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Failings of the National Assembly

By Editorial Board
14 November 2022   |   2:51 am
The recent lamentation by the present and past leadership of the National Assembly over its inability to check the excesses of the executive arm of government is self-serving, face-saving and totally unacceptable.

National Assembly ( NASS)<br />Photo/twitter/inecnigeria

The recent lamentation by the present and past leadership of the National Assembly over its inability to check the excesses of the executive arm of government is self-serving, face-saving and totally unacceptable.

The National Assembly has powers under the Constitution to make this country better but it appears to have been caught in its own web of malfeasance that has rendered it compromised and unwilling to do the needful. Rather, it has insisted and demonstrated over time that it is simply a part of government and cannot see any fault in the operations of the executive. This is the kernel of the legislature’s failing and it has badly rubbed off on the country.

The relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government has grown in leaps and bounds since the inauguration of the 9th Assembly. These organs are well bonded that their distinctiveness is becoming blurred. President Muhammadu Buhari’s laissez-faire disposition towards governance is a ripple effect of the minimal or lack of legislative checks on the executive.

The failure of the National Assembly to effectually activate its oversight role over the executive is not unconnected with the stance of the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, that: “Any request from Buhari is good for the nation, and [the Senate] will act on it.”

Ironically, Lawan alongside a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, at the Convocation Ceremony of the Post-graduate and Higher National Diploma Programmes of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, an affiliate of the University of Benin, absolved the Assembly from the precarious state of the nation. Mr. Lawan asserted that the legislature lacked the powers to curb corruption and wasteful expenditure in government. He wondered why the public is more focused on the federal parliament which gets less than one per cent of the annual budget than the executive arm of government which consumes above 99 per cent.

He further queried the efficacy of the parliamentary powers to investigate and issue a warrant of arrest without the complementary power of enforcement. In his words: “The legislature is really incapacitated, that is the fact because we can’t do anything. If you sign the warrant of arrest against someone and the person refused to appear before the National Assembly, nothing will happen because we have no police of our own in the National Assembly to send to go and arrest that person. The reality is that the legislature in Nigeria is incapacitated.”

Deepening this self-cleansing narrative, Mr. Bankole remarked that the executive arm of government has not done anything to reduce the cost of governance despite efforts being made by the legislature at all levels. He lambasted the executive for “running an over bloated cost of governance” instead of creating jobs and infrastructure.

Obviously, these vituperations are less than sincere and are probably intended for the gallery, given the erstwhile disposition of the lawmakers to the executive arm. The National Assembly cannot extricate itself from the failings of the government it is an integral part of.

Not only is the purported buck-passing puerile, but it is also offensive to the common sensibility of Nigerians more so as the executive and legislative organs of government are jointly and severally liable for the bastardized state of the nation. An attempt by either to exculpate itself is not feasible.

Notably, of the three arms of government: Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary; the legislature is the most powerful. Apart from its lawmaking and allied responsibilities, the National Assembly, to a reasonable extent, determines the composition of the top members of the executive arm of government except for the offices of the President and Vice President. This is because all ministerial nominees and heads of federal ministries, commissions, councils, departments, agencies, and even the judiciary, must first receive its approval before they can substantively assume office.

Additionally, an institution that enjoys the exclusive prerogative to empower and enlarge the powers of the court, combines the executive and judicial powers to investigate, arrest, summon, and examine any person, and reserves the right to fix the remuneration of all three arms of government cannot claim to be handicapped. The constitution virtually placed the entire country under the control of the parliament. The only snag is that the National Assembly as presently constituted lacks the political will to put Nigeria first!

The legislative arm of government at all levels has been slothful in discharging its oversight duties judiciously and effectually. The occasional instances of disaffection between the executive and legislature have largely been for selfish political gains rather than in the public interest.

The recent disagreement surrounding Section 84(12) of the Electoral Amendment Act (2022) was more about the competing political interests of the affected parties and not about strengthening the country’s electoral system. The legislature has abdicated its gate-keeping responsibility and consequently lowered its hallowed position to a mere rubberstamp of the executive.

Nigeria is under dire economic constraints due to its huge debt profile, yet the National Assembly continues to approve further borrowings without interrogating the utilisation of previous ones and the implications of accumulating debts with compound and multiple interests.

True to his words, the Senate President has ensured that every request presented by the President scales through without due consideration of the paramount interest of the country. This explains why the Senate endorses presidential appointees that are either incompetent or of questionable character despite public outcry to the contrary.

Instead of taking up their assignments seriously, the parliamentarians have simply resorted to theatrics. They dissipate time and resources in investigating matters of public interest, make necessary findings and thereafter switch to silent mode.

No practical action is taken to ensure all indicted persons are eventually prosecuted. Amid the insecurity imbroglio and lack of any efficient security mechanism to curtail the same, the President travelled abroad again, without bothering to properly hand over to his deputy as required of him by the Constitution.

Buhari’s non-committal attitude is a direct consequence of the laxity of the National Assembly. Otherwise, a proactive congress would have commenced impeachment proceedings against the Chief Executive for his inability to meet the twin-cardinal purpose of governance; security and welfare.

It is fallacious that the National Assembly is too weak to fight corruption and wasteful expenditure. The true position is that the congressmen have refused to do the needful because they are equally caught in the web of corruption. Nearly all the investigations initiated by the National Assembly were not followed to their logical conclusions.

On several occasions, the parliamentarians were indicted by the accused persons. During the Ndudi Elumelu corruption probe of the power sector in 2009, the Chairman of the House Committee on Power was accused of receiving bribes and allegedly annexing N5.2 billion from the rural electrification budget alongside other officials on the panel. Also, in 2012, the then Chairman of the House Committee investigating fuel subsidies, allegedly demanded a $3 million bribe from Femi Otedola to exculpate his company, Zenon Oil, of blame for the fuel subsidy fraud.

More recently, a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, during the probe of the affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by a Committee of the House of Representatives in 2022, openly accused the members of the Committee of being part of the deal.

Furthermore, the National Assembly is partly responsible for the ballooning cost of governance. Even with less than one per cent budgetary allocation, the lawmakers remain the second highest paid in the world.

In 2018, Senator Shehu Sani reported that federal lawmakers earned as much as $480,000! They avoid the interrogations of Nigerians on their huge emoluments, allowances and perquisites of office which in itself bloats the cost of governance that the legislature accuses the executive of perpetrating.

They arrogate unto themselves the unconstitutional power to pad the budget in their favour but fail to render account on how they utilise humongous amounts for their constituency project. Similarly, the financial incapacity of the country has not deterred them from creating overlapping and needless agencies.

Indeed, the National Assembly cannot free itself from the stunted development of the country of its failure to ensure that the executive arm lives up to its responsibilities. The legislators have proven to be self-serving and lacking patriotism.

Sadly, Nigerians are equally blameworthy due to their passiveness. They fail to recognise the inherent power they collectively possess in determining the composition of the ruling class. Nigerians should leverage the next national recruitment exercise to carefully elect deserving leaders while those that are responsible for the near-collapse of the country are shown the exit door.