Reducing of lawmaker’s allowances, not in national interest —Adeyeye
Former Minister of State for Works, Dayo Adeyeye, is the senator representing Ekiti South senatorial district in the National Assembly. In this interview with newsmen, he dismisses the perception of bogus pay for federal lawmakers, insisting that the pay package of members of the National Assembly is not commensurate with the enormity of their legislative functions. TAIWO AMODU presents the excerpts:
SOME people still believe that Senators Ahmad Lawan and Ovie Omo-Agege were imposed on senators of the 9th National Assembly. Do you agree with the postulation?
The emergence of Senator Ahmad Lawan and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege should not be seen as an act of imposition, either by the executive or the party. The senators who had earlier worked with Lawan were in the vanguard of the mobilisation process to make him the president of the 9th Senate after his bid to assume the same position in 2015 was not possible, with the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki despite the fact that he [Lawan] was supported by the party and the presidency.
Most of Lawan’s colleagues in the Eight Senate have tremendous respect for him because of his experience, competence, intellectual capacity and openness. They believe that he would be a very good Senate President and they started the entire process of making him the Senate President. They are the ones that approached the party and the presidency to solicit support for Senator Lawan’s ambition. So, the initiative was not from the party or from the executive. It was from within the Senate, among the senators themselves.
When some of us newcomers won our elections into the Senate and arrived in Abuja, we were contacted and we joined the vanguard. My first interaction with Senator Lawan showed me clearly that he has all it takes to lead the National Assembly. So, I joined the movement for the realisation of Ahmad Lawan’s ambition.
It was after all the support from majority of the elected senators that the party and the presidency gave their backing. At the level of the nation’s legislature, it is not possible for anybody to impose candidates on us. We are not primary school boys or girls that anybody could toss around. We had to be convinced on any issue and in the case of Lawan, we were convinced about his ability to provide good leadership. He was the most experienced among those who indicated interest in the position. He was once in the opposition in the National Assembly, now, he is in the ruling party. That makes him to be in the best position to bring everybody together in the Senate.
Also in the case of Senator Omo-Agege, there were some issues raised about what happened in the Eight Senate about him but he was able to convince many of us that he was not a reckless person but a very well-brought up and decent person. Going by his antecedents, we were fully convinced that if given a chance, he would give a very good support for Senator Lawan in steering the ship of the 9th Senate. The election was also free and fair because it was not only APC members who voted for both of them but also PDP and YPP members also cast their votes for the duo. This shows that their election was bi-partisan. I believe that with the massive support they received, the presiding officers will work for the interest of the nation.
Do you think Ndume actually played a rebellious role in the process?
The role played by Senator Ali Ndume, rather than being perceived as an act of rebellion, we should see him as the person that gave credibility to the entire process. In the first instance, he has his democratic right to exercise his franchise on the floor as a duly elected Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That should not be seen as a rebellion by anybody; rather, it should be seen as helping to deepen democracy, helping to provide a choice to other elected senators. Since the popular choice has emerged, we should just let bygone be bygone.
Don’t you think that he might be victimised by the leadership going by the body language of the APC National Chairman?
I don’t think so. Ahmad Lawan is not such a person. He won’t support any idea to victimise Ndume. We are in a democracy. That is tantamount to saying that we should victmise our opponents after winning elections. Ndume has demonstrated the beauty of democracy by giving his colleagues a choice. I am not concerned about the reaction of the National Chairman on that day; my concern is what should happen within after the whole exercise.
Fortunately, it’s an issue involving the Senate leadership and the members. The party is free to take a position but it is left for the Senate to either agree with such position or adopt its own position that would be in the best interest of members and the nation in general. For purposes of party discipline or party cohesion, the party chairman is free to take a stand particularly when the whole matter was very dicey. There was a time that people believed that the PDP would take advantage of the division in APC to present its own candidate. So, the APC had to rise up and took a position on the issue. I wouldn’t also blame the APC as well but now that the dust has settled, I think we should just move forward and hold no grudges or animosity against anyone.
What do you think the Senate should focus on more in the 9th National Assembly?
The theme of Senator Lawan in campaigning for this election is: “The Senate that works for Nigerians.” That means we are not coming there to work for ourselves but for the interest of Nigerians, by providing solutions to the myriads of problems facing the nation at the moment. There is general insecurity all over the country with kidnappers on the prowl all over the places. There are also the issues of unemployment, the economy and poor infrastructure that must be addressed. We should not come here to play to the gallery or create unnecessary acrimony among ourselves or with the executive. We should just come in here and collaborate with the executive to find solutions to all the problems confronting Nigeria. Separation of powers does not mean acrimony between the executive and the legislature or among the three arms of government. Rather, it should be seen as a division of labour whereby each arm is performing different functions to achieve the same objective of fighting corruption, growing the economy, providing jobs and fixing our infrastructure to avoid any revolution.
But how do you ensure collaboration between the legislature and the executive affect positively budget planning and implementation?
I was a minister and I realised that late passage of budgets affects the operation of the executive, especially in the Ministry of Works where I served. All unspent funds of all ministries are returned to the treasury by December 31 each year. So, what do you expect a Ministry of Works to do when the national budget was approved in June and its implementation started in July? We are not likely to have spent 20 per cent of the money appropriated to us. We are not likely to have started anything on the project we want to execute. This is because we probably start the process of awarding contracts around August and September. Before you know what was happening, the Finance Ministry would be demanding for the return of unspent money to the treasury. We found ourselves in a situation whereby the budgets we planned every year were never executed. So, we ended up rolling over a project that should have been executed within a year, to a period of about three to four years.
I think we should have a system of budgeting in which the entire process, right from formulation, planning and approval by the National Assembly is concluded by the first week of December. So that by January 2, the government can starts its implementation on a full year scale. This will give room for rapid economic development.
How can we achieve this?
Right from the process of budget formulation and planning, the executive should carry the National Assembly along. There should be collaboration and ohesion. I don’t see anything wrong in the ministries, department and agencies of government, inviting the relevant committees of the legislature to meetings so that they could all brainstorm, even at the point of budget planning. If there would be collaboration at the early stage, the process of approval and confirmation by the federal parliament would be faster and a mere formality because nothing in the budget would be strange to the two parties. I see no reason the executive would take it upon itself to write the budget with the exclusion of the lawmakers. It is not possible for the National Assembly to rubber-stamp it; so, they will scrutinise it and accommodate projects that are of essence to the people they represent too. At that stage, it affects the plans and programmes of the executive too.
The nation’s budget has not been efficient in the last four years because the implementation is usually below 20 per cent and this is not healthy for our economy.
When do you expect the executive to submit the budget to the National Assembly to avoid delay?
The executive, after adequate collaboration with the legislature, should start the budgeting process by April, with meetings so that by July, both arms of government should have concluded the process of examination. Then it should be submitted by September. Since the National Assembly would have been part of the process from inception, it won’t take them long to pass it, latest by December and the implementation would commence in January 2.
What of in the area of oversight?
The collaboration should also include the oversight functions of the National Assembly. Oversight should not be seen as a servant-master relationship. It starts right from the process of implementation but it would be much easier to perform if the executive carries the lawmakers along early enough. We should have a robust budget office that should be able to bring the executive and the legislature together. They should organise meetings between relevant MDAs and the committees of the National Assembly for easy collaboration and mutual understanding. This should not be a difficult task now that the APC is controlling the executive and the two chambers of the National Assembly. There are tremendous capacity in the current National Assembly, with members being former governors, former ministers among others. Within the few period of interacting with my colleagues, I even discovered that we have more capacity in the National Assembly than in the executive. The executive should tap into the tremendous capacity and resources available in the legislature. The collaboration would eliminate the issue of budget padding.
Nigerians believe that federal lawmakers earn bogus pay. Do you think the perception is wrong?
Perception is usually too far from reality. The National Assembly is never a popular institution. It is the most unpopular arm of government in any democratic setting. In any democratic country, the parliament is the most unpopular because people don’t even see what they are doing. People cannot quantify the work unlike those of the executive. People see the legislature as a place where a group of people gather themselves doing nothing and earn big monies that cannot be justified. They have forgotten that it is only by having a legislature in place that qualifies any nation to be called a democratic country.
The minister is supported with adequate funds to perform in the ministry; similar treatment should be accorded the senators too. The office of a federal lawmaker should have its budget. Their offices should be seen as a cost centre too just like that of a minister. They should have adequate supporting staff even if the numbers are not up to those of the ministers. In advanced democracies like America, their senators have up to 30 aides, which may include two or three professors and other highly qualified people working for a senator. The money accruable to a senator in America may not be as high as that of Nigeria but the budget for his office is 10 times higher than that of a senator in Nigeria. Even the earnings of the senator in Nigeria are not for him personally but for the running of his office in the National Assembly and constituency offices. But people see it as money being earned by an individual. Whereas, it is for the office of a senator, which should be seen as an institution.
For instance, I need at least 10 qualified aides to be working with me. I don’t think that the budget of the National Assembly is opaque as people want to believe. I think it is not even enough to take care of the lawmakers’ offices. The budget of the National Assembly is not secret, people should find out how it is being appropriated. I do not expect any senator, just like anywhere in the world, to come out and say this is how the whole things are. The journalists should find out from the civil servants working in the National Assembly.
Will you support the reduction of the allowances of the National Assembly members?
By reducing the salaries and allowances of the National Assembly members, you are crippling their capacity to perform their legislative functions. By so doing so, it will never be in the interest of the nation. Many of us condemned members of the National Assembly in the Second Republic for earning big salaries but when the military took over, we thought that the soldiers would use the money saved from the lawmakers’ allowances, which would no longer be paid to them and do something good for the nation but we were disappointed, because the military did nothing spectacular with the money.