The on-going constitutional amendment has thrown up debates about the nature of Legislature at the centre; whether indeed, the nation still needs an expensive bicameral Legislature at this moment of our socio-economic cum developmental challenges with 109 distinguished senators and 360 honourable members in addition to both their permanent staff and non-permanent legislative aides.
According to its 2007 annual report, the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) stated that “the National Assembly staff strength was 3,375 made up of 1,073 junior staff and 2,302 senior staff”, as well as “a total number of 2,412 Legislative Aides made up of 605 Legislative Aides for members of the Senate and 1,807 for the honorable members” respectively excluding the Commission’s own “staff strength of 230, which was made up of 111 junior staff and 119 senior staff”. This statistics has tremendous implication on the cost of governance. In fact, the debate about the cost of governance in Nigeria has led to a nuanced recommendation in some quarters that one of the chambers of the National Assembly (NASS) be scrapped as part of efforts to streamline the huge cost of running our public sector.
Undoubtedly, from the face value, the argument would appear plausible particularly against the backdrop of refusal of the National Assembly to cut down and or breakdown its statutory transfer of N150 billion captured as a lump sum money under the 2012 Appropriation Act (same figure for 2013 budget) and other previous gregarious acts of profligacy. However, a deeper extrapolation of why the choice of a bicameral Legislature for Nigeria in the first instance would explain better why scrapping either of the arms of the National Assembly may amount to cutting the head to address headache. The Legislature is an important institution of governance in a democracy, which is the more reason the deliberative assembly of the people often suffered vital blow alongside the Constitution in case of any military incursion into politics as the Nigerian experience has insalubriously indicated.
Meanwhile, some of the reasons adduced for worldwide preference of bicameral above unicameral Legislature (from the literature of legislative assemblies) include, among others, the following: it is a safeguard against the despotism of a single chamber; a second chamber serves as a check upon hasty and ill-considered legislation; it helps to provide adequate representation for the under-represented; and the fact that a second chamber embodies the federal principle. In fact, political science discourse reveals that the experience of history has often been in favour of two chambers as “no major states, whatever their forms of government, whether federal or unitary, monarchical or republican, presidential or parliamentary, constitutionally flexible or rigid, have been willing to dispense with a second chamber…And even those states, like England, which tried the unicameral experiment during a period of social disorder, went back to the orthodox pattern after a time.” Thus, most modern constitutions provide for a Legislature of two chambers; the lower and upper Houses respectively. While all the criticisms against bicameralism on the other hand usually centered on expense, delay or duplications.
Historically, Nigeria has always embraced bicameralism in its post-independent legislative designs whether under the Westminster model First Republic parliamentary democracy or the subsequent United States of America (USA)-styled presidential democracies. For instance, the 1960 Independence Constitution provided for a bicameral Legislature at the centre, as well as in the Regions; namely: a Senate of 44 members and a House of Representatives (House) of 306 members at the centre and a House of Chiefs in the Regions. Although the “Senate was a nominated one that consisted of twelve members from each Region who were selected at a joint sitting of their Regional Houses from among the list nominated by the governor; four other senators represented the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Lagos, and four others were selected by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister.” The House comprised “306 members who represented constituencies decided on the basis of approximately equal population per unit of Constituency.”
Similarly, under the Republican Constitution of 1963, the national parliament comprised a Senate of 54 members made up of 12 senators from each of the four regions, four other members from Lagos, FCT and four more others were selected by the President in addition to the 312 elected members of the federal House of Representatives to form a bicameral parliament at the centre. Interestingly, the 1979 Constitution also provided for a bicameral National Assembly; the Senate, which consisted of five senators from each of 19 states, and a House of Representatives consisted of 450 members.
In the same vein, the constitutional arrangement during the abortive Third Republic, as well as the 1999 Constitution, also provided for a bicameral Legislature at the centre. In other words, since Nigeria’s political independence in 1960, our national parliament composition and size have undergone several transformations from 44/306 Senate and House of Representatives under the independence Constitution of 1960, to the 1963 Republican Constitution of 54 Senate and 312 House members; and much later, the 450 House and 96 Senate under the 1979 Constitution of the Second Republic before the current 109 red chamber (Senate) and 360 green chamber (House) respectively.
What is more important now is not tinkering with the historically bicameral nature of our national Legislature but how to trim the large number of people representing us in Abuja. For avoidance of doubt, Sections 48 and 49 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) stated inter-alia that “the Senate shall consist of three senators from each state and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja” and “subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the House of Representatives shall consist of 360 members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one state.”
To this end, this discourse proposes amendment that will support that no state should have less than six or more than 12 representatives at the federal House of Representatives; having taken into cognisance the population of each state to arrive at actual number, while believing that extant figure for the Senate be retained. Put simply, rather than scrapping either of the chambers, the House of Representatives can be slightly reduced to a sizable number of 324, which will hypothetically translate to average of nine per state.
We, therefore, submit that the inherent merits of a bicameral Legislature far outstrip the disadvantages, especially for a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria. With bicameralism, a permanent bulwark against legislative despotism is created. In a two-chambers’ Legislature, one House serves as a balancing to the other; which is the more reason there are many bicameral parliaments in contemporary democracies than unicameral, even in the context of a unitary state not to talk of federal context with all their contending centripetal and centrifugal forces. Besides, if huge cost is the problem, then the earlier recommendation of part-time legislators appears more pragmatic than the politically-motivated suggested remedy of cutting the head to address headache solution. With the benefit of the hindsight, our democratic political culture is not yet strong enough to discard with a bicameral Legislature at the centre for a unicameral one. It could be more easily prone to crisis and can precipitate political instability considering the incessant rents induced executive-legislative bickering we have witnessed since 1999.
By Tunde Salman
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