Nigerian Senate, the Most Expensive Rubber Stamp
First appeared in The Punch newspaper on 21–01–2022
The headline of leading newspapers in Nigeria on Thursday, January 20, 2022, was disheartening to read. Many of the dailies read “Senate bows to Buhari.” The headlines were so because the Nigerian Senate, after a needlessly prolonged process, was finally dancing to the tune of President Buhari as regards the amended Electoral Act. A few days before that day, I told friends that this Act will come through but not without Buhari or whoever was running the country getting what they wanted. Alas, the Senate, that’s supposed to be the last hope of the masses, elected to check and balance any unruly executive power; the eyes of the people and the citizens’ mouthpiece have abandoned their primary duty to become another extension of the executive. Let’s call a spade a spade, this current National Assembly is a rubber stamp and one of the most expensive in the world.
For a country like Nigeria to splash a ridiculous amount on lawmaking, one should expect better from the leadership of the Nigerian Senate. In 2019 Nigeria reportedly had the second-highest-paid federal legislators in the world (after Singapore) with each senator earning around $597,000 per year in salaries and allowances. This amounts to a total of ₦20 billion ($65 million) per year and ₦79 billion ($260 million) at the end of each legislative tenure. That’s ₦1 million a day for a sitting of at least 180 days a year. For the entire National Assembly, the annual cost for 109 Senators and 360 House of Representatives comes to around ₦69 billion ($226 million) a year — enough to pay 191,954 civil servants the minimum wage. We continue to spend this kind of money in a country that's the poverty capital of the world with a majority of its population living on less than $2 a day. Yet, there is little or no democratic dividend to show for it. It’s not that those at the Senate are the most capable in the land seeing that the red chamber has fast become a retirement home for many former governors, ministers and individuals of questionable academic qualifications. Also, we cannot justify their jumbo pay on the basis of lawmaking as only 274 bills were passed by the Nigerian senate between 2015 and 2019. In the US, 442 laws were passed by Congress between January 2017 and January 2019 alone. We may not be able to ascertain the impact of bills passed but the difference is glaring. With the Senate gulping this kind of money from our national treasury, the least we expect from them is to be who they are supposed to be — the voice of the people.
The Electoral Act was the last hope of the masses for credible elections but not anymore. The Senate has bowed to the executive because, as they have shown, they are an extension of them. This is not what ‘seamlessly working together with the executive’ is, according to the senate president. This is forsaking constituents who pledged their vote to you. The ninth senate might be the worse in our nation’s history because we have never been in need of a pro-people legislature more than these trying times. While our beloved country continues to groan under the weight of the fall of the naira, terrorism, poverty and all kinds of unbefitting menace, conversations on the floor of the house should be about driving the country forward but unfortunately, their actions don’t correlate with what they say. Now, primaries in political parties can go haywire, rogues and people of questionable character can leverage the weakness of the Senate to emerge as flag bearers, leaving a majority of Nigerians with no choice other than the devil, deep blue sea and ravenous wolves in 2023. Many will argue that it’s a democracy and that political parties can decide their flag bearers in their chairman’s living room. That’s half right. The only people who will be happy about this news are money bag politicians who are ready to silence other aspirants with money and hate the mental task of getting people on their side with tangible offerings. And as we have always observed in our political parties, the primary election is the abattoir where the most capable candidates are slaughtered and silenced for the emergence of the inept. That’s what the Nigerian Senate just enabled.
As for the president, this is unbecoming of a democratically elected president and a so-called converted democrat. Maybe his conversion will be complete when he finally gets out of office. He was truthful when he said, in a recent interview, that the 2023 elections are not his concern. But isn’t he supposed to at least lay a good foundation while he has the power to? I knew he will never assent to the initial copy of the bill sent to him in November 2021 and he didn’t disappoint me. From his first day in office, there has been no sign that he wants to run a serious term. The feeling has been military-like and undemocratic. Anger, frustration and disappointment have become the emotions of the Nigerian majority who cannot wait to sail through such a calamitous regime. The only gift we asked of him before his imminent departure is to help ensure that the will of the majority prevailed in the next elections but he wouldn’t have that. Nigerians gave him a chance to put words to action and imprint his name on the sands of time by the original Electoral Act that made direct primary compulsory but again like he always did, he blew his chance. Yet he wants us to believe he is an unflinching supporter of free, fair and credible elections in 2023. No. We know who he is and we have been deceived enough.
When I told friends that all hope in this government is lost, they laughed it off. But every day, my predictions are truer. There is nothing for Nigerians to hope for in this current administration. They have shown it time and time again that they lack what it takes to govern Africa’s most populous country. They have taken our nation back to the 1900s and all we are left with is to salvage what is left of the country. What we can do now is to stall the rot and prevent further backwardness because unfortunately, its forward never until we rewrite things in 2023.