Do we really Need The Senate ? By Muhammed Al-Ghazali


The 8th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is yet to fully define its own character, but, already, the signs are ominous that it will pretty much be a case more of the same attributes on a grander scale. The earlt signs clearly indicate that anyone foolish enough to believe the current Senate, led by Bukola Saraki, would differ remarkably from the previous ones in refinement and positive contribution to the healthy growth of our democracy, desperately requires an appointment with a shrink!
Nothing projects that viewpoint more effervescently than the alleged plans by the 8th Senate to expend a whopping 4.7 billion Naira for the procurement of brand new SUVs for its members even after each and every single one of them had already pocketed a king’s ransom in vehicle loans. Although the report has been denied, it should worry the Senate that few Nigerians are willing to believe their own side of the narrative.
Even fewer Nigerians are also willing to swallow the logic behind the need to procure brand new SUVs to enable its distinguished members execute their oversight functions when the whole world already knows that they shamelessly rely on the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for such shuttles.
And because the Senate President, along with the majority in its chamber were elected on the platform of the APC, their critics are within their rights to insist that the imprudent disposition so far demonstrated by the upper legislative chamber is inconsistent with the change they voted for.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, stories abound that most self-funding MDAs, along with interested industry operators, routinely sponsor NASS Committee members for junkets at home and abroad in the name of their ‘oversight’ functions.
A clear case was the scandal that landed Senator Iyabo Obasanjo in soup not too long ago. It transpired that the Senate Committee on Health she chaired was sponsored on a trip to Ghana of all places. This time, though, it is obvious that the distinguished senators have completely misjudged the mood of Nigerians; not to talk of the resolve of President Muhammadu Buhari, as was emphatically revealed during his first media chat last week.
The collapse of the international price of crude oil which is sure to aggravated when Iran starts exporting, is sure to be aggravated soon. That means the nation must not only enhance the quality and quantity of its Internally Generated Revenue, but also, ultimately block all loopholes in revenue generation by blocking or eliminating wastages. The incredible defences offered by many principal officers of both chambers runs contrary to all these. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, was even reported to have said that the NASS was not inclined to take dictates from the Presidency on such matter including the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA)!
Obviously, in trying to re-emphasise its independence from the other arms of government, especially the executive arm; the legislature appears destined for a direct collision with the people from whom they individually and collectively derive their powers. They are the ones that will suffer the most in any protracted tussle for supremacy between the three arms of government. But they must also not forget that the ultimate power resides with the people, and not the few pampered cats in the NASS.
And, talking about representation, the House of Representatives with its superior numbers is surely more representative of the people than the Senate which has 109 members. These are no ordinary times for most Nigerians, and the year 2016, in my opinion, is set to determine whatever remains of the nation’s destiny in many respects.
The current state of the economy has already compelled the executive arm to make some painful decisions to things around for the better. It has already pruned the number of ministries and is also set to do the same with the merger of agencies, along with the introduction of the TSA. Yet, the body language of the principal officers of the NASS suggests that their priorities are dissimilar.
To turn the economy around will require the buy-in of all Nigerians. This is the time for sacrifices and not business as usual. Because there has not been one single case of a member of the NASS being successful recalled does not mean that our distinguished Senators and Representatives should bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. They must show that they are also in the trenches with the rest of us to rescue the nation from the abyss.
It should worry them that already, Nigerians are beginning to ask justified questions on why the nation required a bicameral legislature in the first place. They point at Senegal which recently amended its constitution to streamline the legislative function to align it with the dynamics of the local economy. Why not Nigeria with its vastly diminished income?
When the current presidential system of government was foisted on the nation in 1978, the Naira exchanged for almost twice the value of the dollar! As inexplicable as the suggestion must have been at the time, the nation could still afford a bi-cameral legislative system.
That is no longer the case. The same dollar was exchanged in excess of 270 last week. Just last year, Nigerian earned over a hundred dollars for each barrel of crude oil it exports. Today we struggle for buyers for the same product at less than 37 dollars. It could drop as low as 20 dollars before the end of the year.
Therefore, the ultimate question to ask is whether the current system, with its vastly disproportional annual budget could be further sustained. In a macabre resolve of their intention to proceed in the opposite direction, we even witnessed an increase in the number of their standing Committees!
While I agree that the total budgetary allocations that normally accrues to the NASS also caters for its bureaucracy, the state of the economy demands that the time is nigh for cost-benefit analysis of the impact of the NASS on the enthronement of genuine democratic ethos in the country. How has the same impacted on the overall economic development of the country?
The online media platform Premium Times recently published an investigative report in which it concluded that the NASS failed the nation in its interrogation of at least ten major scandals that undermined Nigeria. A chronology of the scandals is still available on their platform. A cursory examination of all the cases will reveal that Nigerians are yet to benefit from their intervention. Why sustain a business that is not only unprofitable but has actually become a drain? That is the position we are with the NASS at the moment, even if its existence is the decisive difference between democracy and autocracy.
We must not condone the situation where members of NASS Committees feast on the MDAs like locusts thereby compromising their integrity and the quality of their oversight function. Our economy can no longer sustain legislators who are among the highest paid in the world. Why must a developing economy such as ours retain a wasteful bicameral legislature with overlapping functions in any instances? Clearly it is a luxury our current predicament has already called into question.
And the more telling abnormally is not even the disproportional amount both chambers vote for themselves each year but in what the nations loses to their nefarious acts of omission or commission each year. Let us all summon the courage to do away with the Senate at least. It has become more of a costly retirement home for senior citizens the nation can no longer afford!

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