants.’’
The paper also posits that given the desperate situation the country finds itself and that a remuneration review has now been kick-started, there is nothing to suggest that some of the existing remuneration lines cannot be completely eliminated to cause reasonable reality to emerge.
The Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution (CDNDC ), kicked against any upward review of salaries of political office holders.
CDNDC Convener, Ariyo Dare-Atoye, said any upward review would be a disservice to ordinary Nigerians coming at a time the state governments were finding it difficult to pay the minimum wage.
He said: “Any upward review of salaries and allowances of politicians is a disservice to the common man
“How can the commission think of increasing their allowances when our political leaders are the highest paid in the world?”
The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, on its part, recommended downward adjustment in the allowances of all political office holders to make the offices unattractive.
Director-General of NECA, Dr Timothy Olawale, who spoke, said the review was long overdue.
He urged RMAFC to muster the courage and decisively adjust salaries and allowances of all political office holders to the extent that such offices are not made too attractive to the effect that getting there becomes a do or die affair.
Mr Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, said any move that would increase the emoluments of politicians’ was a mockery of the avowed plan to cut down the cost of governance.
He said: “At a time legislators in some countries are seeking pay cut due to recession, poor economic growth, high cost of governance and poverty, we are considering pay rise.
“It’s quite unfortunate and disappointing. Increasing their pay at this time makes a mockery of the discourse on cutting down the cost of governance.
“It’s inexplicable that in a country regarded as the poverty capital of the world, a country ravaged by insecurity and humongous economic challenges, our priority is to increase the pay of politicians. The more we increase their pay, the more desperation to seek public office.”
Auwal Rafsanjani, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), said pay rise for politicians could lead to political violence.
“As a matter of fact, this proposal of pay rise for politicians is capable of increasing political violence and institutionalisation of corruption in electoral process by making it a do or die affair.’’
He noted that the proposal was coming when the government was finding it difficult to pay workers’ reasonable wages and advised RMAFC not to add more burden to the economy.
Dr Paul Okorie, former Commissioner for Environment in Ebonyi, commended RMAFC for the planned review, hoping that it will not lead to increase in the monthly salaries and emoluments of political office holders.
Okorie who also was a former Commissioner for Works, Housing and Transport, said that any upward review of the remuneration of elected and appointed public officers would further deepen the already widening gap between them and the rest of Nigerians.
Okorie said: “If the RMAFC wants to review the salaries and emoluments of political office holders, let them review it downward.
“Look at what our politicians are currently receiving as their take home salaries; it is too bogus and the payment does not reflect the country’s current economic reality.
“If you look around the world, Nigeria ranks among the highest in the world’s list of highest paid political office holders including senators and others.
“I have come across a document that tried to compare emoluments of the National Assembly members across the world and our own is the highest.
“It is because of this bogus pay to politicians that people are now compelled to engage in a do-or-die approach including killings for contest of political power.
“Downward review will reduce cost of governance, make political office less attractive and service-driven as well as discourage do-or-die syndrome that has characterised struggle for political power in Nigeria.’’
Also, Prof. Eugene Nweke, the Dean, Faculty of Management and Social Sciences, Ebonyi State University (EBSU), said any upward review of salaries of political office holders would suggest that the government is insensitive to the plight of Nigerians.
He advised the Federal Government to reduce salaries and allowances of political office holders as part of strategies to reduce cost of governance and make political competition less attractive.
“Any upward review of salaries of political office holders will be antithetical to the development and security of Nigerian citizens given the current poverty situation we find ourselves today.
“Instead of increasing, the wealth should be channelled into addressing some social issues that are aggravating poverty and that should be the appropriate thing to do,” Nweke said.
Remuneration of Nigeria’s political office holders has always been a contentious issue.
It echoed during the 2015 National Conference. Incidentally Mbam was the Chairman of RMAFC then.
He clarified some issues before the Committee on Public Finance and Revenue.
Mbam was asked to explain why RMAFC approved outrageous salaries and allowances for political office holders.
Mbam informed the committee that RMAFC never approved fat salaries for political office holders, insisting that no legislator earn more than N1 million as monthly salary.
He wanted the committee to propose the amendment of the Act establishing RMAFC, so as to grant it autonomy and enforcement powers to effectively monitor revenue utilisation.
“Contrary to what is written on papers; from what is approved for senators and members of the House of Representatives, none of them receives up to N1 million a month and they can testify to that.
“This is consolidated salary, it is not salary alone. All the allowances and take-home pay are not up to N1 million.
“Anything in addition to that, is not known to the commission” he said.
Mbam said as far as the law was concerned, RMAFC still retained the power to determine the remuneration of political office holders, adding that whatever was decided by the commission as remuneration for the National Assembly members was final.
As for the executives and judiciary arms of government, the RMAFC chairman said that their remuneration was subject to further approvals by the National Assembly.
On the widespread allegation that a senator receives as much as N240 million as salaries and allowances, as against the recommendations of the commission, Mbam stressed that it was the duty of the clerk of the National Assembly to ensure compliance.
He said that the clerk of the National Assembly was the government’s accounting officer, adding that anybody who contravened the provisions regarding remunerations and its disbursement could be charged to court.
“If any accounting officer fails in his function; of course, he should be held accountable and the same rule applies to the Auditor General of the Federation.
“These are agencies of government responsible for monitoring the use of public funds,” he added.
Stakeholders are of the opinion that the views expressed by Nigerians since the issue of review of emoluments of political office holders was raised would be taken into consideration by RMAFC.
They say that the action of RMAFC is in order, as it is the mandate of the commission to determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders.