The cardinal duty of the legislature is to make laws that will help in the good governance of a country, among others. As one of the three arms of government, the legislature decides legislation, in the main, in additional to other duties. Such laws could emanate from private member bills, executive (government) bills and private bills, which have passed through legislative processes.

In Nigeria, the House of Representatives and Senate make up the National Assembly, the federal legislative body that makes laws for the federation. Even though these two legislative bodies are independent of each other in treating and passing bills, they need joint and concurrent resolutions to pass respective bills into a single federal law, ready for the assent of the President. They work together to represent the legislature in government at the federal level.

In making laws, the National Assembly is expected to look at the things that would make the country better. The federal lawmakers are, therefore, required to be responsible and responsive in the discharge of their duties. They should, most times, mind the perception of the people, since perception could make or mar any institution or person. Such perceptions as the legislature being a “rubber stamp” of the executive arm of government should worry legislators.

Unfortunately, it does appear that the low rating of the legislature by most Nigerians, arising from perception, is the least of the worries of our lawmakers, be they at the state or federal level. When, last week, the Senate started considering and made so much fuss about a bill for the regulation of mode of rent payment in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, one started wondering if these lawmakers, who prefer the prefix “Distinguished,” were serious. In a country plagued by so many problems, ranging from insecurity to inequity, injustice and deprivation, the bill the Senate considers most auspicious at this time is one aiming at regulating mode of rent payment. Seriously?

To say the least, one was stunned that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria actually gave impetus to a bill entitled “Advanced Rent (Residential Apartments, Office Spaces, etc.) Regulation Bill 2022,” sponsored by Senator Smart Adeyemi, which seeks to reduce advance payment of rent, when there are many other pressing and fundamental issues. The bill aims to reduce advance payment of rent by tenants from one or two years to three months together or monthly. The question is: How is mode of rent payment our problem as a nation?

As one senator argued, property trade or leasing is a business venture. People invest in property to make money. In investing in property, property owners contend with high cost of land, building materials and labour. They also contend with the “omo onile” or “sons of the soil,” who make demands that must be fulfilled before any land is developed in their communities. Leasing of property or land is based on agreement between the landlord and the tenant. Using legislation to regulate how lease payment should function, therefore, should not be an exercise against property owners, which is what the bill before the Senate is mainly about. It has to be all-encompassing. There should equally be legislation on what happens to tenants who fail to pay rent when due. There should also be legislation on cost of land, building materials, labour and land charge by government.

It does not make a difference whether a tenant pays rent monthly or yearly. Whichever mode of payment is used, the bottom line is that rent must be paid. The problem with the FCT, Abuja, is that the city is over-priced. Abuja was developed as an elite city for the nouveau riche, with little or no consideration for the poor. That is why property rent is exorbitant. That Abuja is a city for the rich is surprising, knowing that the population of civil servants therein is high. To tell you how bad it is, a modern city like Abuja, a city that is less than 35 years old, from the time the seat of power moved there, has no organised mass transit, no metro line (train service). This is what the Senate should be addressing.

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In any case, the Senate should not dissipate energy on such a minor thing as mode of rent payment in the FCT, even though it has a duty to legislate for the FCT, at a time when it ought to be addressing fundamental issues that would better strengthen the country and give the majority satisfaction. The Senate should devote more effort to such assignments as amending the Constitution to address critical issues that are at the root of our problems. Many Nigerians have talked about restructuring of the country, to make it run and function more efficiently. There is no better institution to do this than the Senate, nay, National Assembly.

For the avoidance of doubt, the National Assembly has the capacity to use the instrumentality of legislation to beat Nigeria into shape. As an evolving nation, the structure of yesteryear is no longer working perfectly in Nigeria. There ought to be a retouch. This cannot be done by executive order or fiat.  Since it borders on the Constitution, it is the legislature that has the mandate to tackle it.

Instead of the National Assembly to be talking about mode of rent payment in the FCT, which is an isolated case and has no bearing on the generality of the citizens, it should, rather, be working toward amending the Constitution as soon as possible. One of the low-hanging fruits in this regard is to reduce what is in the Exclusive List and boost the Concurrent List. There are many things assigned to the Federal Government that should be handled by the other levels of government – the states and local governments.  When the states and local governments take over responsibilities they have better bearing on, instead of leaving them for the Federal Government, governance will be closer to the people and work better for the people.

The National Assembly has the duty to make the country function as a true federation by deeds and action, not by mouth. There are things that go with federalism, which we do not see in Nigeria. How do we talk about federalism without fiscal autonomy? How do we talk about federalism without having different levels of policing, be it local government and state police? How do we talk about federalism when we do not have local government autonomy? We cannot operate federalism by breach and think that we will make much progress as a nation claiming to be a federation.

The National Assembly should rise to the true meaning of its name by functioning as an important arm of government that it is, which exercises control, to a large extent, on the executive arm. The amendment of the Constitution is critical and important. It is by amending the Constitution that inequities and some injustices in the country would be addressed. The lopsided nature of states’ composition, with regard to geopolitical zones, for instance, must be looked into through constitution amendment. The South-East zone cannot have five states, while four other zones have six states each and one other zone has seven states. This is injustice of the highest order. Local government creation must be seriously addressed, anchored on population and not landmass.

Let the Senate and the House of Representatives give us a better country, through Constitution tinkering, and leave mode of rent payment that is more of a populist adventure. If the Senate is interested more in mode of rent payment, it should make strong and progressive legislation on housing programme, with special emphasis on mortgage. The Senate should be more interested in helping people be property owners, instead of them remaining tenants.