Many Nigerians have expressed shock and dismay at the N23.7 billion severance package for Eighth National Assembly lawmakers in the face of what they called pervasive poverty in the land.
Those who spoke with The Nation noted that the “hefty” pay-off showed that the lawmakers were insensitive to the plight of millions of Nigerian who they say have been pauperised by the huge salaries the lawmakers take home.
The United Progressive Party (UPP) National Chairman Chekwas Okorie said the action of the lawmakers could not be justified, given the current state of the economy.
He said: “It is scandalous that they are giving themselves this mouth-watering severance package without passing through the body set up by government to fix the salaries and allowances of public officials, including those at the National Assembly, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
“This is just pure blackmail. The National Assembly has been having this sort of hostile relationship with the Executive arm of government since this set of lawmakers came in four years ago.
“They know that the President would assent to the Appropriation Bill, because of time constraint; he could not afford to wait for the Ninth Assembly for things to get back to normal. This people are not only corrupt, they are very, very unpatriotic.
“The President must try and beat them to their game. President Buhari should go ahead and assent to the bill and during implementation, he can apply to the incoming Ninth Assembly for a review. He can apply for virement, and he can also apply for a supplementary budget.
“The Buhari administration has been complaining about padding of budgets. This is an indication that what the government has been saying all along is true. Giving themselves a severance package of N23 billion is the most scandalous thing this set of legislators has done. They are so shameless. I am thoroughly disappointed by this development.
“But the deed has been done. President Buhari should not allow them to delay our budget unnecessarily; he should assent to it and find a way to adjust later.”
Okorie hoped the incoming Ninth Assembly would toe a different path.
He said: “This is why the Presidency is interested in those who will eventually emerge as principal officers of the incoming Ninth Assembly. It is because of this sort of thing that the Presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC) national leadership have indicated that members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would be excluded from occupying key positions in the coming dispensation.
“It is not likely that an APC-controlled National Assembly would create problems for a government controlled by the party. This is because all of them are going to face the electorate again in 2023.”
The UPP national chairman noted that what played out during the Eighth Assembly was a PDP agenda to make the ruling APC look bad in the eyes of the people.
Okorie added: “The intent was to make the APC fail to pave the way for its defeat in 2019, but obviously, the opposition has failed in that respect.”
Former Vice-President of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), Chief Bisi Ogunjobi, said the issue should be examined from the viewpoint of how the severance of the Seventh Assembly and those before it were determined.
He said: “If they go beyond what was done for the Seventh Assembly, then we can say there is something wrong. But, for now, I don’t know how that of the Seventh Assembly was determined and what they got as severance package.”
Ogunjobi, an economist, said the budgeting process is flawed and that both arms of government must go back to the 12-month cycle – from January to December.
He said this year’s budget has eight months before it elapses, rather than 12 months.
The founding President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu, described the action of the lawmakers as selfish.
He said: “In my view, this set of legislators is selfish; they are more concerned about their own welfare, than that of those who elected them and the nation at large. The problem between the leadership of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate, and the executive arm of government has made things to go the way they are not supposed to go under normal circumstances.
“It is a sort of a cat and mouse relationship. But, by the first week of June, when the Ninth National Assembly would have taken over, things will improve and we are going to see more sanity in the National Assembly. That is my hope.
“But if that is not the case, they are going to face the wrath of the people, because Nigerians have indicated that they are no longer going to tolerate this sort of thing. Of course, I am happy they passed the N30,000 monthly minimum wage; that is a good development. But that does not mean that the national coffers should be emptied.
“How many years have some of them served? Many of them have not served for more than four years or eight years. Nigerians who served for about 25 years are still struggling to get their pension or gratuity.
“The NLC has been calling for social justice. I don’t think there is any social justice in what they (National Assembly lawmakers) are doing. It is not only the National Assembly. State assemblies, like Bayelsa, have been approving a similar mouth-watering severance package for themselves. This is not patriotic.”
The Southeast Secretary General of the human rights watchdog, the Campaign for Democracy (CD) Dr. Jerry Chukwuokolo said the action of the lawmakers cannot be treated in isolation.
The activist noted that under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the Executive arm, had not also been obeying the laws of the land.
He said: “I want to look at it from a more holistic perspective. First of all, the Executive arm of government, which has been lying to us, is it doing well? Everybody understands that this country has got to a point of no return in terms of doing things in the right way.
“The lawmakers cannot be an exception. Does anybody obey the law in Nigeria? We live in a banana republic where people do whatever they like. But whenever it favours them, they start calling our attention to it. Or, is it anywhere it is convenient for the Executive that we should apply the law?”
An elder statesman and one of the leaders of Afenifere, the apex Yoruba socio-political organisation, Chief Femi Okunrounmu, said it was a waste of time commenting on such issues because it would almost not change anything.
He said: “We have been commenting for years without any appreciable result to show for it. Nigerians are so docile; they are very docile people who fail to take necessary action to prevent recurrence of an incident like this.
“Otherwise, the National Assembly will not embark on this type of journey when Nigerians are suffering. All the recklessness would have stopped if Nigerians cared. The National Assembly can take all the money and Nigerians would keep quiet.
“So, the comment would amount to nothing because whatever we say the National Assembly will still do what it intends to do and get away with it. They make ridiculous budgetary allocation to themselves; they collect money recklessly and spend with impunity.
“We are aware of the kind of provisions they make to themselves regularly. We know what a senator takes home every month compare to what Nigerian workers earn. We have been commenting on this for years, but what have we done about it?
“The National Assembly lawmakers know they can do what they are doing and get away with it, hence they are not bothered. We can stop them if only we get on our feet and march on the National Assembly. We must say enough is enough.”
The National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Eddy Olafeso, said the political class is the problem with Nigeria because of their insensitivity to the yearnings and aspirations of the people.
He said: “It is very unfortunate that people believe when you have a ticket to become a political leader that you are entitled to be fed for the rest of your life.
“To me, I believe that is not fair. At a point, it has to stop. That is why I earlier on mentioned that these people are the same. That is why nobody is taking the job so seriously. That is why we have the reckless rat race to become a National Assembly member. They want to become senators or governors. They should be informed that the people they represent are the most important than they themselves.
“If Nigeria is going through this trauma of poor development and there is a threat of recession outside there, there is no basis for what they did.”