Why we should downsize the National Assembly now

By Frank Ofili

Nigeria appears to be a paradox of a country. Everything seems destined to remain in reverse mode. How often do we hear the term “democracy and good governance” used in our political discourse? How often do we hear our so-called leaders use them in arguments to advance what they claim is the interest of the people? Of course those interests are anything but of the people or the country.

From all indications, it seems the concepts of democracy and good governance have evolved a different meaning and application in our clime. Their utility now seems to lie in how adept our political (mis)leaders are in adapting them to suit their selfish ends. It seems the phenomenon of “amala, bread and butter” politics a’la “stomach infrastructure”  has transformed us into a people ingenious in giving an entirely new meaning to good governance.

In a country where a few elites live like emperors while subjecting the greater majority to modern day slavery, democracy and good governance can only mean what the power elite choose to define it as.

Our own brand of democracy and good governance is a parody of its western model, and I find myself asking if we cannot do something about it. To all intents and purposes, it has become too expensive. If democracy were a business venture, will our profit and loss account be positive? In my opinion, our political balance sheet is in perpetual negative.

Agreed that democracy is mankind’s most globally accepted system of governance, but its actual operation is not the same the world over. Every country adapts and modifies its actual structures to suit its peculiar national interest without sacrificing its essential principles and value-utility. There is no reason we should not do same.

From my humble diagnosis, three things are wrong with our democracy.

The first is that the financial cost of maintaining a bicameral national legislature as we have today is too much as to be sustainable for long. I don’t know any sincere Nigerian today who would dispute this averment.

Secondly, the cost of election is so huge that post-election governance is difficult to achieve in the immediate as the first four years after election is mostly dedicated to recouping electoral expenses and amassing a war chest preparatory for the next election. This is particularly so where the opposition party is perceived as being equally formidable.

Thirdly, our state institutions are too weak and subservient to the government of the day that the power elite can almost always get away with any breach of state laws. What we have at the moment is a regime of strong personalities and weak state institutions; hence the institutions are powerless against strong personalities. Well, until fairly recently when some of our state institutions such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have rediscovered their bite.

Democracy as is practiced in Nigeria today is unsustainable. It has become too expensive for us to ignore and delude ourselves in the hope that “we shall get there”. Of a fact is that we have benefited little from our own model of democracy as it is today.  The waste is just too much and something needs to be done, and urgently too.

That being so, what is wrong with taking a holistic view of the current paradigm with a view to evolving a system that will take cognizance of our heterogeneous composition and still maximize our economic potential?

Can we not have a system that wastes our economic resources less? What, for example, is wrong with Nigeria having a system where the Senate is made up of 37 members (one from each of state of the Federation and FCT Abuja)? These thirty-seven members would elect the Senate President. This will reduce the senators from 109 to just 37

Conversely, is it not possible for us to have a House of Representatives that consists of 110 members (three from each of the 36 states and two from FCT Abuja)? Again, the 110 members would elect the House Speaker. Again, this would reduce their number from 360 to 110. Simply put, I am suggesting here that the current 109-member Senate should transmute to House of Representatives.

The economic gain of down-sizing our National Assembly to the structure suggested above can only be imagined by multiplying the remuneration, allowances, benefits and sundry other entitlements of one law maker by the number that would be weeded out. No doubt it will run into billions of Naira – money freed up to execute people-oriented projects.

Whatever the job description of our current legislators is, I posit that it can be achieved by a leaner legislative structure. No sane country eats away its future. Of course this also means a prudent and accountable executive arm and a truly independent judiciary must necessarily be in place. But that is why building strong institutions of state is of utmost importance.

Ofili is a Lagos-based human resource practitioner and public affairs commentator. He can be reached via email: frankoliseofili@gmail.com

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