News that Senegalese MPs voted to abolish the country's senate to save funds for victims of a deadly flood has sparked a debate in Nigeria about the cost-effectiveness of a bicameral legislature composed of the Senate and House of Representatives.
According to The Punch, in a joint session with the lower House, two-thirds of Senegalese lawmakers approved "suppression of the Senate with immediate effect."
The BBC reports that President Macky Sall of Senegal says money saved from scrapping the senate, about $15m, will be go towards a flood prevention programme. However, critics say the president was not motivated entirely by concern for flood victims but that the move was designed to weaken the opposition.
The debate in Nigeria about the cost-effective of a bicameral legislature is part of a longstanding observation by critics that the US presidential system adopted by Nigeria with an unwieldy civil service structure is too expensive for an underdeveloped economy such as Nigeria's and that it is a heavy cost burden to the country. Many analysts say that given the development challenges facing Nigeria, reduction of the size of government is a reasonable cost saving measure.
Leke Baiyewu, writing in the The Punch, notes that cost of governance in Nigeria has skyrocketed to the extent that government has become an impediment to growth rather than a facilitator of growth. Nigeria, a country with an underdeveloped economy, is the largest country in Africa with a population of 167 million. The massive infrastructural deficit the county suffers works against efforts of its hardworking citizens for economic self-empowerment. Keen observers of the situation say that the harmful parasitic influence of an unbelievably corrupt and over-bloated system of government is a major problem that must be addressed.
Nigeria's requirement for capital expenditure on infrastructural development must contend with massive diversion of resources into recurrent expenditure to support the largely redundant officialdom, lawmakers and sundry hangers-on whose lavish lifestyle would scandalize First World millionaires.
The Punch notes that the resource-guzzling monster called the Federal Government,
"has a 42-member cabinet, with each of the 36 states of the federation producing at least a minister in accordance with the 1999 Constitution.
"Besides, it has a bicameral legislature, with the Senate having 109 members, and 360 lawmakers in the House of Representatives. Each lawmaker is entitled to have at least five legislative aides – all paid by the state.
"The upshot is that the country spends about 78 per cent of its annual budget on recurrent expenditure, thereby leaving a little above 20 per cent for capital expenditure or development."
According to The Punch, the Director of ActionAid, Dr. Hussaini Abdu, said, in an analysis of Nigeria's 2010 budget:
“The Senate is to spend N270 million on retreat. This brings to an average of N2.5m per senator for the retreat and it further brings it to N500,000 per day for each of the senators. (For a five-day retreat). Senate is to spend N15bn on sitting allowances and honorarium in the 2010 budget.
“Also, the Senate is to spend N1.2bn; on computer materials and supplies.
"Not less than N150bn was provided in the budget for the National Assembly this year; this include the capital and recurrent expenditures for both houses, which comprised 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives."
According to estimates, twenty five per cent of overhead of the Federal Government goes to the National Assembly alone. The balance includes generous salaries and allowances for myriads of executive officials who make regular foreign trips that cost tax payers millions of dollars annually. Analysts say that any move to trim down the legislature must involve moves to rationalize the executive arm also.
This Day Live comments: "The Executive is bloated with all kinds of agencies, corporations and parastatals or what have you, some of them doing exactly the same thing – the reason why the Steve Oronsaye Committee recommended outright scrapping of some and merging of others."
Recently, the former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, called openly for scrapping of the Nigerian Senate, describing it as superfluous to Nigeria's governance needs. He said:
“We have kept complaining about the cost of governance and the recurrent expenditure. But we have never examined the structural problem of even the constitution that we are operating.
“Why do we need two Houses of the National Assembly? The House of Representatives, representing the smaller constituencies, is enough in the same number of population. Why not get rid of the Senate for a slim and better legislative activity? Let us start examining that.”
Nigeria's Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (PDP, Cross River Central), was one of the first critics of Tinubu's suggestion. He said, “What is the logic behind a bicameral legislature? It is adopted in a heterogeneous society.The Senate is a representation based on equality. If you scrap the Senate, then you have denied the minorities proper representation.”
The Senator's statement would seem to suggest it is not possible to achieve equal representation for minorities under a unicameral system.
Tinubu is not the first prominent Nigerian to comment on the profligacy of the bicameral and presidential systems of government n Nigeria. The Governor of Nigeria's Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido, recently expressed concern about the prohibitive cost of the legislative arm of government, saying, “If you look at the budget, the bulk of government spending is recurrent. That is a big problem. Twenty five per cent of overhead of the Federal Government goes to the National Assembly. We need power; we need infrastructure; so, we need to start looking at the structure of expenditure and make it more consistent with the development initiatives of the country.”
However, it seems more likely that nothing will be done to trim down government and bring down governance-related costs to more reasonable levels because those who have to take the decision are also the ones benefiting from the situation.
The Punch reports that Professor Pat Utomi, professor of political economy at Pan African University, Lagos, a prominent Nigerian analyst and former presidential candidate said:
“The current cost of governance is the highest I have ever known of in the nation’s history. Those in power find it convenient to enlarge the government to create more jobs for the boys. I do not think we should have ministers from every state but so many people hang on the government to get something.
“The cost is double; the money going out as recurrent expenditure and the adverse effect on the execution of capital projects. You cannot but say politics is everything today. So, many people are dependent on the government and politicians. Our country is full of people who look for something to take from being in government.”
Professor Utomi concluded: “I have always advocated a unicameral and part-time legislature. This, I have tagged: ‘Citizen Legislature.’ The full-time (legislators) we have now [are] not representing the people; the representatives are disconnected from the people.”
This Day Live recommends: "The thing to do is to use the instrumentality of the ongoing constitutional amendment process to take a serious look at the cost of governance and reduce the cost drastically by letting off some bodies and reducing the weight of others. The center is just too big, Abuja is too bloated and should shed weight."