The case for part-time legislature – Guardian

The National Conference may have begun to warm itself into the hearts of Nigerians with its recommendation that legislators at both national and state levels should be part-time. Those who had felt that nothing good could come from the conference or have other prejudices against it may now begin to have a rethink in the light of that decision.  Two clear inferences can be distilled from the recommendation: first is that the conference is not totally oblivious of the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians it claims to represent, and that it is capable of feeling their pulse and reflecting and giving vent to it. And second, that the cost of governance in Nigeria is too high with the legislative arm, alongside others, being a major drain on the resources of the country. This has been the undisguised grouse of Nigerians all along but largely ignored by the people concerned.

Nigeria’s economy has been groaning under the weight of the cost of governance which takes over 70% of its earnings to the detriment of capital project. Infrastructure has been neglected while other indices of development are de-emphasised in order to foot the cost of governance. To make matters worse, the legislators generally perceived as the culprit in this regard, continue to demonstrate insensitivity, self-centeredness and greed in the way they add to the cost of governance by insisting all the time on sumptuous and mouth-watering perquisites for doing so little, at a time when moderation is required. They would not even follow constitutional means of determining their entitlements. In their own cause, they are always the judge, particularly where perks of office is involved, in defiance of the principle of natural justice. Although by virtue of Section 32(d) of the 3rd schedule to the 1999 Constitution, it is the responsibility of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders, including the legislators, what obtains in reality is a situation where they decree for themselves what suits their ego and appetite, such that four per cent of the annual recurrent expenditure for the nation goes to the National Assembly alone, making its members the highest paid legislators in the whole world.

This may well be an extreme position borne out of its obvious excesses, particularly its renowned profligacy and huge penchant for arm-twisting of other arms of government. Its major tool in this regard is the power of oversight granted to it by the Constitution, which is a democratic way to rein in the ministries and other agencies of government, an adjunct of the principle of checks and balances. Sadly, this oversight power has turned to a sword of Damocles in the hands of the legislators, over the ministers and heads of parastatals who are harassed from time to time all in the bid to force patronage out of them. Because it has been overused and abused, it lost integrity totally and became an object of ridicule and opprobrium in the eyes of all Nigerians. Ministers and public officials, their own corruptive tendencies notwithstanding, hardly take the oversight powers seriously or as anything more than blackmail, a reason they are ever so reluctant to honour the invitation of the legislators.

Although the National Assembly had the opportunity of correcting itself by cutting down on its budget, it spurned every suggestion in that regard. In the event, it garnered more and became a nauseating behemoth difficult to tame. The recommendation of the conference is, therefore, apt and just in time. In other words, that the conference settled for a part-time legislature reflects the general mood and aspiration of Nigerians. Only those who are benefitting from the present arrangement will pick holes in the recommendation. Though they may be rattled, it is unlikely that the lawmakers will find such an arrangement difficult to adjust to. This is because all along, the business of law making had always been done part-time by the legislators. This is evident from the sitting of the legislative houses. Attendance at sittings is noticeably poor as most members go about their personal businesses when they are supposed to be sitting and find time to attend only when it is convenient. Besides, both houses of the National Assembly sit only between Tuesday and Thursday every week. In essence, what is currently referred to as a full-time legislature, is in reality a part-time one, where members merely struggle to beat the minimum attendance prescribed by the law. Sad enough, the number of times they attend or do not attend does not reflect in their remuneration.

A part-time legislature cannot consume a fraction of what is at present allocated to the legislature under the present arrangement. In the first instance, its members will not be entitled to full-time remuneration and other perks. What is payable is only the sitting allowance just enough to meet the hours allocated to doing the job. All other bogus and questionable allowances like wardrobe, constituency, furniture and vehicle allowance taken home today by the legislators will become a thing of the past. In addition, the allowance is not obtainable for the mere asking in that it does not attach by virtue of office simpliciter; it must be earned. A member qualifies for allowance only when he or she attends sitting. This arrangement will usher in a new order, one that will detoxicate the system; that will institutionalise a culture of service and serious discipline now lacking in Nigeria’s body politic. No longer shall the legislature be seen as a veritable and instant source of wealth that it is today, with the result that only serious-minded and patriotic persons endowed with the spirit of service will find it attractive.

And that will be the beginning of a revolution that will transform every structure, arm and organ of government, nay every aspect of Nigeria’s life. Nigeria’s laws will have focus, depth, substance and rich in content, giving the government and its people a new lease of life. Democracy will acquire a new identity and will live up to its billing as government of the people by the people and for the people.

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