Rising concern over sanctity of National Assembly
The current debate over the alleged padding or not of the 2016 Budget has prompted concern over the sanctity of the National Assembly (NASS).
This concern was heightened recently by the call for the probe of some principal officers of the House of Representatives – the lower chambers of the NASS, and consequently the decision by security agencies to investigate principal officers of the House of Representatives including the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara.
Not long ago, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, his Deputy, Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, and other key figures in the Senate were charged to court for alleged forgery of the rules and guidelines of the Senate.
Keen observers see these developments as threats to one of the pillars of democracy in the country and would rather rally to ensure that the National Assembly as an institution was not just preserved but also strengthened to sustain the nation’s democracy.
However, others argued that the ongoing issues at the NASS especially as it concerned the principal officers of the two chambers, were democratic practices that would augur well for democracy in Nigeria.
For instance, Eseme Eyiboh, a former member of the House of Representatives, argued that the difference between democracy and military government is the existence of the rule of law and that in turn results in the liberty and the inherent freedom and rights of the people.
According to him, this rule of law is domiciled in Section 4, sub-section 1, as vested in the legislative powers of the Federal republic of Nigeria in a National Assembly consisting of a senate and House of Representatives.
“The rule of law primarily is the dividends of democracy and not necessarily the construction of roads or building of houses because the military government also constructs roads. What democracy brings is the liberty and the inherent freedom and rights. That is to say without the rule of law, there can be no democracy. And where is the rule of law domiciled, it is domiciled in Section 4, sub-section 1, which has vested in the legislative powers of the Federal republic of Nigeria in a National Assembly consisting of a senate and House of Representatives,” Eyiboh who is the Dean of the Governing Board of Initiatives, stated.
He lamented that there was poor perception among Nigerians of lawmakers and the legislature as a vital institution in the democratic setting of the country.
“I am not speaking on behalf of the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara or the former chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin. I am talking about the institution. If we allow an individual to bring down an institution that protects and preserves my right and your right, my liberty and your liberty; we have ended up at denying ourselves the opportunity to participate in governance,” the former Federal lawmaker added.
Similarly, Abdulrahman Terab, a former member of the House of Representatives from Borno state who spoke on the issue decried the misconception of the role of the legislators by most Nigerians.
To him, the legislature in the country particularly the National Assembly is wrongly perceived by the public as constituted by persons who are just there to corruptly enrich themselves to the detriment of the people.
He said that this perception must change and the lawmakers, especially the leadership should be supported and encouraged to ensure that the legislature as an institution, was built up to withstand threats by anti-democratic forces.
Also, Eyiboh flayed the move to investigate and perhaps charge the leadership of the House of Representatives stressing that it would further erode the little democratic gains of the rights to liberty and the independence of the legislature.
His words: “I don’t have any problem with the powers they have, but under the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act, can a legislator in the course of exercising his responsibilities as empowered in Section 4(1) be investigated and prosecuted. If the answer is not in the affirmative, it means that there are questions over the involvement of the EFCC, ICPC and even the police whose budgets are in this appropriation, in this matter.
“If we allow the legislature to be disabled, we will go back to democratic dictatorship and nobody knows where the shots would be called from. We are insisting that democracy must survive and the only way it will survive is by making sure that we preserve that institution called the legislature.”
Mr. Kamil Mudashiru also commented on the issue insisting that the matter in question- Appropriation law – is the only known law that is passed that do not carry penalties for contravention, and wondered why the hue on the alleged Budget padding.
“Appropriation law is the only law that does not contain contravention clauses because it is based on assumption,” Mudashiru who is also a member of the Initiatives asserted.
Speaking in the same vein, Eyiboh said: “You cannot investigate an Appropriation Act because appropriation in itself is an assumptive document because you can’t have 100 per cent execution of these assumptions because it is just to guide government on implementation of it policies and programmes.”
According to him, the challenge is a product of the perception problem, which has prompted the public to single out an individual in an institutional process, adding that majority of Nigerians are still living with the illusion that there should be no legislature.
Besides, another former member of the lower chambers of the National Assembly, Mr. Christopher Eta, from Cross River state argued that the issue of Budget padding was not limited to the legislature.
He claimed that padding takes place in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) of the executive arm of the government as exemplified by the prioritizing of projects.
Eta blamed the crisis for the controversy surrounding the issue of constituency projects and the backlash it has on the legislators. “If the states and local councils lived up to expectations, the agitation today for the removal of constituency projects would be understandable.”
“Constituency is not just a legislative thing but also an executive practice; if not why would there be a Federal University in Otuoke or a rail line meant for Calabar to Lagos pass through Otuoke,” Mudashiru added.
However, Eyibo stressed that there was need to preserve the institutional integrity of the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives, arguing that while the Senate is the representation of the states on equality basis, the House of Representatives related with the entire population thereby impacting on all Nigerians.
They all agreed that the Nigerian House of Representatives requires character, depth and somebody who has a reformed minded pedigree; somebody who can sit back and do a proper assessment of his person and the institution and device a means of adding value to the institution.
“And if you ask me, even when I am not a member and may not be a Dogara fan because I am quite aggressive, while he is humble to a fault, I will tell you that he has capacity and has actually added value to that institution. And I think that we are making a mistake by not encouraging that development initiative.
“We must encourage potential leaders because what is going on now in the House will make some Nigerians believe that going into politics will ruin their reputation. Most Nigerians know a lot about this budget-padding thing but they don’t want to come out because of the public’s perception on the issue. Let us take Dogara and Jibrin out of it and begin to look at how we can develop the legislature by educating the public on the relevance of the institution” Eyiboh pleaded.