The best Nigerians can pray for is that these well-loaded species of senators take a cue from the members of the House of Lords and not be on salary.
Nigeria has always exhibited traits of multiple personality or at best a troubling uncertainty about its very status. Although it is not a monarchy, the country has remained tied to the flowing robes of all shades of monarchs across the length and breadth of the land. Not surprisingly, some of the bold ones among the monarchs have come up intermittently to suggest that it is high time they were accorded full constitutional roles, with their own legislative chamber. Why not?
Nigeria is not a theocracy. Yet the State and its various elected and unelected leaders over the years have refused to let religion be a personal matter. And so here Nigeria is, not a monarchy but with monarchs calling shots all over; not a theocracy, yet religion and religious leaders are literally pushing the society to the brink always. By classification, Nigeria is a democracy. It is common knowledge, however, that its democracy is at best diluted.
Glued together into existence in early 20th century by Britain for no higher purpose than the trading interest of their Majesty, Nigeria has continued to struggle with who or what it truly is. This dissonance in orientation manifests in virtually every sector of Nigeria’s life and is responsible for most of its problems till date.
In 1979, having come of some form of age, the country made what seemed like a bold move, symbolically at least, to cut itself free from the hangover of colonial rule. Thus it was that in preparing for a return to democracy after over a decade of military rule, Nigeria jettisoned parliamentary system of government patterned after the British system and adopted United States of America’s presidential system of government. Of course, the decision of which type of political system to adopt was not entirely democratic. There was a Constituent Assembly that ostensibly recommended the new trajectory of government system quite all right, but the military in government was said to have already decided where to go. The interrogation of why the military veered away from the British system to follow the American way is yet to be completed.
From that 1979 alteration of trajectory onwards, till date, less the decade and half that the military forcefully took the mantle of national leadership again, Nigeria has obviously settled for the presidential system of government.
There are, without doubts, many factors that make the presidential system very attractive to Nigerians. For one, it frees or seems to free the President from the pulls and shackles of regional control, which the parliamentary system seemed to have been bogged down with. There are many though who continue to contend with strong points that the parliamentary system offers more inclusiveness and, therefore, less tension for heterogeneous Nigeria. The contention continues.
When recently, in the wake of the presidential party primaries, news reports filled the air that some party chieftains took umbrage at a presidential candidate of one of the political parties for not seeking or obtaining permission from them before picking his running mate, the confused political personality of Nigeria came to the fore once more. What the complaining party chieftains exhibited so clearly was a spirit of parliamentary system trapped inside the body of a presidential system. Intrinsic in the presidential system is an executive president. But then it is very much Nigerian to want it both ways.
Perhaps, no bigger manifestation of the inner desire for parliamentary system within the ambience of a presidential system exists in Nigeria at the moment than the situation gradually unfolding at the National Assembly. Steadily and unmistakably, one part of the National Assembly, the Senate, is being subtly reconstructed into a parody of Britain’s House of Lords. This is the arm of the parliament constituted substantially by the landed gentry, lords and barons, appointed by the Queen and a commission designed to bring on board some well-heeled folks. The House of Lords is the domain of privileged individuals, among them Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. They contribute in making laws quite all right, but they don’t pretend to represent the common man. Because of who they are, many members of the House of Lords do not collect salary. Some collect daily allowances and travel expenses though.
Nigeria’s Senate was modelled more after the Senate in the US than Britain’s House of Lords. It was meant to be a second legislative chamber where any and all citizens could aspire and win a seat to represent their constituency. All that is receding fast. Gradually and steadily, the Senate in Nigeria is being transformed into a chamber for former governors, retired military bigwigs and retired police and customs top shots. Let it be said right away that there is nothing wrong or illegal in being any of these.
At the end of the recent party primaries, virtually all the state governors who are on the verge of completing two terms in office obtained the ticket to represent their constituencies in the Senate. When the 9th National Assembly is convened in 2019 after the elections, therefore, the new senators who just vacated the executive seat of governors in their respective states will arrive the Red Chambers and join the already seated amalgam of former governors, retired generals, retired customs bosses and few retired police bosses who have become the majority in the Senate.
You do not need to look far to see that, by 2023, or at most 2027, almost all the seats in the Senate will be occupied by former governors and former military top brass .Of course, another round of struggle will eventually ensue when new governors graduate and use their offices to covet Senate seats already occupied by former governors who left before them and arrived the Senate earlier. Till then.
There is no point pointing out the reality that no retired justice or retired university professor or retired practicing medical doctors have any future in this unfolding Senate. Who born them? How many in that category can purchase party forms by themselves in the first place? And with no possibility of any person or group coming along to purchase forms for them, how can they even begin to nurse such ambition?
Considering that there is no law barring these former governors from contesting and moving over to the Senate to continue living at our expense, the best Nigerians can pray for or propose is that these well-loaded species of senators take a cue from the members of the House of Lords and not be on salary.
READ ALSO: Outrage over jumbo pay for senators
It does seem odd if not outright offensive that individuals who were governors for eight full years, with all the economic import of that position in Nigeria today, individuals who encouraged their state legislature into giving them very obscene parting packages that include hefty life salary, will resurface at the Senate and commence collecting another round of heavy emoluments. Lord(s) have mercy!