ABOLISH THE SENATE AND PUT THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ON A PER DIEM SCHEDULE
Since 1970, when oil revenues trumped all other sources of revenue for the national government, it never entered the consciousness of the Nigerian political class to save or set aside surplus funds for future critical national development. What we saw was the picture of the Nigerian politician going on wild and reckless spending sprees; importing sophisticated consumer products to mesmerize the poor and the downtrodden; and buying and building custom-designed mansions around the world. This neurotic profligacy aggravated widespread fiscal indiscipline and financial mismanagement, especially within the National Assembly. In this reform proposal, it is the position of the Nigeria Rally Movement (NRM) that the 109-member Nigerian Senate, which is a symbol of colossal waste, lacks any rationale for its existence and should be abolished. The House of Representatives, based on proportional national representation, should operate on a per diem part time legislative formula so that the money saved from the previous tedious and non-performing system can be invested to modernize the nation's education system. We choose education as the target of investment because it is the only critical sector that is capable of elevating Nigeria unto the 21st century global competition.
Some Reflections on America's Presidential Model
All things considered, the operating Nigerian federal system of government replicated all aspects of the American presidential system largely in theory. Even in theory, Nigeria is and never will be America, not by any stretch of the imagination. Whether in size, population, resource development, or existential foundations, the differences are more like those between night and day. Those who designed the Nigerian federal system were simply not interested in the knowledge of the origins, facts or the logistics governing electoral representation in America. Between the fifty states that make up the United States of America were, and still are, great differences in population and when the Constitutional Convention of 1787 required that Congressional representation be based on population in the House of Representatives, small states like Rhode Island and Delaware protested that they would be swallowed up by the big states and would have no voice on matters of national policy. To allay the fears of these small states, a compromise was reached for each state, big or small, to have equal representation in the Senate. Thus, while California, with the largest population of any state, has fifty-five members in the U.S. House of Representatives and the state of Nebraska only one member, each of these states however will have two senators represented in the U.S. Senate. With fifty states and a population of 298 million people, the Senate of the United States has 100 Senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives. In this American history of representation, the guiding principle was equality and proportional representation between and among states.
Nigeria's Legislative Model in Retrospect
Federal legislative representation in Nigeria took its operating cues from the American model for some obvious reasons. A magic numerical target of 360 members was chosen to represent its various national constituencies in the Federal House of Representatives. Then it sought to create a semblance of state equality by awarding three Senators to each state and appointing one from the Capital Territory of Abuja. Thus for a country of thirty six states and a population of 150 million people, Nigeria's federal representation stands at 360 members in the House of Representatives and 109 Senators. The reasoning above seems apparent: if Nigeria cannot outdo the United States House of Representatives in numerical terms, it sure can do so in the Senate.
The above comparative numbers game between the United States and Nigeria in representative democracy is only a twitter that meets the eye. At least, in the eyes of the beholder, the competition ends up as a draw. So what has America more to prove? A lot! First, whether in the Senate or in the U.S. House of Representatives, every Federal representative is presented before the voters at both the primaries and in the general elections for selection. The Parties have nothing to do with whoever seeks to run for public office. This choice is left to the qualified individual running under a political banner or as an independent to declare his/her intention and be prepared to face other aspirants in competitive primaries and the general election. In Nigeria, behind closed doors and after much water has passed under the bridge, and the Nigerian voter rendered virtually disenfranchised and irrelevant, the so-called political party bosses assume a life-and-death control over who runs for public office. In all cases, the chosen candidate is also the highest bidder. By shifting this critical democratic practice of voter's choice to the party hierarchy, the candidate chosen to run for a Senate or a House seat has been fundamentally compromised morally and rationally. Thus, the candidate gets re-elected not by any performance criteria determined by the voters but through his/her dogmatic loyalty to some irrational party requirements. In the United States, a candidate can only get elected or re-elected when such candidate is able to convince voters that his/her set of values are identical to those of the voters and when such candidate can pass some performance threshold that voters are willing to acknowledge. In other words, voters must be convinced that a candidate they vote into office is able to “bring home the bacon”, or else he or she will be rejected the next time around. Thus, the American electoral system is heavily weighted in favor of accountability to the voters, not to the parties, while in Nigeria the power of the people has been usurped effectively by the power of the parties.
Comparative Performance and Compensation
From the outset, the federal legislative system that Nigeria operates sought to match not only the American representative numbers but also the levels of monetary compensations paid out annually to federal representatives. Moral and rational reasoning would appear to support any formula that equates performance with compensation. We would do the math analysis of performance=compensation later in this section. But first, let us examine the comparative compensation figures between the United States and Nigerian federal officials, with particular reference to federal representatives in the table below.
Comparative Annual Salary Compensation for American and Nigerian Federal Representatives and Officials in U.S. Dollars (2009)
President 400,000 Not available
Vice President 208,100 Not available
House of Representatives 174,000 137,500***
Senate 174,000 175,000
Speaker of House 208,100 Not available
Cabinet Level Ministers 180,100 181,250
Supreme Court CJ 208,100 Not available
Supreme Court Justices 199,200 Not available
Perm. Sec. Level Federal Official 120,981 Not available
***This dollar amount was computed from an exchange rate of N160 to the $1. Each member of the Nigerian House of Representatives receives N22 million annually, the Nigerian Senator takes home N28 million while a cabinet minister is paid N29 million. Source: Kunle Aderinokun, This Day, (March 20, 2009). A more expansive data on public official remuneration in Nigeria is contained in Leonard K Shilgba's “Commentary on Nigeria….” (Sahara Reporters, April 12, 2009).
Some Preliminary Analysis
Just imagine the table of comparative pay structures presented above. The Nigerian Senator earns more than his/her American counterpart and considerably more than his/her colleague in the House of Representatives. So are cabinet-level officials. The rationale for such an arrangement is hard to fathom. We are certainly not amused by the dismal failed state that these Nigerian Senators have been responsible for. Neither are we proud of their anti-people long-throat political and financial posturing that they are globally famous for. But we can safely profess the reasons why an American Senator or Representative is worth the pay he/she earns.
No American Congressman or woman can boast of election or re-election if they cannot guarantee the economic needs of their constituents. So their first order of business when they arrive Washington is to employ full-time personal aides to communicate directly with their constituents on various issues affecting their daily lives. The Congressman or woman travels to their home constituencies frequently to test the waters, know what the voters think on the issues of the day, make and keep promises, sway industrial and employment projects towards their constituents and forcefully represent their constituents' interests nationally. Thus, schools are sufficiently funded, housing projects are constructed to provide affordable housing for the needy, roads are built and efficiently maintained, new towns are developed and old ones renovated, police and fire departments are adequately readied, life and property are guaranteed legal protection, health care is provided, communications systems are cutting edge, and of course, electricity supply and distribution are efficiently and sufficiently coordinated.
This service harmony in structure and process is not broken when different parties come to power in America. The structure and process are continuous and sustainable. How? Because the United States Congress thrives on fiscal discipline and fiscal federalism, a tradition that mandates intergovernmental expenditures between the various levels of government for approved projects through engineering feasibilities, competitive contract bidding and executive oversight. The “pork” expenditures or “earmarks” you have heard about simply provide opportunities for American federal legislators to remember their electoral districts back home and extract parts of approved national expenditures for specific projects in their home districts. Such monies are not diverted to the legislators' personal use or paid directly to an individual legislator on behalf of his or her constituency since they will be held liable by law if they did so. Monies meant for specific constituency projects are paid into a state or federal institutional fund and accounted for.
Now, for all we know and hear and admire about America, wouldn't you think a U.S. Senator deserves to earn the annual salary of $174,000 with such track records? Out of this earned annual salary, the U.S. Senator pays for and owns his or her own transportation, takes care of their accommodation, food and entertainment. Then there is this incredible story of how the current American Vice President, Joe Biden, rode a daily train for years from his home state of Delaware to his Senate job in Washington, D.C., a distance of about 120 miles roundtrip.
A Close look At the Nigerian Senate Performance
What moral reasoning would justify a Nigerian Senator earning $175,000 (N28 million) a year? This is $1,000 more than what a U.S. Senator earns. What a waste! especially when there is nothing to show for it. Nothing, except to be spokesmen for their various political parties, except for wrangling over positions, awarding themselves huge bonuses, conniving on expense-account manipulations, displaying their physically ugly pot bellies which they conveniently drape down with flowing robes. In fact the bigger the belly, the more they are perceived as “evidence of good living” by the hopelessly traumatized Nigerian downtrodden. They argue strenuously over arcane matters and compete over who owns the biggest mansion in town. Meanwhile, the people they swore an oath to represent have no safety nets economically, socially and politically. They are not even guaranteed protection of life and property and worthy social services are neither provided nor sustainable.
Let us further illustrate why the Nigerian Senate is a waste, redundant and should be abolished. In infant mortality rate, Nigeria records 94.35 deaths per 1,000 live births. Of the 225 countries and principalities examined on this score, Nigeria ranked the 13th worst in the world. Burkina Faso ranked 15th, and Tanzania, 33rd. Even Ethiopia, a country that the world has come to identify with famine, disease and poverty ranked the world's 20th worst, some seven levels higher than Nigeria. In other words, Ethiopia has a medical system that guarantees more of their infants will live to be five years old than in Nigeria. In Education, Nigeria spends only 0.90 percent of its GDP, ranking 180th out of a total of 182 countries examined. Imagine the insult! In electricity, Nigeria produces 22,110,000,000 (kWh) and consumes 15,850,000,000 (kWh), ranking 71 and 73 respectively out of 214 countries. On the other hand, Syria, with a population of 18.8 million, produces 39,500,000,000 (kWh), while Venezuela, with a population of 25.7 million people, produces 83,840,000,000 (kWh). The telephone, which is still considered the most basic and necessary means of global communication, remains a luxury in Nigeria. Nigeria ranks 66th out of 233 countries and principalities examined, with a total of 1,580,000 main lines in use. This is for a country with more than 150 million people. America ranks 4th, with 163,200,000 main lines in use and a population of 298.4 million people. (Source: CIA – The World Fact Book, 2009). For years, Nigeria and Bangladesh have competed furiously to be either first or second in the dark world of corruption and government malfeasance.
The case for a per diem, part time Federal legislature in Nigeria
The legislative reform model proposed here will abolish the Nigerian Senate as a deliberative body. To justify the retention of non-performing 109 senators who take home the gargantuan sum of N3.052 billion annually has to be world's highest stake in parliamentary invention. The House of Representatives should remain the rational fit to debate national issues and enact laws but its reason-of-being will be best complimented by a part-time, per diem schedule. They will gather for the first seven working days of each month and consider each legislative session (the first seven working days of each month) as an emergency or as special. They must deliberate all day and all night to pass laws that enhance the quality of life of all Nigerians. They must duel less on impeachment threats, salary increases for legislators, allowances of all sorts, and interfere none in the duly elected state legislative process. For each day of the legislative process, a House of Representative member will earn $350, plus the following allowances during every special session: accommodation, transportation to and from the member's constituency and food. The implication for this arrangement should be clear: any member of the Nigerian House of Representatives must have had a full time job before running for public office so that his or her legislative duties are primarily part time. A further implication is to shift more authority and resources to state assemblies who are closest to the ground and are thus more competent to effect change. In addition, only state legislative bodies deserve to operate full time. Yet, state legislators also may serve part-time in their respective states and be placed on per diem remuneration as the members of the National House of Representatives. Now, in no way are we suggesting that state assembly members are any more disciplined or rational in matters of money and funds. The stain of financial embezzlement, day light looting of public funds and the crass pathological indifference to the plight of the Nigerian downtrodden are equally shared by state elected officials. Our reasoning is that abolishing the Nigerian Senate and putting the House of Representatives on a per diem legislative schedule should send some loud enough message to the rest of the country that a comprehensive legislative reform is in force.
Conclusion: Towards Building A Culture of Savings for our Children
There are a zillion areas within the Nigerian federal government where savings can be made when the right time comes. And that right time will surely come. With the Nigerian Senate, we offered a model of matching reward with performance. Saving for a future generation is as old as creation itself, but the Nigerian politician tends to operate some incoherent mindset that consuming it all today does not have to factor for tomorrow. Even pigs would leave some over for their piglets. Today, what we have experienced is a failed and broken system where every infrastructure we inherited is no longer sustainable. Thus, saving for the future and leaving some posterity for our children is the least that God will now require of Nigerian politicians.
Abolishing the Nigerian Senate should therefore be seen as a first step in withering the long arm of the federal government. In spite of the enormous resources at its disposal since creation, federal authority and power have done a poor job of integrating the country economically, socially and politically. Even as we speak, there is yet to be a national symbol that supersedes the average Nigerian dogged loyalty to tribe, village and religion. Instead, federal authority and power and all of its public policy guidelines continue to be vain platitudes that are devoid of intellect, vision and common sense.
The Nigeria Rally Movement offers a new way of thinking and does not believe that the status quo symbolized by everything that connects, however remotely to failed politicians of our past and recent history must be allowed to stand. We cannot build on nothing. Self-serving politicians whose only passion is to overthrow the PDP government offer nothing that the country needs to move forward. Politicians like Atiku Abubakar, Orji Kalu, etc who had every opportunity to fix our failed education system, decrepit health system, neglected social security, and crumbling physical infrastructure, but did not do so do not in any way symbolize the face of a desired and better Nigeria. Our position is that what the nation requires at the moment is not simply the replacement of an inefficient PDP government with the same group of bleached politicians whose only claim of distinguishing difference is that they have lost political power now. It remains a choice for the wasteful Nigerian system as it presently is to be corrected peaceably or otherwise. The actions by the Yar'Adua government between now and 2011 will determine which will be.
An official document of the NIGERIA RALLY MOVEMENT (www.nigeriarally.org)
Cliff I. Edogun, Ph.D.,
North America Coordinator
Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org)
Leonard K. Shilgba, PhD.,
President Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org)