The increased NASS budget
THE report that the National Assembly, in its consideration of the 2017 Federal Government budget, has decided to increase the estimates for its running from N115 billion to N125 billion raises fundamental issues with the way leaders in Nigeria approach governance and commitment to the welfare of the people. This is because the entire country is currently struggling to recover from an unprecedented economic recession. Yet it is during this critical time of rational belt-tightening that the National Assembly is increasing its own budget. And the rationale for this increase, according to Honourable Dickson Tarkighir, a member of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriation, is precisely because of the present economic realities and the subsequent increase in the foreign exchange that had drastically affected the operations of the National Assembly.
In the words of Honourable Tarkighir: “The cost of the dollar virtually affects all facets of life. For almost everything we do here, we have to exchange naira for dollars. We import paper from abroad, including the ones we used to produce the budget … Now, we can’t even buy operational vehicles because there is no money. You wouldn’t believe that with the current exchange rate, this budget is less than N100 billion, you are just seeing the figures on the surface.” Did Honourable Tarkighir think that he was explaining the increase in the budget of the Nigerian National Assembly to non-Nigerians, the way he was talking about the exchange rate and the negative effects of the current economic recession? The recession has been affecting all Nigerians and all aspects of the Nigerian economy, yet the National Assembly, in the reckoning of Honourable Tarkighir and evidently the totality of its membership, should be the only institution insulated from its effects.
If the National Assembly needed to increase its budget because of the rate of foreign exchange, what has it done with regard to the fortunes of other Nigerians, particularly the downtrodden who are reeling under the effects of the same high rate of foreign exchange? It would seem that, as far as the members of the National Assembly are concerned, what is important is to appropriate more national resources for themselves and not the condition of other Nigerians. The National Assembly continues to sustain the ostentatious lifestyle of its members while the rest of the citizenry endures anguish. What seems important is ensuring that the National Assembly and its members do not lack the resources they need to continue to enjoy themselves even under the current economic situation when other Nigerians are called upon to bear with the government and enjoined to tighten their belts.
Yet, this is the same National Assembly that is supposed to be populated by the direct representatives of the people who should know the true conditions of the people and be concerned about their welfare. This is the same National Assembly that has not considered it fit to increase the national minimum wage even while admitting that the increase in the rate of foreign exchange has made things more expensive generally in the country. This is the same National Assembly that is unable to guarantee payment of salaries across the country even where the salaries are grossly inadequate in the light of present realities.
The bottom line is that members of the current National Assembly, just like other members of the ruling group in Nigeria, are more concerned about themselves and their own lifestyles than the welfare of the generality of the people. This is what the unconscionable increase in the budget of the National Assembly during this time of recession represents and speaks to. This action reflects insensitivity and demonstrates that Nigerians would have to be more focused on how to make those in government more responsible and responsive. That task has become more urgent now given the open disdain for the people and their welfare and the sole commitment to personal interests demonstrated by the members of the National Assembly in the present case.