Nigeria at 60: Is a Unicameral legislature the key?

Today, as the whole world joins Nigeria in celebrating her 60th Independence Day Anniversary, there is quite potpourri of concerns which actually aren’t farfetched when you look at what Nigeria has grown to become. You see, Nigeria’s independence in 1960 was greeted with high enthusiasm and hope of becoming a world power soon, considering her robust potentials. But today, that child that was foretold to be a child of promise 60 years ago is still struggling to stand on its feet.

At the core of these concerns is a history of poor leadership and representation. There was a glimmer of hope when democracy came in on May 29, 1999 to help Nigeria to her feet, but it seemed to have crippled Nigeria even more, when you consider how expressions of democracy have done more harm than good. These expressions include the right to protest, free press, right to vote and be voted for, and right to hold your representatives responsible, both in the executive and legislature. You only need to take a look at Deji Adeyanju and Sowore to see how protesting gets you locked up, or FUOYE’s Oluwaseyi Kehinde to see how it gets you killed. You need to take a look at the 19 journalists lured and attacked by police, as Amnesty International reported in 2019, to see how free speech gets you rounds of slap, or bullets. Even our votes, the weapon we wield every four years, no longer count as only bags of rice here and there, dollar notes here and there, and conscience will have been heavily sold at black market prices.
Just like the pre-democratic paradigm, there are now clamors for a unicameral legislature, where only one legislative chamber makes up the National Assembly, instead of the bicameral legislature we currently practice. These concerns are valid. Today, Nigeria’s federal legislators – National Assembly – is the second highest paid in the world with one senator, for instance, getting ₦1 million for every day the senate sits. Despite our status as the poorest country in the world, the annual cost for the 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives comes close to ₦69 billion annually, enough foot the minimum wage of 191,954 civil servants for one year.. So, why not unicameral legislature?

Perhaps, the strongest bearing a unicameral legislature can have in Nigeria is drastically reducing the cost of running the federal legislature. It is a simple case of killing one bird with one stone, rather than killing one bird with two stones. This way, we get to expend the national treasury on actual exigencies like infrastructure, electricity and job creation. We wont be having such a case as 2020 budget where the National Assembly’s budget was higher than those of education and health combined.
Again, unicameralism will prove useful in stamping out filibuster which is a culture in the National Assembly. Filibuster is what Nigeria youths call spreading: unnecessarily long speeches that slow down legislative processes. More, it introduces unnecessary procedures and motions which combine to delay votes or generally slow down legislative processes, thus relegating the most progressive policies to their gestation periods. Whereas, unicameral legislatures generally frown at filibusters and promises speedy passages of bills. This was Nebraka experience in 1934 when filibusters were crippling its legislature. So, a unicameral legislature generally provides for faster process of law making, especially in cases of emergencies.

Obviously, the idea of slimming down to one legislative chamber or unicameral already sounds like the way to go, but the Nigerian context doesn’t agree as much.

As the most diverse black population in the world, the arguments of full representation trump the arguments of convenience. All the 250 groups which speak over 500 languages can hardly be adequately represented in one legislative chamber. And even while we’re at it, unicameral legislature creates room for dictatorship and dictator-styled laws. When the President’s party or a party is in the majority, they can easily create self-serving and obnoxious laws, removing the possibility of a double-check. This way, we see that the only reasonable argument against bicameralism is that it is expensive to run. Thus, solutions should be focused on slimming down on the cost not the representation, which itself goes to the root of its democracy and bond. When you look at the post-Biafran agitations and the clamor for secession in many parts, you will find that reducing any marker of federal representation might be the final blow to the mass of crack that is Nigeria.

In conclusion, there’s a need to disincentivize top public offices generally, especially the legislature – disincentivize not starve. There’s no doubt that public offices are now treasure troves for self enrichment and when you see how much some politicians spend on campaign and vote merchandise, you will almost agree that their robust salaries are simply returns on investments. But, is this really necessary? Bicameralism is well suited to leapfrog Nigeria into lofty heights, but first, we must reduce the cost of running our legislature on the overall. No doubt, there will be consequences, but if this is what it takes for a 60 old man to finally walk, then so be it.

Happy Independence from all of us at Campus news!

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