Big egos toying with Nigeria 's future
Nigeria aspires to be among the 20 biggest economies in the world by the year 2020. Budgeting is an integral part of that action plan. But at this crucial juncture in the life of the nation, lawmakers elected to serve the public were unable to receive President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's presentation of the 2010 budget for a less than cogent reason: they could not agree on which of the chambers would host the joint session.
The Senate with some 251 seats claimed it has the capacity to accommodate all the legislators. The House of Representatives stuck to its guns by insisting previous joint sessions were held within its more spacious chamber.
For that single reason, an issue of national importance is being delayed. This supremacy tussle laced with massive ego is nothing new in democracies around the world. But not a few would argue that Nigeria can ill-afford this type of power-play at a time the country is virtually on life support.
The United Kingdom has one of the oldest parliaments in the world. In more than a thousand years of existence, the House of Lords and the House of Commons have fought supremacy battles bordering on several issues including membership. Consequently, it has undergone several reforms that were painful but necessary.
For instance, in the not too distant past (1999), the UK parliament pruned the weighty number of House of Lords members from 1,330 to 669 through the House of Lords Act. A substantial number of them were hereditary life peers who in no small measure resisted the winds of change. The members of the House of Commons fought for equal powers to make laws. It started out as a body that heard petitions from the people and forwarded same to the King and Lords.
By the mid 15th century, they emerged full partners in law formation. The entire parliament evolved from absolute rule of the Sovereign to a more modern lawmaking branch of government. Most of the early 19th century saw clashes between the US Senate and House of Representatives.
The office of the Speaker became quite powerful in the 20th century with the emergence of party politics. Committee chairmen were known to exercise tremendous power until the 1970s reform. The current National Assembly is a little over 10 years old. The myriad of issues it deals with means that there would be disagreements between both chambers. Nevertheless, the personalities and interests of the lawmakers affect their decisions significantly.
At the heart of the issue in Nigeria today appears to be money and ego. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole, has publicly declared that the lower chamber is equal to the Upper House. Earlier this year, the lower chamber quit the joint Constitution Review exercise because a request to have the Deputy Speaker co-chair the committee with the Deputy Senate President did not sail through.
As a result, the constitution review is being carried out separately, costing the country more resources. Members of the lower chamber make no pretext they want to receive equal amount of resources as their peers in the upper house during any national assignment.
Traditionally, the budget presentation takes place in the House of Representatives. But the frosty relationship between both houses, characterised by unguarded utterances has led to the present scenario whereby the Senate President, David Mark, has insisted the presentation be made in the Senate chamber.
Do the lawmakers serve themselves or the public? Their interests would determine their priorities and the speed with which such conflicts are resolved. This would also reflect in their capacity to exploit the spirit of give and take in both chambers. With an economy that has tanked badly in the last few years and a desire to become a developed country in the next 10 years, speed is of the essence.