Nigeria parliament hopefuls eye million dollar booty

Fri Apr 1, 2011 10:40am EDT

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* Rich spoils in Saturday's parliamentary vote

* Few voters know who their candidates are

* Monthly allowances top $100,000

By Nick Tattersall

LAGOS, April 1 (Reuters) - Nigerian voters may not be that enthusiastic about Saturday's parliamentary elections but the candidates certainly are -- winners will get a pay package whose allowances alone top $1 million a year.

Ask many people in Africa's most populous country who their local candidates are in the House of Representatives and Senate elections and the response is a blank stare. What has parliament ever done for them, is a common response.

"Most of them are just there for their selfish interests, they're not interested in the masses," said Ibrahim Lasisi, 28, a security guard in the sprawling commercial capital Lagos.

"Once you vote a man in, after the campaign, you will never see him again. There will be six mobile policemen following him everywhere, keeping you away. They become untouchable."

Senators' official monthly salary is 1.4 million naira ($9,000) a month before tax, while members of the lower house receive 1.1 million, already a huge amount in a country where many of some 150 million people earn around $2 a day.

But the 109 members of the Senate also receive a quarterly allowance of 63 million naira ($408,000) for ill-defined "constituency projects", travel and medical expenses, according to Nigeria's Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC). Their 360 colleagues in the lower house get 45 million each quarter.

"Nobody accounts for it. Once they get their 63 million naira a quarter, they roll off and do whatever it is, which may have nothing to do with legislative duties," said Clement Nwankwo, a respected lawyer and founder of PLAC.

"There is a lot of abuse, there is a lot of wastage."

Several members of parliament contacted by Reuters declined to comment on their remuneration.

"What is your business with our salaries? Are we not working for them?" said one senator, who did not want to be identified. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Graphic on elections: link.reuters.com/xet78r For more stories, background and analysis: [ID:nLDE68H051] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>

"LIVING FAT"

Dozens of people regularly gather outside the homes and offices of parliamentarians when they are back from the capital Abuja, seeking assistance for everything from paying their house rent to settling their children's school fees.

For the lawmakers, dispensing largesse is an outward sign of their wealth and a way of sustaining local support.

The cost of Nigeria's parliamentarians has started to irk the finance ministry, central bank and the private sector, which fears the profligacy will lead to a rapid rise in interest rates in sub-Saharan Africa's second-biggest economy.

Parliament this month tacked an additional 746 billion naira ($4.8 billion) onto the 2011 budget proposed by President Goodluck Jonathan in December, half of which was already recurrent expenditure -- the cost of running government.

"The legislature in particular cannot continue to live fat to the exclusion and inconvenience of the entire country," said Frank Nweke, head of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group think-tank at a meeting of business leaders in Lagos this week.

Finance Minister Olusegun Aganga has described the amended budget as "unimplementable" and is in talks with lawmakers.

Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi has also been a vocal critic, saying in December that 25 percent of federal budget overheads were spent on the National Assembly, comments he was subsequently hauled before parliament to explain.

The central bank raised interest rates by a wider than expected full percentage point to 7.5 percent last month partly in response to the effect of rising government spending.

Around 80 percent of members of parliament are expected to be replaced after Saturday's vote so competition is fierce.

The salaries and allowances make up only part of what the winners can expect as their spoils.

Lawmakers have regularly been offered financial incentives to speed the passage of legislation and the next administration is likely to face a heavy backlog, including a massive bill to overhaul the mainstay oil and gas industry.

"Even if they pass the laws, they are the ones that break them," said Lasisi, who earns the equivalent of $200 a month, standing outside his guard hut. (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Additional reporting by Oludare Mayowa in Lagos and Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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