Nigeria and the legislative misfortune – Part 2
The question on everyone’s lips now is what is to be done to get the Electoral Bill become an effective and enforceable law? Given the efforts that have gone into this Bill so far, it is unthinkable that it would be thrown away just like that. As recently as December 14, 2021, the Chairman of the National Assembly, Senator Ahmad Lawan, laboured assiduously to convince Nigerians that the Assembly that he presides over is not a rubber stamp institution of the executive. At the Distinguished Parliamentarians Lecture in Abuja, Senator Lawan stated that what Nigerians carry was only a perception, insisting that the three arms of government are independent but they work together for the success of government. Let us hear him:
“According to him, Nigeria has three arms of government that are constitutionally equal but the people are heavily represented at the legislature than the other arms. He said that for the peace and development of the nation, the three arms of government must work together as the failure and success of one arm of government will be attributed to all.
According to him, “the legislature, being the first arm of government constitutionally, the closest and as well the most accessible by the people, easily lends itself to public scrutiny and sometimes takes the blame even for government decisions that fall outside its legislative competence.
He explained that the “three arms of government have a responsibility to each other and an obligation to Nigerians, thus they must have a cordial relationship based on mutual respect for constitutional rights and mandate to succeed.
Though corruption in any arm of government is not acceptable and must be condemned, to, however, single out one arm of government without any hard evidence is to undermine the authority of that institution. He said the major factor that contributed to the negative perception of the legislature was political apathy, “arising from the school of thought that politics is a ‘dirty game’ and politicians are ‘dirty.’” He said the 9th Assembly “would continue to improve public perception of the legislature”.
For me and indeed many other Nigerians, there is no better time to ‘improve the public perception of the legislature’ than now, in relation to the roles that they are expected to play with the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. If we must say it as it is, Nigerians do not trust the present National Assembly to assert itself against the executive arm. And if they claim not to be ‘a rubber stamp institution’, then the legislators must as a matter of national urgency , pass the Bill to override the President, should he fail to give his assent to the said Bill. This is the expectation of the Constitution as stated in section 58 (4) and (5):
(4) Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within thirty days thereof signify that he assets or that he withholds his assent.
(5) Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.
As elected representatives of the people, the National Assembly must assert the will of the people by invoking the above provisions of the Constitution in order to rescue Nigeria from political godfathers and electoral fraud. Nothing else will suffice; they must disappoint their detractors with a major legislative revival. We cannot afford the misfortune of parading elected representatives who are whipped along the lines of executive preferences, all the time. There has to be a balance of power and of forces, for our nation to ever dream of attaining the expected growth that our leaders have touted so often.
The burden on Honourable Gbajabiamila and Senator Lawan is onerous and they have to work with their colleagues to discharge it. It is a historical assignment that has to be performed now. The time for excuses is long gone.
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)