Former governor of Lagos State and national leader of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, last week called for the scrapping of the upper legislative chamber, the Senate, on the grounds that the lower arm, the House of Representatives, is in a better position to actualize the aspirations and expectations of the people.
He hinged this position on the need to reduce the high cost of governance in the country, and the proximity of Representatives to the people, compared with the Senate. Most countries practise the bicameral system of government because of its numerous advantages over the unicameral version. Nigeria, too, has over the years adopted the bicameral legislative format, its bloated cost, which is at the root of Tinubu’s Senate abolition proposal, notwithstanding.
The fact remains that the Senate has exclusive legislative responsibilities prescribed by the country’s constitution such as the clearance of ministerial nominees and other federal appointees, among others too numerous to be listed here. In the execution of Senate’s hallowed duties, the unwieldy House of Representatives serves as a check on it and equally engenders balance in the process. This, however, does not mean that the lower chamber is weaned of its youthful exuberance, boisterousness and occasional rascality. It is a question of reciprocal moderation.
The maturity, experience and candour of Senators cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. From time to time, the debate over the relevance of two-chamber parliaments comes up not just in Nigeria but in other countries. At the end of the day, the status quo remains largely because the merits of bicameralism far outweigh unicameral parliament. Were it otherwise, most nations would have long dumped the method. Since the evolution of democracy, there have been no superior perspectives on the imperativeness of abolishing the upper legislative assembly.
Some critics had even gone ahead to argue that the equality of state representation in the Senate is lopsided, unrealistic and unfair to the essence of democracy. Whether a bicameral or unicameral legislature, what matters ultimately is good lawmaking at a rational cost. Nobody can sweep under the carpet the fact that the cost of governance in Nigeria, unlike other democracies, is outrageously high. What needs to be done is not advocacy for the dissolution of the Senate.
At the level of the National Assembly, the huge allowances and other parliamentary perquisites can be drastically reduced to a responsible size. But, beyond this, there is a much more critical need for the holistic review of the cost of bureaucracy. As it stands today, most of the country’s resources are used to maintain all sorts of governmental establishments that are duplicitously irrelevant and do not add any value to our developmental strides.
It is apposite to recall that recently, the Federal Government-empanelled Steve Oronsaye Committee strongly recommended scrapping of some agencies, parastatals and corporations if the country is to achieve the millennial development goals. There are too many official outfits carrying out almost the same functions. This line of gross wastage should be blocked. We are even surprised that the committee’s report is yet to be implemented.
This is hoping that it will not go the way of past innumerable enquiries. The executive arm of government has the onus to show the way by comprehensively bringing down its running cost and shedding the weight of its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Some of the MDAs should be discarded. We call on President Goodluck Jonathan, as part of his government’s transformation agenda that should eventually outlive this regime, to immediately initiate moves aimed at addressing the gargantuan cost of governance. If this is done, other arms of leadership will naturally fall into place.
Instead of abolishing the Senate, let there be an overhaul of public institutions and review of administrative outlays in all sectors of governance. The earlier this is done the better for the country. Now that the constitution is being reviewed, it is the most appropriate time to close all identified fiscal drainages.