18 August 2017

Nigeria: First-Time Senators, Reps Groan Under Biting Bank Loans

There are indications that most of the Senators serving for the first time in the 8th Senate are grappling to settle very high loan repayment figures posted to their salary accounts by banks.

In the House of Representatives where more than 70 per cent of the 360 members are first time lawmakers, it is the same predicament as a reasonable number of them also took loans.

LEADERSHIP Friday gathered that the lawmakers had approached commercial banks in drove and obtained jumbo loans in expectation of high earnings at the National Assembly.

But their hopes were dashed following lean national revenue earnings and the policy of fiscal discipline, as well as the anti-corruption stance of the present federal government.

Reliable sources within the National Assembly and the banks who spoke to LEADERSHIP Friday yesterday said the Senators and members of the House took loans far in excess of the current stream of their earnings.

The sources who spoke to our correspondents on condition of anonymity noted, however, that there is nothing unusual for the lawmakers to obtain such high amount of monies as loans which they even repay from 'allowances' or 'largesse' which were not prescribed by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).

It was learnt that in the 8th Senate, 72 of the Senators are first timers, with most them badly affected by the bad loans.

While securing the loans hoping to repay within a year, they had to approach the banks again to re-apply for a spread of their loan repayments for two to three years.

It was also gathered that the banks usually grant these to the lawmakers, with a tenor of two years knowing full well that, while they are to serve for tenure of four years, giving them grace of three years, with just one year left to the expiration of their term in office might be too risky in terms of repayment.

"It is not unusual for the Senators, especially the new ones (first timers), to approach the banks to obtain loans to offset monies they borrowed to campaign, purchase new houses, settle four to five years rents, buy exotic cars to match their new status and meet other relevant or irrelevant demands", one of the sources at the National Assembly said.

Corroborating this, a source at the bank said, "We approached them and sold information on what their predecessors used to borrow from us and they bought into it. Unfortunately for them, the usual 'accidental discharges' as we used to call them are no longer forthcoming since this 'change' government came on board. It is only their regular earnings which used to be about N45million per quarter for each Senator, N35 million per individual for members of the House which has since reduced to monthly payment that they are earning now. I can't tell you the specific amount, but that jumbo amount is no longer paid to them".

Another source in one of the banks said, "To let you know the rot pervading the system or earnings at the National Assembly before, the Auditor-General of the Federation disclosed last year that N10 billion was paid out in 2013 or so without vouchers.

"You see, certain National Assembly staff are always mandated to handle Senators' vouchers and payment with strong warning to never under any circumstances disclose the content or let it out to anybody. The Senate constituted a committee to investigate the N10 billion paid to themselves without vouchers shortly after the Auditor-General of the Federation revealed that findings and the report of that committee has since been shrouded in secrecy.

"All this talk that the National Assembly has opened their books for public scrutiny is sheer hoax and untrue, but there is serious reduction in opaque transactions and earnings by the federal lawmakers".

In the House of Representatives, some of the new lawmakers could not access the facility due to pending election petition cases at the tribunal and were not able to meet up with the time lag for the loans when the cases were dispensed with.

A principal officer who spoke with LEADERSHIP Friday confirmed that many lawmakers accessed different loan facilities, even as other members who returned to the House also benefited from loan facilities.

According to him, it is not totally correct that first time lawmakers rush into taking a loan with expectations of jumbo pay.

"It is true that many of us took loans, but it is not correct that majority of first time lawmakers took loans. This is because many of them had court cases and you know, nobody will grant you a loans request when you have a case in court. The case can eventually be decided against such a person", he said.

But Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Abdulrasaq Namdas denied that members are distressed and are under pressure to repay loans. "I am not aware of this, I am not aware that some lawmakers took loans and are now fidgeting to pay back", he said.

Although Namdas did not establish whether his colleagues took loans from banks or not, he said whoever obtained a loan had done that as an individual.

"It is not only in the National Assembly that people take loans. People take loans everywhere, and it is a personal arrangement between the subscribers and their banks", he added.

He further stated that banks would have perfected effective means of recovery before granting loan request. "Banks will give loan and put all measures in place for recovery, my colleagues are doing very fine and they are working hard to deliver their mandate", Namdas stated.

While giving a sordid picture of financial recklessness during the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration on March 15, 2016, the AGF, Ukura, had said the management of the National Assembly allegedly disbursed N9,514,568,222.62 without raising payment vouchers.

The AGF released the shocking details in the nation's 2014 audit report, which was submitted to the then Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, for consideration by both chambers of the National Assembly.

The presentation, he said, was in line with section 85(2) (4) of the 1999 constitution which states: "The public accounts of the Federation and of all offices and courts of the Federation shall be audited and reported on by the Auditor-General who shall submit his reports to the National Assembly; and for that purpose, the Auditor-General or any person authorized by him in that behalf shall have access to all books, records, returns and other documents relating to those accounts".

Ukura stated that about N3.2trillion revenue was not remitted to the Federation Account, just as $235.6 million earned from gas was diverted to undisclosed escrow accounts.

In fulfillment of his mandate, the AGF returned a damning verdict of sleaze and mismanagement of funds in 2014 under the Jonathan administration.

Also, on October 9, 2015 the Legislative Studies (NILS), an outfit of the National Assembly released a set of documents, showing what constituted the earnings of the 109 Senators and 360 members of the Nigerian House of Representatives.

The figure showed that while a Nigerian Senator gets an annual basic salary of N2,026,400,00, a member of the House of Representatives goes home with N1,985,212, 50 annually.

Beyond that, a Senator also takes home a bouquet of allowances which hike their salary to N12, 902, 360.00 while their House of Representatives counterpart goes home with N9,525,985.50 annually. Thus, for the four-year tenure which the lawmaker stays in NASS, the Nigerian government spends a total of N1, 406,357,240.00 as basic salary on the 109 Senators and N3,428,994,780.00 on the 360 members of the House of Representatives.

The breakdown of the allowances show that they are meant for "Vehicle fuelling/maintenance, Constituency, Domestic Staff, Personal Assistant, Entertainment, Recess, Utilities, Newspaper/Periodicals, Houses Maintenance, Wardrobe, Estacode, Duty Tour, which attract more money available to the lawmakers than their basic salaries.

But beyond that, the lawmakers earn special amount in every four-year period on accommodation, vehicle loan, furniture, and severance allowance, making every Senator to pocket N24,090,000.00 and a House of Representatives member N23,822,00.00 within the same period.

Thus, for every four years that a lawmaker stays in the NASS, the federal government spends N2,625, 810,000.00 on accommodation, vehicle loans, furniture and severance gratuity on the 109 Senators and N8,575,920,000.00 on the 360 House of Representatives members.

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