Section 63(1) of the Nigerian Constitution (1999) requires both houses of the National Assembly to 'sit' for at least 181 days. So, it was something of a surprise to discover that in 2008, the Nigerian Senate only showed up to work for 90 days. Additionally, it was an extreme disappointment to also learn that the Senate only managed to pass 8 out of the 120 bills that were put before them.
In explaining why so few bills were passed, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Aloysius Etok, said that lawmaking was slow because it is a thorough process that involves numerous (3) steps. He claimed that this process ensured that the laws passed, all 8 of them will stand the grand test of time. While one can understand that Nigeria's 109 Senators are deeply concerned that the laws they create will stand the test of time, the fact that they ignored their Constitutional duty to show up for work and that they could not pass many more bills such as the much anticipated Freedom of Information Bill, is the ultimate insult to the Nigerian people.
An Impeachable Offense
Unfortunately, the Nigerian Constitution does not provide for the impeachment and dissolution of the Senate by the people. If it did, the fact that the Senate passed less than 10% of the bills before them and that they failed to show up to work for the minimum amount of time required would present the best opportunity to use such a Constitutional provision.
The Constitution does, however, provide for the dissolution of the entire National Assembly by the President. But, Section 64(3) only allows for such in time of war. Thus, Yar'Adua, who promised to provide "a purposeful and result-oriented administration that will yield tangible and visible benefits for all Nigerians would have had an excellent opportunity to do something revolutionary for Nigerian democracy by dissolving the Senate. However, considering Yar'Adua's attitudes towards democracy as exemplified by his administration's draconian measures against Nigerian bloggers and journalists, such an expectation would be too high at this time.
Are We Getting What We 'Paid' For?
Nigerians pay their Senators very well. In August of 2008, this same crop of Senators (with their peers in the House of Representatives) increased their pay by over 100%. Furthermore, these Senators also increased their already generous allowances, such as their newspaper and hardship allowances, in late 2007. These perks and considerable salary packages are granted to
It is also saddening to note that the Senators celebrated their lack of performance by hosting a 6-day retreat in
“[t]he retreat was aimed at energising senators with skills to enhance their legislative duties. Resource persons were drawn from across the academia, the business cycle and government functionaries. A number of resolutions were equally reached and would soon be debated by the senate in plenary to provide it with a force of law" [sic]It would have been preferrable that the Senators, so concerned about their laws passing the test of time, have this retreat after hours, and, on the grounds of the National Assembly. Instead, the astute Senators created an opportunity to spend, and possibly waste, the public's money, particularly as the Nigerian economy is experiencing a squeeze due to the falling price of oil and the global economic depression.”
Based on the current facts before the Nigerian public, this group of Senators have a lot of catching up to do. In this new year, it would behoove the esteemed members of the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Executive branch and indeed every civil servant to go above and beyond what is expected in the performance of their important duties to the Republic and its citizens. That should be the most important resolution, if any, that they all commit to and achieve. After all, the Nigerian people, deserve excellent service. And, they most definitely should get what they paid for.
By Solomon Sydelle