Nigerian senators are lamenting over their last Christmas allowance of N2 million way below the usual N50 million and above as a particular senator said. Some senators have described the amount as a fraction of a regular stream of benefits accrued to them.
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The amount which they further described as “a mere drop” in the vast ocean of their Yuletide expenses has led to a fraction of them threatening to cause the Senate leadership “some headache” upon resumption from their Christmas.
“It was not enough to meet our Christmas needs. In fact, some of us are already coming together to formally complain to our president,” a senator said.
The senators received the N2 million on December 18, 2019, from the senate overhead and operations account, according to bank transaction alerts of two senators according to a PREMIUM TIMES report.
Although the reason for the transaction was not stated on the payments, lawmakers had been informed previously to expect the funds as their Christmas allowances. The senators who refused to disclose their identity to avoid possible attack from other lawmakers threatens to go public if their anger goes beyond control.
“They said we should use the money to take care of our families and constituents. I was just standing there without knowing what to say for many minutes,” a senator said.
The senator lamented on the “the failure” of Senate President Ahmed Lawan inability to understand the scale of responsibility they usually face whenever they visit their constituency.
“There are many local government areas under my district,” the senator said. “How do I tell them that I only came back home with N2 million?”
“Even when I am travelling for an event or just to visit my constituency, I usually hold at least N50 million,” the senator added.
Another lawmaker confirmed that senators usually received a far larger amount for Christmas allowances. The lawmakers worried so much about why the current assembly that has maintained a cordial relationship with the executive now finds itself receiving much less.
“We have been struggling in poverty since we came on board months ago,” the senator said. “I asked my distinguished colleagues why we have to be the one suffering the excesses of past assemblies.”
“We have given this administration every support and people on social media are angry and calling us a rubber-stamp Senate,” the senator said.
“We have started gathering ourselves and we will make our position known to the leadership, Otherwise, we may not have a choice left but to publicly call out the leadership and give them some headache when we resume plenary,” the senator said.
A statement from two senators who served in seventh and eight assemblies confirmed that senators truly received Christmas allowances well over N2 million, although they could not recall the specific amount.
“We received allowances for Christmas and Sallah holidays during our time in the Seventh Assembly. I am struggling to remember how much we received then, but I am very sure each one was far more than N2 million,” a former senator from Ogun State said.
Another former senator confirmed that he received more than N2 million in Christmas bonus, but warned that members of the current assembly should concentrate on their activities rather than complaining about payment.
“The N2 million may look small. But I will advise them to remember the millions of Nigerians who cannot even earn a fraction of that amount throughout the year,” the senator said.
The former senators insisted on speaking off the background to avoid offending their serving senators, many of whom they identified as friends and political associates.
Lack of trust at the top
Although the senators did not mention the exact amount they think would have been okay for them as Christmas bonus, they sounded suspicious that the share of each member of the 109 bodies was more than N2 million.
“I have been struggling to reconcile the amount we received as National Assembly budget with the small-small stipends we have been getting from the leadership. Unlike the Senate President, we are not entitled to many official benefits like private jets and free fuel for our vehicles,” a senator said.
The National Assembly received N125 billion in 2019. This is below N140 billion it received in 2018. Nigerians are still highly critical of the government’s priority in allocating such heavy amount to only 469 people in a population of about 200 million people. Statistically, about 90 million Nigerians still languish in abject poverty.
Lawmakers usually benefit majorly from the so-called constituency intervention projects whose allocation usually surpasses N100 billion per year. Even though the projects are implemented by federal agencies, lawmakers are often accorded sufficient deference in choosing contractors of which they influence greatly.
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The opaque atmosphere under which contractors are nominated for constituency projects allows lawmakers to push their own fronts who would then channel a large chunk of released project funds back to them — all done under the radar with little or difficult-to-prove paper trail.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers who expressed anger over the N2 million Christmas bonus said the Nigerian parliament was far better before now.
“Senators in the past left office as billionaires. But things are no longer the way they used to be,” one senator said.
Another senator said the growing awareness of their expenses by everyday Nigerians and civic groups has made it difficult to spend without any sense of accountability.
“It is becoming more and more difficult by every passing assembly. I predict fewer people would be interested in this office in the next few years,” the senator said.
In 2018, senators were drawing N13.5 million per month in controversial running cost, amongst a slew of other consistent allowances known and unknown to Nigerians.