Waiting on the National Assembly By Obiageli Ezekwesili

Nigerians Saving Nigerians: www.nigerianssavingnigerians.org

Obiageli Ezekwesili

On Monday, 19th August, 2013, I was the keynote speaker at a Civil Society Roundtable on “Cost of Governance” hosted by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center.

My presentation approached the topic more broadly, by calling attention to the fundamentally unsustainable economic structure that has caused Nigeria’s development over the last fifty-three years to lag behind those of countries with similar political history with attendant high poverty level of 69% of our citizens according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

As part of the aspect of my presentation that touched on management of public finance, I provided data on budgetary allocations or transfers to the National Assembly for the last eight years.

The data in question is publicly available information from the Ministry of Finance, which reveals that the allocations to the National Assembly known as statutory transfers between 2005 and 2013 were approximately one trillion naira as follows:

2005 N54.79 Billion

2006 N54.79 Billion

2007 N66.4 Billion

2008 N114.39 Billion

2009 N158.92 Billion

2010 N150 Billion

2011 N150 Billion

2012 N150 Billion

2013 N150 Billion

I also provided information available in a recent global comparison of legislators’ remuneration across the world recently published by the United Kingdom based The Economist magazine. I stated that the report alleged that Nigerian federal legislators with a basic salary of $189,500 per annum (N30.6 Million) were the highest paid lawmakers in the world.

In reaction to various versions of news media report of my speech a number of members of the House of Representatives and Senators speaking as spokesmen of the National Assembly (NASS) and perhaps without the benefit of my full speech, strangely chose to haul verbal assaults and threats at me.

The National Assembly in its prestige as the most important symbol of our democracy has a duty to promote at all times the democratic culture of tolerance for dissension.

Would it therefore not have been more dignifying of our democracy if the spokesmen had used the opportunity of their reaction to offer their own data to contradict or clarify anything conveyed in my speech after reading it?

Is the issue of management of our public finance that is the core of good governance not more important than the personalizing politics of their reaction?

I wish to state with absolute respect for our lawmakers and our institution that it will be more valuable and enriching for our democracy if instead of the abusive language of their recent reaction, the National Assembly immediately offer me and the rest of the Nigerian public, the opportunity of a public hearing on their budgetary allocation and the very relevant issue of their remuneration.

Doing so would be consistent with global practice across countries of the world where emphasis is on tenets of open budget to enable citizens to track the disaggregated levels of use of public resources across every arm and level of government.

In the United States for example anyone can find the US House of Representatives statement of payment to each member of the House of Representative on the website – http://disbursements.house.gov/

I shall make myself available to the National Assembly as soon as it decides to host a public hearing on this and other related issues of the lawmakers’ interest.

Obiageli Ezekwesili is a former Nigerian Minister of Education.

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