By Bisi Lawrence
You may recall that the last National Assembly convened with some youthful members of the House of Representatives wondering dangerously aloud as to why they were considered the “lower” house to the Senate, the other arm of our bicameral legislature. I too pondered why. Eventually, the wondering and the pondering generally faded into oblivion. For me, it was a lingering thought. What really makes one chamber superior to the other?
Well, one of my young lawyer friends explained it very well; I thought, but it all merely brought out not so much the reason for the disparity in status, but rather it outlined what seemed like a superfluity in the existence of the two parallel arms of one legislative structure.
Of course, there are several other countries with bi-cameral legislatures in the world, but the organizations differ from one nation to another in terms of powers and responsibilities. Britain’s House of Lords, for instance, is different by nature from the House of Commons. Our own type borrows heavily from the American prototype in line with their presidential system of government. And we may start from that wasteful model to re-examine why we did not stay with the parliamentary mode we inherited from Britain.
Our resources are heavily drained by the top-heavy civil service arrangement occasioned by the presidential form of government which enthrones bureaucracy on all aspects of governance in a gross manner that suppresses our capital expenditure under our current disbursements.
The major contributor, away from the operational core of the civil service, is the legislature led by the Senate. Its remunerative receipts are mind-boggling, shrouded as they are from public cognition. The perks run into a humongous tally. The members are the law unto themselves, of course, having been bequeathed with powers of oversight on all others whilst most of their own excesses are tucked out of sight.
In plain view, at the moment however, is the acquisition of brand new 108 Sport Utility vehicles to the Distinguished Senators. That should indeed distinguish them from the deprived compatriots whom they claim to serve whenever they are not on any of their extensive recesses. In vain have members of civil society organizations and members of the public remonstrated with them about the sheer profligacy of the project. But, as far as it affects their mentality, it is a done deal. They are already planning how to buy them at the end of the session— at their own price, of course.
And even here, the pervasive rascally
conduct of this largely defector-infested assemblage still fails to entirely cover its perverse character. They are said to have split into two groups, viz, those who will be allotted the first batch of jeeps, and then the others. The first group accommodates the ones who are referred to as people of “like minds”, and then the others who, presumably, have their own minds. Those with “like minds” identify themselves with the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and his “mind”; they openly support him through his present ordeal whilst the others are on their own.
Dr. Saraki is facing numerous counts of wrong-doing before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He is, as we all concede, innocent until he is convicted after trial. He has been having his day— in fact, days—in court, as the trial limped and stumbled over one legal hurdle to another.
At the end of the day, as the lawyers are fond of saying, the court has now ruled that the case must be heard from day to day. It has not been good news to those people of “like minds” with someone accused of not properly declaring his assets as he should at the beginning of his term as a state governor a few years ago. The time lapse really does not affect the potency of the indictment which is not subjected to a statute of limitations. All the same, his supporters are loud, and so also is he, in their imputations of a motive—which nobody can deny. He was voted into the Senate by one party, but virtually imposed himself and his deputy (who is in another party) against the dictates of his party. Of course, the “empire” is bound to strike back!
His supporters have sought to adopt the highly improper ruse of amending the powers of the tribunal in his favour, openly and shamelessly. They have mishandled the Budget of the nation ostensibly to procure the intervention of President Muhmmadu Buhari to virtually cause a perversion of justice, or create a constitutional rupture as a reprisal for his appropriate neutrality on the matter. Well, if you know Buhari like I know Buhari, that kite won’t fly.
In the meantime, a number of senators deserted the Senate Chambers to show their solidarity with their president in court. His continued absence from the sessions, however, will raise another problem in the appointment of someone to act for him. The Nigerian Constitution is clear about that and prescribes that the Deputy President should normally step in when such a vacancy occurs. But these are not normal times, my friend.
Yet we need a touch of normalcy in our circumstances today. The House of Representatives more than fulfils our needs for law-making. The Senate has shown that it thrives in excess of its functions. That is the truth. This nation can live without it, without its profligacy, its intrigues and its hollow presence. It is no more than a huge masquerade we have fashioned for ourselves in an empty imitation of other climes.