The reason for the existence of the Nigerian Senate has not being obvious for a while. What do they do each day? What results can they show for sitting each and every day? Apart from political grandstanding and collecting constituency allowances. The normal reason for having a Senate in a bicameral legislative structure in a democratic nation is to have a counterweight to the House of Representative. The Senate is usually smaller, with more experienced people who want to enrich the democratic process with their wealth of experience. The Nigerian Senate deviates from this in not having the wellbeing of the Nigerian people in mind. It’s all about what they can gain from the Nigerian state. The members are a serious cost to the nation’s finance, and extremely selfish.
Let’s deal with the expensive part first. In 2013, The Economist magazine conducted an analysis of salaries across legislatures in the world and announced that the Nigerian legislature was the second highest paid, with members receiving salaries of up to $189,000 (N60 million) per annum, meaning that an average legislator earns about 280 times what the average Nigerian on a minimum wage of N18, 000 per month and N216, 000 per year earns. In fact the budget for the Nigerian legislature for 2016 is N120 billion ($375 million) dollars, with only 469 legislators in all (109 in the Senate and 360 in the House of Reps). There are also quite a number of allowances not covered under the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission approved payments, including the quarterly constituency allowance of N45 million for Senators and N35 million for House of Reps members, translating to N70 billion per annum, which these legislators do not have to account for how spent. There also appears to be a constituency project allowance that is different from the foregoing. In fact the budget for these 439 people is more than the budget of over 20 states of the federation.
Then there is the other side. In the last few weeks, the Senate has tried to review the Code of Conduct Bureau Act for the sole purpose of protecting ex-governors like Bukola Saraki, Akpabio etc from being probed retroactively for false assets declarations, while the budget lays forgotten. How selfish! Which bill affects the people of Nigeria more and needs to be treated faster? The Senate actually then had the audacity and criminal tone deafness to invite the judge of the Code of Conduct Bureau before who the Senate President is appearing to appear before them at the same time the trial ought to be going on in a move that was clearly targeted at truncating the ongoing trial. How much more shameless can one get.
These shameless senate is making Nigeria the laughing stock of all legislatures in the world, period! A few years ago, a member of the legislature stated that MTN had been giving members N7,500 in phone credits each month for years. These are people paid stupendous amounts and who don’t need such from a company in an industry that they regulate. Why were they taking such unethical handout if not out of sheer greed?!
Bicameralism is not the problem really. Half of the legislatures in the world are bicameral presently. The United Kingdom has a bicameral legislature with a House of Lord working with the House of Commons to pass legislation, although in the past few years the power of the House of Lords to reject legislation has been removed. In the United States, the Founding Fathers of the nation put a bicameral legislature in place, with a Senate and House of Representatives. The US Senate was created as a stabilising force to the perceived recklessness of the lower house.
The problem is the type of people present in the Senate, particularly in Nigeria. True, once or twice a year in America and the United Kingdom, a Senator or House of Lords member is caught with a prostitute, molesting a young child or stealing money from campaign funds, but usually not at a high rate. Ordinarily, Senators are sound people who love their countries and work hard to serve them. Most are also professionals (lawyers, doctors, accountants etc.) who have had successful careers before coming into the Chamber. This is not the case in Nigeria, in which most senators are ex-governors or professional politicians who have come to the Senate for the sole reason of remaining politically relevant and making money. These are people who are there not because they love Nigeria or want to pass innovative legislation that would liberalise the economy and spur the growth of technology startups or dramatically reform our stagnant state institutions, but because they need a job that covers their expenses. Finish.
I propose that we fire the Senate and save Nigeria over N60 billion a year, which starting from next year can be used to start work on the 2nd River Niger bridge and complete it within 3 years. That’s a much better outcome than keeping a bunch of scheming and non-contributing ex-governors and other such types in comfort in the Federal Capital city at our expense, while they do no real work or make our lives better in any discernable way.
Femi Akinfolarin, a lawyer, writes from Lagos.