8th Assembly: Saraki, Ekweremadu, others failed to retire N73.5bn running cost

Senators who served in the immediate past National Assembly received over N73 billion in four years as running cost for their offices without effectively retiring the expenditure, Daily Trust investigations reveal.

The amount was part of the N150 billion approved by the 8th National Assembly for senators and members of the House of Representatives as running cost. The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) does not have provision for running cost for members of the National Assembly. Although sections 1709, 1783 and 1796 of the Financial Regulations provide that no further advance would be given unless retirement on previous ones are made, Daily Trust gathered that up to the end of the 8th Senate, the lawmakers did not render account of how they spent the money they received as running cost.

It was found that releases for running cost, which were requested through memos addressed to the Senate president, were made to the senators on monthly basis through vouchers. Investigations revealed that then Senate President Bukola Saraki received the highest amount in running cost to the tune of N2,092,038,411.36 in four years. A breakdown indicated that he got a monthly payment of N43,584,133.57 which translated to N523,009,602.84 annually as running cost.

He was closely followed by his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, who received N1, 534,862,352 within the same period. He received a monthly running cost of N31, 976, 299 which amounted to N383,715, 588 per annum. Also, the office of then Senate Leader which was initially occupied by Mohammed Ali Ndume, received N1,103,838,402.72 as running cost within the same period. The annual advances for the office stood at N275,959, 600.68 based on a monthly sum of N22,996, 633.39 as running cost.

The then Minority Leader, Philip Tanimu Aduda and Chief Whip, Olusola Adeyeye, received N798,969,443.52 each in four years as running cost. Each of them got N16, 645,196.74 monthly and N199,742,360.88 annually within the period in review. Investigations further showed that the remaining five principal officers during the last Senate – deputy Senate leader, deputy chief whip, deputy minority leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip – received N14,717,858.17 monthly each as office running cost which cumulatively amounted to N3,532,265,960.80 in four years. The remaining 99 senators received N13,408,630.7 monthly, amounting to N160, 903,565.40 each. The total sum received by all the 99 senators in four years as running cost stood at N643,614,273.60. Memos/payment vouchers Daily Trust exclusively obtained memos raised by principal officers and other senators to the office of then Senate President Saraki, requesting for office running cost as well as payments advanced to them through vouchers. The lawmakers individually or collectively received payments in respect of requests for running cost through vouchers duly stamped and entered into the National Assembly’s vote book.

For instance, in September 2016, a memo was raised for 99 ‘Distinguished Senators’ titled “REQUEST FOR OFFICE RUNNING COST,” for the total sum of N1,327,454,440. A breakdown contained in the request indicated that each of the senators applied for N217,800,000 for local travel; N297,000,000 for international travel; N69,3000,000 for office stationeries; N4,950,000 for books; N4,950,000 for newspapers and N99,000,000 for magazines. Similarly, each of the senators sought approval for the sum of N54,450,000 for printing of non-security documents; N44,550,000 for maintenance of motor vehicle; N54,450,000 for maintenance of IT and computers; N297,000,000 for consulting and professional services general; N99,000,000 for international training; N69,000,000 for local training; N4,950,000 for motor vehicle fuel cost; N49,5000,000 for lubricant cost; N4,950,000 for refreshment and N45,404,440 for postage and courier services. Payment in respect of the requested amounts totalling N1,327,454,440.00 was advanced through a single voucher but it was unclear how the retirements (if any) were made.

The voucher was marked: “PV/NASS/SEN/ADV/REC/ADV/2016/10/1047 and its detailed description of service/work read: “Being running cost granted to the office of 99 distinguished senators as 12th payment of 3rd quarter in the month of September 2016 vide relevant minute of approval attached in file no: NASS/SEN/420/12TH/2016 refers.” Checks further indicated that similar requests were made individually by five principal officers of the 8th Senate. A scrutiny of the office running cost for the month of October 2016 indicated that it emanated from Senators Philip Tanimu Aduda, Bala Ibn Na’ Allah, Francis Alimikhena, Emmanuel Bwacha and Biodun Olujimi, indicating that each of them received N14,717,858.17 as office running cost for that month.

The breakdown indicated that each of them had proposed to spend the amount as follows: N2,200,000 on local travel; N3,100,000 on international travel; N800,000 on stationeries/office consumables; N100,000 on books; N50,000 on newspapers; N100, 000 on magazines and periodicals; N550,000 on printing of non-security documents; N450,000 on maintenance of motor vehicle and N650,000 on maintenance of office equipment/plant and computers. Other items on the breakdown indicated that the sum of N800,000 was to be spent on local training; N1,100,000 on international training; N2,800,000 on consulting and professional services general; N100,000 on motor vehicle fuel cost; N100,000 on generator/plant fuel cost; N50,000 on lubricant cost N700,000 for refreshment and N50,000 on postage and courier services. The amount requested by each of the principal officers as running cost for that month, totalling N73,589,290.85, was paid through a payment voucher (Treasury F1: PV/NASS/SEN/ADV/REC/ADV/2016/11/1223).

The detailed description of service/work on the voucher read: “Being running cost cash granted to the office of the 5 distinguished principal officers as 13th payment for the month of October 2016 vide relevant minute of approval attached in file no. NASS/SEN/420/6/13/16 refers.” In the same vein, the Senate leader, minority leader, and the chief whip of the 8th Senate each received N16, 645,196.74 as monthly office running cost. In one of the vouchers seen by Daily Trust, payments were made following a request they individually made to the Senate president through the chairman, Senate services for the month of October 2016 allocation. The minority leader’s payment was made via voucher: PV/NASS/SEN/ADV/REC/ADV/2016/11/1227 while that of the chief whip was made through voucher: PV/NASS/SEN/ADV/REC/ADV2016/11/1221. For the same month, the Senate leader received payment for his office running cost through voucher: PV/NASS/SEN/ADV/REC/ADV/2016/11/1220.

A breakdown of their request for office running cost indicated that the chief whip and minority leader each received N2,800,000 for local travels; N3,200,000 for international travels; N100,000 for internet access charge; N900,000 for stationeries/office consumables; N100, 000 for books; N50,000 for newspapers; N100,000 for magazines and periodicals and N650,000 for printing of non-security documents. Each of them also received the sum of N550,000 for maintenance of motor vehicle; N650,000 for maintenance of office equipment/IT and computer; N800,000 for local training; N1,200,000 for international training; N3,000,000 for consulting and professional services; N250,000 for motor vehicle fuel cost; N150,000 for generator/plant fuel cost; N100,000 for lubricants cost; N100,000 for refreshments; N50,000 for postage and courier services and N995,196.74 for contingency. Although the requests for these office running costs were addressed to the office of the Senate president through the chairman, Senate services, Daily Trust investigations revealed that the payments were not backed by any authority.

This is because the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFC), which is the only body recognized by the Nigerian Constitution to fix the salaries and emoluments of political office holders, has no provision for office running cost requested by the senators. The RMAFC had in March 2018 reportedly declared as illegal, the N13.5 million each senator was reportedly collecting as running cost every month. According to the commission, payment of running cost was not covered by the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances) (Amendments) Act 2008” governing emoluments of political office holders in the country.

Following this declaration, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had urged the then Senate President Saraki and then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, to “persuade their members to voluntarily return running costs and other allowances collected, and now declared as illegal by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), and to use any returned funds to establish a trust fund to improve investment in education and health.”

We accounted for monies collected – Ndume Contacted, former Senate Leader Mohammed Ali Ndume said it was not true that monies paid to senators in the last National Assembly were not retired. “I don’t think senators go away without retiring their running costs. Apart from the office of internal auditors, the National Assembly is also subjected to external auditors,” he said. “Therefore, any money that is being paid to us must be retired and this is the same with any member of the National Assembly. I have retired my own and I always retire whatever amount is advanced to my office,” Ndume said.

Asked if details of such retirement could be accessed, Ndume, who lost out in his bid to preside over the 9th Senate, simply said: “It is confidential.” On his part, Yusuf Olaniyonu who served as spokesman to Saraki, simply said: “Go and see the CNA (Clerk of the National Assembly). That is his responsibility.” The Director of Information who also doubles as spokesman of the Clerk of the National Assembly, Emmanuel Agada, said he was not in a position to respond to the issue. “I don’t have the details to respond to your enquiry,” he said in reply to a text message on the matter.

Efforts to speak with other principal officers of the last Senate were unsuccessful as their phone lines were either unreachable or calls put across to them were unanswered. They should be held to account -Rafsanjani The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, has said that lawmakers involved in spending such huge amounts as running cost should be held to account. “Running cost for what?” he asked.

“How could they have expended such huge amounts as running cost in an economy that had stagnated? In an economy where poverty is on the rise? Running cost in an economy where many Nigerians are unable to find jobs? Running cost in an economy where heath end education facilities are in a deplorable state? “They should have resources enough to enable them carry out their functions but this must be done according to realistic financial and economic situation,” Rafsanjani said. He said as elected officials, lawmakers must use public resources judiciously in the best interest of the country otherwise it would amount to a betrayal of trust.