“A legislature cannot be effective while suffering from public scorn” – John Bercow
Before we can begin to say that democracy has stabilized in our clime, something must happen. What is it that must happen? The parliament if you like the legislature must be allowed to be and made to do its duties diligently. Any civil rule of whatever name it’s called and the parliament of the people is not fully functional is operating on a borrowed garb. Every other type of government whether military or monarchy has both the executive and judiciary arms.
What is usually missing when democracy is not available is the legislature. Therefore going by that coloration, it can be said without fear of contradiction that legislature is the engine of democracy.
Especially as the functioning constitution has vested in the legislature, meaning the National Assembly, the power to make laws for peace, order and good governance of the federation. They have also the broad oversight functions.
These powers are as enshrined in sections 58 and 59 of the federal constitution. If therefore the above deposition is true, we can begin to assert that democracy has not fully stabilized in this country because legislature is yet to find its foothold.
The other two arms especially the executive has repeatedly been squeezing the parliament since this current democratic dispensation in 1999. From the fourth Assembly when the current democracy came into been to the ninth which begins next Tuesday June 11, 2019, it has been all struggles for independence for the parliament. Administration after administration, the executive arm has deliberately seen the legislature as an interloper rather than as the people’s watchdog. Despite the clear cut powers given to it by the constitution, the executive has continued to operate as an overbearing headmaster of the group.
With what President Muhammadu Buhari did to the judiciary from 2016 to January 2019 when he unilaterally detached the head of the third arm of the government and the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen even without having such powers, the haughty executive has been overwhelming.
It’s very clear to all watchers of Nigeria polity that what Buhari’s administration did to the Chairman of the National Assembly, Senate President Bukola Saraki and the head of the judiciary, including but not limited to orchestrated blackmails and media trials, the two arms have been sufficiently cowed. The fraud that got all the hype in the media space is usually the one committed by the personnel of the legislature or the judiciary.
The executive protects its own while directing searchlight on the other arms. Since 1999, the easiest means of commandeering the legislature has been to ensure that they are not allowed to pick their own leaders.
The executive had always wanted to hand pick those who would lead the National Assembly. Even as they often pretend not to be interested, their body language often spoke louder in the process. For instance, in 2015, President Buhari said he was not going to be interested in whoever emerged as the principal officers of the National Assembly especially the Senate President and the deputy, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and his deputy.
But when the legislators made their choice, the executive turned their red eye on them and made sure that they never had peace until the end of the entire tenure on June 6, 2019.
In 1999, then President Olusegun Obasanjo started it all in this era when he influenced the emergence of Senator Evan(s) Enwerem to torpedo the legislator’s choice, Senator Chuba Okadigbo and opened the way for series of crisis that engulfed the 4th Assembly. In the House of Representatives, the nation watched as Speaker Ghali Na’Abba battled the executive to safeguard the sanctity and independence of the legislature in the same 4th Assembly. In subsequent Assembly, we also observed how late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s attempt in the 6th Assembly to impose Hon. Patricia Etteh on the house backfired after few months leading to the emergence of their rightful choice Hon. Demeji Bankole. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was actually not lucky from inception as his choices never had their way. The house even went outside the party zoning arrangement to pick their choice – Hon. Aminu Tambuwal.
The legislature’s revolt actually came to the fore prominently in 2015 when the Senate and the House of Representatives picked their leaders against the ruling party and the executive choices.
They even went further for the first time since 1999 to pick a person from the opposition party as the Deputy Senate President in person of Ike Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The crisis that trailed this choice did not end until the end of the 8th Assembly. If the scenario painted above is discomforting enough to cause instability in the legislature, a critical arm of the government, it would then be safe to conclude that the polity is also fatally affected. If the parliament at national level was this epileptic in the last 20 years the situation at the state level was more obsessive.
The state Houses of Assembly in the country with no exception barely exist as the state governors have all gone beyond controlling them to enslavement. The executive control at state level was such that the state legislators could not even vote for their own independence for fear of angering the executive. After they were sufficiently induced with money, cars and other largesse, the state legislature now felt so indebted that they would on their own be seeking how to pay back at the expense of their own freedom. As a result, the governors will go to any learnt to use the state parliamentarians as rubber stamps to facilitate all their illicit deals.
The only time state assemblies made national news in the last 20 years of legislative activities was when fighting to change their leaders, a revolt that is usually not original to them but engineered by an intolerant executives who may be tired of an insatiable speaker. Or during a dispute in the sharing of loots released by the executive to compromise or even buy them.
From the foregoing therefore, Nigeria legislature is handicapped and it can be said by inference that Nigeria democracy is also deformed. If the parliament is to exercise their duties assiduously as prescribed in the statute book, most of the inhibitions in our polity including corruption would have been contained. When the executive goes on spending spree of public fund as they always do without clearance from the legislature whose duty it is to appropriate all expenses and they keep quiet. It’s likely to be that they themselves have been compromised.
As the 9th National Assembly comes on stream next week, it’s therefore apropos that a critical look is taken at why our parliament is not performing optimally. By getting it to perform a lot of issues would have been resolved including curbing corruption, checking the excesses of imperious executives and checking the prevalent impunity that goes on in public service by public officers.
One quick road to achieving that is to allow them pick their own leaders. A situation where the political party and the executive try to arm twixt and brazenly influence their choice of leadership is clearly antithetical to the cherished grand norm of separation of powers in a democracy. To achieve this, the foundation of picking these legislators from their party level should be such that the people rather than the executive should influence the outcome. A setting where the executive they are coming to perform oversight duties on are determining their entry is just not normal.
While it’s true that most of the legislators are greedy and easily compromising, such dubious characteristics should be traced to how they emerged at inception. Against these backdrops of various hangups to efficient legislative functions, it could be safe to say advisedly that President Buhari, his party, and the opposition parties should allow the people to be the real determinant of who enters the parliament at all levels not elites who are largely driven by their own interest A robust parliament is tantamount to a robust democracy and for us to achieve this in this country; the executive should allow the parliament be.
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