By Bisi Lawrence
The recent (or current) issue of where the Annual Budget should be presented by the President of the Federation, Alhaji Umar Yarâ€™Adua, might be described as uncalled for.
The question is whether it should take place separately at each arm of the National Assembly, that is the Senate and the House ofÂ Representatives, or at a joint meeting ofÂ both. And furthermore, if at a joint assembly, which particular chambers would be more suitable or appropriate.
Unfortunately, the 1999 Constitution does not seem to promulgate the details of the presentation beyond the injunction that it should be â€œlaid before each houseâ€. (Vide Section 81 (4)). It also did not stipulate whether it should be together or severally.
All the same, there is an indication that the Constitution recommends a joint session as an instrument of great merit and authority in the mediation of decisions. For instance, in the event of a logjam in the position of the President and that of the National Assembly in the passing of an appropriation bill (or other bills of a fiscal consequence) the Constitution makes a joint meeting the final arbiter. (Vide Section 59.)
It even goes further to submit that the President â€œmay attend any joint meeting of the National Assemblyâ€ to â€œdeliver an address on national affairs, including fiscal measuresâ€. (Vide Section 67). So it recognizes the utility, in specific cases, of a joint session.
This is not the first Budget that would be presented by a Chief Executive, even including the incumbent. The preceding ones, dating back to the very first over forty years ago, were accomplished without any disagreement as to the venue.
The usual procedure has been at a joint session, under the joint chairmanship of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, with the former assuming the position, as it were, of primus inter pares.
However, now there are members on both sides of the National Assembly who are ready to make a change, contrary to the position of many others who would like to preserve the status quo. Several of the latter are in the House of Representatives, which has been usually referred to as the â€œLower Houseâ€. This is a title that has gathered considerable resentment among the Representatives in recent times, especially since there is little in the Constitution, by which the National Assembly is established, to indicate that either branch is inferior or should be subservient to the other.
But that is the norm in the system of bicameral legislatures all over the world. And in that are included nations with diverse kinds of government like Britain, Chile, Russia. Pakistan, Austria,Â Spain, Columbia, and of course, the United States of America.
What they all seem to have in common is a larger â€œlowerâ€ house, a designation that is more traditional than anything else, as they both have equal legislative powers and neither can solely effect any legislation without the consent of the other.
While this process appears cumbersome in some measure, it really assures that the laws that would be made to govern a nation have passed through adequate deliberations by her chosen citizens.
The glorification of the characterization of one arm of the National Assembly as being the â€œupperâ€ one, which appears to be at the root of this entire imbroglio, is now assuming dimensions which definitely must be beyond those of mere personal vanity or collective pride.
On the one hand, the so-called â€œlowerâ€ house actually rakes in less â€œmazumaâ€ at the end of each month, and also in the course of the allocation of general remuneration. That hurts – letâ€™s face it, it hurts. It would even hurt more for any one whose priority in service is pointed towards rewards.
On the other hand, the hubristic tendency of the so-called â€œupper houseâ€ to flaunt its putative seniority at the instance of any issue removes from the circumstances conducive to cooperation and cordiality between the two branches of the National Assembly.
The controversy smacks of injudicious puerilism in high places. Maturity dictates that the whims of an individual or a group should not be converted to the grief of so many other people. The processing of the budget is a national exercise upon which theÂ welfare of the entire peoples of this country depends. It should be accorded a priority and respect beyond the mundane issues of individual benefits.
Of all the submissions that have been made about the formation of a new â€œmega-partyâ€, those that hinge on its necessity appear the least porous.
Professor Jerry Gana recently postulated that the formation of a â€œmega-partyâ€ would strengthen our ailing democracy on those grounds, and one is inclined to agree with him.
By the way, I hope you remember the good Professor. He was once a Minister of Information who swayed dangerously between posturing as a politician and registering as an intellectual, in the second corning of Obasanjo. He went all the way to emerge as a Presidential hopeful in the 2007 election under the umbrella of the PDP.
This is the party he would now make us believe needs to be heavily challenged by any means of bringing people together, no matter who. I need not remind you that Gana also ended up among the flotsam and jetsam casually deposited on the political shore of vain hopes and broken dreams. By those elements ofÂ his fragmented antecedent, his views must be accepted as flawed for they can only be presented on the platform of a disappointed loser, a â€œhas-beenâ€Â striving to be relevant.
But he has a good point. A democratic government without a viable opposition is like a bird with only one wing; it can neither fly fast nor far. But it is also not practical to build up an opposition in the face of a leviathan incumbent political party in power, especially with a leadership of woolly credibility.
We have said it before, and we will say it again. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida had the recipe. Okay, I will not deny that I was once his fan. Maybe I still am. But that is beside the point. We are discussing his precepts here, not his personality.
And even if you bear him hard, it would still not be politic to throw the baby out with the bath water. We have to go back to his tried and true method of dismantling the entire system and regrouping the polity anew on the basis of two strong parties, cleansed of the â€œministers of misruleâ€ from whom we have suffered for so long.
There was once a Minister of Communications who was bemused by the fact that some misguided citizens submitted themselves to the horrendous notion that telephones were meant also for poor people. He has moved on in life and must have now grown wiser, and we forgive him.
It is now estimated that over 70 million Nigerians own telephones today, that is more than half the population of this country, and they cannot all be wealthy. My housemaid even has two.
The beauty of the proliferation of cellular or â€œâ€˜mobileâ€ phones is that they are also so efficient. They are also known as â€˜â€œhandsetsâ€, (though a friend of mine, who read English at the university, insists that â€œmobileâ€ is a misnomer since the phones do not actually move on their own, but are carried and should therefore be described as â€œportableâ€.) The days of network failure were even almost over, at the early stages, though that is now a recurrent, but not an acute, problem.
You can also know the time from the installed clock, be roused by the alarm through an alert signal as well as by designated melodies, which you may compose yourself. The same, of course, goes for the call alerts that may be downloaded from computer sources.
Then you have the text facility. Some people use that for a variety of purposes, including invitations to parties, or meetings, or as birthday and Christmas greetings. The benign advantages of this marvel of telecommunication facility are simply inexhaustible, and more are being introduced every day.
Now come the other side of the coin.
A voice, noticeably laced with alcohol, rattled over the line, the other night. â€œBizlaw, Bizlaw, is that Bizlaw?â€Â it bellowed. It was 2 oâ€™clock in the morning.
â€œWho is that? Who is speaking? I asked weakly.
â€œI just want to tell you to leave my wife alone, you hear?â€
â€œYour wife? â€œ I asked startled. â€œBut I donâ€™t even know who is speaking…â€
â€œOh, you will soon know who is speaking if you donâ€™t leave my wife alone.. â€œ
â€œOh. come on.â€ I retorted, not quite unmoved. â€œI donâ€™t think you even know me. I am over seventy years old, and have gone beyond all that…â€
â€œOh, thatâ€™s what you all say, you dirty old men. You just leave my wife alone..â€
â€œGo to hell!â€Â Â I said, slamming the phone â€“ in a manner of speaking, that is. (The pity of it is that you really canâ€™t slam a mobile phone.) I hardly slept a wink for the rest of the night.
But wrongly enraged husbands are only a part of the scourge that mobile phones bring to one in the night. The perennial promotions of one â€œfantastic offerâ€ or another are another. They come as text messages and can be tolerated in the daytime.
Some are aligned to some sport competitions and ask you to forecast the winners for a prize of a million naira, or a trip to the Azores or such exotic destinations, or even a free ticket to watch the final of the competition. Be that as it may, but all that at half-past-one in the night? And it is a matter that precludes a choice of the brand of telecom service – they
ALL do it, though some keep to honest hours. And that is what they should all do, since no one can stop them from what, after all, is legitimate business.
But the masters of â€œmobile anticsâ€ are the nasty people who just call up your number just for fun, or deliberately to disturb you. They equip themselves with several SIM cards and reserve some particular ones to â€œflashâ€ you endlessly.
They come from different directions – jilted lovers, sacked female clerks, miserable husbands (pampering a love that cannot live but would not die), and those who act out of woeful frustration in hard-core pornography. If you are a recipient of the last, you might have to change your phone number or leave town.
I have had enough smut thrown at me in the past three months to sink a battleship. Of course, I delete them as soon as I receive them. In frustration, I forwarded one to a friend after telling him about it. The one he returned sent me ten feet deep in slime. None of these maniacs with a mobile phone should be let loose on society.
Unfortunately, there is hardly anything one can do about it. Just grin and bear it – and mind whom you jilt, or the house help you sack, or the unknown wife of some crazy drunk you donâ€™t even know.