Over two-thirds of the 360-strong Federal House of Representatives, last week (October 15), approved a number of changes to the 1999 Constitution, some very commendable but others nauseating. There were 71 amendments altogether.
Firstly, we commend the House for removing the vexatious immunity clause in the Constitution. This provision says certain political office holders, including the President and state governors, cannot have criminal charges brought against them while in office. This immunity has been turned to impunity whereby officer holders have engaged in criminal excesses including open pillaging of the public till. In the past, several state governors had used the money they stole to bribe their lawmakers not to initiate impeachment proceedings against them. The government-appointed anti-graft agencies have been too impotent to take concrete action even when the facts are barefaced.
To the extent that this present crop of federal lawmakers has had the courage to remove this noxious clause, which is the Achilles heel of our democracy, we can call them our true representatives. There are other salutary amendments such as the endorsement of independent candidature in elections. This gives the voter a choice outside the traditional political parties. No doubt, this will reinforce the sinews of our political life.
The lawmakers also backed a referendum for state creation. They, however, rejected the amendment of Section 9 to allow for a referendum in determining the fate of the recommendations of the National Conference that sat through May and August this year. Very understandable as a vote for it would have amounted to shooting themselves in the foot. A lot of the recommendations impinge directly on the powers of the legislature. However, that is only as far as the good work the lawmakers did goes.
They did the rather unimaginable in approving life pension for key leaders of the National Assembly. They include the President of the Senate and the Deputy, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy Speaker. How can one rationalize this in a situation where these officers already draw hefty salaries for doing very little legislative work?In November 2010, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN, SanusiLamid, dismissed federal lawmakers as an unproductive lot. Now the Emir of Kano, Sanusi who has since rechristened himself AlhajiMuhammduSanusi 11, spoke on ‘The Future of Nigeria’s Economy’ at Igbinedion University in Benin, Edo state. According to him, as long as a quarter of the nation’s annual budget (over 136 billion then) went to the National Assembly as allowances and salaries, it would be difficult to achieve any meaningful development with the remaining 75 percent, in view of the numerous challenges facing the nation.
Not even the proviso given by the lawmakers that the life pension will not be paid if the would be beneficiary is impeached out of office will mitigate the seriousness of their blunder and insensitivity. There are hundreds of thousands of Nigerians who have given their productive life in the service of this nation but do not receive regularly the pittance they get as pension. Are we saying that hard work doesn’t pay?
What is more, some of the officers listed as beneficiaries of the life pension will likely go on to contest the governorship of their states and probably win. Already there are pensions that await them at the end of their tenures. How many pensions will they draw at the expense of the citizenry in their lifetime? We urge the Senate that is yet to vote on the amendments to show more maturity and respect for Nigeria’s poor masses by rejecting the life pension suggestion. The state Houses of Assembly should do similarly.