By BEN AGANDE, KADUNA.
The governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El Rufai last week upped the ante in the quest for a more transparent National Assembly, especially on their budgetary allocation when he pointedly told the speaker of the House of Representatives, that the national assembly should make public its allocation as well as the salaries of members and its leadership in order to stave off the negative image that has continued to dog the institution..
At the closing ceremony of the an investment forum organised by the state government, Governor El Rufai told the speaker who was the special guest of honour that opening up their books by the national assembly was the least the legislators could do to restore its battered image among Nigerians
According to the governor, “it is important that the national assembly does something about its image. No transparency in your (NASS) budget; nobody knows your budget or how much you get paid. Publications are made about your salaries and allowances that I don’t believe are true but cannot be defended because there is no transparency about your budget, personnel cost and so on and so forth. I think you can do something about that to clear all the rumours and remove all the evil stories that are largely untrue”.
Governor Nasir El Rufai conveyed to the National Assembly through the speaker a widely held view among Nigerians that by not putting their salaries in the public domain, the National assembly was deliberately concealing from Nigerians the unjust and to some, the unjustifiable resources that members of the national assembly take from the public till. It was a message that resonated with majority of Nigerians.
Determined not to be unjustly portrayed to the public as insensitive to the plight of Nigerians especially at this period of recession, the speaker of the House of Representatives rose to the occasion to defend the institution that he represents.
Speaker Dogara stated that though he was unwilling to join issues with El Rufai, it is imperative to place the issues in proper perspective. According to Dogara, it would be improper for Nasir El Rufai to be seeking a greater transparency from the national assembly when governors, including El Rufai have all shrouded their security votes in secrecy.
Taking the fight to El Rufai, Dogara said “I will like to challenge him (El Rufai) to champion this cause for transparency in the budgetary process from the National Assembly to other arms of government. We want to see clearly how chief executives of states are paid. What do they spend as security votes? And if they can publish what happens to local government funds under their jurisdictions that will help our discussion going forward” he said.
The issues raised by El Rufai and the counter posed by Dogara bother on what have occupied the minds of Nigerians since the return to democratic rule in 1999. Although the salaries and allowances of members of the national assembly are stipulated by the revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal commission, the exact amount each member of the assembly gets remains very contentious with some people alleging that each member takes home, as much as N10 million monthly. All attempts by Nigerians to get the real money collected by their legislators have so far proved abortive.
For governors, Nigerians are concerned that under the guise of security votes, huge sums of money are siphoned by the governors into personal pockets while also cornering monies meant for local governments.
For a man who strives stridently to portray his image as being averse to corruption, it was obvious that Governor El Rufai was not going to take the challenge from Dogara lying low. To put further pressure on the legislators, the Kaduna state governor took up the challenge thrown at him by Dogara. In a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Samuel Aruwan, governor El Rufai did not only make public his state’s budgetary allocation for security but also released his payslip indicating how much he earns as governor monthly. Although speaker Dogara also released his payslip to show that neither him nor the National Assembly as an institution has anything to hide when it comes to what members get paid, many Nigerians took the gesture with a pinch of salt as they believe that it was not far reaching enough.
By joining the calls for the National Assembly to be less opaque in its financial dealings, Governor El Rufai has once again brought to the front burner the issue that has dominated public discourse for a while. According to a Kadnua based lawyer, by joining the fray, El Rufai has ‘demonstrated that the clamour by Nigerians that the national assembly should make its budget public is not something that should be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
“By all standards, El Rufai cannot be said to be a wailer. He belongs to the same political class like the lawmakers so he cannot be said to be envious of that class. Rather than divert attention by saying that El Rufai should concentrate on the security challenges in his state, the leadership of the House of Representatives has demonstrated they are not interested in addressing the concerns of Nigerians. Governor El Rufai only conveyed the feelings of Nigerians whom members of the national assembly claim to be representing. They must address this concern comprehensively” he said.
If the positive response that El Rufai’s challenge to the national assembly generated is anything to go by, it means that until the national assembly addresses the issue of its budgetary allocation and the what governors do with their security votes are known, Nigerians will continue to insist that they are being shortchanged by those they elected to lead them.