At a time when most Nigerians were busy getting worried over critical issues of insecurity (over 500 souls abducted in Borno, Kaduna and Sokoto during the week) and the government’s planned merger and /or scrapping of some parastatals/departments, curtesy Oronsaye Report 2012, the National Assembly got unethically busy squabbling over “money” and budget padding. The said squabble which started with “point of order”, raised by a member soon snowballed to accusations and counter accusations. The senator accused the ranking members of cornering N500 million each, without extending the same gesture to the rookies. The drama was so intense that mics were muted (mute the mic!) to cut out the viewing public.

A similar drama ensued when another Senator who happened to be the Chair of Northern Senators caucus, accused the leadership of the Assembly of over N3 trillion padding in the 2024 national budget. He so wished to let the nation know about the unwholesome act. This attempt didn’t go well with the Executive and of course the Senate leadership which not only denied the allegations but saw it as an affront slapping the “belligerent” senator with 3-months suspension. The Senator sensed betrayal from some of his co travellers and consequently resigned the Chairmanship of the group honourably.

The said Senator may not get all the facts right but certainly not the principles. The budgets of about ten agencies that include the INEC, NNDC, NEDC, TETFUND, NASS, the Judiciary etc may be on first line charge, according to the Senate Chair on Appropriation, but that doesn’t preclude them from scrutiny. Their combined allocations of over N3 trillion should not come in as an appendage for the sake of transparency. Though it was obvious that some influential individuals may still “follow the money”. The acrimony therefore could just be a prelude to the grand “corruption festival” that may soon commence in those agencies.
Acrimony over personal interests, indeed has largely characterised operations of the Nigerian Legislature since the first Republic. This was regardless of whether the nation was operating the Parliamentary or Presidential system of government. The recent showdown was a case of history repeating itself, which left many Nigerians with a deje’vu feeling. Democracy in action you may say. Wrong! One, the honourable members’ preoccupation with matters of money debases the values of the hallowed chamber as a democratic institution. Two, the legislative business for which they were elected, ultimately is compromised with serious negative consequences on national development and stability.

The question was, why has democracy proven difficult to operate in Nigeria? Better still why do Nigerians find democracy too challenging to practice? The answers lie in the very complex nature of liberal democracy itself, plus the socioeconomic and ethical “conditions” of the people.

Democracy according to Webster, is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

A former US president, Abraham Lincoln, simplified the definition by saying democracy is “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”. The principles and variations in the democratic system of government are many with the basic ones being separation of powers, universal suffrage, freedom of expression and justice.

The USA subscribed to the Presidential system as far back as 1789. About 245 years ago. The experiences garnered enabled the US to change from being a British overseas colony to the most powerful country on planet Earth, with a $23 trillion GDP. The success of democracy in the US was largely made possible by the existence of strong institutions like the Judiciary and the Congress. In adopting liberal democracy the US Congress provided a good conceptual guide.

For all its wealth and size, the US Congress is made up of 100 Senators (2 per state) and 435 in the House of Representatives. Members of the two Chambers serve as representatives of about 340 million people from the 50 states and the District of Colombia where Washington, the State capital is located . The Executive Cabinet has 26 members comprising the President, the VP, 15 heads of departments and 10 Cabinet level officers. So portable. Today the USA is the paragon of democracy and democratic governance.

The USA model was what Nigeria adopted having made a failed attempt at the Parliamentary system in the first republic (1960-1966). In copying the American Presidential system of government, Nigeria seems to have made a mess of it through the establishment of a comparatively more cumbersome structures and also failure to properly define and abide by the principles of the separation of powers inherent in the American constitution.

Nigeria may legitimately wish to aspire to the American democratic standards but this ought to be done within the context of its resource base. Nigeria’s GDP of about $440 billion is too low to support the US-type democratic system . Thus a good sense of proportion should have been part of the guiding principles in the adoption and adaption of the American style presidential system of government.

With a population of 200 million and about, $440 billion GDP, by comparative ratios, Nigeria should not have more than 27 states in contrast to the current 37 . The Senators per state should come down to 2 (as against 3). The members in the House of Representatives should be trimmed to 6 per state . This will bring down the total number of legislators in the NASS to 159, comprising 55 senators (2 × 27 states plus 1 for Abua) and 104 (6 × 27 + 2 for Abuja).

The country’s Cabinet should as well be trimmed down by half from the more than 50 members to 25 or thereabout. The US from where Nigeria borrowed the model has only 26 members in the Cabinet. Similar exercise should be visited upon the states and the LGAs..

The wisdom and rational behind this was that, the size of the Nigerian economy in fact represents a fraction of the GDPs of some of the US states of Texas ($2 trillion), California ($3.2 trillion), New York City ($2 trillion), Florida ($1.2 trillion). Nigeria would be in the league of medium size states of Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Tennessee, that have about $450 billion economies (Ref; US Bureau of Economic Analysis and Regional Economic Accounts, 2023). Nigeria therefore has no business copying the American model line, hook and sinker. It is too poor to do that.

In the words of S. Lipset, a famous US scholar, “democracy is the direct result of economic growth and that a well-to-do nation has the greater chance that it will sustain democracy”. The Nigerian economy is far from being developed, just as its human capital. The latter, being the enabler of development. Granted there has been improvements in literacy level in Nigeria but content of learning has not been brought to bear on nation’s developmental needs effectively.

The uninformed cannot hold Government accountable and the Government too cannot count on their patriotism. Those educated enough may not rise above the cultures/faith that shaped their worldview. The law makers as part of this educated groups, and whose duty it was, to legislate for good governance have since lost it or jettison this role for hot chase of money, seemingly. In the pursuit of pecuniary interest, they seem to have simply turned the NASS into a “Business Center”. Legislative concepts such as; “oversight function” “constituency project interventions” and “nominee confirmation exercise” have all been turned upside down.

The constituency projects concept copied from the controversial US Congress’ Earmark/Pork Barrell scheme earmarks about 1% of the budget to be expended in Members’ constituencies/districts. It has never been a popular programme and on occasions, stopped even in a saner clime like the USA. Many actually liken it to a slush fund.

The corruption surrounding confirmation hearing for government nominees is an open secret. Ex Governor El Rufai openly accused some of them for asking him to pay bribe in millions during his confirmation hearing to be Minister. An otherwise beautiful legislative concept turned into a tool of extortion/corruption. Many are preoccupied with how to maximise budgetary allocations to the NASS for personal gains while some members go after MDAs to seek for contract so approved using subtle threats.

This is in addition to the insertion of capital projects in the MDAs’ activities to be executed through proxies. A lot of such contracts were paid for, even though never fully executed. Some even constitute themselves into one-man labour exchange market chasing vacancies for loyalists at the expense of more deserving applicants.

The bizarre disposition of some of the Honourable members went full display when government, on account of the astronomically rising cost of living nationwide was forced to come with up palliative measures. The NASS members (most) went for the kill just like Sharks smell blood. They collected money for the exercise and became “traders” and “distributors” of basic needs. They dispersed into the field buying and/or bagging rice, indomie, beans etc. Others became busy buying sewing machines, blenders, generators, Keke NAPEP, motorcycles and taxis as part of their constituency projects. Some, unethically or even criminally rebranding the items to deceive the innocent masses.

Question was, where did they get this model of legislation and development from? When did law making give way to distributing palliative or duplicating Executive functions of policy execution? The major role of the Legislature is to make laws that would forestall economic meltdown and the security of the nation and not to be in the field addressing the symptoms of same. As for the Executive, funding the NASS material cravings makes her complicit. It is an aberration that adds to the huge bills of running liberal democracy in the country.

Already the “big government” (36 States plus the FCT and the 774 LGSs) constitutionally foisted on Nigeria’s $440 billion GDP economy has put a drag on the nation’s development. The Presidential model as so copied and recklessly expanded had made the system top-heavy. So heavy and extremely expensive that Nigeria even under the best of circumstances could ill afford. With an average of 70% of the country’s budget expended on recurrent (overhead) activities and debt servicing, the nation is simply underdeveloping itself. Thirty percent (30%) capital provision cannot successfully drive the economy of over 200 million. The situation becomes worse when the endemic corruption among members of the NASS and the other arms of government are factored into the national resource constraints. Ex President OBJ aptly captured the corruption and corruptive disposition in the NASS as thus ; it is a “den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers” and populated by people some of whom should be in jail . Some of the cabals specialise in the fraudulent acts of budget padding, contract chasing, and employment racketeering, among others. OBJ made this public rebuke while addressing the National Assembly in 2017.

The gory picture of the Legislature painted by OBJ has since gone from bad to worse. Some of the culprits through extensive networking with the Executive arm and the private sector have turned corruption into a way of life and making good governance and development near impossible to achieve. It is necessary to take a dispassionate look at the nation’s model of democracy along with its structures and ethical underpinnings to forestall its ultimate collapse. The signs cannot be any clearer.
A. G. Abubakar


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