By Our Correspondent
The picture being painted by lawmakers in the National Assembly that they are cutting down their jumbo allowances to reduce over head cost may not be true, if what is being earmarked as allowances for them in this year’s budget is anything to go by. We gathered that despite claims they were reducing their huge pay last year, each Senator and House of Reps member currently draws a scandalous sum of over than N180 million allowances annually, still making them the world’s highest paid lawmakers. The amount, covering the four quarters of the year at N45 million for each senator, is the controversial “constituency allowance”, an outsized, self-apportioned remuneration enjoyed by the legislators. It excludes their basic benefits like salary – a far lesser figure -and essential allowances approved by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The amount also does not include allowances and estacodes the senators draw while on committee work within and outside the country. A member of the House of Representatives also receives N36 million for the same benefit, while the principal officers of the two chambers are paid far higher amounts after every three months. There are claims that the jumbo amounts may have been recently reduced to N27 million, but lawmakers have not backed up the claims. A purported 63 per cent pay review agreed to by a new session of the National Assembly in 2011 to stem public uproar stirred by corruption charges involving former speaker, Dimeji Bankole and deputy, Usman Nafada, has hardly made a significant difference. An analysis of the lawmakers’ pay structure shows that were such reductions made, the margins were small, with the members retaining much of the privileges that guaranteed them a leading The lawmakers illicit allowances is enough to build a 450MW power plant for the nation Federal lawmakers’ self-assigned hefty annual allowance, which totals more than N70 billion this year, would be sufficient to inject at least a 450 Megawatt of power into the national power grid, a cost analysis by Premium Times has shown. Put differently, that sum will complete the dualization of one of the nation’s deadliest highways – the Abuja-Lokoja road – which, relative to other highways across the country, is well funded, but in reality, remains one of the most fund-starved projects. In the 2012 budget, after years of being abandoned, the four lots of that road that leads from the federal capital territory only received N2 billion apiece, a figure lower than the presidency’s 2012 feeding cost and the senate’s bill for new cars. Both subheads cost N2.3 billion. Beyond the cars, the lawmakers in the senate and the House of Representatives will this year receive a total of about N71 billion in self-allocated allowances, widely considered illegal, and famously branded, jumbo. At an average $1 million(N155million) per megawatt of electricity,- a ratio considered comparatively standard by experts – that can provide extra power to the tune of at least 450MW to a nation shuddering under extreme power shortage. The illegal allowances for the year is almost the amount the federal government needs to fund the Calabar power station, under the National Independent Power Project(NIPP). Combined with the less than 200MW Ibom power plant in neighbouring Akwa Ibom state, the production value is expected to adequately feed both states, minimizing the operational cost of the nation’s small scale businesses from running a barbing saloon on road sides to powering the multibillion naira Tinapa project. Had that review been appropriately done as claimed, a senator would have earned N22.2 million as quarterly allowance, while House members would get N15.5 million each. But the current “illicit” allowance stand at N45 million for each senator, and N36 million for each House member, indicating a 25 per cent and 14.3 per cent cuts respectively. In separate interviews the Lawmakers loathe acknowledging the package as part of their earnings, and roundly reject the public’s portrayal of it as an extra illicit allowance, not approved by the revenue commission. They claim the “allowances” constitute the “running costs” of their offices. “When we said we were cutting costs, we did not say we were cutting our allowances, we said we were cutting the running cost,” said Victor Ogene, the Deputy Chairman of the House of Reps committee on media. “Our earnings are quite clear, you go to the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission,” he added, questioning “how can the cost of say buying paper, or entertaining a visitor be part of my earnings?” When pressed further, the lawmakers readily point to their basic salary pay slip which, for the House of Reps, averages only about N445, 000 monthly. Mr. Ogene denied that House members collect as much as N36 million although he would not dispute provisions were made for such quarterly earnings. Whatever provisions were made, he said, operated as a cash pool not paid to members, but from where claims can be made on expenses incurred. The lawmaker said the 63 per cent cut reflected on members’ “running cost” in 2011, while that of 2012 was yet unclear since the budget was yet to be unapproved. The senate spokesperson, Enyinnaya Abaribe, did not respond to several calls to his telephone. For the 109 senators, the earnings they have maintained amounts to N19.6 billion a year, while N51.8 billion is spent for the house for the same period, with a total cost of N71.4 billion.It adds to a string of cost the national assembly keeps annually, including hefty multi-billion payouts.