Reducing the Cost Of Governance
Agitation or call for reduction in the cost of governance has been rather perennial. I wrote on this very topic sometime in the 1980s for the London-based West Africa magazine. I had then called for a reduction in the number of senatorial seats per state, which then was five. I had also called for a reduction in the number of ministers and advisers – all these in the Nigerian Second Republic. I would later follow up this discussion with a memorandum to the Ibrahim Babangida-led Armed Forces Ruling Council, sometime in 1986,in which I suggested that senatorial constituencies could be limited to what is now three senators per state.
The cost of governance in Nigeria remains disturbingly astronomical in spite of expressed honest concerns by the citizenry. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State recently joined the crowd of agitators by calling for a unicameral legislature. He would like the Senate to be scrapped. Even before him, former Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, now a senator, had called for the number of senators per state to be reduced to one. It is gratifying to note that these members of the political elite share the common concern of ordinary Nigerians, even when one may not agree with their suggestions.
In calling for the Senate to be scrapped, Fayemi alluded to the fact that both little Ekiti State and mighty Lagos each has three senators. One would be surprised if Fayemi did not know that the very essence of the Senate is to serve as a forum where states, irrespective of size and population, assert equality of status. That was the philosophy that informed the American founding fathers to introduce a bicameral legislature. The House of Representatives accord representation based on population.
Ekiti State has six members in the House, while Lagos and Kano each has 24. However, because of equal representation in the Senate, the smaller states have not been complaining of domination or oppression by the bigger states. The preponderance of representation from one geographical end over the other would be a cause for major concern if the Senate were to be scrapped.
“The primary benefit of the bicameral legislature”, according to an authoritative source, “is the limits put in place to prevent abuse of power. No one group is allowed to freely run through the government to produce policies which only benefit a few. It even stops the minority from being excluded by the majority under this representation format.” I concur.
As for the recommendation made by Okorocha, he might as well have suggested that governors also double up as senators representing their states. His idea of one senator per state may not be smart enough. It would only overemphasise the political status and arrogance of senators.
Of course, the need for a reduction in the number of ministers and advisers at every level of governance cannot be overemphasised. I am not an enthusiast of the President picking his or her ministers from each of the states making up the federation. It is enough that we respect geographical spread, especially that our nation has been demarcated into six geopolitical zones. Nigerians would need to be educated about this, not least because they are the very ones who complain if a member of their clan has not been nominated as minister. They even quarrel over the portfolios of political appointees.
I assert that the disturbing cost of governance in Nigeria is more of the result of our corruption and prodigal culture than anything else. Prof Ayo Olukotun elaborated on this in a recent article in The PUNCH. The privileged greed of the elite is one reason the Senate has become an eyesore to ordinary Nigerians. Because the elite decide their own salaries and emoluments, they believe it is their divine right to take Nigeria to the cleaners.
The salaries and emoluments of elected officials should, and must, be decided by an independent body, if that is not already the case. Moreover, these elected officials have their defined responsibilities. Senators, for instance, are lawmakers. It is laughable when they claim it is also part of their responsibility to execute projects in their communities. That responsibility belongs to state and local governments and should not provide senators with an opportunity to defraud the public.
We are all witnesses to the volumes of stolen funds and assets being revealed on a daily basis by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The billions of naira being stolen daily by both elected and other officials can hardly be described as the cost of running governments in Nigeria. Until stiff punishments are meted out to these economic criminals and termites, and until a new generation emerges to forcefully assert the future of Nigeria, complaints about the cost of governance will never cease.