Mr. Samuel Melaye was recently inaugurated as the new chairman of the National Assembly Legislative Aides Forum (NASSLAF).
In this interview with selected journalists, he bared his mind on the planned reform of the Forum, among other developments which he said he’s currently pursuing. LeadingReporters engaged his proposed reforms among other issues.
NASSLAF leadership crisis dragged on for a long time and eventually, you emerged victorious as the chairman of the Forum after a brokered peace. How do you feel about it?
To start with, I feel very, very great. I feel I’m most fulfilled. I would have felt otherwise if justice was denied in the whole issue. It is always said that there cannot be peace without justice and I feel that, that was what had happened in the last two years. To the glory of God, the right thing is being done. My election has been upheld now. Two committees were set up and the committees actually vindicated me that we had an election and I actually emerged as the chairman of the National Assembly Legislative Aides Forum. That didn’t come easy because there were issues at the level of my inauguration where a few of my colleagues stormed the venue where the Senate President was billed to inaugurate me and disrupted the event. That is actually in the past now. At a point, about seven factions emerged in the Legislative Aides Forum, but I thank God now that all those groups have eventually come together and now we are facing what I call a united front. We are now more united than ever and all our visions for the Forum that are hanging, I pray that we will be able to achieve our desires within the one year left in our tenure.
In specific terms, what are these desires or programmes you have for the Forum within the one year left for you?
Already the programmes have actually commenced. I’m aware that each of the Senators and members of the House of Representatives has five legislative aides ranging from the Senior Legislative Aide (SLA) down the ladder to the secretary. Am aware that after every four years, one of the major challenges we face as aides is the issue of coming back again or retention of a job. Most times, in every new Assembly you see these aides loitering all over the place in the building seeking for how to get another job for another term.
Interestingly, what we are trying to introduce now is called ‘The Pool’ just like we have in the Police. You can serve with the IG office today and tomorrow you can be posted to a Governor as an Orderly or even to a Senator. So, what of a situation whereby maybe the cadre of Secretary, because secretaries keep some of the confidential documents in their custody while serving lawmakers. It is also very important to note that the SLAs are actually the brain box of the legislators. Most of those Motions and Bills you see that are being presented on the floor of the Senate or House of Reps as the case may be are actually the products of some of these SLAs because mostly some of us are lawyers. So, what I’m trying to say is that we want a situation whereby the slot of SLA and that of Secretary will be domiciled in a pool, so that we now ask a lawmaker as the case may be, to bring three out of five of his or her aides, then those two will now be statutory.
Whether your lawmaker returns or not, your job is actually secured. So, this is what I feel or what I call job security because it will actually reduce lobbying for a job by legislative aides at the beginning of every Assembly. We have discussed this issue with the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), and we also wrote a petition to the Senate President and I can assure you that in no distant time, this will be achieved.
Secondly, we have a bus, which conveys members in and out of the Assembly, which is effectively working and there have been feedbacks from members commending us for this initiative. Also, we are contemplating foreign exchange programme with American Congress, partnering together and let’s know what is happening there at the level of their parliamentary assistants. I can tell you that in the course of time, some of our members will be going there for physical observation and assessment of what is happening there. They are also aware that we are planning to host them in Nigeria so that we can strengthen our legislative experience as legislative aides in the National Assembly.
We are also addressing the issue of unilateral dismissal of aides by lawmakers with the NASC over minor issues like coming to the office late in order to put a stop to it, among others. An aide should be allowed to serve his principal for at least for two years in order to get his severance pay.
What is your own internal mechanism for dealing with indiscipline among your members since you are suspecting their victimization by some lawmakers over a minor misdemeanor?
What we are doing in that regard is simple! Before now, I must confess to you that we have training that comes from the Management of the National Assembly, we have training that comes from the National Assembly Service Commission and we have training that comes from the National Institute of Legislative Studies (NILS). And I’m aware that most times before now, most of these institutions I have mentioned usually will just engage us a day or two before the training without preparation and our own inputs. You cannot shave someone’s hair behind his back. So, we are saying this time that we will not accept that again. If you want to train us, at the beginning of the training, we want to know topics of discussion and what will be the focal points of discussion. So, we are using some of the instrumentality of these training to address our issues like the discipline you mentioned. We also have a disciplinary committee for this purpose whenever anybody is noticed not to be behaving well. There are a lot of things we plan to do within the limited time we have including amendment of our constitution. Already, I have resumed office. Our office is located in the basement room 1.16 and fully furnished and our team is already working.
There used to be reports of non-salary payment to legislative aides in the past. What is the situation now?
Well, I’m aware when I was the chairman of the caretaker committee of NASSLAF. One of the major things I did was to stop the deductions of union dues from our coffers. I looked at it critically that the ones they have deducted previously, what exactly did they use it for? And I know that no organization could possibly run without members’ dues but where this money is being misappropriated, it is better not to have it than being misappropriated. As I speak to you till now, the union dues have actually stopped. Though some stakeholders are not happy with me I feel that was the right thing to do. The aides are happy and they are praying for me.
Talking about salary payment to aides, I strongly believe that the non-payment issue was in the past. Even last December, it was a bit difficult for us to get our salary and I insisted and challenged the management and the salary was paid. I also challenged the management in December and we got our DTA paid for the first time in a year. That, for me, was a major achievement and our colleagues were extremely happy with that development. In January again, members returned from their Christmas and New Year holidays only to start receiving bank alerts again and everybody is happy now and comfortable with the new regime in NASLAF.