Zainab Suleiman Okino
Part-time legislature: IBB’s belated panacea and lawmakers’ baggage
Former military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd), does not shy away from controversies. Consciously or inadvertently, he courts them. Last week, he used the occasion of his 75th birthday to regurgitate the recurring issue of part-time law-making as a panacea to the economic recession and resultant hardship being witnessed in Nigeria.
Whenever the subject of economic downturn engendered by the drop in revenue from oil and other financial difficulties comes up, attention is always focused on members of the National Assembly and their excesses and how they have become a drainpipe on our lean national resources. On the social media, figures are bandied about to prove their culpability. The retired general’s tirade last week is not in isolation. To be sure, IBB is not alone in this thought, but coming from a former head of state and a statesman, part-time legislature is now on the top burner of our national discourse. IBB who said he made the same proposal as military president noted: “In 1989, we proposed that the National Assembly should be made a part time and I still believe if I have the opportunity, I will make it a part-time. I strongly believe in it and it is all in an effort to reduce the high cost of governance and I know I may be in trouble for suggesting part-time legislature”
With due respect to the revered general and former military president, the military institution, his constituency entrenched the skewed federalism we now practise, and which conversely brought about the centralisation of governance. Under the military-fashioned constitutions we have had, including IBB’s, the federal government wields enormous powers and controls over 50 percent of the nation’s resources. It is the same military that midwifed the current constitution and the last 16 years had not seen significant amendments. So how can a man who ruled for eight years, instituted diarchy, established a two-party system, cancelled presidential primary election that was on course to produce a candidate, annulled the freest presidential election in the nation’s history and stepped aside on his own terms say he did not have ample opportunity to make his later-day theory of part-time legislature a reality? It is either IBB did not have the political will, at a time the country had the resources, or as a converted democrat, he now has a new perspective because, a new reality has dawned on all of us.
In the US where states are not appendages of the federal government, only about nine states out of 50 have full time legislatures. So the same military, starting from General Yakubu Gowon’s time ensured the states do not have the autonomy to do things their own way, while encouraging uniformity, in a federation that does not even allow the exploration of mineral resources on the concurrent list. That’s why back water states like Kogi, Taraba, Yobe and Ebonyi, to mention but a few, are maintaining full-time legislatures, the same way oil rich Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom; an insignificant percentage (executive inclusive) gulping the state’s allocation/resources at the detriment of the entirety of the people and much needed infrastructure development.
To the law-makers who have been in the forefront in their condemnation of the IBB bitter pill, there is the need for reflection on current happenings at the National Assembly. How many bills on welfare and poverty alleviation, as they concern the people who voted them to office do they initiate, deliberate upon and pass into law. How many pro-people bills were passed by the 7th National Assembly?
Since the beginning of the new dispensation, the members have spent more time on proposed immunity clause for themselves, how to curtail the powers of CCB and budget padding as it favoured them than making laws for the good of the generality of the people, while many have stopped going home, and are unperturbed about negative tendencies in their constituencies. Take the example of Rep Abdulmumuni Jibrin. He is in the House for the third time. Until the bubble burst lately, he has always wangled his way into ‘juicy’ committees in exchange for his support for the leadership of the House. Most contracts for constituency projects are always awarded to the lawmakers, who either execute the jobs haphazardly or do nothing at all after collecting the contract money depending on their political affiliation.
Sincerely, even with our lean resources, Nigerians will not broach the idea of part-time legislature if their lawmakers think out of the box and make laws for the peace and progress of the nation. Nigerians perceive them as corrupt career politicians adept at budget padding, while abdicating their responsibilities.
Despite IBB’s later than never proposal, I’m convinced that one way to get out of our economic quagmire is to reduce expenditures, not only in the legislature, but even at the executive level. We have an agency statutorily empowered to fix the emoluments of political appointees—the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, (RMFC) which to the best of my knowledge, is also constitutionally independent. Why is that agency keeping quite in the face of the current economic crunch? Why is it left out of this debate? Who is gagging RMFC? Is it not this same agency that fixed these bogus salaries, allowances and perquisites of office? Why has it not summoned up the courage to reduce same to reflect the current economic challenges?