BY AHURAKA ISAH, SOLOMON AYADO, Abuja, Abu Nmodu, Minna
With the rising cost of governance, lean revenue earnings and little or no funds for infrastructural development, legal experts in the country have advocated the merging of the Senate and the House of Representatives to form a unicameral legislature.
This is coming just as former President Olusegun Obasanjo has again taken a swipe on the National Assembly, saying Senators and members of the House of Representatives are fond of cornering capital projects into constituency projects to perpetrate corruption.
The legal experts, including constitutional lawyers and members of the inner bar contended that the federal legislature can function effectively as a unicameral legislature just like states and local government councils that are operating unicameral legislature, with only state Houses of Assembly and Councillors respectively at these levels of government.
In separate exclusive interviews with LEADERSHIP yesterday, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN); S, T, Hon (SAN); Alex Iziyon (SAN); Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN); Jibrin Okutepa (SAN); Emeka Ngige (SAN); Alasa Ismail and Abanika Muktar Isah held unanimously that unicameral legislature should not only be maintained at the federal level, but should be on part time basis.
The learned silks held that whereas people of Nigeria look up to democracy for a better deal for economic development as well as to end poverty, social inequality, enhance popular participation and eradicate corruption in their society, the condition of Nigerians today calls for debate.
The all agreed that with over 70 per cent of the country’s national budget spent as recurrent and less than 30% spent on infrastructure development, the bicameral legislature at the federal level is a big leakage for the lean revenue earnings in the country at present.
Sagay said, “It is absolutely unnecessary to operate bicameral legislature at the federal level, while we have unicameral legislature at the state and local government levels. That is one of the biggest drain or leakage on the economy. Besides, lawmaking should be held on part-time basis, like Czechoslovakia and many other countries in the globe.”
On his part, Chief Ahamba submitted that no nation can survive with this sort of rising cost of governance in the country.
He said, “No country can carry on this way; it is antithetical to good governance and infrastructure development, a situation where we spend humongous part of our budget for recurrent and the little remaining for infrastructure.
“I have argued it in my book titled, ‘Thinking aloud on 1979 Constitution’ that we should have unicameral legislature at the federal level. I said in the book that there is no need having the Senate at the same time the House of Representatives.
“We all advocated for pure American democracy or federalism without considering the implications. We can’t afford permanent legislature with our nature of economic structure. My father was in the Eastern House of Assembly from 1961 to 1966, at the same time a school master. He was a part time legislator; he kept his job as a school master and it was all pretty. It is a waste of fund keeping people on permanent basis for legislation. We won’t get it right economically, and development wise.”
Arguing along the same line, S.T. Hon said, ‘Admittedly, keeping people permanently for legislative activities is highly costly. Parliamentary system is more accountable and close to the electorate.
“First point of call, there should be huge overhaul of our constitution, amend it and consequently abolish bicameral legislature. I will support that if we revert to parliamentary system of government. This is because the presidential system makes president too powerful.”
Towing the same line of argument, Okutepa said, “They should dissolve the National Assembly. We have enough laws already which we have not even put into practice. They are serious drainage to our economy.”
Iziyon corroborated the position of his learned colleagues when he said, “Except we revert to parliamentary system, which also demands to maintain upper and lower house, it won’t be possible. We have even experimented parliamentary system and failed. What to look for are means to minimize cost of governance.”
For Ngige, making membership of the National Assembly is best solution. He said, “I don’t think that is the solution to the rising cost of governance in Nigeria. I think one of the ways out is to make membership of both chambers of the National Assembly a part time business so that they are only paid sitting allowances and no salary.
“It will encourage thorough professionals to go into the legislature, while at the same time plying their trade. We should by all means ensure that appointment or the holding of public office is made less attractive in order to get selfless and patriotic persons at the helm of affairs.
Lawmakers Still Using Constituency Projects As Conduit Pipes- Obasanjo
Meanwhile former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday descended verbally on members of the National assembly, saying the lawmakers often corner capital projects into constituency projects to perpetrate corruption.
He spoke in Minna at the Niger State Investment Summit with the theme ‘Impact Investing for Advancing Agricultural Economy and Innovation’.
While reacting to the appeal of the sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, for the rehabilitation of Minna-Suleja road, the former president stated that the appeal was noted but wished that when the project is proposed, it will not be put under constituency project.
Obasanjo said, “I listen to Sultan talking about road. I hope the legislatures are listening. If the executive propose it I hope it will not be taken as constituency projects. Constituency project is corruption. You know what I mean”.
The former Nigerian leader who was the chairman of the occasion also spoke about the way he was dragged to make speech by former head of state, General Abdulsalami (rtd), the same way he was dragged into politics.
He stated that he was unhappily enjoying in prison when he was released, pardoned and dragged into politics by the likes of General Abubakar, the way he dragged him at the summit to the podium to make his speech, adding that he attended the summit because it emphasized on agro investment.
He however stated that the problem with the Agricultural sector in Nigeria was high interest rate charged by banks in borrowing farmers , noting that except they expect the farmers to grow cocaine there was no way they could cope with such double digit interest rate.
“If there is anything that can take us out of recession it is agricultural business; it is a renewable business that can sustain us and give us Job and wealth creation, and raise up the poor among us”, he posited.
He stated that what is needed to promote agriculture was to reduce interest rate on borrowing because the double digit interest rate on loans could only create failure in the sector, even as he urged the state government to encourage the youths into agriculture instead of Okada riding.
Earlier, the Sultan of Sokoto called for the rehabilitation of Minna –Suleja Road as it inhibits economic growth in the state and also urged the federal government to lease some of her structures in the states to the state government to make them busy and contribute to the growth of their economy.
He state that instead of the ongoing debate on devolution of power, the federal government could make it a matter of deliberate policy to allow the state government take over the structures of the central government in their area.
The Sultan listed some of the structures in Niger state to include the Hydro power stations in Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro.
We Won’t Take Issues With OBJ – Senate
But, the Senate yesterday replied the former President Olusegun Obasanjo over the strong allegation that lawmakers were stealing public funds through constituency projects insisting that it “was needless to join issues with the elder statesman.’
The Senate described the former president as rather being flippant and was only on a voyage to malign the hard earned integrity of the National Assembly.
According to the upper chamber, taking issues with the elder-statesman is just like throwing the baby with the bath because the allegation was baseless.
The chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, told LEADERSHIP that the former president was entitled to his opinion and that it was not imperative to sail on the same coast with him.
“We won’t join issues with Baba Obasanjo. He is entitled to his opinion. But recall the statements by Senator Bala Ibn NaAllah and House colleague Hon. Namdas on the same accusation by the same OBJ. So, there is nothing he said that is new”, Sabi stated.
OBJ Is The Principal Mastermind Of Corruption – Reps
However, the House of Representatives was not lenient with Obasanjo like the Senate. Speaking through chairman of its Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, the House described Obasanjo as the principal mastermind of corruption in Nigeria.
Namdas in a telephone conversation said the former president is the one who introduced corruption to the legislature in 1999 when he felt he must bribe legislators to have his way on every issue.
Namdas said, “What else do you want me to say, I have responded to this issue of constituency project several times. hatever I say now will be repetition of what I have said before.
“However, I still believe that Obasanjo’s grudge with the National Assembly is understandable. He is angry with the National Assembly as an institution, having foiled his ambition for a third term in office even after trying to corrupt the members with a bribe of at least N50 million each.”
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