***Commit constitutional breach, sit less than 181 days
The severance package for members of the seventh National Assembly, whose tenure ends in May this year, will cost the nation whopping N2.8bn.
The amount is, however, exclusive of the sum to be paid to the lawmakers’ political aides who will also be exiting the service with their principals.
Severance package or gratuity is the amount paid to the lawmakers after their successful four-year tenure in office as elected politicians.
It is not only the lawmakers that are entitled to the package, their political aides also benefit from it.
The aides to the lawmakers vary in number, depending on whether the lawmaker is a presiding officer like the Senate President or his deputy or the Speaker of the House of Representatives or his deputy or whether the lawmaker is one of the principal officers of the parliament.
In the case of the presiding officers, they have coterie of aides, which may be up to 20 persons for each officer.
Findings by National Mirror at the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, Abuja, showed that the severance gratuity was one of the financial packages approved by the commission for the lawmakers.
The severance package is arrived at by calculating 300 per cent of the lawmakers’ annual basic salaries.
This formula formed part of the current remuneration package for political, public and judicial office holders designed by RMAFC in June 2007.
Each senator, whose annual basic salaries is put at N2,026,400.00, will, therefore, be entitled to a severance package of N6,079,200.00 (i.e. 300 per cent of the basic salary).
However, as presiding officers, the annual basic salaries of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President differ from those of the other senators.
For the Senate President, his annual basic salary is put at N2, 484, 242.50 while that of the deputy is N2, 309,166.75.
So, while the severance package of each of the 107 senators is N6, 079, 200.00, that of the Senate President is N7, 452, 727.50 and that of the Deputy Senate President is N6, 927, 500.25.
The total severance package for the Senate, therefore, amounts to N664, 854, 627m.
In the case of the House of Representatives, the basic annual salary of the Speaker is put at N2, 477, 110 which brings his severance package to N7, 431, 330.00, while the Deputy Speaker’s annual basic salary is N2, 287, 034.55 and severance package of N6, 861,102.75.
For the rest other 358 members of the House, each of their annual basic salary is N1, 985, 212.50, translating to N5, 955, 637.00 as severance package.
While the severance packages to the lawmakers will be paid directly from the consolidated revenue of the federation, those of their aides will be charged from the purse of the National Assembly.
Efforts by National Mirror to obtain the amount due to the political aides to the lawmakers were frustrated by the bureaucracy of the National Assembly. The officials insisted that such information should be supplied by the National Assembly Service Commission.
However, at the commission, the officials maintained that such information was the prerogative of the accounts department of the National Assembly.
They explained that the statutory role of the commission started and ended with employment, training, promotion and discipline of the staff of the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the current seventh session of the National Assembly are clearly on the path of the violation of the 1999 Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution, which requires the lawmakers to sit for a minimum period of 181 days in a year.
Investigations carried out by the National Mirror revealed that while members of the House of Representatives have sat for only 57 days, beginning from June 6, 2014 when the current session was birthed, the senate on its part has sat for about 78 days only so far.
Although the current legislative year is expected to come to an end in the first week of June this year, evidence has shown that there is no way the lawmakers will be able to make the required statutory sitting sessions before the end of the life of the current lawmakers, given the line-up of the elections in March and April.
Section 63 of the 1999 Constitution states that, “The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each sit for a period not less than one hundred and eighty one days in a year.”
In the past, the lawmakers had often justified their inability to meet this constitutional provision by arguing that the constitutional requirement includes the days they (lawmakers) sit in committees.
In fact, both the House and senate rules define sitting as, “A period during which the House/Senate is sitting continuously without adjournment and this includes any period, during which the House/Senate is in committee.”
For the current legislative year, it is clear that from June 6, 2014 when the lawmakers were sworn in, only a few of the committees has ever sat sparingly till date.
For instance, from June 6, last year, when the current legislative year came into effect, the lawmakers sat for 21 days after which they commenced their annual long vacation on July 18 and resumed September 12.
The lawmakers were to commence another round of break on October 28, 2014 after sitting for just 15 days to enable them prosecute their primary elections nationwide.
In the case of the House of Representatives, October 28 was the day the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal announced his decampment to the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) and shut the House until December 3.
While the senate was able to resume that December 3 and continued sitting till December 16, the day it received the 2015 budget proposal from the Coordinating Minister and Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Oknjo-Iweala and commenced its Christmas and New Year breaks, the House, which failed to resume all the while merely reconvened same December 16, received the budget proposal and returned back to its indefinite break.
Again, when the National Assembly resumed from its Christmas and New Year holidays on January 13, the lawmakers merely sat for just two days, read the 2015 budget proposal for the second time, passed it to the committee on Finance and Appropriation and vamoosed again for another one month break to enable them participate in the originally scheduled Presidential and National Assembly elections for February 14.
As the lawmakers commenced the last break, the impression was given that the Finance and Appropriation committees of both chambers of the parliament would continue committee work on the budget. But the truth of the matter is that none of the lawmakers stayed back to do any work on the budget.
When National Mirror sought to know the state of the budget from one of the committee members last two weeks, the senator was short of cursing the correspondent, retorting, “Now I know that you are one of those wishing me to fail so that I would not return back to the senate. You want me to be working on the budget when my colleagues are in the battle field struggling to see how they will win their own elections back to the senate. I wish you are near reach now so that I crack that your coconut head.”
One of the directors in the National Assembly who spoke with National Mirror on this matter blamed the none compliance with the constitutional provision on the constitution itself, which he observed, fails to provide for consequences for the breach of the law.
The director who sought anonymity explained that one way of addressing the constitutional lacuna is through constitutional amendment whereby violation of the provision should be regarded as gross misconduct, which should attract a well defined sanction or reprimand.
He noted that if suspension is prescribed, constituent members of any affected lawmaker will likely protest such suspension as amounting to none representation for the people.
Source: National Mirror
***Commit constitutional breach, sit less than 181 days