Wither the Senate? By Olalekan Adigun
Arguably, the most criticized institution since the emergence of the Buhari administration has been the National Assembly, specifically, the Senate, its upper chamber.
A group, Citizens United for Peace and Stability (CUPS), has called on Nigerians to #OccupyNASS. Some more ambitious elements within this group went as far as calling for the scrapping of the Senate altogether.
Before we go on, we need to understand some things so that our analysis is not beclouded by emotions. If my memory serves me right, the Nigerian Senate was established in 1960, with the Owelle of Onitsha, Rt Honourable (Dr) Nnamdi Azikiwe as first Senate President. Before then, we had only the House of Representatives (introduced in 1954) as the sole body to perform law making functions at the federal level. As at the time of its introduction, the Senate’s 44 members were appointed by the then regional governments as against the more vibrant and politically active House of Representatives whose members included the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Not until the introduction of the 1979 Constitution did the members of the Senate became elected and accorded more powers and functions under the presidential system of government.
Only recently has the voice of those calling for the scrapping of the Senate grown louder. Looking from afar, one can easily classify the groups calling for the scraping of the Senate into three interrelated groups.
First among these groups are those who want the body scrapped because of some scores they have to settle with the current Senate President, Bukola Saraki. As far as these people are concerned, it takes a rotten body to produce a decay head. Some within this group have called for the resignation of the Senate President as a result of his on-going trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). To this group, scrapping of the Senate is not too much of a bad idea!
The second group are those who want the Senate scrapped because they think that is a cost-saving avenue for the Federation. This is perhaps the strongest point raised by those calling for the scrapping of the Senate altogether. They cite the wasteful expenses such as recent purchase of exorbitant cars for Senators who are yet to pass many bills into laws, as a premise for their arguments!
The third group might just perfectly fit into any of the two previous groups, but having no strong or legitimate position(s) of their own other than just wanting the Senate scrapped.
Many of the counter-arguments against the scrapping of the Senate have been targeted at the first group. They claim that the desperation of persons like Bola Tinubu to remove the Senate President is responsible for the growing agitations against the legislative body.
Let us be quick to admit that Tinubu being a politician is hardly to be vouched for about his ambitions. Politicians are people that one can hardly trust especially when it comes to keeping their words. One thing we must admit is that Tinubu’s case against the Senate has little or nothing to do with Saraki being the Senate President. It is on record that the All Progressives Congress (APC) national leader called for the scrapping of the Senate in 2013. This being just a distraction, but let’s look at the issue for less emotional standpoints.
Tinubu himself served in the Senate during the Third Republic so his calling for the scrapping of the body he once served in means he is entitled to his opinion. His justification for his position is, like the second group, to save cost.
Again, in the heat of the 2006 National Conference, some groups under the name, Pro-National Conference Organisations (PRONACO) led by late Pa Anthony Enahoro also called for Legislative reforms to include a unicameral legislature at the centre. Invariably, the call for scrapping of the Senate dates back when even Saraki was still Kwara state Governor.
While it looks good on the surface to scrap the Senate to save cost, we think the argument is simply rather too reductionist. There is no guarantee, that funds saved from scrapping the body will not find other uses in the same corrupt system!
If we are really serious about saving cost, then we make the following propositions:
Since members of the Senate are former state Governors, Ministers, House of Representatives members, and other political office holders in one way or the other hence on pensions and gratuities in the Nigerian public service, we propose withdrawal of monetary packages for previous political office holders in the Red Chambers. Legislative bodies are not money-spinning institutions. The Legislature is a chamber of reflection, not of luxuries!
We equally want to know why we have to scrap the Senate to save cost. What about slashing the emoluments of political office holders, including the Presidency? Why must the President have ‘Special Advisers’ since he also has ‘Special Assistants’? What about having our legislators just sitting allowances, rather than huge bonuses? Why can’t we just demonetize the Local Government administrations in other to attract true and productive administrators? Must Nigeria maintain a full embassy in Nicaragua? Must we have 36 ministers even though half of them are without portfolios?
Some people may see our proposals as ruthlessly impracticable in the light of present realities because, they say, politics costs money. We agree. To be a politician is to mean business, we concur. But we recall that politics can also mean making decisions about something outside of oneself. If politics is just about what is my business, maybe, we will not have a US President known as Barack Obama today!
It is not just about saving cost or removing Saraki, but we should rather make the Senate less attractive and less monetized by ensuring quality persons, rather than just political opportunists who find their way into the exalted institution.
Olalekan Waheed Adigun is a political risk analyst and independent political strategist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Follow me on twitter @adgorwell.