TWO prominent Nigerians, Senate President Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, made some comments in recent times that deserve interrogation. Lawan said there would be anarchy if the upper legislative chamber, the Senate, is scrapped. He was apparently reacting to the growing calls in the country for shedding of weight in the National Assembly (NASS). Sylva, on the other hand, said Nigerians should be proud of importing fuel from Niger Republic.
Listen to Dr Lawan, while declaring open a retreat for top management staff of the National Assembly Service Commission: “If you don’t like the set of members in the Ninth National Assembly, change all of us in 2023. Get better people and let’s support the system to function.”
He added that “The Senate is a leveller because in the House of Representatives, population is major. That is why some states will have five, six members and others have up to 20. So, if you say close down the Senate, there will be a day when people will cry foul. In the Senate, what Kano produces is what Bayelsa will produce. There are three senators in Kano and three senators in Bayelsa, so that stabilises the system.”
Without doubt, the legislature is an essential part of the democratic package. But then, we must cut our coat according to our cloth. We do not necessarily need 469 people in the NASS as we currently have. At any rate, it’s not always about number but quality. As people say, ‘two (good) heads are better than one’. We may achieve far better results with about two-thirds of the NASS size and still retain equality of representation as well as representation based on population. These things don’t have to be cast in stone. The problem, these days, is not necessarily with the number but the fact that NASS members alone are taking too much for Nigerians not to notice.
And if I may answer Dr Lawan’s question as to what would happen if the Senate is scrapped, the answer is perhaps NOTHING, provided Nigerians have food on their table, they have meaningful jobs to do, they have power to run their businesses. All this argument about the country collapsing because of NASS is what the political elite has been using to deceive Nigerians.
Indeed, contrary to the Senate President’s recommendation that Nigerians should wait for the next four years to vote out the current senators if they did not like their face, we do not necessarily have to wait that long, as there is a constitutional provision for recall of lawmakers who are no longer seen to be representing their constituencies. In places where time is money, people understand the import of having to wait for that long just to replace a recalcitrant legislator. The problem is that many Nigerians are not aware of the opportunity of recall. Even those who are think the process is laborious.
Perhaps Dr Lawan must be reminded that until recent years, Nigerians have hardly given a thought to pruning down the number of NASS law makers, not to talk of calling for the scrapping of any of the chambers. The problem this time around is that for the first time in the country’s history, Nigerians are being saddled with senators and representatives who think they deserve things that are out of this world by virtue of being law makers, as if the NASS is an oil company or a gold mining factory. The problem this time around is with this ungodly and unconscionable pay for the NASS lawmakers which, unfortunately, started in this dispensation in 1999 with the furniture allowance. Since then, all kinds of other allowances: hazard allowance, dressing allowance, constituency allowance, etc. have since been added to the long list, leading to the humongous millions that they cart home monthly. At the rate they are increasing the scope of their allowances, we should not be surprised if someday we hear our law makers have added breathing allowance to the ever-increasing list. Are people who cannot use locally produced vehicles not also entitled to imported air to breathe? How can anyone justify a situation where a tiny minority (less than 500 in all) is getting about N120billion in a country where about 200 million others have about N12trn to play with?
Apparently Dr Lawan is still living in the past. If all that was required to prevent anarchy in the country was equal representation in the Senate, how come this could not prevent the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest; or was that not anarchy in itself? I am sure the Senate President himself was hibernating somewhere, like most other prominent Nigerians, in the heat of that protest, praying that the cup would pass over him.
Equal representation in the Senate amounts to nothing in the face of the grinding poverty in Nigeria; otherwise, we would have seen people from Katsina State distancing themselves from the #EndSARS protest because the president is their ‘father’. Likewise, people from Yobe State where Lawan himself hails from would have taken advertisements in the papers to dissociate themselves from the protest because their ‘son’ is Senate President. Our leaders should wean themselves off these jaded ideas because the dynamics are changing; the veil that they have been using to prevent the people from seeing clearly is gradually giving way.
Finally, on Lawan; asking Nigerians not to worry about how much senators take home monthly, but to worry more about whether the money is judiciously spent, is begging the issue. To the extent that you cannot build something on nothing, the same way you cannot talk of spending judiciously what you allocated to yourself illegally, using your privileged position. Nigerians know the appropriate agency to recommend the pay of NASS members is the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Anything outside this is illegal and it is in the interest of the NASS members to see it for what it is rather than become circumlocutory as if they do not understand the angst of the people on the matter, or as if it is a matter that time can heal. As a matter of fact, it was at this point of talking about ensuring judicious use of the funds that NASS members collect that it dawned on me that the Senate President knew what he was saying and doing; that the central plank of his argument was most probably driven by self-preservation even though he tried to convince us that he was not saying it for self but to prevent anarchy in the country. No time can heal such a wound because it is a drain on the people’s blood.
If Mr Senate President must be told, the hunger in the land is a more potent fuel for anarchy than equal representation in the Senate, important as that too might be. With NASS members carting home millions monthly in the poverty capital of the world, and in a country where the same law makers were party to fixing minimum wage at N30,000 per month, it is only a matter of time for the bubble to burst.
As for the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, seeing the headline: “Nigerians should be proud we are importing fuel from Niger Republic – Minister Sylva”, one would have thought it was one of those sensational headlines cast by some newspapers for attention-getting purposes, with the ultimate aim of boosting their sales. It was even difficult not to read the same meaning into the story, even with virtually all the papers that published it casting similar headlines.
Sylva was reacting to massive criticisms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources signed with Niger on behalf of the Federal Government, for the importation of petroleum products. The minister who was supposed to do damage control worsened the matter in an interview on Channels Television on Monday.
“For me, this is not an embarrassment at all. As a country, we need products, even if all our refineries were functioning.
“Niger Republic produces oil and they are landlocked as a country. They have a refinery that produces in excess of what they require as a country, and they offered to sell to us in Nigeria.” He continued: “In the spirit of regional cooperation, regional trade development, we decided to buy from them. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
“Nigerians should be proud that we are encouraging sub-regional trade.”
So, the newspapers were right. So, the minister actually said so!
Yoruba people say there are things that are more shameful than being a thief. This is one of such things: Oil was discovered in Nigeria in commercial quantities in 1958. Today, we have four refineries with a combined refining capacity of about 450,000 barrels per day in the best of times. I can’t remember when last they did even a third of that. The story last week was that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) spent N81.4bn on the refineries in eight months even though they did not refine a drop of crude oil. Nigeria is probably the only oil-producing country where that can happen. And this has been the pattern for years either because successive Federal Governments deliberately failed to make the refineries work, to perpetuate the massive corruption in the sector; or because they are just clueless on the way forward. The result is that today, Nigeria, a major oil producer, is importing fuel for domestic use.
I cannot understand how such a statement could have come from a minister from whom Nigerians expect words of exhortation on a sensitive issue as fuel importation. To paraphrase a colleague, if tiny Niger can refine more fuel than it needs such that it still has excess to export, why not mighty Nigeria?
And here we are, our Minister of State for Petroleum Resources says we should be proud we are importing fuel from Niger. If that was God’s design for us, He Would not have given us crude oil. The point is that just as God created a perfect world, He created a beautiful Nigeria. It is our governments that are recreating us and toying with our collective destiny. That is why we are being served bones even when our parents are butchers. That explains why we are wearing rags even when our parents deal in clothes. That is why we are importing fuel despite being a major producer of crude oil.
Mr Sylva’s statement about encouraging intra-regional trade would have made sense to me if Nigeria does not have crude oil. But this is a product in which we have comparative advantage over this tiny neighbour of ours. That they are going to be selling fuel to us shows more rigorous thinking in their government than ours. It’s like our governments here are too comfortable to engage in such robust debates to give Nigerians value for the huge costs we incur on them.
All said, if what the Senate President said is the position of the legislature; and what the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources said is reflective of the executive stance, then we need not look far to know why we are where we are as a country today. Perhaps someone high up there would give us the perspective of the judicial arm to complete the tripod.
The summary of it all is that our ways are not necessarily our governments’ ways. While WE, the REAL PEOPLE are complaining of excessive heat, our governments (we, the people, our constitution refers) are shivering from excessive cold. Talk of different folks, different strokes.