Senate says “running costs” not new, but would they agree it is cruel?

Spokesperson for the Nigerian Senate, Sabi Abdullahi, has moved to calm alarms arising from Senator Shehu Sani’s revelations about the Senators’ N13.5 million “running costs”, by claiming that the disclosure is “nothing new”.

Justifying the allocation, Mr Abdullahi stated that “almost all holders of elective and appointive offices have running costs allocated to their offices and that cannot be said to be part of their salaries”. Such running costs would, according to the statement, include “line items like travelling, medicals, consultancy”, which are, in any case, all contained as line items in the budget.

Mr Abdullahi’s argument appears to be that Nigerians should see nothing absurd or staggering in the fact that, besides their basic monthly pay of N750,000 – about 41 times the minimum wage – the nation’s Senators also enjoy N13.5 million to spend on trips and check-ups and other matters according to how they determine.

Nigeria has a poor population of about 60% and has one of the highest proportions of out-of-school children in the world. Public institutions especially education and healthcare are criminally underfunded. The 109 members of the upper chamber of parliament have N17.6 billion in a year for “running costs”, more than the allocation received by any single Federal University in the 2017 budget. The staggering figure is also the equivalent of the combined allocations for Federal Polytechnics in Yaba, Oko, Mubi and Auchi.

It fails to surprise that the “running costs” are said to include medical allowances, giving further evidence on the now normalized culture of medical vacations outside the country for the political class even as appropriations for the country’s health sector have repeatedly fallen to misuse. Local hospitals and care centres to be nothing short of death traps, reserved only for the lower class of the society.

Legislators play an indispensable role in balancing the power of the Executive as well as in making laws that further the freedoms and prosperity of a people. But representing the people is their biggest honour and when there are vast disparities in standard-of-living terms between them and their constituents, questions must be asked as to whether the primary motives of seeking such offices are pecuniary or for service.

Mr Abdullahi should be able to provide answers as to why his colleagues could have access to such large allowances besides their very comfortable salaries when civil servants in a number of states of the federation go many months without their meagre pay. He should be willing to explain why institutions providing essential services such as the police and healthcare workers continue to work under difficult conditions with poor welfare packages that pre-dispose them to offering less than optimum service. Can the Senate comfortably project their benefits as a reflection of the general well-being of Nigerians?

The point and shock of Shehu Sani’s disclosure was not in the matter of its legality, but in its cruelty; in the realization that for every ten naira an ordinary Nigerian takes to the market, his or her Senator has about 400 naira to buy up same desired goods, and another 7,000 naira for some miscellaneous.

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