The 9th National Assembly and the #OpenNASS campaign

June 29, 2019

'There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, and there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.' -Joseph Pulitzer

It pays to be a lawmaker in Nigeria, and no, this isn’t about the proceeds of corruption you often read about Africa’s largest economy. This is all above board.

It’s been known or estimated for a while now that being a Nigerian Senator or member of the House Representatives is a pretty lucrative gig. But now, for the first time during the ertswhile 8th National Assembly led by Senator Bukola Saraki, we know exactly just how much it pays.

The #OpenNASS advocacy and demands over the past years for an open and transparent National Assembly has remained in the mainstream of discussions. This is particularly important because the legislative arm of government has oversight function over the executive. How can legislators hold the executive accountable when they are opaque in their internal operations?

There have been several articles written and infographs published on the issue. The allegations of 'budget padding' also started conversations in the National Assembly about the breakdown of the budget because only the principal officers seem to know the details.

After many years of keeping its budget secret, Nigeria’s National Assembly, made up of the Senate and House of Representatives, published for the first time a breakdown of its annual budget in 2017. In the past, the national assembly’s total budget allocation had been included in the national budget but without a breakdown. The national assembly’s 2017 budget was pegged at N125 billion.

While millions of workers are pining away on meagre wages and millions more are either unemployed or are being owed salaries for months, legislators are having a good time with huge amount as salaries and allowances. They compete with celebrities to flaunt the latest cars in their garage and even find time to make mocking videos. That is why the #OpenNASS campaign has been agitating transparency at the National Assembly.

While state governments across Nigeria struggle to pay workers’ salaries given the economic downturn over the past 18 months, lawmakers do not experience any delays getting paid as the national assembly’s funds are part of a statutory transfer category which the government is required to grant high priority. In a much starker contrast, the lawmakers’ lavish pay is almost 10,000 times more than the national minimum wage and is more than 200 times Nigeria’s GDP per capita.

Lack of accountability in the National Assembly is very dangerous for our democracy because those who are elected to provide oversight over the executive arm’s implementation of our budget cannot be expected to provide leadership and ensure accountability when they have refused to be accountable with resources allocated to them.

Again, it needs to be reiterated particularly with the recent inauguration the 9th National Assembly that Nigerians are clamouring for an #OpenNASS. Transparency and public accountability is one of the key principles of good governance. The #OpenNASS campaign has 3 goals:

  1. Make public details of the National Assembly’s budget.
  2. Replace voice voting with electronic voting and making voting records public so citizens can track their representatives.
  3. Maintain a functional website, provide contact information of its members, activate the switchboard in the National Assembly complex so citizens can engage their presentatives and make public the attendance records at plenary.

The National Assembly is a critical institution in our democracy and we will ensure that it is repurposed to serve all Nigerians, not just a few.

It is hoped that the Lawan and Gbajabiamila-led 9th Assembly will turn these demands into a policy document which will be binding on subsequent National Assembly leaders. The next four years will show whether they both mean well or not. Meanwhile, Nigerians are waiting and watching.