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Way out of expensive legislative houses

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Senate House (NASS)

It is now 20 years that we bolted out of military rule to adopt democracy.

Amid calls for the scrapping of the Senate led by the Ekiti State Governor Dr. Kayode Fayemi and the reduction of the 109 senators to one senator per state mooted by Senator Rochas Okorocha of Imo state, Nigerians seem to agree that our democracy isn’t working as it should be. And the root of all these is the high cost of running the government. Some people believe that unless the cost of governance is drastically reduced our dream of a prosperous nation will be a mirage.

Moreover, it is sad to note that Nigeria has been borrowing to finance her budget for many years now. And much of this money goes to financing a recurrent expenditure, 71 percent of which goes to debt servicing and related services. Sadly, the acrimony about the National Assembly being a drain on our resources is born out of ignorance of the role of the legislature in a pluralist democracy.

When we opted for the Presidential form of government, we had to imitate the American system in mind. There is nothing wrong with that. Certain things we were oblivious of are that Nigeria is a conglomeration of 180 ethnic groups, the interest of which must be guarded. This was done amicably by the British who bequeathed to us a Federal system of government like that of the United States. What the politicians didn’t notice was that the military had bastardized our federation through the creation of unequal and unviable states. Thus, making the states the federating units was untenable.

Unfortunately, the politicians didn’t notice out of their unconscionable greed for power. The way out of the rubble is to make geopolitical zones the federating units. Each zone is a viable entity. Part of the errors can be seen with the North western zone having 21 senators while the South eastern zone has only 15 senators. The four remaining zones have 18 senators each.

As the federating unit, each zone should have an equal number of senators, say 21 senators each. The advantage of large numbers is that they cannot easily be bought. In the USA, the state is the federating unit which is why each state has an equal number of senators, two each. California whose economy is larger than that of Nigeria has two senators while sparsely inhabited Alaska, almost the size of Lagos state of Nigeria, has two senators. Where the federal system is best pronounced is in the electoral system.

The American President is actually elected through the electoral college whereby the candidate who wins the majority of the electoral votes wins the Presidency. The electoral college is composed of the total number of senators, representing equality of states and the members of the House of Representatives which is based on population. About five Presidents have won the Presidency through the electoral college without winning the popular majority. That is federalism at work. The formulators of the Nigerian Constitution since 1979 are too ignorant to take cognizance of the federal character of Nigeria.

   
The first measure the President can do to reduce the cost of governance in Nigeria is to issue an Order in Council: also known as Executive Order, turning membership of the National Assembly to part-time. However, he should make the principal officers of either house full time. That means the senate president and his deputy, the senate leader, the minority leader, the majority whips and the minority whips constitute the principal officers of the senate and are to be paid full time.

For the House of Representatives, the principal officers should be the Speaker and his deputy; the majority leader, the minority leader, the majority whips and the minority whips. Only the principal officers should be paid in full. Other members of the National Assembly should be paid part-time. The second leg of the austerity measures should be the annulment of constituency projects. Nowhere in the world do legislators have constituency projects executed and paid for by the government. President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the novel constituency project as a bribe to legislators for his third term ambition. The legislature has no business doing the work of the executive.

Also, the government has no business building houses for legislators to buy. All government-owned landed property anywhere should be on leasehold. Politicians and civil servants are using government money to build houses in order to corruptly enrich themselves. The government cannot build houses for every Nigerian so they should not embark on it. And Abuja land cannot go round to every Nigerian so government properties can only be for let or lease. 

In order to check fraud and election rigging, we should adopt the electoral college system of the United States. Like in the USA, he who wins the majority of votes in a zone carries the entire electoral vote of that zone. With 360 House members and 21 senators per zone; we will have 486 members Parliament. He who gets 246 electoral votes becomes the President. In the event of a tie, the presiding president of the senate would have two votes. In the United States, equality of states is superior to the largeness of population; it should be so in Nigeria too. But for ignorance and malfeasance, most of these problems could be rectified by Presidential orders.


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