Governors, state legislators and democracy
This is with a view to finding out how they have fared in the legislative duties and holding the executive to account –since 2019, for instance.
No doubt, the verdict is that state legislatures have not discharged their duties properly and conscientiously in line with the letter and spirit of the Nigerian constitution. They have invariably slept on their watch, preferring to be at the beck and call of governors.
That way they enjoy financial largesse from the system and everybody smiles to the bank- at the expense of the citizenry. This has had severe implications on the entrenchment of democracy in the land.
How many Houses of Assembly have passed laws, radical or otherwise to affect the citizens in a positive way? What laws have they passed, for example, to create employment?
Where were they, what were they doing when serving state governors turned the state coffers into their private vaults?
Until the Federal Government agencies were petitioned and charged former governors to court for fraud, did the State Houses of Assembly not know that the treasured funds of the states were not properly accounted for?
Why have they not ensured that appropriated funds have not been judiciously utilised? Why have the assemblymen concentrated on ‘constituency projects’ to the detriment of laws that could transform lives in their constituencies?
The House of Assembly is by law mandated to pass laws for the common good. Legislators are the authentic and true representatives of the people. They are not bound to the whims and caprices of the executive. They are created to check the excesses of the executive arm of government.
The finances of the states are part of their oversight functions. The constitution empowers them to wield enormous powers over the public treasury.
The appropriation bill cannot be a law until it is passed for implementation by the State House of Assembly.
In the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), Section 128, subsection (2) states that the House of Assembly shall “make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws” and (b) “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.”
It is thus regrettable that no House of Assembly in recent memory has taken this function seriously. If anything, they have been in cahoots with the executive in plundering state funds.
Everyone wants a share of the state pie by kowtowing to the governor who often behaves like royalty dispensing favours to minions.
But this has not always been the case. In the Second Republic, the State Houses of Assembly produced men of strength and character who fought for the ideals of separation of powers and constitutional democracy.
In the old Kaduna State, for example, there was a contest of wills between the executive and the legislature, which led to the impeachment of the governor.
In the then Bendel State, legislators of the opposition party kept the ruling party in check by ensuring that the governor was held to account.
The then FRCN’s Democracy-in-Action current affairs programme by an anchor, Isa Idime, highlighted the power and benefits of state legislatures in a multiparty democracy.
One of the reasons for the subservience of the states’ legislative houses in this dispensation is that state governors are too powerful, almost dictatorial in their domain. They determine who comes into the Houses of Assembly, right from the nomination process till election day.
Governors have a big say on those who emerge as principal officers of the houses. They hold the legislators by the jugular through contracts and special budgetary provisions.
Once a governor is not happy with a Speaker of the House, he musters funds and political forces to get the Speaker impeached.
No contemporary House of Assembly has successfully challenged any governor. But a recent example in Kano State is a case in point that should be allowed to strengthen democracy in a federating state.
The governor has appeared before a panel investigating a bribery allegation against him. The journalist who published the allegation has been summoned to testify.
Then the judiciary has been approached to stop the investigation. Separation of powers is a work in progress in Kano State. It is not over yet. That is how it should be.
It’s not the National Assembly or the EFCC or ICPC that should be called in when there is an allegation of corruption against a state governor. The state legislatures should play its legal role in the states.
In some states, the legislators take lessons from the governors. It is against this background that we may understand why the legislative houses in the states have not been able to check the excesses of the executive arm of government.
The governors also arbitrarily control the judicial arm at state level. Appointment of judges is at their pleasure. Some have even played politics with the appointment of the Chief Judge of states.
In this connection, we need to remind our legislators of their sacred obligation to the people and the Constitution.
Philosopher Edmund Burke said, “in effect, to follow, not to force, the public inclination; to give a direction, a form, a technical dress, and a specific sanction, to the general sense of the community, is the true end of legislature.”
Liberties of the citizenry are kept in the hands of the legislature, being representatives of the people. John Adams once opined that, “the way to secure liberty is to place it in the people’s hands, that is, to give them the power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts.”
There is therefore no question. We need men of honour and character in the legislature in the states. The governor should not be seen, nor should he carry himself as a tin god. He should not, either by design or default, dictate to the House of Assembly.
Legislators should distant themselves from the clutches of the governors. For them to function effectively, they must be truly independent. The notorious constituency projects are channels of official corruption.
In all the states of the federation, the governor is perceived as a ‘dispenser of good things.’ Any individual whether in a private or public capacity who disagrees with him is soon sent packing.
Surely, this is not in consonance with the doctrine of separation of powers. It is true that they must work together for the good of the people. But if the people themselves put undue pressure on legislators to build and construct roads and schools or fund wedding and funeral ceremonies then the states will remain underdeveloped. If the Houses of Assembly rise up to their constitutional roles, the story of development will be different in the states.
Finally, as we work towards a constitutional review, our system should encourage independent candidates into different strata of political positions.
This way, persons who are not beholden to the governor would emerge and perform their duties without fear or favour. The people would then be said to have true representatives in the legislative houses.
Currently, most Houses of Assembly are an extension of the executive arm of government. This is not the intendment of the constitution.
The people should hold their elected representatives, the legislators, to account by seeking to know what contributions they made to lawmaking in their tenure.
The people, not the governor, not the legislators, should take centre stage in the legislative process. It is a time to be vigilant about survival of this democracy.