A dogged transparency campaign reveals why it pays to be a lawmaker in Nigeria

Nigeria’s National Assembly in Abuja
Nigeria’s National Assembly in Abuja
Image: AP Photo
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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 house representative is a pretty lucrative gig. But now, for the first time, we know exactly just how much it pays.

After many years of keeping its budget secret, Nigeria’s National Assembly, made up of the Senate and House of Representatives, has finally published a breakdown of its annual budget. 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 is pegged at $393 million–a $31 million increase from last year.

The published documents show Nigerian senators will earn $55,000 a year in salary, while house of representatives members will earn $42,000—but that’s not the real story. For lawmakers, the big bucks come in form of the generous allowances. Put together, each lawmaker will cost taxpayers $540,000 to maintain in 2017.

The published budget represents a big win for #OpenNASS, the campaign for transparency and accountability in the National Assembly. The campaign has been led by BudgIT, a civic startup and EiE Nigeria, a governance and public accountability advocacy coalition.

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.

While getting the lawmakers’ budget revealed is some progress, #OpenNASS campaigners insist there’s more to be done. Stanley Achonu, operations lead at BudgIT says the campaign has more demands. “They must begin publishing their attendance record and voting record so constituents know how their representatives voted on any particular issue,” Achonu tells Quartz. One of the campaign’s demands, the introduction of electronic voting, has already been met. Crucially, #OpenNASS also demands an audit of the lawmakers’ $3.4 billion spend between 2005 and 2014.

Publishing the budget is hoped to be the beginning of a new phase of transparency inNigeria’s National Assembly but Achonu says, eventually lawmakers must “take the lead” on pruning down luxuries and cutting costs. To get this done, Achonu recommends even more advocacy. “We expect Nigerians to ask questions whenever they meet their representatives,” he says. “Our National Assembly must truly become the people’s representatives.”