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A Senate hell bent

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Nigeria’s senate president Bukola Saraki .

Whatever the laws they enact, should the present Senate suffer a return? In all this time, they have helped the PMB Administration achieve little or nothing.

Yes, they passed more Bills than any other Senate before them, put checks to Executive excesses while perpetrating theirs, and have maintained a stable Legislature in the face of regular storms and intrigues.

Yet, every budget has been delayed, and beyond hunger, there is frustration and death in the land. Now they seek to pass a hate speech law and to what intent?

What should be our manner of speech and what becomes of a nation that teaches her citizens to lie or live in denial? Some would even argue that the nation itself is a lie.

While the masses’ demands on the Executive may vary from one person to another; some say electricity, some the anti-corruption fight and others job creation, yet all appear to agree on a single demand on the Senate which is to reduce the cost of governance and rightly so.

Attempts at cost reduction by the Executive can be subjective and whimsical, lacking sustainability as they may be reversed by the executive orders of succeeding governments.

The Judiciary as an umpire observes and sparsely comments, else they become both Judge and Jury but the Legislature it is, who through the creation of laws can address any issue to the hilt. Please permit me to clarify that the Senate is used here to represent both chambers of the National Assembly.

With the level of frustration even among the well-off, hunger among the poor, and insecurity general to all, have the Senate not failed?

Did the Senate demonstrate competence and capacity when she mobilized half her “distinguished” members to a Court where a Nigerian cum “Senator” and not “the Senate” is on trial?

Or can intimidating the Judiciary pass the separation of powers test by any stretch of the imagination? In times like these, the question we often employ in our clime to stop a person on their track is apt for the Senate, quo vadis?

Yet baffling, Senate seeks to pass a Hate Speech law with death penalty? Let them go ahead, that should work.

I confess that I am not “learned,” but I believe strongly that Nigerians will win if we can find another Senior Advocate of the Masses, apologies to the primus SAM and legal luminary, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi.

It is a known fact that Acts of the Senate be they Bills, Motions or Laws all derive from Speech so that nothing happens in the Senate without a Speech.

Yet, action they say, speaks louder than words so, let us examine a few Acts or actions of the Senate to determine their culpability in so far as Nigerians die daily as a result, with the understanding ab initio that all Senate’s actions derive from speech.

Firstly, Senate’s election re-sequencing lacks logic and is tantamount to micro-managing with INEC on the saddle. If through bandwagon effect one election’s outcome determines another’s, the argument holds true either way.

Voters could tilt towards a presidential candidate whose party has won majority seats in either or both chambers of the national assembly.

Even if our sensibilities as deprived and dispossessed masses have been reduced to not vote on personal convictions, the claim to herd mentality is surreal and pointless in an environment where elections are rigged.

Senate’s decision on re-sequencing is also short on reason.

If reordering is necessary to remove incumbent or bandwagon advantage for the president, thus making the first election a factor, bringing the Senate to inherit the first election is an uncouth display of self serve, a trait of this Senate so blatant and loud that Nigerians may be deaf to it already.

Several scenarios are plausible here.

Let all Legislature elections hold same day, probably the first and the Executive elections the next otherwise; hold State elections first and Federal elections next.

But our Senate seeks to come first as a bargaining chip to secure their easy return and determine other election outcomes. How selfish can a Senate be?

An extra election day in austere times as these smacks of financial recklessness? INEC 2015 election budget was N92.9B for 73.5m voters at $7.9 per voter and their projection is to serve some 80m voters in the 2019 elections.

All things being equal, budget figures for the coming elections based on INEC’s 2-day sequence could be in the neighborhood of N192.76B.

However, if Senate should have their way with an additional election day, the 2019 elections could cost us as much as N289 – 300billion, a difference of approximately N100B in one day. Nigerians should want to know if Senate considered the cost implication of re-sequencing.

The additional sum surpasses what twenty State Governments get as Federal Allocation for a month to provide social services for no less than 70m citizens. Any gain saying that some Nigerians may die from absence or short supply of these services?

Atop it all, what could be good news but bad for our perks intoxicated Senate is that full adoption of electronic voting can seamlessly deliver all elections in one day as in most other countries, this in partnership with local ICT operators, thus leading to a saving of up to fifty percent on INEC budget rather than a fifty percent increase of the same.

The deduced difference in cost of governance between a three-day and one-day 2019 elections therefore is approximately N200B. But Senate with a predilection for increasing cost of governance would rather opt for the higher band.

Senate has found it convenient to create new Agencies of government by themselves or tagged along Bills that they pass even when the cry of a bloated government heralded their emergence.

The Federal Government is at the moment on life support borrowing to pay salaries, but Senate would rather increase the tally of government wage bill, some of these agencies are duplicitous, and together could easily add another half Trillion Naira to the Federal Budget, which increases with inflation and other factors annually.

All this while Nigerians have cried sore over the cost of Senate itself. A Senator’s “take- home” still shrouded in secrecy is between N30-50Million every month where the national minimum wage is N18,000.

That is not all; they also feast at the tables of their various States and Local Governments, and Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

Not done, they bare their fangs on private sector operators in an unbridled lust for filthy lucre.

Put together, a Senator’s consolidated but questionable “take-home” could average N100M-N500M monthly depending on their ranking while the presiding officers may “take-home” in excess of N1Billion every month.

This translates to usurping the minimum existence of between 1m to 2.5m Nigerians while more than 100million live below poverty line on less than N700 a day. Senate therefore is an invitation to treat.

Easily, Senate actions or inactions cost Nigerians an avoidable N1.0 Trillion annually. One Trillion Naira if invested in any of the sectors as Agriculture, Health or Education would transform the sector from being an importer to a net exporter and foreign exchange earner.

If invested in the Police or Military, we would have world class security and defense systems that will reverse the ugly trends of terrorism and violent crimes, preventable deaths, starvation, suicides, slavery and lately a most obnoxious trade in organs and other human body parts.

There is hopelessness, frustration and anger in the land, which if ignored by our leaders would snowball any day now into catastrophic proportions of anarchy. And Senate should be held responsible, why?

The Executive may not spend a kobo without Senate’s Approval, with oversight functions to boot. While the Executive may initiate a Bill, it lacks the powers to pass or process it to become law but the Senate can both initiate and pass Bills and even override an Executive veto, thus managing the entire process of law making for good governance.

More than the check and balance relationship that exists among the three arms, the Senate has awesome powers which this Senate knows too well, holding both the Executive and Judiciary to ransom. So can we blame the Senate for the ill wind that seeks to consume our nation?

Truly, reducing the cost of governance is the compass to redeeming the Senate on her journey to self destruct. With it, we would borrow less and preserve a heritage of prosperity, provide essential social services, secure life and property, create jobs, end impunity in our society and assure economic growth and stability. It will bring sanity to our democracy and only then can we reap the much taunted dividends of democracy.

Nigerians are not as interested in the power tussle between the Senate and PMB as they are in the bottom line with regards to their pockets, the economy and standard of living.

There is hunger, frustration and death in the land and truth be told, regardless of the sequence of the elections, one thing is sure, Nigerians will vote on election day so please, let the masses be, “bandwagon” or not, this is one protection too many, unsolicited and unsubstantiated particularly in the light of 2015 elections were an incumbent lost the election and bowed out gracefully.

That is the new standard so let it be, our democracy is strengthened thereby but weakened by twists and turns at every juncture of our national life. Even if the change is necessary, let it take effect from 2023 so the present Senate and other political actors do not benefit from it.

The fight over sequence is needless and not in the interest of the masses. It is a fight of the ruling class to distract attention and keep les Enfants aloof till their next hoax unfolds.

The figures defend the fact that all elections holding same day will save us Billions, while capitulating to Senate’s re-ordering will cost us more Billions, the bottom line is common sense, but will this Senate reduce the cost of governance?

Our Senior Advocate of the Masses will only need to prove that for as much as one Nigerian has died from hunger, violent crime, suicide or sickness due to absence or inadequate provision of social services and infrastructure which could have been mitigated by availability of funds on the part of government, Senate is culpable and her Acts do qualify as Hate Speech.

So, whatever the speech or written communication with which the aforementioned acts and actions of Senate, from her ungodly wage bill to extortion of government MDAs and the private sector to the reckless bloating of bureaucracy, the high cost of governance is at the root of too many deaths, homelessness, sicknesses, diseases and suicides we see today.

And they want to pass a hate speech law? Let them go ahead and make our day and let our dear PMB assent to it against his style, very quickly.

Alas, they should hang themselves with nineteen years long rope handed them in this democratic era by the patient, yet suffering masses that remain faithful to and hopeful for a truly great Nigeria or pray, how shall we suffer or save a Senate hell bent.

• Amagada, an economist and development planner, is coordinator of the Movement for Good Governance. Email: eric@setlin.com, twitter @RicoAmagada


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