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Constitutional Review: The Case for Unicameral Legislature

Governance through representation is the prevalent practice across the world today. Nigeria, like other countries, has representatives across the various arms of government. Of all these arms of government, the legislature receives the most attention because the framework for national development is drawn there.

Nigeria’s bicameral legislature is modelled after that of the United States, and to a certain extent that of Britain.

The Nigerian parliament comprises the Senate which consists of 109 Senators, and the House of Representatives which consists of 360 members.

Each of the 36 states in Nigeria has three senators each representing the three senatorial districts in a state, while the FCT-Federal Capital Territory, Abuja is also represented by a senator.

Members of the House of Representatives represent federal constituencies in their home states. The bigger a state is by population, the more the number of seats it has in the House. Kano and Lagos State, the two largest in terms of population, have 24 seats in the House. Kaduna State has the next highest with 16 seats, while Bayelsa and Abuja are the least with 5 and 2 seats respectively.

Sections 47-49 of the 1999 Constitution vested in the House of Representatives the power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Federation. The House of Reps has broad oversight functions and is therefore empowered to scrutinise bills and the conduct of government institutions and officials.

The House of Reps is also empowered by the constitution to legislate on exclusive, concurrent and residual lists. The senate makes laws and scrutinizes the government’s actions. The latter role is known as the oversight function. The Senate also approves appointments and regulates government’s spending.

It can be seen from the information above that both the Senate and the House of Reps perform similar functions. For many Nigerians, having two houses whose members enjoy huge perks of office is a waste of resources especially at this time when Nigeria really needs to reduce its cost of governance.

Just this week, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of Ondo State while speaking at a forum on Constitutional Review said that only one chambers of the national assembly should be retained. By extension, he hinted that the non- representative chambers, the Senate, preferably, should be scrapped. It was a call that resonated with the views of a lot of Nigerians.

Akeredolu, who spoke at the Southwest Zonal Public Hearing organised by the House of Reps Committee on Constitution Review in Akure, Ondo State, said membership of the National Assembly should also be on a Part-time basis.

In Akeredolu’s words, “The country should consider dropping the current bicameral structure of the National Assembly, to adopt a unicameral legislature.

“The membership of the Assembly should be part-time. No member should earn allowances not known to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, and more importantly, the people they claim to serve. Legislators should earn under a uniform salary structure. Allowance peculiarities must not be about obscenity.

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“The Senate should be scrapped while the House of Reps too should not be unwieldy. A maximum number of four members of the House of Representatives should come from each zone. It is becoming increasingly embarrassing to those who reason deeply enough to observe that while the people wallow in despair, those who claim to represent them revel in ravenous opulence. The number of public servants is very small compared with the humongous percentage of the commonwealth expended to maintain them.”

The question most people have been asking is, why do we need a bicameral legislature when the two Houses perform the same functions? Why should each legislator collect millions of naira per month when over eighty million people in Nigeria are rated as extremely poor?

Former CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi once stated that 25% of Nigeria’s revenue spending is collected by the National Assembly. That shows how costly it is has been to run the two legislative houses.

Meanwhile, a Republican named George Norris, successfully campaigned to change Nebraska’s legislature from bicameral to a unicameral system in 1937. Norris stated that the unicameral system can maintain a system of checks and balances by relying on the power of citizens to vote and petition. Some of the countries with unicameral legislature are Armenia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Monaco, Ukraine, Serbia, and Turkey. Countries that have changed from a bicameral legislature to a unicameral legislature include Greece, New Zealand, and Peru.

So many arguments have also been raised in favour of a unicameral legislature. They include the fact that it is less costly; and laws may be passed easily and effectively with less disagreement. Another argument for unicameral legislature is that it makes room for adequate and equal representation in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria.

Conversely, it is argued that a unicameral legislature may become a rubber stamp House that may easily be controlled by a dictatorial executive. Could such reason be strong enough to make a country like Nigeria, grappling with financial challenges, retain this money-gulping bicameral system?

Can the National Assembly be bold enough to sit and legislate one of its chambers out of existence? Answers can only emerge when the current public debate and presentation by various groups ends. Then as the National Assembly kicks off deliberation, the period of anxiety will begin as Nigerians await decisions that should come long before their legislative sessions end.

Categories: Features, Politics