By Femi Falana, SAN.
In the current edition of The News magazine, Senator Shehu Sani made a disclosure which has serious implications for public accountability in Nigeria. Without mincing words the Senator blew the lid off federal legislators’ salary secrecy.
For the first time since May 1999, the Senator disclosed the jumbo emoluments of the members of the upper chamber of the national assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. According to the Senator, the running cost of each Senator is N13.1 million in addition to a consolidated salary of N750,000 per month.
Apart from the monthly package of N13.8 million, each Senator is given the opportunity to execute constituency projects to the tune of N200 million per annum. However, the disclosure made by Senator Sani does not cover the allowances for cars, housing, wardrobe, furniture etc running to several millions of Naira approved for each Senator.
Last year, the legislators also illegally purchased exotic cars of N4.7 billion for themselves when workers were owed arrears of salaries and the masses were groaning under a recession caused by the profligacy and mismanagement of the national economy by the ruling class.
While we commend Senator Shehu Sani for exposing the secrecy which had enveloped the salaries and allowances of federal legislators in Nigeria before now, it is crystal clear that the statement credited to Professor Itse Sagay, the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council not too long ago to the effect that Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world cannot be faulted.
However, the federal legislators cannot be blamed alone for paying themselves skyrocketing salaries and allowances outside the ambit of the wages approved for all political office holders in the country.
The members of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission empowered by section 70 of the Constitution to approve the salaries and allowances of the legislators have always washed off their hands like Pontius Pilate while the Budget Office has never questioned the payment of unauthorized salaries and allowances to federal legislators.
The revelations by Senator Sani should, therefore, provide an opportunity for the Nigerian people to review the entire costs of governance under the rickety democratic dispensation. The Buhari administration owes the nation a duty to ensure that no political officer is paid salaries and allowances that have not been approved by the Revenue Mobilization. Allocation Fiscal Commission.
The federal government should, as a matter of urgency, halt the payment of double salary and allowances to a number of legislators and ministers.
Sadly, it has been reported in the press that there are moves in the Senate to place Senator Shehu Sani on indefinite suspension for spilling the beans on the payment of the illegal salaries and allowances to federal legislators.
Having discharged a public duty by blowing the whistle on a matter of crucial national importance, all lovers of democracy and public accountability in Nigeria should rally round the Senator by ensuring that he is not harassed for exercising his constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to freedom of expression.
In view of the duty imposed on all authorities and persons in Nigeria by virtue of section 287 of the Constitution, to comply with the judgment of every competent court, Senator Sani cannot be penalized for disclosing the salaries and allowances of federal legislators in compliance with the valid and subsisting orders of the federal high court.