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NASS: Giving the master-servant relationship its true meaning

By Umar Hassan

After the Senator James Manager-led ad-hoc committee on finance setup to reduce the salaries and allowances of senators submitted its report, a lot of people started counting down to the day its recommendations would be debated on the floor of the Senate. No matter how rancorous it gets, we just hoped we would be able to hear what was being suggested as their new pay and to also identify the chief ‘enemy of progress’ who would kick-start any opposition to the recommendation that they make their financial books open.

It is sad what nature has thrust on us. Everyone is annoyingly helpless when it comes to the large sums our lawmakers command as remuneration. They cannot be compelled to do what is right by anyone including the president. As a matter of fact, many think that the helplessness birthed the calls by some to scrap the Senate in the heat of the #OccupyNASS campaign.

So it was a most welcome development that they seemed serious about conforming to the ‘Mood of the Nation’, to borrow the words of the Senate president. A reduction in the budget of the National Assembly from N150 to N120 billion isn’t enough to make us bring out the drums, only a clear drastic pay cut would. For all we care, it maybe ‘mathematical gymnastics’; which will though save us some money, but ultimately end up having a minimal effect on extravagance and that would amount to a ‘beautiful nonsense’. It could end up meaning just a N2 million deduction from their salaries and less trips. The term ‘budget’ encompasses a lot.

It was most disappointing that the Senate opted for a closed door session on Wednesday, August 12; the day slated for the debate and emerged with a decision to stand it down for further legislative input, effectively making a lot of people lose hope in the process. 

 

The decision to interface with the House of Representatives seems pleasant on the face, but barely conceals the fact that they aren’t favourably disposed to implementing the recommendations. Why wasn’t a joint committee of both Houses formed in the first place? My gut tells me we may have to end up settling for any amount necessitated by the cut in the NASS budget and how would we know that amount if the lawmakers don’t want to stop sharing their money behind ‘closed doors’?.

The recommendation that their books be made public is one that got me highly exhilarated at first, but the thought of a majority ‘Nays’ shooting it down switched me back to straight-face mode.

The people deserve to know not only how much is being sent the way of the NASS, but also how it is being put to use. It is embarrassing for a democratic government and its people to whom sovereignty belongs, to have salaries of public officials sealed from the public even after countless applications under the Freedom of Information Act; A law made by the lawmakers themselves.

It’s absurd for a senator to earn N29.5 million monthly and take home quarterly allocations of N45 million where the minimum wage is N18,000. Things have to change.

I was disgusted by comments credited to some unnamed senators. While maintaining that the cut in their budget was enough, one cited the cost of his house rent; N10 million in opposing a further reduction, while the other said he had to ‘settle’ people from his constituency who visit his office. I wondered if I would have been any more surprised if another had said his wife wears only Gucci and Ferragamo.

To be candid, I don’t think a legislator ought to earn more than N7 million in a month. Public office holders are meant to serve the people and not the other way round. As the senators continue to interface with the Reps, I hope they realize that it is time to face reality; What is right is right and nothing can change that. Earning what they should and making their financial records public would amount to giving their relationship with the people its true meaning; A master-servant relationship. We, the masters and they the servants. I pray it turns out that way.

 

Hassan, a Kano-based lawyer posted this article on Abusidiqu.con

 

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