A parliament without accountability

Alhaji Hamman Tukur was the former Chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) who was the first to give an insight into the illegal emoluments which members of the National Assembly awarded to themselves.  In an interview with the Premium Times in August 2015, he spoke of his experience with both the legislative and executive branches of government.  Excerpts:

The National Assembly continues to receive allowances different from what the Commission approved for them. Why was the Commission not able to stop that during your time?

Tukur: It was not a question of not being able to stop it, but because of the pressure from Labour. We told them (Labour) in a circular some time ago that every single naira any member of the National Assembly receives outside what the Commission approved was illegal, null and void.

PT: Who approved that money?

Tukur: I would not tell you the Commission did not know, because it was our job to know. But, we knew as much as we knew, and what we knew was what we approved. One time, they invited us to the National Assembly, and we said let us start by asking: who approves your budget? They started walking out from the meeting. And that is how the meeting ended. How can you as a National Assembly, the legislative arm of government not be answerable to anybody? All information about budget is always on the executive, which defends its budget before the National Assembly. But, we are in a democracy. People must know.

PT: How did the Commission handle the issue of revenue sharing formula?

Tukur: Usually the Commission carried out research into what would determine the revenue formula, particularly in line with what the Constitution says, to accommodate the interest of the Federal, all the states and the 774 Local Governments, whether elected or selected.

PT: Did you say selected?

Tukur: My opinion is that except the recent election (Buhari’s), most others were selected. PT: Are you saying that even the two governments you served – Obasanjo and Yar’adua, were also selected?

Tukur: I am not aware of Obasanjo, but, anybody else – Yar’adua or Jonathan – were by selection.

PT: But you accepted to serve in them. If you knew they were not elected, like Yar’adua, why did you accept to serve under him?

Tukur: I think I must have told him. Yes, I know, I must have told him. He even admitted his election was rigged.

PT: You were always so critical of Obasanjo. Why were you so hard on him?

Tukur: No! Not that I was hard on him. You see, if Obasanjo determines to do something, anything, you can hardly change his mind. But, he will admit it. Take for instance when a committee was set up to fix the salary of the president. When he threatened to sack me, I said, “oya”.

PT: Then why did he not sack you?

Tukur: By law, he cannot. By the provision of the Constitution, only two thirds majority of the Senate can drive away any one member of the Commission.

PT: If he knew that why did he threaten to sack you?

Tukur: He did not know at that material time, I think. When he found out, he backed off.  But, I don’t know if he forgot. That was the problem of Chief Obasanjo, or Kabiyesi of Yorubaland, and the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic. There is a wide difference between the two.

PT: What were the issues you were always disagreeing with him?

Tukur: Well, a lot of controversies. The one I can easily remember had to do with the issue of his salary. When we told him what he was going to be paid, he did not believe it. We had suggested to him that we wanted to pay him a little less than the then Chief Justice of the Federation.  He did not believe it.

PT: And he disagreed?

Tukur: He said, “How dare you?”  Do you know who you are talking about?

PT: So, did he say how much he wanted to be paid exactly?

Tukur: Well, I don’t know. He did not say. It is not what he wanted, but what the Commission wanted to pay the President of the Federal Republic. The Commission’s job is to determine the pay of Mr. President and all political office holders. And we fixed it. But, when we finished the computation, it turned out that it was a little more than what the Chief Justice was to earn. It took a little allowance to earn more than the Chief Justice.

PT: To have survived Obasanjo, your Commission must have been a tough one!

Tukur: In those days, the Commission had very serious members who would not accept anything from anybody.  They knew their job and were ready to do it the best way they could.

In a press statement on Wednesday last week signed by Mr. Ibrahim Mohammed, RMAFC’s Spokesperson, the Commission pointed out that the clarification has become imperative in view of the recent revelation by Mr. Shehu Sani, a Senator of the Federal Republic, who was reported to have disclosed to the public that each Senator collects monthly running cost of N13.5m in addition to the monthly salary of N750,000.00 prescribed by the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders(Salaries and Allowances, etc.) Amendments) Act, 2008”. According to the statement, the law on Salaries and Allowances of Public Office Holders is very clear and as such, it is only the management of the National Assembly Service Commission that can explain the N13.5m running cost allegedly being enjoyed by each Senator as the Act only covers Salary and Allowances but not Running Cost. “A closer look at the monthly entitlement of Senators reveals that each Senator collects salary and allowances of the sum of N1,063,860:00, consisting of the following basic-N168,866:70, motor vehicle fuelling and maintenance allowance N126,650:00, Personal Assistant N42,216:66, Domestic Staff-126,650:00, Entertainment-N50,660:00,Utilities-N50,660:00,Newspapers/Periodicals-N25,330:00,Wardrobe-N42,216,66:00,House Maintenance-N8,443.33:00 and Constituency-N422,166:66 respectively.”

“It is instructive to note that some allowances are regular while others are non-regular. Regular allowances are paid regularly with Basic Salaries while Non-Regular allowances are paid as at when due. For instance, Furniture allowance (N6,079,200:00); and Severance Gratuity (N6,079,200:00) are paid once in every tenure, while Motor Vehicle Loan-(N8,105,600:00) is optional which the beneficiary has to offset before leaving office.”   The payment of Running Cost is not part of RMAFC mandate, therefore only the NASS can explain it.”

The RMAFC was written right into the Constitution.  You can’t disband it even if you wanted.  Its silence over the extraordinary takings of members of the National Assembly once left the impression that its members were complicit with the looting.  Now, the commission has explained its position, the ball is now in the court of the National Assembly to tell the country how it has for nearly 18 years paid itself monies that are unequivocally illegal and morally unjustifiable.

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