Senate, rent control and amending the constitution

the The cardinal duty of the legislator is to make laws that will contribute to the good governance of a country, among others. As one of the three branches of government, the legislature decides on legislation, for the most part, in addition to other functions. Such laws could arise from private members’ bills, executive (government) bills and private bills, which have gone through legislative processes.

In Nigeria, the House of Representatives and the Senate make up the National Assembly, the federal legislative body that makes the laws of the federation. Even though these two legislative bodies are independent of each other in processing and passing bills, they require joint and concurrent resolutions to pass the respective bills into one federal statute, ready for the consent of the president. They work together to represent the legislature in government at the federal level.

In making laws, the National Assembly is supposed to consider the things that would make the country better. Federal legislators are therefore required to be accountable and responsive in carrying out their duties. They should, most of the time, care about people’s perception, because perception could make or break any institution or person. Perceptions such as the legislature being a “rubber stamp” of the executive branch of government should worry lawmakers.

Sadly, it seems that the low rating of the Legislature by most Nigerians, resulting from the perception, is the least of the worries of our legislators whether at the state or federal level. When, last week, the Senate started considering and making so much noise about a bill for the regulation of the mode of payment of rents in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, we started to wonder if these legislators, who prefer the prefix “Distinguished,” were serious. In a country plagued by so many problems, ranging from insecurity to inequity, injustice and deprivation, the The law that the Senate considers the most auspicious right now is the one aimed at regulating the mode of payment of rents.

To say the least, it was stunned that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had in fact given impetus to a bill titled “Advanced Rent (Residential Apartments, Office Spaces, etc.) Regulation Bill 2022”, sponsored by Senator Smart Adeyemi, who seeks to reduce prepayments of rent, while there are many other pressing and fundamental problems. The bill seeks to reduce the prepayment of rent by tenants from one or two years to three months bundled or monthly. The question is: How is the mode of rent payment our problem as a nation?

As one senator said, trading or renting real estate is a commercial enterprise. People invest in real estate to make money. When investing in real estate, homeowners face the high cost of land, building materials, and labor. They also face ‘omo onile’ or ‘sons of the soil’, who make demands that must be met before any land is developed in their communities. The rental of a property or land is based on an agreement between the owner and the tenant. Therefore, using legislation to regulate the operation of rent payment should not be an exercise against landowners, which is primarily the purpose of the bill before the Senate. It must be global. There should also be legislation on what happens to tenants who do not pay their rent when due. There should also be legislation on the cost of land, building materials, labor and land charge by the government.

It does not matter whether a tenant pays monthly or annual rent. Regardless of the method of payment used, the bottom line is that the rent must be paid. The problem with the FCT, Abuja is that the city is too expensive. Abuja was developed as an elite city for the nouveau riche, with little or no regard for the poor. This is why the rent for the property is exorbitant. That Abuja is a city for the wealthy is surprising given that the population of civil servants is high there. To tell you how bad it is, a modern city like Abuja, a city that is less than 35 years old, since the seat of power moved there, has no organized public transport, no metro line (train service). This is what the Senate should be addressing.

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In any case, the Senate should not dissipate its energy on such a minor thing as the mode of payment of rents in the FCT, even if it has the duty to legislate for the FCT, at a time when it should tackle to fundamental questions that would do better to strengthen the country and give satisfaction to the majority. The Senate should put more effort into things like changing the Constitution to address the critical issues that are at the root of our problems. Many Nigerians have talked about restructuring the country, to make it work and run more efficiently. There is no better institution to do this than the Senate, or even the National Assembly.

For the avoidance of doubt, the National Assembly has the ability to use the instrument of legislation to put Nigeria back in shape. As an evolving nation, the structure of yesteryear no longer works perfectly in Nigeria. There should be a touch up. It cannot be done by decree or fiat. Since it borders on the Constitution, it is the legislator who has the mandate to tackle it.

Instead of the National Assembly talking about the mode of payment of rents in the FCT, which is an isolated case and has no impact on the generality of citizens, it should rather work to amend the Constitution as soon as possible. One of the handy fruits in this regard is to reduce what is in the exclusive list and increase the concurrent list. There are many things entrusted to the federal government that should be handled by the other levels of government – the states and local governments. When states and local governments take on responsibilities over which they have greater influence, instead of leaving them to the federal government, governance will be closer to the people and work better for the people.

The National Assembly has a duty to make the country function as a true federation by deeds and deeds, and not by mouth. There are things that go with federalism that we don’t see in Nigeria. How do we speak of federalism without fiscal autonomy? How can we talk about federalism without having different levels of police, be it local government and state police? How do we talk about federalism when we don’t have the autonomy of local authorities? We cannot make federalism work by breach and think that we will make a lot of progress as a nation claiming to be part of a federation.

The National Assembly should rise in the true sense of its name by functioning as an important arm of the government which it is, exercising control, to a great extent, over the executive arm. The amendment of the Constitution is critical and important. It is by amending the Constitution that inequalities and certain injustices in the country would be corrected. The unbalanced nature of the composition of states, with regard to geopolitical zones, for example, must be addressed through constitutional amendment. The Southeast zone cannot have five states, while four other zones have six states each and another zone has seven states. This is a first order injustice. The creation of local governments must be seriously approached, anchored on the population and not on the landmass.

Let the Senate and the House of Representatives give us a better country, through constitutional changes, and let go of the way of paying rent that is more of a populist adventure. If the Senate pays more attention to how rent is paid, it should pass strong, progressive legislation on the housing program, with particular emphasis on the mortgage. The Senate should be more interested in helping people become homeowners rather than staying renters.

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