I just watched a video clip where the Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District, Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha, was submitting on the floor of the Nigerian Senate that the number of Senators for each state should be reduced to one and that the House of Representatives should be scrapped. By his proposition, only 37 members should constitute the Senate and be the only legislative arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
I laughed at the proposition because I see it as populism taken too far. Furthermore, it did not occur to the Honourable Senator that if a house must be scrapped that it will be the Senate and not the House of Representatives. I say so because the House of Representatives, just like the British House of Commons, is the more representative house and the house closest to the people.
Historically, the House of Representatives was the most powerful chamber in Nigeria’s First Republic. Under the 1963 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the House of Representatives was the most important chamber. The Senate was more or less a ceremonial chamber. Under that constitution all money bills originated from the House of Representatives. All the ministers, including the Prime Minister, were members of the House of Representatives. All major decisions of government were taken in that house.
Even in the United States that practices presidential system of government, the House of Representatives is also a powerful house. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is the 3rd person in the line of succession. He takes immediately after the United States Vice President. It took a long and tortious debate before the United States adopted the bicameral system of legislature. Some people proposed a single house that will be based on population while others proposed a single house that will be based on equality of states. This gave rise to what is known as the Connecticut Compromise.
The Connecticut Compromise (also known as the Great Compromise of 1787 or Sherman Compromise) was an agreement the large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that in part defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution. It retained the bicameral legislature as proposed by Roger Sherman, along with proportional representation of the states in the lower house, but required the upper house to be weighted equally among the states. Each state would have two representatives in the upper house.
By this arrangement large states have more members in the House of Representatives while every state has equal number of Senators in the upper house. Currently, California has 53 members in the House of Representatives while they have 2 Senators. Alaska has only one member in the House of Representatives while they have two Senators. There are many states in the United States that have only one member in the House of Representatives while states like Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, etc have 36, 31, 25, 18, 16 members respectively in the same house. This is because of the population of these states. Meanwhile all the states have two Senators each.
So by Okorocha’s proposition he is suggesting we have one house based on equality of states. In that case, states like Kano and Lagos will have the same number of Representatives with Bayelsa and Ekiti. I am sure the more populous states will kick against this proposal. Just like it happened in the United States in 1787 during their Constitutional Convention. In other to accommodate everybody they reached a compromise and decided to have two houses. One house based on population and the other based on equality of states.
The reason why Okorocha is making this proposition is, according to him, to reduce the cost of governance. There are other ways we can reduce the cost of governance in Nigeria without scrapping any of the Houses of the National Assembly. We have nearly forty ministers in Nigeria while United States has twenty. Some Governors in Nigeria, including Okorocha himself, have over bloated cabinet. As the Governor of Imo State, Okorocha created all manner of funny ministries which included the notorious Ministry of Happiness which was headed by his blood sister, one Mrs Ogechi Ololo.
We can cut down on the salaries and allowances of our public office holders. We can even make the legislature a part time job. What of the notorious security vote? That should be scrapped too or at least make every person that collects security vote to account for it. If it is not possible to account for it publicly as a result of security concerns, then to a select number of lawmakers who have the requisite security clearance. After all the appropriate United States Congressional Committees on Intelligence do exercise their oversight functions over the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, etc.
The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, while responding to Okorocha’s proposition, advised him to propose a Bill for the amendment of the constitution in line with his proposition. Until Okorocha does that, I will consider this as a mere political populism and grandstanding.
Mr Imo is the 1st Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association.