A broad spectrum of senators has excoriated the leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, for advocating the scrapping of the Senate in order to reduce the huge cost of governance in the country.
Tinubu, a former member of the Senate had at a public forum last week in Abuja, argued that it would be better to allow the House of Representatives represent the people since its members were closer to the grassroots.
He had said, “We have kept complaining about the cost of governance and the recurrent expenditure. But we have never examined the structural problem of even the constitution that we are operating.
“Why do we need two Houses of the National Assembly, whereas the House of Representatives representing the smaller constituencies is enough in the same number of population?
“Why not get rid of the Senate for a slim and better legislative activity? Let us start examining that.”
Senegal had on Thursday passed a law scrapping its Senate, a move that will result to $16m savings annually.
But in separate interviews with Sunday Punch, the senators questioned Tinubu’s logic, and stressed that his wife was a serving senator.
Besides, his party, the ACN has 17 senators in the red legislative chamber.
The Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (PDP, Cross River Central) who fired the first salvo, said Tinubu’s logic would not fly in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria.
He argued that the multiplicity of ethnic nationalities meant that minority rights must be protected for democracy to function.
Ndoma-Egba said, “What is the logic behind a bicameral legislature? It is adopted in a heterogeneous society.
“The Senate is a representation based on equality.
“If you scrap the Senate, then you have denied the minorities proper representation.”
Tinubu’s suggestion runs contrary to the logic of bicameral legislature.
“In Senegal, although they are multi ethnic, they are religiously homogenous. It is not the same with the situation with Nigeria.
On the issue of the cost of governance, the total budget of the National Assembly is N150billion, which is just 3per cent of the national budget.
“It is a fraction of what we have spent on fuel subsidy which is now over N2trn; it is a fraction of what is yet to be accounted for in the pension’s funds. So, 3 per of the national budget cannot be the problem.
“Tinubu is free to make a proposal for constitution changes, but we are yet to see any submission to that effect.”
Also, Senator Thomson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), the former governor of Lagos State, needed to get his facts right before making such suggestions.
He noted that there were other areas of waste which government needed to deal with.
Sekibo said, “Scrap the Senate? Except of course he is calling for the scrapping of the legislature as a whole, in which case we will be talking of another form of government not democracy, because the legislature is what separates true democracy from other forms of government.
“I think that he (Tinubu) has not put his facts in proper perspective if he is comparing us with Senegal.
“We settled for a bi-cameral legislature which has worked successfully in most democracies of the World after exhaustive consultations.
Senator Ita Enang (PDP, Akwa Ibom North-East), expressed shock and wondered why a former senator with a wife also in the senate would voice such suggestion.
He said, “It is unfortunate that this is coming from him (Tinubu), because he is a senator and his wife is a serving senator.
“I will not be quick replying him. I think it is an issue of constitutional amendment if he makes a submission to the National Assembly.”
But an ACN senator, Olugbenga Obadara (ACN, Ogun Central), was cautious in his response. He noted that the country was in a democracy; therefore, anybody was free and should be allowed to air his or her views.
He said, “Tinubu is our leader and he has the democratic right to speak on any national issue and should be allowed to do so.
“We cannot deny the fact that he loves this country like every one of us.
“If he speaks on any issue, it should be looked at on its merit especially now that we are in the process of amending the Constitution.”
Senator Enyinanya Abaribe, though acknowledged Tinubu’s right to air his views, he noted that Nigeria was not Senegal where the President had the right to sack the senate.
Consequently, he said, “We have a constitution,” just as he advised him to present his position “to the National Assembly for consideration.
In an analysis of the 2010 budget for example, Nigeria Country Director, ActionAid, Dr. Hussaini Abdu noted that: The “Senate is to spend N270million on retreat.
“This brings to an average of N2.5m per senator for the retreat and it further brings it to N500,000 per day for each of the senators. (For a five-day retreat). Senate is to spend N15bn on sitting allowances and honorarium in the 2010 budget.
“Also, the Senate is to spend N1.2bn; on computer materials and supplies.”
Not less than N150bn was provided in the budget for the National Assembly this year; this include the capital and recurrent expenditures for both houses, which comprised 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.