National burden for lawmakers

By Ebun-olu Adegboruwa SAN

Time is running out, and it is running fast. Unless something is done urgently, the 9th National Assembly may fail the nation in the discharge of their most important legislative assignment for Nigeria, in the amendment of the Constitution. So much money has been spent on this project, so much time has gone into it and so much human resources have been amassed such that it would be a great disservice to our dear country should these efforts go down the drain. The National Assembly owes us the duty to perform in this regard and not to dash our hopes for a new Nigeria even before the 2023 elections, in the same way that was done with the new Electoral Act, 2022. It should be part of the low hanging fruits that the National Assembly can give us whilst we work towards achieving the ultimate goal of restructuring. We cannot but commend the legislators for their courage and determination towards achieving a smooth, efficient electoral process, which we witnessed with the Ekiti and Osun States Governorship elections. They should do the same with the amendment of the Constitution and write their names in gold. But if the things that we now hear and see are anything to go by, this may just be a dream. Let me share with you the present mindset of the National Assembly as encapsulated in one of the statements credited to one of their leaders.

“The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has rued the delegate system used in conducting political parties’ primary elections to elect candidates to fly the flag of their respective parties. Mr Gbajabiamila said this at the resumption of plenary on Tuesday in Abuja. He said that it was rather unfortunate that the process went the way it went, adding that “I make bold to say here that the legislature has once again suffered losses.” According to him, the loss really is not for members who lost, but a loss to democracy, to the institution and to the country. “If it means anything, I know and I am aware that many of our members did not lose their primaries because they were rejected by their constituents. “Many of our members lost because of the process, the process which we foresaw in the House of Representatives. The delegate system which unfortunately is not what a delegate system is supposed to be,” he said. Mr Gbajabiamila said that the past two months had been dominated by political pursuits across the country as political parties carried out various activities to nominate their candidates for the forthcoming general elections. He added that some members who sought the nomination of their parties to return to legislature had not gotten it, while others who sought nomination to contest other positions had also fallen short in that quest. He said that many members lost because they were not given a fair shot, adding that the House of Representatives had good legislators. He added that the legislators abound both in the chambers and back home, who would not be coming back because of the delegate system. “When we fought for direct primaries in this house, we knew exactly what we were saying. It pains me very deeply that the process has gone the way it has gone. “We will continue to push and continue to fight for our members, for democracy, for the institution and this country. “I have experienced political loss and I can speak to the feelings of loss and disappointment that arise as a result,” he said.”

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 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 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 the 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 9th Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate President respectively. In fact, there was already jubilation in their camp, until the day of inauguration of the National Assembly on 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.

Since its emergence, the 9th National Assembly has been more of a weeping institution, a clearing house 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.

On 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 other time to ‘improve the public perception of the legislature’ than now, in relation to the roles that they are expected to play with the amendment of the Constitution. 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, rally round the Houses of Assembly of the States to urgently execute the most important national assignment facing them, to conclude on the draft amendments and ensure that it is part of the Constitution.

As elected representatives of the people, the National Assembly must assert the will of the people by amending some of the provisions of the Constitution in order to rescue Nigeria from disintegration. 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. Being part of the ruling party, they owe the sacred duty to fulfil their promises to the people of Nigeria. 2023 is drawing close and all our memories are intact concerning these promises.

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