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Defending the indefensible All attempts to defend Nigerian legislators’ outsize pay must crash as spectacularly as the ignoble third term lobby of the Obasanjo administration seven years ago. The latest attempt made by Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, Jerry Manwe, takes the prize in unsound reasoning and insensitivity. It was a pitiable display of ignorance of the high ethical standards demanded of a lawmaker. Manwe even has the temerity to dismiss the people’s complaints about the indefensible pay as “laughable”. He argued, simplistically, that legislators deserve the indefensible pay because they are obliged to “shoulder” their constituents’ personal bills including children’s school fees, new wives dowries and other inanities. In his warped logic, the Nigerian lawmaker, therefore ought to earn about the highest pay in the world even though the nation’s economy is one of the weakest, even among developing nations. Manwe, who apparently speaks for a majority of the legislators, sees nothing wrong in draining the economy, pulling out of the national treasury a salary of between N900,000 and N1.1 million a month in addition to between N27 million and N33 million each quarter in obscure allowances. All these are exclusive of lavish car and furniture allowances and unspecified votes for constituency offices which, in most cases, do not exist. He tactlessly argues that a legislator spends an average of N150 million on elections into the National Assembly and insinuates that he therefore is entitled to milk the national treasury dry to recoup his “investment”. Unwittingly, Manwe provides the reason he and many of his like-minded colleagues have no business in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly. This newspaper has never heard a more odious and self-seeking line from a representative of the people anywhere on planet earth. If Manwe represents the average Nigerian lawmaker, the country is indeed doomed. National Assembly members, though numbering less than 500, have appropriated to themselves a hefty N150 billion this year, a sum said to amount to 25 percent of the overheads expenditure of the federal government. Another economic analyst laments that these lawmakers have consumed over N1 trillion in the last eight years of its existence with virtually no legislation of note or meaningful contribution to the national discourse or economy. Again, Manwe puts his foot right in his mouth, blaming it all on the electorate and the political system. He calls for a re-orientation of Nigerians — not he and his avaricious colleagues at the National Assembly — to view and appreciate politics as a call to serve. For him, change must begin at the bottom; from the poor electorate who are gullible enough to entrust their lives to opportunists and calculating political contractors like him. How sad! The less cocky members of the National Assembly must not let the Manwes in their midst tar everyone with the same brush of insensitivity and disrespect for the electorate. Surely a few enlightened representatives know that the change they desire in the system must start with them. Not all elected lawmakers spent anything close to the N150 million to gain their seats in the National Assembly. It is even contestable that Manwe himself spent a tiny fraction of that to get his constituents to vote for him. He most probably quoted the figure in a vain hope to justify his humongous pay, which he knows is incommensurate with his service or value to the nation. As the next round of budget preparations draws nigh, Nigerian lawmakers must redeem their image by drastically reviewing downwards the National Assembly’s allocation in line with what is just and right. That is the only way to show solidarity with the suffering people that elect them and to stem the ever-increasing tide of demands for wage hikes that is threatening to bog down the economy even further. The government can’t continue to whine that “there is no money” when our legislators earn more than their counterparts even in developed productive countries, callously placing an unbearable financial yoke on the national ox.
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