“Approximately half of the world’s sovereign states are presently unicameral, including both the most populous (the People’s Republic of China). With the adoption of unicameral legislation the waste which has for long been associated with maintenance of political structures in Nigeria will reduce drastically”.
Two weeks ago, I started an examination of the effects of the Presidential System on the economic fortunes of the country. Last week I focused on structure of the country, with emphasis on the bicameral system of legislature which currently accounts for a large chunk on public expenditure. That there is a need for a examination of the Presidential system can hardly be disputed. Indeed just last week, the President approved a bail out of billions of naira to stabilize the states of the Federation which were grappling with crippling wage bills. I therefore will continue this week with an examination of some of the documented costs of running this system and conclude with a reference to what obtains in other countries.
EFFECT ON ECONOMY
The effect is that a lot of money which should otherwise have been directed towards other aspects of the economy such as health, education, transportation, agriculture, etc., are consumed by maintenance cost of governance and particularly the National Assembly. Indeed, a former minister of education, Mrs Obi Ezekwesili was reported to have stated that the National Assembly had gulped over N1trillion in about 8 years and that such money would have done a lot in other sectors. She therefore advocated as others have done that legislative duties be made part time. In reaction, the then Chairman House Committee on Media and Public Affairs defended the budgetary allocation of N150 billion per year to the National Assembly. He highlighted that the emphasis should be on the cost benefit analysis of running the National Assembly as a vital institution of democracy. Another member of the House chose to pass the buck and he is reported to have advised critics of the huge expenditure of the National Assembly to question the rationale for the appointment of over 40 ministers and the retention of over 10 aircrafts in the presidential fleet. Yet another notable member of the National Assembly argued that the N150billion allocation to the National Assembly is just 3 percent of the nation’s annual budget and that his take home pay after tax is just N900,000 while the basic salary of a “rank and file” member of the US Congress is $174,000 (N28.2million).
Indeed, in the 2014 budget proposal presented on the 19th December, 2013, a sum of N150billion was allocated to the National Assembly. This informed the decision of a civil society group, the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSANC), a coalition of 150 anti-corruption organizations to request the National Assembly for information on the said amount. Whether this request for information was ever granted or not is not known.
From the views expressed by the critics and the defense put up by the members of National Assembly, it cannot be disputed that there is indeed cause for concern. The issue to my mind is not whether the allocation of N150billion represents 3 percent of the national budget or not. The issue is also not whether there is a benefit to the nation by the maintenance of a vital institution of democracy. The real issue is whether the amount expended on the maintenance of the National Assembly can be justified given Nigeria’s economic circumstances. Do we really need two chambers of the National Assembly to carry out legislative duties – Can the very important constitutional duty of legislation not be performed by a single chamber? Must we copy every aspect of the American system despite the huge difference in the revenue avenue to Nigeria and that country? If we must copy, is it not better to take the positives and simply ignore whatever aspect may not be good for Nigeria?
EXAMPLES FROM ABROAD
Approximately half of the world’s sovereign states are presently unicameral, including both the most populous (the People’s Republic of China). Many sub-national entities have unicameral legislatures. These include Nebraska, Guam and the Virgin Islands in the United States, Hong Kong, the Australianstates and territories of Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, all of the provinces and territories in Canada, all of the German Bundesländer, all of the Italian Region, all of the Spanish Autonomous Communities, and all of the Brazilian states. In the United Kingdom, the devolved Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly are also unicameral.
With the adoption of unicameral legislation the waste which has for long been associated with maintenance of political structures in Nigeria will reduce drastically. However before this can be achieved there must be a change to the present constitutional make-up. The proposed constitutional change may take either the form of abolition of one of the two chambers of the national assembly as was done by countries such as Senegal, New Zealand and Denmark or by merger of the two as was done in Sweden.
In the final analysis, there is a need to address the continued retention of the American style of Presidential system. We cannot continue to pretend that all is well when we are daily confronted with the effects of a system that was forced upon by the military. In addition, Government should revisit the report of the Committee on government parastatals which has recommended the merger of several government agencies performing the same or similar functions. The time to act is now.
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON