World Bulletin/News Desk
Thousands of Nigerians demonstrated countrywide on Thursday to protest what they described as the "outrageous" salaries and allowances received by the country's parliamentarians, tipped as the second highest worldwide.
"The reason we are here is to tell our National Assembly that enough is enough," Oluwatomisin Ajiboye, one of thousands of protesters who marched on the Lagos House of Assembly, told Anadolu Agency.
He accused parliamentarians of carrying on as if they were not accountable to anyone.
"They have earned too much in a country where up to 70 percent live below the poverty line," Ajiboye said.
A July report by the Economist magazine exposed Nigerian lawmakers as the second highest-paid parliamentarians worldwide after their Australian counterparts.
The report provoked national outrage, with citizens demanding instant cuts in lawmakers' pay and calling for a "part-time" legislature.
Neither the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the body statutorily responsible for pegging public-sector salaries, nor parliament itself has provided exact figures for lawmakers' salaries.
But it is believed that they each collect N30mn (roughly $187,590) a month, including salaries and allowances.
Allowances accruable to Nigerian lawmakers include constituency, newspaper, wardrobe, recess, leave, severance gratuity, accommodation, utilities, domestic staff, entertainment, personal assistants, motor vehicles, vehicle maintenance and duty tour.
Both chambers of parliament together have 469 members in all: 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.
Approximately N150bn has been allocated to the running of parliament in the country's 2013 budget.
"The rate at which our money is being squandered is quite alarming," Ajiboye said.
EnoughIsEnough (EiE), a coalition of young Nigerians promoting good governance and citizen engagement, has been calling for a day of mass protests on Thursday to protest the jumbo pay allocated to federal lawmakers.
Weighed against the financial muscle of the mostly young organizers, an impressive turnout was seen in Lagos in the country's southwest, Kano in the volatile northwest, and in federal capital Abuja.
Cities like Enugu in the southeast and Ibadan in the southwest also saw a fair turnout, according to AA sources who followed the protest that began with online activism.
Many protesters insisted that their generation would not remain silent as others did in the past.
"Our fathers failed to ask them how they had spent our money; we must not make the same mistake again," Ajiboye thundered.
Segun Akunteru, another protester, said young Nigerians did not want to be "silent collaborators" in the "squandering" of public money.
"If our people lose the courage to confront what is wrong, then we become collaborators," he asserted.
Akunteru urged Nigerian youth to hit the streets to voice their rejection of the "shamelessness and wickedness of our legislators."
Jude Egbas, a popular blogger with over 40,000 followers on Twitter who led the march to the Lagos House of Assembly, said they had taken to the streets to register their displeasure with the "outrageous" amounts of money the national parliament had repeatedly allocated itself.
"We are against the jumbo pay for the federal legislators. We are saying what they earn is just too much," Egbas told AA.
"A legislator… earns about N33mn a month in a country where we cannot pay an N18,000 minimum wage for civil servants. We think it is absurd," he added.
Chinedu, another Nigerian Twitter user with the handle @NeduNaija, told AA from Abuja that he was happy that "the jinx that the youths cannot come together to challenge the status quo has been broken for good."
Nuhu Ribadu, Nigeria's former anti-graft czar, told AA that he fully supported the young protesters and urged more people to turn out for future demonstrations.
One of the demands repeated by protesters is that lawmakers be held accountable to the people who voted them in to power.
"We need accountability," said Ajiboye. "We want to know how this money is spent, and who takes what. We are their employers; we employed them and they must give account."
Blogger Egbas repeated the same message.
"We want these legislators to be accountable," he told AA. "We want a situation where we can have the email addresses and telephone numbers of our representatives in Abuja."
"We cannot even reach them and that is unacceptable," Egbas added. "They don't even come to their constituencies to give accounts of their stewardship."
Asked why they took the protest to individual Assembly Houses rather than converging on the national parliament in Abuja, Egbas explained: "Lagos is significant in Nigeria. It is the most populous and we feel if we could gather our people here and march on the state assembly as we have done, we would have sent out a strong signal."
Only a few protesters were allowed entry in Lagos, with Lagos Assembly sources confirming to AA that the House leadership would receive them and refer their petition to lawmakers in Abuja.
Protesters in Abuja, meanwhile, claimed they were being ignored by parliament.
But Egbas insisted this would not weaken their resolve.
"This is just the first step. It is not the last," he said. "We will continue the struggle online and offline around the country until our demands are met."Last Mod: 26 Eylül 2013, 21:22