The House of Representatives Tuesday rejected the proposal that members of the National Assembly should perform their legislative duties on a part-time basis.
It argued that while the cost of governance may be high in Nigeria, it would be wrong to portray the legislature as a burden to the economy.
Lawmakers who spoke to THISDAY on the issue were unanimous in their argument that Nigeria needed to adopt a holistic approach to tackling the challenge of huge cost of governance.
Erstwhile Minister of Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, on Monday had suggested that the legislators should serve on a part-time basis to reduce the cost of governance.
Ezekwesili had told a gathering of civil society organisations that the National Assembly had gulped over N1 trillion in about eight years to the detriment of the nation’s economic development.
But Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakary Mohammed, while reacting to the proposal yesterday, faulted the claims of Ezekwesili, describing them as misleading.
Mohammed said it was a “blanket statement” that did not take into account the fact that the National Assembly had maintained a budgetary allocation of N150 billion for both capital and recurrent expenditures over the last three fiscal years.
“I do not know where she got her figures but I believe she did not get it right. The National Assembly budget has remained N150 billion in the last three consecutive years. I have great respect for her (Ezekwesili) but somebody of her status should not have taken up this issue without putting all the cards on the table.
“In a democracy, we should not just concentrate on what we spend but we should also look at what we get in the process. We should do a cost benefit analysis of running the National Assembly as a vital institution of democracy,” he said.
Mohammed added that he would have no problem with the proposal if it were the wish of Nigerians, but stressed that Nigeria was not ripe for such a change.
According to him, the United States from where Nigeria copied its presidential democracy is still maintaining its Congress even when its democracy has remained stable for over 200 years.
“The American democracy could be said to be on autopilot yet, they have not experimented with a part-time legislature. We are just barely 14 years in this democracy and we need to strengthen all our democratic institutions, especially the National Assembly. We should rather look at other areas of leakages rather than making the National Assembly, the scapegoat,” Mohammed said.
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Afamefuna Ogene, also rejected a part-time legislature for Nigeria, adding that this was not the first time, people would “erroneously” suggest that the National Assembly is the problem of the country.
Ogene explained that the idea was laughable because the N150 billion allocated to the National Assembly was only a small fraction of this year’s N4.9 trillion national budget.
“Rather than blaming the National Assembly for the poor finances of the country, the questions that should be asked are: Why do we need up to 40 ministers? Why do we have up to 10 aircraft in the presidential fleet? These are the issues that should be taken into consideration instead of saying that one arm of government should be shut down,” Ogene stated.
Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, took a rather sarcastic approach to the matter, saying he would support the proposal if part-time legislation was the solution to Nigeria’s economic problems.
“If part-time legislation is the panacea, antidote or solution to our myriad of problems in this country, I am all for it. But something tells me it is not. I am yet to see an advanced democracy or economy especially with a size and the multiplicity of regions and religions that operate such a system.
“Nigeria’s problem needs a holistic approach and major surgery. But like I said, I am all for part-time legislation if it will move us forward even if by experiment though I think after 100 years of existence and 50 years of independence, we should have gone beyond experimentation,” Gbajabiamila said.
Similarly, Chairman, House Committee on Public Service Matters, Hon. Andrew Uchendu, explained that the huge cost of governance cannot be divorced from the presidential system of governance, which Nigeria first adopted at the exit of the military in 1979.
According to him, there has been a quantum leap in the cost of governance over the years and common sense demands that strategies be devised to reduce it.
“In order to reduce the cost of governance, a holistic approach must be adopted and therefore asking the National Assembly to be on a part-time basis cannot solve the entire problem, particularly when we are still nurturing our democracy after a long period of military rule.
“If an aggressive oversight programme is pursued by the National Assembly, the reduction in the cost of governance, particularly on the side of the executive, will be much more than whatever anybody thinks we will gain by running the National Assembly on a part-time basis,” he said.
Uchendu added that the National Assembly was not the problem, explaining that much of the challenge of high cost of governance has been created by the rising overhead cost in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the government.