Nigeria and the legislative misfortune
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended), sections 4 (1) & (2):
(1) “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.
(2) The National Assembly shall have the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.”
Deliberately and without mincing words, the framers of the Constitution established the Legislature as the First Arm of government, because the law is needed to define all other aspects of human existence. It is thus expected that through its additional powers of approval and oversight functions, the legislature will work to curb the excesses of the executive arm of government, especially in situations where retired military men have hijacked the democratic process, having in their prime usurped power through an ignoble strategy of coup d’etat.
In the build-up to the 2015 general elections, it was a matter of time upon the declaration of APC as the winner of the election, for Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila and Senator Ahmad Lawan, to mount the saddle as the 8th Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate President respectively.
In fact, there was already jubilation in their camp, until the day of the inauguration of the National Assembly on the 9th of June, 2015. In what was a clear political masterstroke, the Bukola Saraki group played a fast one and snatched power from the anointed ones. But it turned out to be one of the best National Assemblies ever, at least in taming the monstrous executive arm.
It was not business as usual in the National Assembly under Senator Saraki, as the legislators asserted their powers to the fullest and held the executive down to follow due process, at all times. As an appointee of the President, you would have to prepare very well for your screening, and ministries and other government agencies had to sit up to defend their budgets and actions. They were very daring, courageous and they took steps to protect the people from an overbearing executive. It was little wonder then that the ruling party did all its best to ensure that most members of that collective did not return to the 9th National Assembly. But Nigeria is paying dearly for that selfish agenda presently.
Since its emergence, the 9th National Assembly has become a weeping institution, a clearinghouse and a reporting Chamber, where elected representatives of the people stoop to beg directors of parastatals to attend public hearings, at times issuing empty threats without any follow-up action. It was in the 9th Assembly that legislatures approved over N300b for an agency (NDDC) without a functioning Board (repeatedly since 2015), where sole administrators illegally appointed into office turned the hallowed Chambers into some Nollywood movie scene through executive epilepsy, displaying fainting spells shamelessly without scant regard for public decency.
And not long thereafter, the Minister of Niger Delta openly accused the legislators of corruption whereupon they then scampered like chickens, chorusing “off the mic”, to bury the emerging scandal. It is the same National Assembly that could not accept the challenge of the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, SAN for an open debate on allegations of corrupt practices.
Having succeeded in installing its cronies in positions of authority at the National Assembly, the executive has since then embarked upon mindless borrowings, putting our nation at the mercy of shylock imperialists, who whimsically drafted contracts that threaten even our cherished sovereignty, at times in their own language. Yes, it is a National Assembly that prides itself in ‘reporting’ errant serving ministers and heads of parastatals who defy its summons, to the President.
Without any doubt, the greatest challenge of the present National Assembly has been the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill which has been dogged with so much controversy. At first, the legislatures wanted to own the electoral system, by illegally investing themselves with power to determine the mode of elections and transmission of results, until Nigerians put them on trial, leading to the withdrawal of the obnoxious section 52, by which the executive (through the National Communications Commission) and legislature were to determine the mode of conduct of elections. Upon the intense pressure mounted by the people of Nigeria and indeed the international community, the National Assembly eventually succumbed to allow electronic transmission of election results.
The other area of controversy is the mode of conducting the primary elections of the political parties. Whereas most Nigerians favoured the direct primary method, the political gladiators and godfathers preferred indirect primaries, citing lack of funds and poor logistics as part of their opposition.
After so much drama, the Bill was eventually transmitted to the President for his assent on November 19, 2021. There is no indication yet that the President will give his assent to the Bill, confirming widespread speculations that the governors have boxed him in. Those who desperately long to retain their feudal powers as godfathers are vehemently opposed to the new Bill, in order not to erode their political base and expose themselves as powerless leaders.
To be continued tomorrow
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).