A granite opposition to the proposed review of federal and state constituencies by the Independent National Electoral Commission, before the 2015 general elections, has emerged, investigation has revealed.
The stakeholders to the Nigerian political project comprising some eminent Nigerians and groups said on Friday that any enlargement of the legislature amid the current waste or leakages would put the economy in serious jeopardy.
Currently, the country has 360 federal constituencies, 109 senatorial zones, with N150bn spent annually to run the National Assembly.
INEC has set aside N2.5bn for the delineation of constituencies, for which it is seeking the National Assembly approval in the 2015 budget
“It is not in the country’s interest to embark on delineation of constituencies now given its financial implications,” they said.
The exercise is expected to result in increase in the House of Representatives, Senate and state assemblies seats.
There are about 991 state constituencies in the country.
During the INEC’s defence of its 2013 budget before the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, on November 30, the chairman of the commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said INEC would commence the exercise in 2013.
Jega had noted, “The last time delineation was done in Nigeria was 1996 and the constitution says it must be done every 10 years or immediately after a census. So, we believe that it must be done before the 2015 elections.
“We will do it thoroughly and our intention is to do it so that it can be dispensed with long before the election because the closer it gets to the election, the more controversial it becomes.”
Opposing the plan, the founding Chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, said it was needless to embark on the exercise, given the prevailing poor economic state of the country.
He told SUNDAY PUNCH that the national treasury was being over-stretched by recurrent expenses on numerous presidential aides, those of the governors, 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives and state lawmakers
Akanbi, also a former President of the Court of Appeal, said, “Delineation or no delineation, I do not think that we should support anything that will increase our running costs in this nation.
“Delineation means more constituencies, more members of the House of Representatives and Senators. I do not think it will be in the best interest of the nation to embark on delineation of the constituencies now.
“Even if the years for the review had elapsed for conducting constituency delineation, if you weigh it against our economic situation, as it is now, honestly, delineation becomes a non-issue.”
“A bicameral legislature with 360 members of the House of Representatives and 109 Senators is too expensive.
“If you add to the fact that the Constitution allows the President to appoint so many aides and staff, not even limited number, you will then appreciate the high cost of bicameral legislature.
Also, Prof. Pat Utomi, a political economist, said the exercise would only over-burden the national treasury.
However, he noted that, “Every democracy undertakes delineation of constituencies in order to ensure fair representation of the people. Most democracies have fixed number of representatives; that means their delineation does not lead to increase in the total number of constituencies.
“What is done is to increase number of representatives from a particular part of the country that has experienced a substantial increase in population over time. They just redistribute representatives based on a shift in population density.
“While INEC may want to fulfil its constitutional obligation, by doing the delineation of constituencies, embarking on such exercise now would further burden the already over-burdened national treasury.
“In fact, we should be looking for ways to reduce the number of legislators we have.”
Utomi further suggested the adoption of a part-time legislature, as a means of reducing the cost of running the National Assembly.
“Why don’t we consider the option of a part-time legislature? Some countries where such is the practice, they have managed to be sufficient check to the Executive. But here instead of doing the job, the legislature is fighting hard to be an arm of the Executive.
“If it really wants to delineate constituencies, where INEC would really have problem is determining, which part of the country has higher population than the other.
“Our population figures are highly politicised. Is Kano really more populated than Lagos?”
Pressure groups such as Save Nigeria Group and Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders have also rejected INEC’s plan.
The spokesman for SNG, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said, “We actually don’t need it. Even, the state of the economy and the overhead expenditure show that we need to cut down the cost of governance.
The Executive Chairman of CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said, “Where the exercise is meant to increase the number, then, Nigerians should be ready to reject it. We cannot continue to condone the reckless spending of those in public office.”
In the National Assembly, lawmakers’ views on the exercise differ.
While Senate spokesman, Enyinnaya Abaribe, denied the likely increase in legislative seats from the delineation, Senator Nkechi Nwogu was more forthright.
Abaribe said, “Review of constituencies is required by law every 10 years. The last one was done about 1996 It’s now overdue.
“It will not affect the number of constituencies because the number is fixed in the constitution and will require an amendment to be increased or reduced.”
But Nwaogu said, “Yes, there is certainly going to be some financial implications, because if you have federal constituencies, you would need to have corresponding representation.
“This is even a challenge because people are calling for a unicameral legislature because of the high cost of governance.
“But is it not better in a democracy to have a balanced political structure that will be of benefit to the people with a marginal increase in legislative seats than have an imbalance that keeps the people away from development?”
From the House of Representatives, its Chairman, Committee on Electoral Matters, Mr. Jerry Manwe, noted that the country was already overdue for the exercise.
He said, “It is not about cost; it is about complying with what the law says. The exercise should have been conducted last year.”
He, however, argued that the exercise might not always mean more constituencies but rather to ensure balance in administrative districts.
“That is why we will need another constitutional amendment after the exercise to reflect what changes that will take place”, he said.
Since 1999, remunerations of lawmakers have elicited public outrage due to their jumbo nature.
Senators are said to receive about N42million each, per quarter, while each member, House of Representatives collects N28m. Under Mr. Dimeji Bankole as Speaker, the House borrowed from banks about N40bn to hike members allowances.
Apparently, to deal with the bloated bureaucracy, the Federal Government had set up a Committee on the Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, chaired by a former Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye.
His report recommended a reduction of the existing 263 government’s statutory agencies to 161; abolition of 38 agencies; merger of 52 and reversion of 14 agencies to departments in the relevant ministries.
In all, Oronsaye said if the committee’s report was adopted and agencies reduced in line with the recommendation, government would be saving over N862bn between 2012 and 2015.
His panel’s recommendations were preceded by a counsel from the Presidential Advisory Committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2010, which Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma chaired, with Prof. Ben Nwabueze as his deputy.
In the same vein, the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, recently advised the Federal Government to sack at least half of its workforce in order to save the economy from collapse.
In a presentation at the Second Annual Capital Market Committee retreat in Warri, Delta State, Lamido said, “At the moment, 70 per cent of Federal Government’s revenue goes for payment of salaries and entitlement of civil servants, leaving 30 per cent for development of 167million Nigerians. That means that for every naira government earns, 70kobo is consumed by civil servants.
“You have to fire half of the civil service because the revenue government has is supposed to be for 167million Nigerians. Any society where government spends 70 per cent of its revenue on its civil service has a problem. It is unsustainable.”
Sanusi also said the country does not need a high number of lawmakers to make laws.