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Political convention and laws of good behaviour – Part 2

By Patrick Dele Cole
28 June 2016   |   3:20 am
The role of the National Assembly is spelt out fully in the constitution – to make laws for the good government of Nigeria. There is almost a throw away clause that deals with “oversight functions”.

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The role of the National Assembly is spelt out fully in the constitution – to make laws for the good government of Nigeria. There is almost a throw away clause that deals with “oversight functions”. The intendment was never that ministries were subservient to the Corresponding Committee that had this function. In fact I believe “oversight” flows from the main function of appropriation of money – i.e. to ensure that moneys voted to the ministry were spent judiciously and for the right purpose. To extend that function now almost to a supervisory role, to an authorisation role is now a convention in the National Assembly. Not all conventions worketh for good!! Our experience is that the oversight function is capable to misuse, if not, open corruption. But why leave that temptation?

What is the effect of holding public sittings, handling ministries before Legislative Committees, passing resolutions unless they are intended to make some kind of change? If that change is big enough then I guess the law may be amended to show this. The other day the NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission) came to some accommodation with MTN on a fine it imposed. I would have thought that the regulatory body was acting within the law through negotiations. If the legislature felts otherwise, then it should change the law. Far more important is the deterioration of the whole GSM service providers, their unregulated charging of clients, etc.

Apart from that, the National Assembly itself is subject to law and cannot refuse to obey its laws on the freedom of Information Act, especially with regards to its earnings, salaries, expenditure, allowances, foreign and local tours – nothing the National Assembly does should be secret except when dealing with proposed taxes, and even those should be open to all public inquiry when the finance bill has been published and approved – including the finances of the Assembly itself.

Travel Agents suffered universal loss of income when airlines cut off their commissions; thousands of other consumers go unprotected; no one looks out for the common man. We have projects with foreign companies and countries which the National Assembly knows little or nothing about – how much do we owe the Chinese for the airport projects, for the Rail projects and how will we pay and when?

I also notice that the leaders of the Assembly i.e. President of the Senate and Speaker go around visiting states, projects, countries, etc. as if they were the President : seeking a crossover of functions and confusing the Legislative functions with those of the Executive. This is totally unnecessary. They should ask our Ambassadors how they were treated overseas – how often they meet Ministers, Speakers, and Senate Presidents, etc. The most sacrosanct rule of diplomacy is reciprocity. If our Ambassadors end up meeting aids etc – what should we do? In any case, what does it matter for the Speaker and Senate President to meet these foreign Ambassadors who have little regard for us – if you do not believe me, read their dispatches about Nigeria in the documents released by Snowden and Wikipedia.

I understand that the U.S. ambassador went to the Speaker of the House of Representatives to report the erring law makers. He not only received the ambassador but promised to investigate. If the Speaker does not know better, the ambassador clearly did. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the proper channel for the ambassador to use and there he would have met the desk officer in charge of the United States. But in Nigeria ambassadors do not even bother to meet the Minister. Many go straight to the President. The Minister should summon the U.S. ambassador and give him an earful. That would never happen, so keen are officials to take photo opportunities with ambassadors that normal diplomatic usage is consigned to the gutter. Is this because of our seeking visas? Where is our self respect?
The deal between Yuan and Naira and the flexible exchange rate – how will that work? These are all matters of appropriation which come directly under the purview of the National Assembly.

Another unwholesome convention is that of all 36 Ministers plus the Commander of the Brigade of Guards, the IG, and half the staff in Aso Rock going to welcome the President whenever he arrives from any trip. If the Ministers of Mugabe or Musoveni do that, I understand. Why Nigeria? Do the Ministers not have work to do? Do we see Mr. Cameron’s cabinet (they are over 90) troop to welcome him on arrival from overseas trip? Or the U.S. cabinet officers lined up waiting for President Obama? Even the courteous Japanese do not do it.

Most of my working life was in the cabinet office and in Aso Rock, I travelled with the Head of State and the Presidents all of whom I remonstrated against this sheepish sycophantic behaviour – giving whoever the Head of State is a feel of undeserved grandeur. It is as if the Lord of the manor is returning to residence: the Head Butler, Head Cook, the Gardeners and Staff line up to receive him on parade. I know this will be misconstrued as personal – it is not.
I have never supported it and I see no purpose in it. The Presidential plane is equipped with phones and Skype – he can communicate with his Ministers whenever he wants. In any case, he would see all of them on Wednesday at the Federal Executive Council meeting. Years ago when I complained, the then Principal Private Secretary (PPS) looked at me as if I had committed some sacrilege. He reported me to everybody from the Vice President to the President’s cook. “This oga (i.e. me) no like the President – Look wetin e dey say.”

Concluded
Dr. Cole OFR, is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil.