Amidst the hardship caused by the removal of the fuel subsidy, TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN writes that senators’ allowances indicate that they are indifferent to the suffering in the country
In the fast-paced world of politics, a single misstep can reverberate far beyond its initial utterance. Such was the case when the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, made a seemingly innocuous statement that set off a firestorm of controversy.
Akpabio, on August 7, before the Senate adjourned for a seven-week annual recess, told his colleagues that money had been sent to them to “enjoy” their holiday, apparently forgetting that the proceeding was being captured on live camera.
The Senate President said, “To enable all of us to enjoy our holidays, a token has been sent to our various accounts by the Clerk of the National Assembly.
“I withdraw that statement. To allow you to enjoy your holiday, the Senate President has sent prayers to your mailboxes to assist you to go on a safe journey and return.”
His words, whether offhand or deliberate, unleashed a cascade of reactions that dominated the social media space for days.
The few-second clip was greeted with heavy criticism as Nigerians particularly decried the recklessness of the parliament and its insensitivity to the pains and cries of Nigerians amidst severe hardships due to economic reforms made by President Bola Tinubu.
Nigeria has a bicameral legislature, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Lawmakers in both chambers receive various allowances in addition to their salaries. These allowances cover different aspects of their work and expenses, including housing, transportation, constituency outreach, and more.
In the past, there have been controversies and debates surrounding the transparency and appropriateness of the allowances received by Nigerian lawmakers, particularly because their allowances were often shrouded in secrecy.
Interestingly, Akpabio’s mention was the first time Nigerians became aware that lawmakers got any form of money, like a holiday allowance. Although one would expect that workers get leave allowance during vacation, the gaffe sparked the curiosity of Nigerians.
However, Akpabio, since he emerged as president of the tenth Senate, has been able to throw himself and his 105 colleagues into different controversies in successive manners.
The “holiday bonus” comment came weeks after the lawmakers were allocated N70bn to support their “working conditions” in an amended 2022 supplementary appropriation act.
The lawmakers said the N70bn was earmarked as ‘palliatives’ to support “the working conditions of National Assembly members.”
This came barely a few days before the “Let the Poor Breathe” comment, another viral debacle that came with apologies and clarification afterward.
While the amount allocated for holiday enjoyment had remained a mystery, lawmakers, having been fired at by their constituents, came out to disclose that they got the sum of N2m only.
One of them was a screenshot of a credit alert emanating from the Ondo South lawmaker, Senator Jimoh Ibrahim.
He stated that each lawmaker got N2m with screenshot evidence for his seven weeks’ leave.
Similarly, the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Ali Ndume, buttressed, stating that there was no “big deal” in senators getting N2m as leave allowance.
In an interview with the BBC Hausa on Saturday, Ndume remarked that distributing a total of N218m among the 109 senators to enjoy their vacation is not an extraordinary occurrence.
However, in an interview on Politics Today, a political discourse programme on Channels TV, one of the prominent female lawmakers in the tenth Senate, Ireti Kingibe, denied getting any allowance.
She said, “I did not receive any prayers, but I will check my emails for the prayers. Truthfully, I don’t know what he was talking about.
“Most people assume that our allowances are being paid; some statutory things that we are paid. I don’t think it was anything extra that we were supposed to be given. I certainly haven’t seen anything extra.”