Legislature as instrument of social change
Text of a lecture delivered by the Deputy Speaker, House Of Representatives, and governorship candidate of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, at Champion Newspapers Better Society Lecture Series held in Owerri.
I AM delighted to be invited to be the keynote speaker for the 2014 Champion Better Society Lecture. It is instructive to note that the Lecture series which made its debut over a decade ago is in its ninth edition this year.
Over these years, it has featured very high profile intellectuals and celebrated scholars and technocrats as speakers. I therefore consider it a great privilege and honour to have been chosen by the Board of Editors of the Champion newspapers to present this year`s lecture.
Let me, at this juncture; express my appreciation to the entire Management and staff of the Champion Newspapers for finding me worthy for this evidently challenging assignment.
I hope I will justify the confidence you have reposed in me.
May I crave the indulgence of the Chairman to pay tribute to a great democrat, statesman, visionary, and our revered leader, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, CFR, Ahaejiagamba Ndigbo, whose noble vision inspired the establishment of the Champion Newspapers about three decades ago to propagate the values of a better society.
We are indeed very grateful to this iconic political and business leader for the setting up of the newspaper conglomerate which has continued to serve as a platform for the advancement and deepening of democratic values in our society.
We must also salute Ahaejiagamba for the employment opportunities which the Champion Newspapers have provided for many Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion or geography.
When the true history of our country is written, Chief Iwuanyanwu must be boldly acknowledged as one of the greatest leaders of his generation who used his enormous talents and God-given resources to champion the cause of an egalitarian and equitable society.
Before I proceed further, let me also thank all our leaders, my colleagues from the National Assembly, political stakeholders in Imo State and members of the audience for finding time to be with us at this historic event.
The theme for this year`s lecture as proposed by Board of Directors of Champion Newspapers is: “Good Governance and Sustainable Democracy”. Under this broad theme, I have chosen to speak on the topic: “Legislature as an Instrument of Social Change”.
This is quite understandable, given my direct involvement with the legislature as a Member of the House of Representatives since 2003 when I was first elected to represent Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency.
In 2007, without being immodest, I was re-elected based on our outstanding representation and performance as evidenced in the surfeit of democratic dividends which we attracted to all nooks and crannies of the Federal Constituency and beyond.
In an unprecedented gesture, the people of Aboh Mbaise and Ngor Okpala returned me again in 2011 to continue the good works. It was a wise decision for which I remain eternally grateful.
Within this period, I have had the privilege of serving in very critical positions; namely Chairman, House Committee on Marine Transport; Chairman, House Committee on Cooperation and Integration in Africa; Chief Whip, House of Representatives; Chairman, House Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review; Chairman, House Ad-hoc Committee on Legislative Agenda and of course, Deputy Speaker, just to mention but a few.
These legislative positions, undoubtedly, have adequately prepared me for the leadership challenges of the moment and future. I wish to thank the Almighty God for His abiding grace and benevolence. I also wish to thank the people of Imo State for the confidence and trust which they have continued to repose in me.
The legislature which is the law-making arm of the government is the only institution through which the people participate in the affairs of their government.
In the topic we have chosen, the concepts “legislature” and “social change” stand out prominently and therefore deserve some clarifications in other to ensure a better appreciation of the subject under discourse.
The legislature is an assemblage of the representatives of the people elected under a legal framework to make laws for the good health of the society. It is also defined as “the institutional body responsible for making laws for a nation and one through which the collective will of the people or part of it is articulated, expressed and implemented”.
The legislature as the epicenter of all economic and comprehensive growth of a nation also scrutinizes the policies of the Executive.
In the light of the foregoing, we cannot really talk about democracy in any meaningful form or manner without the legislature. Indeed, the legislature is at the very heart of any democratic arrangement or what is often referred to as “representative governance”.
The significance of the legislature as one of the strong pillars of democratic governance (the others being the Executive and Judiciary), can therefore, be discerned from Abraham Lincoln’s classical definition of democracy as “government of the people, by the people and for the people”.
Central to this definition is the existence of the representatives of the people due to the technical impossibility of all the people ruling and carrying on the business of government, at the same time, as was the original thinking in the famous Greek City States of old.
Role of the Legislature:
Within the context of this paper, it is considered apposite to define what constitutes the Role of the legislature.
The National Assembly which in our case consists of the Senate and House of Representatives is vested with the legislative powers of the Federation.
Section 4(1) under Part II of the Constitution states inter alia: “The Legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives”.
It goes further in Section 4(2) to state as follows: “The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List”.
For the purpose of explanation, the Exclusive Legislative List which is contained in Part I of the Second Schedule to the Constitution deals with specific items which only the National Assembly has the sole prerogative to legislate upon, to the exclusion of the States and Local Governments. For example, the items which are 68 in number include Defence, Aviation, Currency, Customs and Excise Duties, Citizenship, Drugs and Poisons, Copyright, Insurance, External Affairs and Meteorology amongst others.
On the other hand, there is the Concurrent Legislative List which is provided for under Part II of the Second Schedule to the Constitution. It includes 30 items. It is called Concurrent List because the Constitution allows both the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly to legislate on the items so specified.
In other words, the Constitution neither precludes the National Assembly from legislating on the items nor grants exclusive jurisdiction to State Legislatures over the same items.
The 30 items include the following amongst others: public funds at State and Local government levels, antiquities and monuments, collection of taxes, stamp duties, voter registration in the local government councils, agriculture, education, cadastral and topographical surveys etc.
There is also the Residual List. This List is not explicitly provided for in the Constitution. It is implied from S.4 (7). This provision is to the effect that matters not included in the exclusive list or concurrent list is reserved for the states.
A comparative study of the National and State Legislatures in the discharge of the enormous powers bestowed upon them by the Constitution since the inception of the current democratic dispensation clearly shows that whereas the National Assembly has been very assertive and proactive, most State Legislatures, regrettably have allowed themselves to be completely emasculated by the State governors who, in several instances, have been very over-bearing in the way they conduct the affairs of their various States.
Let me return to the basic roles of the legislature under the Constitution. In simple terms, the legislature performs three basic Roles namely: lawmaking, representation and oversight.
“It has been observed that the legislative functions under the 1999 Constitution include the following among others:
(a) law making and policy formulation functions;
(b) oversight functions;
(c) investigative functions;
(d) the role of the watchdog of public funds, derived from the legislatures powers and
duties with regard to public finance;
(e) its representative or constituency responsibilities role.”
So, in the House of Representatives, we make laws, we carry out representative functions on behalf of the people who in our case, are demarcated in 360 Federal Constituencies, and we oversight the executive arm of government which include the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), to ensure that government is held accountable to the people from where it derives its sovereignty.
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, social change refers to an alteration in the social order of a society. Social change may include changes in nature, social institutions, social behaviours or social relations.
Social change may refer to the notion of social progress or socio-cultural evolution, the philosophical idea that society moves forward by dialectical or evolutionary means.
It may refer to a paradigmatic change in the socio-economic structure, for instance a shift away from feudalism and towards capitalism. Accordingly, it may also refer to social revolution, such as the socialist revolution and Marxism, or to other socialist movements, such as Women`s suffrage and Civil rights movement.
Social change may be driven by cultural, religious, economic, scientific or technological forces; and I should add legislative forces.
In summary, the term Social change refers to activities or endeavors that are geared towards societal transformation. In other words social change simply connotes the efforts that are targeted at improving the living conditions of any given society.
In its broader definition, social change implies societal reconstruction or re-engineering. And it is essentially aimed at altering existing sociological conditions for the benefit of the people.
Against this background therefore, legislature as an instrument of social change, is perceived as a very potent and vital weapon for achieving societal reconstruction and re-engineering with a view to ensuring the greatest good for the greatest majority in any law-governed society.
Social change overall, however, has resulted in beneficial advances in human society, indicating that humankind is progressing toward a society that will allow all people to live in peace and prosperity.
It is pertinent to ask, at this juncture, whether the Nigerian legislature has been an instrument for social change. My answer is yes in that the National Assembly has, in the Fifteen years since the return of democratic rule, enacted a number of legislations that have had far reaching impact in the lives of Nigerians
New Legislative Agenda:
We in the National Assembly are quite conscious of the strategic roles of the legislature as a powerful instrument for societal transformation. We are also cognizant of the immense potentials of the legislature as an effective agent in deepening the values of democracy and advancing the frontiers of good governance.
It is basically for this reason that under the 7th National Assembly, the leadership of the House of Representatives came up with a new Legislative Agenda aimed at ensuring transparency, accountability and probity in the conduct of public policy and with a view to securing for the vast majority of our people the blessings of democracy.
In my capacity as the Deputy Speaker, I chaired the Ad-hoc Committee on the New Legislative Agenda. After several weeks of robust debates and intellectual introspections, the Committee finally came up with a draft Legislative Agenda which was presented to the House for deliberations.
The document was thoroughly debated by Honourable members who saw in the document as a well thought-out body of strategies and policies to guide the 7th House of Representatives in all its affairs. It was subsequently adopted, having been further enriched with new perspectives from our colleagues.
The new Legislative Agenda, a product of rigorous intellectual efforts, encapsulates the vision and aspirations of the House Leadership in charting a different but refreshing path for the House in the process of nation building. It is a veritable document with creative and pragmatic ideas on how to deepen our democracy and advance the welfare interests of the Nigerian people whom we represent.
There are six core factors captured in the Agenda and they were essentially meant to guide the business and conduct of the House in its bid to enhance its operational capacity and improve its standing in the eyes of the public. These include openness, transparency and probity in the conduct of public policy; internal democracy in the running of the House; international best practices; prudent financial management, review of the Constitution and relevant laws to ensure good governance; and productive interface with civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders in the Nigeria project.
Since its adoption, the House has been running on the new Legislative Agenda which imposes on us a burden of responsibility to deliver good governance and development to the good people of Nigeria.
Under the Legislative Agenda, “the House seeks to build a new image for the legislature; a strong, vibrant, effective Legislature, able to assert itself as an important partner with other arms of government in the delivery of good governance, according respect to the Rule of Law and Due Process”.
Without sounding immodest, I believe the House under the current leadership has largely realized the goals we set in the New Legislative Agenda.
Like it was observed earlier, one of the critical areas of focus by the New Legislative Agenda is the review of the 1999 Constitution. We believe that through a thorough review of the Constitution involving the popular participation of the citizenry, a meaningful social change can be achieved.
And this is exactly what we have done in the House of Representatives through the Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review which I am also privileged to chair.
The Committee has made tremendous progress in its assignment. The report of the Committee which contains very wide ranging and innovative provisions with the potentials for deepening our democracy and advancing the welfare interests of the people has since been adopted by the House.
The Constitution is the supreme law by which the society is governed. As the society constantly evolves, the Legislature is the arm of government responsible for tailoring the Constitution to reflect and shape the perceived changes in the society.
The Legislature as the custodian of the Constitution influences social change through its exclusive power to amend it as provided in Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution.
The 7th National Assembly aptly demonstrated this commitment to impact social change through the on-going Constitution Amendment process. The House of Representatives in particular adopted a bottom-up approach to ensure the peoples’ participation in the process.
The House of Representatives embarked on an unprecedented task to hold public hearings across the 360 Federal Constituencies. This undertaking elicited responses from organizations and people of all social strata and served as pointers to the direction of change envisaged.
Recently, the harmonized Bill for the amendment of the Constitution was passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and presently awaits the concurrence of the State Houses of Assembly. The Bill contains amendments which generally aim to positively influence various spheres of the society.
One of the critical amendments is that of section 25 of the 1999 Constitution, which addresses the indigene/settler conflict which has continued to plague Nigeria because of its heterogeneous composition. It seeks to confer indigeneship rights to a Nigerian citizen who has resided in a particular community of a State for a continuous period of not less than 10 years.
This amendment recognizes the need to make Nigerian citizens feel secured in any part of the country they may find themselves as a result of voluntary migration or displacement. The social impact of this is enormous, as it will foster cooperation and unity among Nigerians to a point where Nigerians are considered based on who they are and their contribution to the society, rather than where they come from.
Another salient amendment is the transfer of two items: Right to free Primary and Maternal Health Care Services and Right to free Basic Education from Chapter 2 of the Constitution on the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy to Chapter 4 on Fundamental Human Rights.
This is a landmark achievement, which expands the scope of the Fundamental Human Rights enjoyed by Nigerians. When eventually enacted, this will bolster the Human Development Index of Nigeria by ensuring that citizens are granted access to basic Health and Education facilities. It will essentially make the rights justiceable and as such the government would be further held accountable on those issues.
With respect to Education, the National Assembly enacted the UBE Act, which guarantees free and compulsory basic education. The proposed Constitution Amendment now makes basic education not just free and compulsory but a Constitutional right .We believe that free education should not be a political gimmick. If I am elected Governor of Imo State, education will be qualitative. We will reverse the poor result of Imo indegenes in WAEC and NECO Examinations. As I said elsewhere:
‘In fact in the 2013 WAEC Examination, Imo State scored an average of 46%, whereas our neighboring States of Anambra and Abia scored 67% and 65% respectively. This is unacceptable and must be reversed for the sake of the future of our children. This shows that free education must also be made qualitative.’
As a legislator, I believe that the way to make free education irreversible is to anchor it on legislation. This will move it from a mere government policy measure to a legal commitment by the State.
With respect to Health, the proposed Constitution amendment guarantees to Nigerian Citizens the right to Free Primary and Maternal Health Care Services.
Only recently the National Assembly enacted the revolutionary Heath Bill which has now been assented to by the President. It is aimed at bringing healthcare to the door steps of every Nigerian in an affordable manner. The Act will revolutionize the way and manner that healthcare services are provided for Nigerians.The Act aims to ensure the effective implementation of National Health Insurance Policy that enhances access to healthcare services to all Nigerians and promote and regulate Health Insurance Schemes in Nigeria.
The legislations include the Pension Reform (Repeal and Re-enactment) Act, 2014 which provides for the uniform contributory pension scheme for the public and private sectors in Nigeria. It establishes a uniform set of rules, regulations and standards for the administration and payments of retirement benefits for the public services of the Federation, States and Local Governments and the private sectors.
There is also the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Bill, 2012 which expanded the scope of money laundering offences and enhanced customer due diligence measures.
MDGs: In line with the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, the National Assembly has considered a number of legislations on food security, health, transport, women empowerment, youth development, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and environment.
Security: Security has remained a major challenge in the country. In response to this, the National Assembly, has passed numerous resolutions and initiated many bills to address the security challenges in the country, for example the Terrorism (Prevention) Act Amendment Bill 2012 , the State of Emergency Proclamation and its 3 extensions. In the 2012 budget, the National Assembly approved the highest budgetary allocation for security.
In addition, in the current proposed Constitution Amendment pending in the State Houses of Assembly, some Security Agencies and the Nigeria Police Force have been placed on first line Charge in the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Section 7 of the Constitution was also amended. This revolutionary amendment aims to strengthen the Local Government Councils. The Local Government is the tier closest to the people and as such plays a critical role in promoting social equity in the allocation of resources at the grassroots.
However, this tier of government has suffered considerable setback over the years as a result of persistent interference by the State government. It has resulted in Local government Councils being perceived as mere appendages of the State.
Consequently, the amendment seeks to rightfully recognize the Local Government as a tier of government by granting full financial, administrative, legislative, structural and operational autonomy. It further provides for a uniform fixed 4 years tenure for Council Chairman and Councilors. This will bring governance closer to the people and work to preserve the heritage and common interest of the people. This is one reform that could lead to revolutionary changes in the governance structure of Nigeria. I think Nigerians should prevail on the Governors and State Houses of Assembly to pass the Local Government Reforms on the proposed constitution amendment proposals.
In the current amendment process, the State Houses of Assembly was given financial autonomy. It is very important that this provision is sustained because financial autonomy will invariably lead to a measure of independence without which the ideals of good governance at the State level will remain very difficult.
Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution was also amended to protect the right of persons with disability against discrimination. This aims to integrate persons living with disability into the society by ensuring that they enjoy the basic rights and privileges on equal basis with others.
The National Assembly in the discharge of its mandate which is primarily to make laws for the good governance of the Nigerian Federation has continued to make positive interventions in the polity for the good of the citizenry.
In a classic example of legislature as instrument of social change, but in this case, however , legislation was used to prevent the social destruction of Society, The National Assembly enacted the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, 2013. This legislation was enacted in order to strengthen public morality in marital unions. It specifically prohibits a marriage contract or civil union entered into between persons of Same Sex and provides penalties for the solemnisation and witnessing of same.
The National Assembly enacted the Act despite the intimidatory antics of some Western powers who appointed themselves as advocates of human rights protection.
In my capacity as Chairman, House Committee on Marine Transport, I sponsored major legislations which were aimed at the reformation of the maritime sector to encourage indigenous participation and creation of job opportunities for Nigerians. Till date, those legislations are seen as landmark interventions in the legislative history of our country.
They include the following:
Bill for an Act for the Establishment of the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN).
Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Act, 2007.
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2004.
The United Nations Convention on Carriage of Goods by Sea (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2005.
The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2005.
The International Convention on the Civil Liabilities for Oil Pollution Damage (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2006.
International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for the Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage 1979 as amended (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2006.
The Merchant Shipping Act, 2005.
Through the passage of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Act, 2007, in particular we ensured increased participation of Nigerians in the sector which before then was predominantly dominated by foreign interests.
The House through the Committee on Marine Transport also led the way in ensuring Nigeria complies with International Maritime Organization (IMO) Conventions and that they became part of our Municipal Laws, through their domestications.
Further laws that the National Assembly has passed include the following amongst many others: Appropriation Acts from 1999 to date. Appropriation Act is a major instrument allocation of resources, provision of social, economic, infrastructural needs of various communities. Niger Delta Development Commission Act, 2000; Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act, 2000;C oastal and Inland (Cabotage) Act, 2003; The Merchant Shipping Act, 2005; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Act, 2007; Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011; Violence Against Persons (Prohibition Bill), 2012 etc.
Other Roles of the Legislature:
In a public lecture I delivered at the University of Lagos in 2012, I identified other important roles undertaken by the Legislature in a democratic setting. They include investigations, hearing of public petitions, approval of appropriations, confirmation of Executive appointments and conflict mediation and resolution.
The Constitution empowers the Legislature to carry out investigations into the activities of government with a view to either checking corruption and administrative lapses or preventing financial leakages.
The legislature in a democracy has the sole constitutional power to conduct investigations into any agency of government with a view to exposing corruption and correcting any lapses in the conduct of public policy. This power is enjoyed under Section 88 of the Constitution as amended.
It provides as follows:
Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into:
Any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws; and
The conduct of affairs of any person, authority, Ministry or Government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for:
Executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly and
Disbursing or administering moneys appropriated by the National Assembly.
The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this Section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to:
Make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws: and
Expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
In carrying out its investigative roles, the National Assembly can summon any person in Nigeria “to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness, subject to all just exceptions”.
Hearing of Public Petitions:
The National Assembly through its Committees on Public Petitions has the constitutional mandate to receive and enquire into public petitions and complaints brought to its attention. The essence of enquiring into public petitions or complaints is to address or redress any grievances or wrongs done to any person(s) group(s) or community(ies) within or outside Nigeria.
In the last 12 years of our democratic experiment, many of such petitions and complaints have been received and conclusively addressed by both chambers of the National Assembly.
Power of Appropriation:
Under its lawmaking role, the National Assembly is saddled with the power of appropriation. Perhaps, this is the single-most important function of the legislature under our Constitution.
The power of appropriation is conferred on the legislature by Section 81 of the Constitution.. Under this section, no money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation without the authorization of the National Assembly.
Much of the influence which the legislature enjoys in the polity is derived essentially from its power of appropriation which it has effectively deployed with regard to the siting of government projects and infrastructure.
Holding Government Accountable Through Oversight:
The legislature, through its oversight functions, holds the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) accountable to the public. Since it has the responsibility to appropriate and allocate funds to the various government institutions for their operations, it naturally follows that the legislature must oversee these institutions to ensure that the public get value for their money and also ensure that these institutions are run in accordance with the laws of the land.
Power of Confirmation:
The legislature also has the sole power under the constitution to screen and confirm nominees for appointment into the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) and other federal executive bodies.
The legislature also approves government nominees for ambassadorial postings. This power is exclusively performed by the Senate. There are however some exceptions in which the concurrence of the House of Representatives is required. For example the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act, 2000 requires the Senate to consult with the House of Representatives in the confirmation of nominees into NDDC Governing Board.
Conflict Mediation and Resolution:
The legislature also has the added responsibility of conflict mediation and resolution. According to Andrew Heywood (2002:316), “the conflict resolution function involves compromises among interest groups, conflict regulation and furtherance of national unity”
I can testify that in this area, the legislature has established an enviable record of performance. For instance, since 1999 the legislature has positively intervened and settled several government – labour disputes, be it over minimum wage, ASUU demands for better conditions of service in the Universities or the fuel subsidy crisis.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen I wish to state without any sense of equivocation that the legislature as an institution occupies a pride of place in any democratic political order. From the foregoing, we have seen to what purposeful use the legislature can be deployed in the service of the people.
The institution is not perfect. And we do not claim to be a repository of all knowledge and wisdom. But we believe that with the cooperation and support of all Nigerians, the legislature can deliver on its constitutional mandate which is primarily to ensure good governance and probity in the conduct of public policy.
The citizenry should try and be patient with the legislature as the process of law making could be very laborious and time consuming. As the only arm of government that is closest to the people, the legislature exists to serve the best interests of all irrespective of class, gender or creed. We will not shirk in the discharge of this onerous responsibility.
In conclusion, I want to, once again express my appreciation to the staff and Management of Champion Newspapers for this singular opportunity accorded me to deliver this lecture. May I also thank all our invited guests, members of the public and gentlemen of the press for finding time to be here with us.
Thank you for your kind attention and God bless.