‘Why legislature is strategic to delivery of good governance’
Senator Adeleke Olurunnimbe Mamora is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly between June 2, 1999 and May 30, 2003. He was also Senator for Lagos East Senatorial District between May 29, 2007 and June 6, 2011, where he served as Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, and later Senate Minority leader. He is currently the Managing Director, National Inland Waterway (NIWA). In this interview with DANIEL ANAZIA, he bares his mind on national issues and development.
It is believed that Nigeria has not been fortunate to have lawmakers, especially at the National Assembly, who are patriotic and nationalistic in purview and goal setting. Do you agree with this summation?
It may not be right to say the National Assembly members are not patriotic. The actions of few members should not becloud the judgment over the entire membership. When you say the National Assembly, you are talking of 109 members in the senate and 360 members in the House of Representatives. So, in essence, what I’m saying is that you do not judge the entire institution of the National Assembly by the actions or inactions of a few or some members of that institution. It will not be fair to use the same brush to paint the entire institution.
People are of the opinion that governance, particularly lawmaking should come with passion and people-centric. As a former lawmaker and principal officer of the Senate, how, in your view, should this strategic assignment be undertaken for efficient delivery?
I think the first thing is the passion for the good of the people. The second thing should be the conscious ability to stay focused on the expectation of the people regarding the role of the lawmaker or the legislature as an institution. So the zeal with which you apply yourself to those functions or roles would largely determine what you stand for and what you gain at the end. What are these roles? First is representation. You are first and foremost an elected person, a representative of the people. So in that position, you are the eyes and the ears of the people. Next is lawmaking, which I always describe as the most advertised function of the legislature. Third is oversight function; fourth is appropriation, fifth is legitimising role — that is confirmation of appointments. Six for me is consensus building, and seven is policy incubation. So these are the roles of a lawmaker or expectations of the people from you as a lawmaker. So, how much you apply yourself to all these roles will determine how the people perceive you. The role of the individual taken together with that of other members will now form the role of the legislative institution or perception of the people. In all these, people often say the judiciary is the last hope of the common man but for me, I say the legislature is the first hope of the people. So, it is how well the capacity, ability and zeal with which you apply yourself to these roles and functions are seen and perceived by the people that will determine how much you achieve.
Having served as Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly and then Minority Leader in the Senate, what do you think should be the motivation for lawmakers in Nigeria, given the controversies that often surround constituency projects?
I don’t like sounding my trumpet; as a member of the State House of Assembly and thereafter, the Speaker before going to the National Assembly — the senate specifically as a minority leader up till my exit in 2011, the records speaks for itself. Times have changed and, of course, times will continue to change. One of the downturn of the demerits of our system is its lack of continuity. A system that has greatly eroded meritocracy in the system is definitely not going to augur well for the effective and efficient functioning of that system. And don’t forget, the legislature is not tenure bound, that is why a member can be there as long as forever and like in developed democracies around the world, for instance, the United States, which is practicing presidential system just like we are, have situations where congressmen (Senators) have been there for 30 and 40 years. The late Senator Edward Kennedy, who died a few years ago, was in the U.S Senate for about 55 years, predating the birth of the former U.S president, Barack Obama. And he said that in his tribute to Senator Kennedy. It is not that it is automatic, but once you have presented yourself credible and people accept you and you continue to make impact, you will be re-elected. Senator John McCain from Arizona was there for over three decades, and so many like that are there. We do not have the same situation here. To start with, the longest we have in terms of our democratic continuity is this present dispensation, which we have had uninterrupted. The legislature has suffered rapid turnover, and oftentimes it is not necessary because the people out there do not want a particular legislator to return, but probably because of the role of primordial issues and sentiments, or the role of godfathers in the system, who sit down and decide you are the one going, you are the one sitting and all that. There is also the issue of it is our turn sentiment. These are some of the issues in the system that do not augur well for the development and goal of our legislature. On the issue of constituency project, the Lagos State House Assembly was one of the very first legislators to conceptualise this issue of constituency project. When we came up with the idea, it came up as a private member’s bill and it was a way to address the issue of development within the state constituencies. We felt that the state constituencies should be in positions to come up with what their priorities are in terms of project in their constituencies. We felt that the member that is in the best position is the member representing that constituency and so we could come together and prioritise constituency projects and ensure spread across various constituencies of the state. By so doing, development will be spread across the state. That was the concept when we passed the bill into law, even though we had carried the governor of the state at the time, Bola Ahmed Tinubu along from day one the bill was introduced, and we were very confident that the bill would be signed, but after the third reading, we passed it to the governor to sign, but he refused. Because we are constitutionally empowered that after 30 days, we can recall a bill and pass it into law with two-third majority of members of the legislature and this was what we did with the constituency project bill. But before we could effect implementation, somebody went to court to challenge the law and subsequent implementation. Because we had good working relationship with the governor, we called him and sat down together and addressed the issue in an amicable manner, leading to each legislative member being asked to nominate projects in their constituencies for the executive to implement. So, when I talk of constituency projects, I’m not talking of what has now been bastardised, a situation where there are now allegations against lawmakers demanding for money to go and execute projects or nominating contractors to execute projects and all that, all sorts of allegations in the system. This is not what I’m talking about, that is bastardisation of that concept as opposed to the concept of a member representing a constituency, attracting a project to his constituency based on the need of that constituency. That is a different thing entirely. As a concept, for me, it is not out of place but where it has been bastardised, that is where the issue lies. There has to be a way to correct that. Constituency project is not out of place, but it should be managed in a manner that would not undermine the integrity of the legislature. That is my position.
You mentioned the role of godfatherism in our electoral system and the concept has attracted huge criticism lately, how do you think the negative impact of godfatherism can be curtailed?
Godfatherism in itself cannot and should not be condemned in its entirety; it depends on the nature of that godfatherism. Everybody needs somebody to assist him or her in his or her political aspiration. The godfathers of today in politics also had their own godfathers in the days yonder so to speak. So, it is the nature of the godfatherism and I would probably categorise godfatherism into two — progressive godfatherism and destructive godfatherism. Progressive godfatherism identifies talents and merits of people within the system and supports enthroning such people in commensurate positions in government, either elective or appointment, and I don’t have issues with that. But destructive godfatherism is such that does not but is geared towards self-perpetuation that does not give credence to meritocracy, ability and competence. This is destructive to the system. The legislature is the fulcrum of democracy. It is on the legislature that every other thing revolves in democracy. If you remove the legislature, you have autocracy. So you cannot toy with an institution that determines or that is a symbol of democracy itself. And that is why I always say that until our legislature is fixed at all levels — state and federal — with people of pedigree, experience, understanding, education and knowledge, we are just wasting our time. There is virtually anything that can be done in terms of good governance whether at the state level or at the federal level without fixing the legislature. Why do I say the legislature is the fulcrum of our democracy? The only person that is elected into the executive arm of government is the governor at the state level and the president at the federal level.
People have often asked and desirous to know the basis of my argument. If you look at the constitution, it says that the nomination of the governorship candidate will be deemed incomplete until he or she nominates an associate who will run with him or her for that office. So, the deputy governor at the state level is an associate nominated by the constitution. The second thing that supports my position that the only person elected into the executive is the governor is the fact that the primary election is only conducted for the governorship candidate or the presidential candidate. You don’t conduct primaries for deputy governor. The same thing applies to president. You don’t do primary for the office of the vice president. So, this is what I mean when I said that it is only one person that is elected in the executive arm of government. In the legislature, everybody there is elected. The lowest number in any House of Assembly in the country is 24, while the highest is 40, like in Lagos and in Kano. Every member there is elected. In the National Assembly, 109 in the Senate and 360 in the House of Representatives; everybody is elected. So you can see how massive it is and you toy with that kind of institution! You cannot! Otherwise, national development and growth of the system will be hindered.
What do you make of a system, where the party hierarchy tells a supposedly elected member what to do and what not to do, especially during the election of their principal officers in the hallowed chambers, just as witnessed in the recently inaugurated 9th Assembly?
To the best of my knowledge, all the party did was to show interest. We must get this right, the party showing interest is different from the party imposing. They are two different things. In fact, the party could not even have imposed at the end of the day because it is still the members, either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, who voted on their own accord and the voting was a secret voting, which in my opinion ordinarily without prejudice to Section 60 of the Constitution that says, the President of the Senate and the deputy senate president just like the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the deputy speaker shall be elected by members among themselves. Now, ordinarily, my own experience in the legislature is such that there is even no room for secret voting because your constituency has the right to know how you as a legislator vote in every matter that comes before the house. Also, the same Section 60 of the Constitution says that the National Assembly (the Senate and the House of Representatives) has the right to determine their procedure on every matter. Again, we have to understand that nobody in that institution was elected as independent candidate because our constitution doesn’t even provide for that. So, every member has to come by way of vehicle and that is the political party. The political party is the vehicle for political ascendancy. This is where the concept of the party supremacy comes in. If you have been elected on the platform of a party, then you are bound by the ethos and dictates, largely of the party.
Like I said earlier, the party showing interest cannot be equated to the party imposing, because, at the end of the day, the emergence of the presiding officers will not be strictly by the vote cast by members of their political party as majority, rather it will be an issue of vote by the entire house that is why commendably, the person who emerged as the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan, spread his tentacles and reached out to members of other parties. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila did the same thing. That is the way it should be, reason I said commendably. So, for me, it is in order to have done that because at the end of the day, neither of them, that is the Senate President or the Speaker will preside strictly over members of their own political party; rather they will be seen as President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House Representatives and not President of APC senators or the speaker of APC representatives. It needs be noted that the workings of the legislature are not determined strictly by the Constitution, no! For example, is there anywhere in the constitution where you have the mace? No! But you and I know that the things that determine the workings of the legislature are: first, the constitution. And emanating from the constitution, you have rule and standing order, practices and procedures. You also have precedence and conventions. Having a mace in place is a parliamentary convention. The two houses would deem it fit to say they have done anything without the mace being there. So, in like manner, over time, it’s been such that the presiding officer comes from the ruling party or the party that has the majority members in that particular legislative house. That is the convention, practice. Again, those are the positions that are clearly stated in the constitution should be contested and voted for at the floor of any legislative house. The other offices or positions such as Majority Leader, Minority Leader, Deputy Majority and Minority leaders, Chief Whip and Minority Whip are party positions so to speak, and they are given to those that are nominated by the legislators of respective houses and the party.
There has been persistent calls for the reduction of the humongous cost of running the National Assembly, especially with Bi-cameral legislature, taking into consideration the high-level of poverty and unemployment in the country. What is your take on this issue?
Well, my own take is that when it comes to this issue of bloated bureaucracy and cost of running the system, whether the legislature, the executive or the judiciary; let us take it globally and holistically. We should not restrict it to the legislature alone. I don’t know if people have taken time to consider what it costs to maintain a minister of the Federal Republic!
But you have been there, where these things are budgeted and defended…
I have never been a minister. The Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) determines whatever every public officer goes home with. So, don’t let us assume that the legislators just sat down and appropriated for themselves what their take home should be. No! The system provides for that body —Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission— to determine what every public officer, from the Councilor to Mr. President, goes home with. Without any fear of equivocation and doubt, I can tell you that the cost of running government, whether at the local, state or federal level respectively, is unacceptably high; we must address it. Moreso, in the light of the realities of the moment and we must address it and find a way. We should not have this feeling as if whatever laws we have made are cast in iron, no! They are not. Where we need to review, let’s review them so that we can free some money for developmental projects in the system. The issue should be thrown out to the people for debate because democracy is government of the people by the people and for the people. Let the conversation start and let us be sincere about it. So many things have been said as regards part-time legislature. I’m personally opposed to the concept of part-time legislature. This is because, for any serious minded legislator, whether at the state or at the national level, you need full-time to function optimally; it cannot be on a part-time basis. I don’t know how many legislatures even in the developed countries run on part-time basis. I have not done any research on that but it seems to me from my own personal experience that if you want to perform effectively and efficiently, you cannot be a part-time legislator.
The Senate is gradually being taken over by former governors. What value does this trend have for our growing democracy, especially in terms of experience, capacity and lawmaking process?
This is something that I had alluded to in the past. Former governors retiring into senate could be one of three things — for good, bad and the ugly. The good that will come out of it is for a governor who has presided over the affairs of a state, is particularly perceived to have done well in that state, he should have a repository of knowledge in terms of governance of the state, a kind of pool of experience from which he can draw and make it available for effective legislative governance. The bad could be that if such a governor, first is not perceived in the first instance to have done well in his previous calling so to speak, no exposure to dynamics of the legislature, he will still remain an eaglet as a senator. If he applies himself to the new environment in terms of trying to understand the workings of the legislature, but if he does not, it could portend something bad for that institution. You know how the governors are seen in this country, they are seen as lord of the manor in their states, where they dictate what happens and who gets what. If the governor comes to the senate with that kind of attitude, it will portend bad thing for that legislative institution. It could be ugly if a former governor comes into the senate with an air of arrogance so to speak or probably see the senate president or any of the principal officers as his boy before. It could happen that way and would not augur well for the senate as an institution; moreso, if that former governor could not manage his ego as to appreciate the leadership of the senate.
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