Upon assuming the Senate leadership in June 2015, Saraki pledged in his inauguration speech that the National Assembly would “change from impunity and elite arrogance to a life of accountability,” and then went ahead to name a committee “to review NASS budget, to make it open and more realistic.”
Two years and counting, access to the NASS’s budget still remains top secret. Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, has been relentless in challenging the Senate leadership to make transparent the upper chambers entire salary and allowance.
Sometime in August, while speaking at the Wole Soyinka Annual Public Lecture in Benin, the Edo State capital, Sagay accused Senators of awarding irrelevant allowances to themselves while also padding the budget.
“The senators have wardrobe allowance; but they did not go to Abuja naked. They have newspaper allowance and furniture allowance – about 50 items which they never talk about. They only talk about their salaries, which is about N1 million a month. But when you add all these allowances, we are hitting N20 million per month… These are besides budget padding, which is a stable means of drilling money from the poor people of this nation.”
The following month, while delivering a speech at the Nigerian Society of International Law public lecture in Lagos, Sagay again accused Senators of earning “about N29 million a month and over N3 billion a year”.
Below was how he summed up their salary and allowance:
“Basic salary N2,484,245; hardship allowance, N1,242, 122; constituency allowance N4, 968, 509; furniture allowance N7, 452, 736; newspaper allowance N1, 242, 122; wardrobe allowance N621,061; recess allowance N248, 424; accommodation 4,968,509; utilities N828,081; domestic staff N1,863,184; entertainment N828,081; personal assistant N621,061; vehicle maintenance allowance N1,863,184; leave allowance N248,424; severance gratuity N7, 425,736; and motor vehicle allowance N9, 936,982”.
In an interview, he challenged the Senate to publish what they collect as salaries and wages. The Senate replied, said his figures were “false and exaggerated” and accused him of “making hate speeches” against them. Rather than address and refute the issues raised, the Senate resorted to call Sagay a “rascal and sadist,” and “a senile, jaded, rustic and outdated Professor of Law”.
This spat is not necessary and would not have been if the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had kept his promise to make the Senate’s budget open to the public. But time and again he has reneged on his pledge to #OpenNASS.
Until the National Assembly take the honorable path of making its finances open to public scrutiny, and allow the electorates which they claim to represent access to their earnings, Nigerians will be left to side with Sagay.