Terming it “strange, unthinkable and very disheartening”, the leader of a Nigerian pro-reform group castigated the “monumental” pay of the country’s lawmakers.
Areoye Oyebola, a former newspaper editor who chairs the Movement for Nigeria’s Total Transformation, urged a pay cut of as much as 90%.
Amid grinding poverty, a Nigerian senator earns “US$1.7 million annually”, Oyebola said, “far higher than the US$400,000 yearly income of the US president”.
“Even a member of the house of representatives also earns more than the American president. What a tragic and pathetic situation!” he added.
Oyebola confirmed to Africa Check that he was quoted correctly, but didn't give a specific data source to back it up.
“Yes, I said it. I also wrote it in my book and this is based on my calculations and information I saw on the internet,” he said, referring to his Grave issues Nigeria must tackle 2012 publication. "It's there. It’s all over the internet!"
We pored over the internet to find out.
How much does the leader of the US earn?Oyebola is right that the president of the United States - currently Donald Trump - earns US$400,000 annually. This has been the case since 1999, according to the Congressional Research Service. Expenses are capped at US$50,000.
In Nigeria, the state agency that sets the pay of public officers is the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The country has 109 senators and 360 members of the lower house of representatives in its national assembly.
The revenue agency’s spokesman Ibrahim Mohammed told Africa Check that the legislators were currently being paid according to a 2007 remuneration structure.
A proposed 2009 review championed by late President Umaru Yar'Adua, which would have cut their pay, was rejected by the national assembly, Mohammed added. He said the commission is working on another salary structure that would dock the lawmakers pay.
"We are yet to conclude on the downward review of the remuneration package for political and public office holders, though it started in 2015."
Allowances can swell salary six-fold
Senators earn an annual basic salary of N2,026,400 (US$6,630 at the current official exchange rate), while that of a house of representatives member is N1,985,212 (US$6,495). But allowances can swell the basic salary more than six-fold - to N12,902,360 (US$42,212) a year for a senator and N9,525,985 (US$31,160) for a member of the lower house.
The legislators further qualify for additional benefits paid every four years. These are accommodation, car loans, furniture allowances and a send-off amount at the end of their term.
Calculated annually, these extra benefits can take the annual pay of a senator to US$62,000 and US$50,964 in the case of a house of representatives member.
Spending loopholes must be plugged
Samuel Atiku, the head of research at public finance watchdog BudgIT, told Africa Check that due to a lack of transparency in parliament’s budget process the total annual pay may be even higher than what is publicly shared.
The national assembly enjoys wide financial autonomy, which has created conditions for secrecy about their pay. This has led to campaigns for more transparency.
Following pressure, including from the presidency, the lawmakers in May 2017 gave a peek of their books - the first time since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. For this year, parliament will get N125 billion (US$409 million) in total.
“There are schools, hospitals and other critical projects to be built that will affect the lives of millions of Nigerians,” Atiku said. “I don't think there is any justification for the national assembly of about 460 members to have a bigger budget than some states in Nigeria.” (Note: Yobe state has N70 billion to spend this year.)
Conclusion: Nigerian lawmakers do not earn more than US leader
The head of a Nigeria pro-reform group criticised the pay of the country’s legislators, saying they were earning more than the president of the United States.
Excluding additional benefits paid every four years, a Nigerian senator earns about a tenth of the annual pay package of a US president. Still, campaign groups say parliament needs to be much more transparent about legislators’ pay and plug loopholes, given that its budget is bigger than that of some states.