Okorocha’s proposal on Senate representation

ROCHAS Okorocha, the senator representing Imo West and immediate past governor of Imo State, has called for the reduction in the number of senators through the election of one senator from each state in place of the current practice of three senators per state. He made the remark during plenary while contributing to the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper submitted by the joint committee on finance and national planning. He considered this change necessary to reduce the cost of governance in the country, stating that it would further help the country to maintain fiscal discipline. According to him, the cost of maintaining the 109 members is too high. A one-member representation per state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will bring the number of senators to a modest total of 37 senators.

In a similar remark, the governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has advocated the scrapping of the Senate in order to save cost and reduce the financial burden on the government. Governor Fayemi, who spoke at one of the panel sessions on the sidelines of the 25th edition of the Nigerian Economic Summit with the theme, ‘Nigeria 2050: Shifting gears,’ said that the type of legislative system that would be more productive for Nigeria in this current economic situation is the unicameral legislature. He further advocated the adoption of the Stephen Oronsaye report which recommended the merging of Federal Government agencies that perform similar functions in order to save the country’s resources and ensure effectiveness. The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has also thrown its weight behind the suggestion by Senator Okorocha that parliamentary representation from each state of the federation be reduced as part of efforts to decrease government’s running costs.

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While we agree with the urgent need to reduce the cost of governance, we disagree that reduction in the number of senators is the way to do so. This is because reducing the number of senators or scrapping the Senate has grave implications for parliamentary representation in a diverse society like Nigeria. The diversity of the population in some states makes the number of senators appropriate. Furthermore, as we have seen from the struggles between the two chambers of the National Assembly and the Presidency since 1999, a unicameral legislature can easily become a rubberstamp. That the National Assembly has two chambers has provided enhanced oversight and control over the excesses of the executive branch even though their performances still fall below expectation.

We think that a better way to reduce the drain on national resources is to drastically cut down on the various allowances that political office-holders allocate to themselves. As we have noted in a previous editorial, ministers, commissioners, directors in government parastatal agencies and so on live exclusively on their travels and they all fly first and business classes with the best international airlines, thus generating so much cost for the government. This is in contrast with what happens in developed countries where such categories of government employees fly economy class. In Nigeria, government officials travel with their aides and place all expenses on the government’s account. Many state governors would not travel around the country except on chartered aircraft.

Politicians live off public resources as if being in government is to be in a party of prurient pleasure, dance and celebration. This life of debauchery of public officials which has consistently been rejected by Nigerians needs to be addressed. Apart from these unsustainable lifestyles which amount to a misuse of public funds, endemic corruption has been a major cause of the high cost of governance. Over invoicing, bribery and kickbacks have translated into high transaction cost, with less than 40 per cent value for money in contracts awards. Thus, to reduce the cost of governance goes beyond reduction in the number of parliamentarians. The lifestyles of public officials must change. This would mean increasing accountability and transparency in governance. It also means that the allowances of political office-holders have to be cut.  Public officials must use only economy class when they travel as it is done elsewhere. The use of chartered flight by governors must be stopped. Long convoys of vehicles and other similar waste of public fund must be avoided. The government must ensure that the restructuring of the ministries is comprehensive. Public officials must be made to work for the salaries they earn.

Political positions must not be overpriced relative to other positions in the public service. Efforts must be made by the states to raise revenue with the goal of ensuring that administration is run by internally generated revenue only. The fight against corruption must be reinvigorated. Appropriated constitutional amendments must be done where necessary to reduce the number of political office-holders in order to make the government nimble.

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