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NASS: Emperors without clothes: The peculiar sorry State of Legislative Aides

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Clerk to NASS, Amos Ojo
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They say the child of a cobbler should not walk around bare-footed. In the same vein, he, who lives by the riverside should not wash his face with spittle. For Legislative Aides attached to Federal Lawmakers, the opposite appears to be the case. The conditions of service of this class of workers in the National Assembly took a turn for the worse from the time Sani Omolori held sway as the Clerk to the National Assembly and Senator Bukola Saraki and Honourable Yakubu Dogara presided over the Red and Green Chambers respectively.

Hitherto, the five official Aides allotted to each lawmaker enjoyed certain perks and allowances as applicable in the public service. These allowances included quarterly Duty Tour Allowance (DTA), quarterly trainings, provision of working tool (laptops) and one-off payment of severance benefits every four years at the expiration of their principals terms.

Those were the standard practice until the 8th Assembly when CNA Sani Omolori on his own accord swiftly took away all these benefits. As we speak, National Assembly Legislative Aides are the only workers in the public sector who do not enjoy any sort of allowance or benefits apart from their basic salary.

Even those basic salary are being denied as about 50% of Aides are being owed salary arrears dating back 2019. This anomaly was carried over to this 9th Assembly and has become the cause of an unending crisis between the Aides and the incumbent CNA Arch. Amos Ojo who has chosen to toe the same infamous route as his predecessor.

ALLEGATION OF DISCRIMINATION AND FAVORITISM AGAINST THE MANAGEMENT

Apart from non-core personnel like the Department of State Security (DSS), Nigerian Police Force (NPF), Federal Fire Service (FFS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), there are three class of human resources in the National Assembly namely: the Legislators (Politicians), Management staff (Bureaucrats) and the Legislative Aides (technocrats). The Legislative Aides as experts in their various fields of endeavours are expected to provide technical supports to lawmakers in the discharge of their legislative mandate of law-making.

The peculiar nature of their jobs is such that each cadre from the Secretary, Personal Assistant, Legislative Assistant, Legislative Aide and Senior Legislative Aide (in ascending order) have definite academic qualifications and cognate experience they must have acquired before they are employed by the National Assembly Service Commission. For instance, to be a Senior Legislative Aide on Grade Level 14 – 16, you must be a graduate of at least 15 years post-graduation amongst other requirement.

Therefore, it is not uncommon to see former lawmakers, academic doctors, engineers, etc acting as Aides to Lawmakers. A case in point is the current Chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission who was a Special Adviser to the Current Senate President (Dr. Ahmad Lawan) when the Senator was the Senate Leader in the just concluded 8th Assembly.

Despite the illustrious composition and the important tasks performed by Legislative Aides, why are they being treated like outcasts and dregs of the National Assembly. More importantly, what are the actions that have given rise to this belief that Aides are being exploited and discriminated against by the management, and as some has alluded, in collusion with the Principal Officers? We spoke with some characters involved and in the know of things.

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In an interview with a Senior Legislative Aide from the North-East who preferred to remain anonymous, he has this to say. ‘as Aides, we are deprived of the most basic of necessity, which is the conducive environment to perform our jobs effectively. It seems there is a deliberate policy by the past two CNAs to deny Aides of good welfare conditions. Legislative Aides account is the honey pot the management goes to each time they are broke.

Since no one oversees how these money is spent, the only logical conclusion is that the past two CNAs uses our funds for patronage and in manners inconsistent with the extant laws on financial regulations guiding public funds. How else do you explain a situation where Legislative Aides salaries were approved and released, yet the CNA paid about half of Aides and refused to pay the remaining for over two years now’.


A Legislative Aide from the Southwest was more explicit. ‘You see, it is all about impunity and lack of consequences for bad behaviour. The discrimination between Aides and other staff is best explained from the basic of salary. Do you know that the National Assembly approved the Consolidated Legislative Aides Salary Structure (CONLESS) more than 5 years ago, the Management whimsically chose to implement staff by 50% while they implemented Aides by 22%? These are people working in the same institution. Do you know Aides are the only workers in National Assembly Complex without a designated car space. Not even a Senior Legislative Aide on Grade Level 16/9 (Deputy Director cadre) is allocated a car space within the complex. All other workers from Grade Level 15 upwards have car spaces allocated to them. Too many examples abound around us’.

In deed, it is true that, of all the workers in the National Assembly, it is only Legislative Aides who do not enjoy any form of allowance. This state of affairs is particularly instructive because, just like their principals, Aides are placed under enormous financial burdens by their Principals’ constituents and associates – a burden management staff do not experience. How is it then that while staff enjoys hazard allowance, housing allowance, overtime pay, Legislative Duty Allowance, National Housing Fund, National Health Insurance Scheme, amongst other benefits, Aides do not enjoy any? What hazard do Staff go through that Aides do not undergo in multiple folds?

The wisdom behind the quarterly payment of Duty Tour Allowance (DTA) to Aides was to cushion the cost of constituency expenses. No one has been able to explain the wisdom for withholding DTA even though there have been no reduction in annual allocation for Legislative Aides. From 2007 till date, the annual budgetary allocation to Legislative Aides have hovered around 9 billion naira. How come same 9 billion naira was able to cater for the salaries and other welfare needs of Aides in previous Assemblies until Omolori and Ojo regimes?

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THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SERVICE COMMISSION

The National Assembly Service Commission is a body set up by law to regulate the activities of the staff of National Assembly. They are responsible for the employment, promotion and discipline of all workers in the institution. In practical terms, by law, they are the employers of all workers in the institution from the Clerk to the National Assembly to the Legislative Aides. Our appointment letters bears their imprimatur.

But that’s about how relevant they are in the scheme of things. Omolori’s intransigence was mainly attributed to the lack of a Commission in place. So, when the appointment of a commission was announced in late 2019, all stakeholders heaved a sigh of relief hoping for a new dawn. It was a false dawn. Understandably, the Aides were more optimistic of an improved welfare condition because the Chairman of the Commission was a former Aide like them.

The Commission swiftly went about ostensibly to correct all the anomalies in the system. One of first assignment was the setting up of Committee to review Legislative Aides Conditions of Service and requested for input and participation from Aides. A representation was sent.

The Committee met and came up with a Revised Condition of Service for Aides. Strangely, for over a year since the report was ready, the Commission have refused to release the document. It is believed in so many quarters that the refusal of the National Assembly Service Commission to release such important document is largely responsible for woes of Aides in the hands of the CNA. He has taken advantage of the indolence of the Commission to subject public service administration to his whims and caprices.

When we spoke to a former Lawmaker, he was of the view that a compromised Commission is a danger to the integrity of the National Assembly which already suffers lots of credibility deficit. According to him, ‘if the National Assembly cannot regulate itself and obey its own internal administrative process, what moral right does it have to oversee other agencies. It does not matter whether the National Assembly Service Commission is compromised or merely incompetent, the point is, there is no justification for its existence if there is so much discontent and rancor within its workforce’.

THE NEMESIS CALLED SALARY ARREARS

It might sound funny but of the official 2,345 Legislative Aides, more than 1,000 of them are being owed salary since 2019. The question is, how is it that National Assembly that appropriate funds for others is not able to pay it’s own Aides salary and why is it only Aides that are affected by this salary arrears. The answer lies in the wind.

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However, the Legislative Aides demand for their salary arrears and minimum wage received favourable response as the President on Thursday, July 26 2021, signed into law the 2021 supplementary bill which captured both subheads. The amounts captured and released upper week were 1.350 billion naira for salary arrears and 1.7 billion naira for consequential adjustment of minimum wage. It is hoped that with the release of the money by the executive, Legislative aides will finally lay to rest the embarrassing issue of the salary arrears and also begin to enjoy the minimum wage like their staff counterparts and other public officers.

At the time of going to press, the CNA who is the Chief Accounting Officer saddled with the responsibility of instructing payment have refused to give approval for payment even though our investigation reveals that all the paper work has been concluded months ago awaiting release of funds which has now been done. On Thursday, the Officials of the Legislative Aide Union (NASSLAF) had an emergency meeting with the CNA who promised to give them update on Wednesday 22nd September, 2021 after getting briefing from his Directors since he was away on official engagement in Vienna, Austria when the money hit the National Assembly account. Considering the suspicion that have evolved over time, Legislative Aides wait with bated breath for what they have described as make or mar Wednesday.

When we spoke with one of the Convener of the platform that have been at the forefront of the battle on behalf of the affected Aides, the ‘End Salary Arrears’ group, he confirmed our findings and said, ‘while we have no reason to trust the CNA due to our past unsavoury experience with him, we would prefer to give him the benefit of doubt. We have waited for over two years, certainly, we can wait for another one week.

The good thing is that even they have admitted that the money have hit the National Assembly account which effectively eliminates the oft mouthed refrain of lack of fund. We are cautiously optimistic. But not to be bitten twice, we have mobilized affected Aides to be on stand-by in the event that the CNA would characteristically decide to play smart on us’. According to other Legislative Aides we spoke to, there are plethora of other issues Aides would take up in the coming period but the most important one now is the salary arrears and minimum wage as they prefer to take the issues one after the other.

As Legislative anticipate eagerly next week meeting with the CNA, not a few stakeholders are curious to know how these welfare issues are going to pan out. What is certain is that years of insensitivity, degradation and exploitation has radicalised Legislative Aides who have decided to fight for a conducive and living working conditions for themselves.

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