The Ninth Assembly: Preventing tragic flaws
Indication that the Ninth Assembly is going to tread the same wobbly merry-go-round of its earlier versions became apparent recently when banters began to fly over the leadership of the National Assembly, on the first day of meeting after the general elections.
Without recourse to the independence of the legislature, the chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, proclaimed that the ruling party would nominate Ahmed Lawan (APC senator representing Yobe North) and House majority leader Femi Gbajabiamila (APC representative Surulere 1 constituency) for the leadership of both the Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
Senate majority leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume, (APC senator representing Borno south), who also expressed interest in the leadership of the senate, could not hide his consternation as he openly rebuked Oshiomhole.
Citing Section 50 (1a) of the Constitution, which vests the power of electing presiding officers of the National Assembly on its members, Ndume described the endorsement of the duo as unconstitutional, shocking and unfortunate.
Thus, as the ruling party advertised its infighting, foretelling the emergence of possible cracks, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenging Oshiomhole’s imposition, it is clear that the mess of June 2015 is clearly resonating and no lesson has been learnt.
While healthy confrontation, admittedly, is required for a vibrant democracy, if displayed, it could be counterproductive. So, rather than dissipate energies and time over who gets what, legislators and party chieftains may do well to focus on more fundamental challenges of the National Assembly.
One of such problems relates to the principle of separation of powers. Two prominent hangovers of yesteryears are relevant in this regard.
First is the glaring absence of internal democracy, which itself has exposed the high level of impunity and indiscipline in party structures. Second is the utter disregard for sound, visionary and ethically structured, character-building mechanism by the National Assembly
On this, party chieftains and legislators must understand that democracy thrives on the prevalence of the principle of separation of powers.
To this end, lawmakers and party leaders alike must desist from becoming purveyors of an uncouth, motor-park politicking. They must also wean themselves of the dictatorial tendencies bequeathed onto them by military culture, which flaunts naked brutal power and undermines people power in a democracy.
Leaders in democratic governments are not motivated by the pursuit of power for its sake; they deploy their power to serve the country.
In the same vein, the present legislators must brace up for national service. Enough is enough for pursuit of personal interest since 1999.
Doubtless, there has been perception that the previous sessions of the national and state assemblies have been lackluster and unproductive, the ninth assembly members should endeavour to turn over a new leaf.
If Nigeria is to be salvaged from the cesspit of bad governance and abysmal insensitivity, this is the time for new-breed legislators to arise and shine. They need to be conscious of the fact that in nay democracy, the legislature is the most significant arm as it symbolises the majesty of representation.
So, most of the incoming legislators should endeavour to impress their sense of responsibility on the House, notably to overshadow the influence of the unscrupulous ones who seek self glorification rather than significance.
To disabuse the minds of Nigerians that the National Assembly, for instance, is not a station for prebendal and sinecurist adventures, committees should be pruned to bare essentials. We recall that the United States from where Nigeria borrowed its presidential system of government has maintained barely 22 committees in both chambers for years, compared to the glut in Nigeria, where the Senate of 109 members has 58 committees and the House of Representatives of 360 members has over 93 committees.
Nigeria’s neighbours, Ghana has 31, Senegal has 11, while South Africa has 10, Canada 30 and France six. When we compare the size of legislative committees of these countries with that of our country, are we saying that Nigeria is bigger than the U.S., South Africa, France, Canada, on the basis of the committees? Have the Nigerian legislatures fared better? Has our National Assembly addressed more oversight issues than others on the basis of bloated parliamentary committees?
The point at issue is that there are high expectations of legislators this time around. Nigerians are aware that, beyond modest infrastructural successes, a very messy, underperforming government is what we have witnessed in the last four years.
Now, the nation expects a more humane, understanding and vision-casting government; one that would make continuous sober reflection and ask: Is Nigeria different from what it was? Has Nigeria fared better? Do we have people? Have we sought out persons who can look into the recommendation of the National Assembly committees and turn them into laws? In short, Nigeria hopes that the new lawmakers are coming to make a difference for the good of a new Nigeria.
Providentially, the manifestoes of a few prominent parties make ample references to strategies of infrastructural and human development. For instance, the national working committee of APC, shortly before the commencement of election campaigns recommended that certain proposal from their manifesto be implemented.
Now is the time for such a party to ask how far it wants the implementation of those recommendations to go as a reference point in this dispensation. It needs to also ask whether the party has people of character to drive home and pursue their proposal for utmost delivery.
Nigerians should demand of the legislators that they stay true to their party manifestoes as a demonstration of their character and competence.
Moreover, if democracy is understood as the government of the people (the representative of which the legislators are), then the essential principle of accountability must be entrenched and seen to be so.
Thus, we the people must ask questions and engage our representatives. We must begin to ask whether a legislator is doing what we the people have asked him or her to do.
To do this, communities and political units would have to mobilise and organise themselves to understand the democratic process and the power of the people. They must seek their representatives, not merely to scavenge for demeaning handouts that come from them, but to challenge them and put them to task on governance and service delivery.
People should be educated to know that the primary objective of government is provide for the people. People are not subservient to their representatives, their representatives serve them. In the same manner, we should eschew the misnomer in our political lexicon called the ‘dividends of democracy’.
Providing basic amenities for the well-being of the people is not a bonus, it is a right that must be demanded of the government.
In other words, people must be seen to own the government, since democracy is about the people. The constitution provides specifically that welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.
Since most legislators since 1999 have shirked their responsibility to the people, this newspaper will not fail in its legal responsibility of monitoring governance and holding people in authorities including the lawmakers to account.
In the main, the party leaders and those who intend to lead in the 9th Assembly should learn how to manage party issues through lobbying in various caucuses without noise in the news media. They should unlearn the habits that led to missteps and indeed errors of tragedy on the first day of the outgoing session of the National Assembly in June 2015 – when presiding officers of both chambers were elected while most of the members were getting ready for strategy meetings outside the chambers of the Assembly. That miscalculation of forces set the tone for emergence of tragic heroes who are still nursing some political injuries sustained then.
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