Barrister Kayode Ajulo, former National Secretary of the Labour Party (LP), in this interview with select journalists, speaks on whether lawmakers should be given severance packages or not. Excerpts:
Nigerian federal lawmakers are already enmeshed in a struggle to justify their jumbo pay, what credible explanation can be advanced for a severance package?
The emoluments of our federal legislators have outrageously generated a lot of attention that more elucidations is needed.
It is therefore imperative to start with the prefatory note that Nigeria has a total of 109 senators who are legislative representatives of their respective states. Also, there are 360 House of Representatives members from the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory.
The salary structure of a Nigerian senator may be classified into two categories; basic sand allowances
The basic salary of a Nigerian senator can be equivalent to N2,026,400.00.
It may interest you to know that the major sources of income for Nigerian federal lawmakers are their allowances. A Nigerian senator, for instance, may have an annual allowance of N12,902,360.
The following constitute what an average of Nigerian senator is paid as allowance: utilities, entertainment recess, personal assistant, vehicle fuelling, duty tour, estacode, domestic staff; Vehicle maintenance, constituency allowance, wardrobe allowance, house maintenance, newspaper/ periodic allowance.
Also in addition to the allowances above, a Nigerian Senator receives an additional sum of N24,000,000.00 at the end of his 4-year term within the National Assembly.
By a comparative analysis, in the US for instance, senators have the total of $3,409,422 as annual earnings. While in the Philippines, there is a total of $4,497,957 set aside as senators’ annual earnings. Statistics also show that Kenyan senators are paid the total of $968,013 on a yearly basis. For the entire members of the UK Parliament, there is a total of £494,285,43 set aside as their annual earnings.
It is unarguable that the Nigerian federal lawmakers are the highest paid lawmakers in the world. I concur with Prof. Itse Sagay, that Nigerian lawmakers at the lower and upper chambers of the National Assembly are the highest paid legislators in the world.
Severance package or gratuity, which is the amount paid to lawmakers after their successful four-year tenure in office, also covers their political aides. For presiding members of the both chambers, their number of aides can be as high as 20 per officer.
Nigerian lawmakers have allocated N23.7 billion as severance gratuity for outgoing lawmakers of the National Assembly. The sum will also cover allowances for incoming legislators, their aides, funds for National Assembly induction and inauguration of the 9th Senate. The benefit was captured as a separate line item in the 2019 appropriation bill passed by the lawmakers. The amount was broken down to N23, 678, 770, 079 in the bill.
Interestingly I dare to hold that most of this outrageous emoluments, particularly the severance package to be paid our federal and state legislators are backed by our laws and therefore legally permissible. Section 70 of the Constitution (as amended) empowered Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC to determine the salary and allowances of members of the senate or house of reps, same with Section 6 of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission Act; furthermore, Omokolo and Others v Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission and Others (2017 CA), showed that each senator, with annual basic salaries of N2,026,400.00, is entitled to a severance package of N6,079,200.00 (that is 300 per cent of the basic salary).
Therefore, while the severance package of each of the 109 senators is N6, 079, 200.00, that of the Senate President, with an annual basic salary of N2, 484, 242.50, is N7, 452, 727.50 while that of the Deputy Senate President, with an annual basic salary of N2, 309,166.75, is N6, 927, 500.25. Consequently, the total severance package for the Senate amounts to N664, 854, 627.
Statistics show that the severance gratuity, which is one of the financial packages approved by the RMAFC for the lawmakers, was 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.
In the case of the House of Representatives, the annual basic salary of the Speaker is N2, 477, 110 which brings his severance package to N7, 431, 330.00, while the severance package of the Deputy Speaker, with an annual basic salary of N2, 287, 034.55 goes for N6, 861,102.75.
For the remaining 358 members of the lower chamber, each of their annual basic salary is N1, 985, 212.50, translating to those of them who would not return getting N5, 955, 637.00 as severance package.
There are 66 senators and 151 Reps who will not be making it back to the red and green chambers, respectively in the 9th National Assembly expected to be inaugurated on June 6. This means that the 66 non-retuning senators will be paid a total of N401,227,200 as a farewell package. Similarly, the 151 Reps will be paid a total of N899,301,262.5 to bid farewell to the National Assembly where they had worked, at least, in the last four years.
The justification is backed by our law, in as much as some of us may be alarmed and may not desire it, it is legal. It suffices to note that Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission is empowered by the constitution to determine such allowances to be given to political office holders with regards to present realities. Thus, the payment of severance package to lawmakers is in accordance to law.
However, considering the present realities, the payment of over N23.7 billion as severance package to lawmakers is not justifiable considering the GDP of the country.
A good number of them, particularly senators who were former governors also enjoy a similar package from their respective states, should they be given another financial windfall in the name of severance package?
One may argue that a former governor of a state is entitled to the severance package of such office on the basis that the individual occupied the office as a governor and he is entitled to the benefits accruable to such office and should be without prejudice to being entitled to the severance package given as a former senator. However, the one million dollar question is whether these payment does not amount to double redundancy payment?
Logically and legally speaking, this does not amount to double compensation as the individual is being paid based on the office held by such.
However, the most important and germane consideration is the state of the economy of the country.
Considering the nation’s present economic predicament and the fact that while in office, the beneficiaries earned salaries and allowances considered as unreasonable, to the point that the clamour for cutting the remunerations rages, the determination of the severance package should be on individual basis and regards ought to be made to past political offices held.