The Legislature: Roles, Misconceptions And Experience In The Consolidation Of Democracy In Nigeria: by Hon Ihedioha
- Category: GENERAL
- Published on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 13:45
- Written by Hon. Emeka Ihedioha
Being The Text Of A Paper Presented By His Excellency, Rt, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Con, Ksc, Deputy Speaker Of The House Of Representatives At A Public Lecture Organized By The Department Of Political Science, University Of Lagos On Monday, 25th June, 2012
L- R, Acting Vice Chancellor, University of lagos, Prof. Rahamon Ade Bello, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa at a lecture topic: The Legislature: Role, Misconception and Experience in Consolidation of Democracy In Nigeria organised by Department of Political Science, University of Lagos on Monday 25/06/12.
For the University of Lagos, this year is both significant and remarkable. It has also been eventful in many respects.
First, let me condole the University community on the sudden and untimely death of our former Vice Chancellor, Prof. Adetokunboh Sofoluwe, a distinguished, dignified scholar and Computer Scientist who was scheduled to chair this public lecture on 21st May, 2012. Remarkably, he died in active service in an effort to bequeath to young Akokites, a legacy.
His was in deed an eventful life; quitting at the peak of his life`s journey. Please accept my deep condolences and that of my colleagues in the House of Representatives.
Let me talk briefly on the recent controversy trailing the proposed renaming of the University. The President has sent a Bill on the subject which is currently pending before the House of Representatives for legislative action.
As a representative institution, the House of Representatives will take into consideration the views of the students, the University Alumni, other relevant stakeholders and in deed the majority of Nigerians before arriving at any decision.
But of course as a presiding officer, our duty is to aggregate all these views and the views of our colleagues to come to a just decision.
I must nevertheless congratulate the University of Lagos, Akoka on the attainment of the golden age of 50, even as I worry that recent events may influence the golden jubilee celebrations. By all standards, the accomplishments of this Nigeria`s premier CAPITAL ivory tower is simply very enviable, particularly as it stands out today as one of Africa`s best.
From the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I bring to you warm felicitations and fraternal greetings. I feel delighted to be in your midst and to share with you on this auspicious occasion my thoughts and views on the role of the Legislature in deepening the democratic process in our country.
Permit me Mr. Chairman to express my deep appreciation to the Department of Political Science and indeed the entire University community for the invitation to this public lecture.
I am convinced that this interface would go a long way in provoking a lot of ideas on how the nation’s political culture and values can be enriched and advanced for the purpose of promoting good governance and development. And I believe that it is within this context that the concept of town and gown can be better appreciated.
Under our Legislative Agenda, the House has set for itself clear policy thrusts which it will pursue with missionary zeal. In the opening paragraphs of the Legislative Agenda we had stated as follows: “The Legislative Agenda of the House will aim at reviving and diversifying the economy, generating employment, strengthening national security, curbing corruption, tackling the electricity crisis and general infrastructural decay that confront the nation, improving health and educational sectors and working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Agenda further emphasizes the importance of amending the Constitution to address several areas of concern”. In line with this agenda, we will continue to keep faith with the good people of Nigeria.
I have been asked to speak on the topic, “The Legislature: Roles, Misconceptions and Experience in the Consolidation of Democracy in Nigeria”. Having accepted the challenge, I will dwell on the National Assembly at the federal level while attempting to overview the legislature at the State and Local government levels. This is in appreciation of the three tier structure practiced in Nigeria`s presidential system since the 2nd Republic.
Ever since the return to democratic rule in 1999, this arm of government has always been in the news, not necessarily for good reasons, but essentially for what I may call crisis of public misconception, among other factors.
But one thing I must assure this conclave of intellectuals and academics is that the House of Representatives is strongly committed to the cause of the ordinary people of Nigeria. This I dare say is at the heart of our Legislative Agenda in the 7th Assembly.
We are empowered under Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), to make laws for the good governance of the Federation. In spite of the crisis of perception which we face in the course of our duty, we shall continue to defend and protect the National Interest and nothing else.
OPERATIONALIZATION OF KEY CONCEPTS IN THE TOPIC
A closer look at the topic under reference immediately reveals some key concepts or issues that require introductory definitions. They include the Legislature, its Roles, the Misconceptions and the actual Experience in advancing the frontiers of democracy in our country.
The legislature is an assemblage of the representatives of the people elected under a legal framework to make laws for the good health of the society. It is also defined as “the institutional body responsible for making laws for a nation and one through which the collective will of the people or part of it is articulated, expressed and implemented” (Okoosi-Simbine, 2010:1).
The legislature controls through legislation all economic, social and political activities of the nation. It also scrutinizes the policies of the Executive and provides the framework for the judiciary to operate.
In light of the foregoing, we cannot talk about democracy in any meaningful form or manner without the legislature. Indeed, the legislature is at the very heart of any democratic arrangement or what scholars often refer to as “representative governance”.
The significance of the legislature as one of the strong pillars of democratic governance (the others being the Executive and Judiciary), can therefore, be discerned from Abraham Lincoln’s classical definition of democracy during the Gettysburg Address of 1863, as “government of the people, by the people and for the people” (Remy, 1994:31-34). Central to this definition is the existence of the representatives of the people due to the technical impossibility of all the people ruling and carrying on the business of government, at the same time, as was the original thinking in the famous Greek City States of old. (Lowi, Ginsberg, Shepsle, 2008:117-128).
ROLES OF THE LEGISLATURE
Within the context of this paper, we are called upon to define what constitutes the Roles of the Nigerian legislature.
The National Assembly which in our case consists of the Senate and House of Representatives, is vested with the legislative powers of the Federation.
Section 4(1) under Part II of the Constitution states inter alia: “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”.
It goes further in Section 4(2) to state as follows: “The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List”.
For the purpose of explanation, the Exclusive Legislative List which is contained in Part I of the Second Schedule to the Constitution deals with specific items which only the National Assembly has the sole prerogative to legislate upon, to the exclusion of the States and Local Governments. For example, the items which are 68 in number include Defence, Aviation, Currency, Customs and Excise Duties, Citizenship, Drugs and Poisons, Copyright, Insurance, External Affairs and Meteorology.
On the other hand, there is the Concurrent Legislative List which is provided for under Part II of the Second Schedule to the Constitution. It includes 30 items. It is called Concurrent List because the Constitution allows both the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly to legislate on the items so specified. In other words, the Constitution neither precludes the National Assembly from legislating on the items nor grants exclusive jurisdiction to State Legislatures over the same items.
The 30 items include the following amongst others: public funds at State and Local government levels, antiquities and monuments, collection of taxes, stamp duties, voter registration in the local government councils, agriculture, education, cadastral and topographical surveys etc.
There is yet another category of powers described as residual list. This is the exclusive prerogative of the States. This is the implication of the provisions of Section 4 (7a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
A comparative study of the National and State Legislatures in the discharge of the enormous powers bestowed upon them by the Constitution since the inception of the current democratic experiment clearly shows that whereas the National Assembly has been very assertive and proactive, most State Legislatures, regrettably have allowed themselves to be completely emasculated and castrated by the State governors who, in several instances, have been very over-bearing in the way they conduct the affairs of their various States.
Let me return to the basic roles of the legislature under the Constitution.
In simple terms, the legislature performs three basic Roles namely: lawmaking, representation and oversight. So, in the House of Representatives, we make laws, we carry out representative functions on behalf of the people who in our case, are demarcated in 360 federal constituencies, and we oversight the executive arm of government which include the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), to ensure that government is held accountable to the people from where it derives its sovereignty.
The Webster’s Desk Dictionary of the English Language defines misconception as having “an erroneous conception”. To have a misconception of any body or institution means holding a wrong impression of that body or institution.
I must admit that the National Assembly has suffered from such public misconceptions since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999. This is not without any justification if the truth must be told. However, to really understand and appreciate the legislature we should accept the fact that the legislature is part and parcel of the larger Nigerian society.
To this extent, whatever affects the Nigerian society similarly affects the legislature. We are Nigerians and therefore subject to all the frailties and foibles of the larger society.
The National Assembly like any other Nigerian institution has had its high and low points. From the inception of this political dispensation in 1999 it has had its own share of scandals including certificate forgeries, contract scams and bribery sagas. Over time, and with some internal control measures put in place, the National Assembly in the light of experience has become a pre-eminent legislative institution for which Nigerians should be proud of.
You should be proud of the National Assembly not because scandals will not erupt once in a while, but the House of Representatives as an institution has mechanisms in place to deal with such matters as they arise. The disciplinary process contained in the Standing Orders of the House is robust enough to contain and deal with any scandals and the individuals involved.
The initial problems that enveloped the National Assembly in the beginning had given rise to misconceptions and misunderstanding by members of the general public. The problem of misconception also derives from the crises of expectations on the part of the electorate. It is even more worrisome when it is realized that enlightened members of society, including those from the ivory tower confuse the roles of the legislature with those of the executive. I will dwell more on this as we proceed.
EXPERIENCE IN CONSOLIDATING DEMOCRACY
The common dictionary meaning of the word ‘experience’ is the process, or an instance, of personally encountering, or undergoing something. It also means the knowledge gained from such a process.
When we talk about the experience of the legislature in the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria, we are actually talking about the knowledge we have gained in the discharge of our legislative functions over the last 13 years of democratic practice in the country.
An old adage says that experience is the best teacher. There is no doubt that in the past 13 years of uninterrupted democratic and legislative practice, the National Assembly has learnt some useful lessons that have continued to serve it in good stead.
This is evident in the sanity and serenity that have continued to reign in the National Assembly particularly since the inception of the 7th Assembly.
Notwithstanding the recent developments in which one of our colleagues was fingered in an alleged bribery scandal, the House has continued to insist on probity and accountability in the conduct of not only public policy but also in the management of its legislative business and the ethical conduct of members.
This is why the House has not found it difficult to do the needful when any member is speculated or believed to have overreached himself in the discharge of any responsibility assigned to him or her.
The House of Representatives is a pre-eminent democratic national institution which must not be allowed to be rubbished on account of the actions or inactions of its members.
It is important to note that because of the corrective mechanisms we have put in place, the era of frequent scandals and scams is becoming isolated. Ultimately, history will forgive us for taking wrong steps (if any) but will not forgive us for not taking any at all when it mattered.
As we continue in our march to deepen and consolidate the gains of our democracy, we can only get better in the discharge of our mandate.
The history of the Nigerian Legislature actually dates back to 1922 with the Sir Hugh Clifford Constitution which introduced elections for the first time into the nation’s political process. The Constitution provided for a legislative council that legislated only for the then Lagos colony and the Southern provinces.
Under the Clifford Constitution, the Governor-General legislated separately for the Northern Provinces through proclamations (HR Publication 2009:17).
Prior to the 1914 Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria by the then Governor-General, Lord Fredrick Lugard, only the Lagos Colony had a legislative council. But it was essentially a forum for top colonial officials and a few nominated natives to discuss the affairs of the Lagos colony, which was administered separately from the Northern and Southern protectorates.
Sir Arthur Richards Constitution which replaced the Clifford Constitution in 1946 provided for a reconstituted Legislative Council whose jurisdiction covered the whole country. As the agitations by Nigerian nationalists for self rule and political autonomy became intensified, the John Macpherson Constitution of 1951 came into being. The constitution was significant because it introduced, for the first time, a House of Representatives to legislate for the whole of Nigeria and the creation of a Council of Ministers.
This was followed by the Oliver Lyttleton Constitution in 1954 which introduced the principle of federalism with two lists of legislative powers (Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative Lists), exercisable by the federal and regional governments.
Following Nigeria`s independence from British Colonial rule in 1960, the Independence Constitution was promulgated and it provided for the establishment of a bicameral legislature at the centre which now included the Senate and the House of Representatives.
When Nigeria attained a Republican status in 1963, the new Constitution, (The Republican Constitution) abolished the office of Governor-General and created in its place, the office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation. The Office, however, was largely ceremonial, as the Executive powers of the federation resided in the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.
The country’s constitutional and political development suffered a major set-back with the overthrow of the civilian regime in January 1966 by the military which also suspended the 1963 Constitution. The chain of events that followed degenerated into a civil war which ended in 1970. The military continued to dominate the political space; ruling with decrees.
In 1977, a Constituent Assembly was constituted to consider a draft constitution proposed by the Chief Rotimi Williams-led Constitution Drafting Committee preparatory to the return to democratic rule. In 1979, the Presidential Constitution was promulgated and on October 1, 1979 democratic rule was restored. The 1979 Constitution introduced the American model of Presidential System of governance; a system we have retained till date.
Sadly, in December 1983, the military intervened again. It also put in place a Constituent Assembly which produced a draft constitution. The result was the 1989 Constitution under which elections were conducted to the National and State Houses of Assembly and Governorship in 1991. That process gave birth to the National Assembly of 1992-1993 under the superintendence of the military High Command.
On November 17, 1993 all democratic structures were dissolved by the military, the country was once again returned to full-blown military dictatorship.
However, in 1998 a new military administration appointed a Constitution Review Committee headed by a Supreme Court jurist, Justice Niki Tobi, to consult with Nigerians and submit a Draft Constitution. The result was the 1999 Constitution which brought the 4th Republic into being.
Since 1999 till date, the legislature in Nigeria has functioned uninterruptedly and discharged its constitutional duties as a separate arm of government.
The brief excursion into our historical past especially the various efforts at Constitutional developments is important, in my view, for us to properly situate the legislature in our political process and appreciate its role and the challenges it has continued to face over time.
FOURTH REPUBLIC AND THE INSTABILITY IN THE LEGISLATURE:
The legislature has remained the most underdeveloped arm of the government. This is for obvious reasons.
For the greater part of our nationhood, the military has held the political centre-stage. And for the cumulative period of 29 years that the military controlled power in Nigeria, the legislature was the greatest casualty, as it was always the first democratic structure to be dissolved, and its powers appropriated and exercised by the military juntas.
This has affected the orderly development and growth of the legislature as the single most important pillar of democratic governance. The executive and judiciary have, however, always remained intact even with military intrusions into the political process.
It is only the legislature that is left to commence a learning process each time the military intervened and returned to the barracks. With little or no corpus of experience to fall back on each time it managed to come up, the legislature expectedly continued to make inevitable mistakes but also learning from such errors.
This limited experience on the part of the legislature, compared to the other arms of government, may have accounted for the series of crises that the National Assembly has witnessed, particularly at the inception of the Fourth Republic.
THE ENWEREM-OKADIGBO ERA:
The crisis of leadership which attended the inauguration of the 4th National Assembly was largely due to external interference. The political leadership that emerged in 1999 was coming from a military background where the idea of a legislature was totally unknown or greatly detested.
Under succeeding military regimes, the ruling military High Command always combined executive and legislative powers. Government policies and programmes were carried out with “immediate effect”. The military had no patience for “too much grammar” and debates often associated with parliamentary democracy.
So, for a military leader who is used to issuing out orders and getting things done, it is inconceivable for him to be sharing powers with “idle civilians” who constitute the legislature in a democratic setting. The tendency to assert total control was ever present. This mental construct or military hang-over was primarily responsible for the adversarial relationship that was witnessed between the Executive and the Legislature between 1999 and 2007.
Perhaps this forum offers a platform to emphasize that following from the power sharing formula between the North and South in the 2nd Republic, the PDP which won the 1999 elections was expected to zone the Senate Presidency to the North but the newly elected President at the time in his wisdom (which I don’t want to fault), zoned the Senate Presidency to Dr. Alex Ekwueme, a South Easterner whom he defeated in the party primaries.
However, Dr. Ekwueme declined on the basis of honour but rather recommended Senator Onyeabo Obi, a 2nd Republic Senator who was not even a candidate in the elections, but the complications arising from the refusal of Dr. Nnamdi Eriobuna who had won the Anambra South Senatorial seat on the platform of the ruling PDP to step down and pave way for Onyeabo Obi frustrated this project.
Consequently, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo from the same Anambra State became the obvious and popular choice of both the PDP and South East, for the coveted seat.
However, the desire of the Executive to exercise total control over the Legislature led to the imposition of leadership in the two chambers of the National Assembly against the preferences of majority of members. It will be recalled that Dr. Okadigbo had, prior to the inauguration of the National Assembly in 1999, been adopted for Senate Presidency by the caucus of the PDP which was the majority party in the National Assembly.
But through acts of subterfuge, the Executive infiltrated the ranks of the Senators-elect, used a splinter group of the PDP caucus and members of the opposition parties (APP and AD) to frustrate the choice of Dr. Okadigbo as Senate President. Instead the Executive propped up Chief Evan Enwerem and rallied support to him, thereby enthroning him as the President of the Senate contrary to popular expectations. With this development, the seed of discord and instability was sown in the National Assembly.
THE BUHARI - NA’ABBA - ETTEH ERA
The House of Representatives similarly witnessed a crisis of leadership which also had its origin in the meddlesomeness of the Executive. The undisguised and open support by the Executive for Hon. Salisu Buhari compelled other major contenders for the post of speaker like Hon. Farouk Lawan and Hon. Sadiq Yar’Adua to step-down their ambitions, thus paving the way for the emergence of Buhari. But due diligence was not conducted on his background and that eventually proved costly
The bad blood generated through the imposition of leadership in the National Assembly continued to work against the cohesiveness and unity of members in the two chambers, with the resultant mutual distrust and suspicions. Nocturnal meetings became the order of the day. Before long, the internal contradictions arising from the morbid desire of the Executive to emasculate the National Assembly led to regime change in the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Both Enwerem and Buhari were eventually removed. In the Senate, Okadigbo replaced Enwerem while Hon. Ghali Na’Abba emerged in the House of Representatives in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the majority of the members. The crises of leadership in the National Assembly however, could not go away because of the dangerous seed of discord that had been sown at inception.
The musical chair continued in the Senate with very high leadership turn-over. In the House, several attempts were made to remove Na’Abba from office, but he managed to stay on till the end of his tenure. Worthy of mention, however, was the mountain of money incident when in their desperation to oust the popular Na`abba, the executive distributed money in an attempt to bribe away members` conscience.
Smart as they usually are, some members led by Hon. Adams Jagaba (Chairman, Committee on Anti-corruption, National Ethics and Values) played along and were given N500, 000 each. Nine of such members displayed their “bribe money” totaling N4.5 million on the floor of the House. Through a House Resolution the money was accepted as evidence and deposited at the Treasury. Surely that incident serves as a sad reminder of that era. And of course the security and anti-corruption agencies turned their eyes the other way and nobody in official circles, talked about that episode.
The instability in the House also continued during the era of Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, the first female Speaker.
Her emergence also had its root in the interference of the Executive in the affairs of the House. In the crisis that ensued, she was forced to resign.
These series of crises which were as a result of the combination of external interference and the relative inexperience of the legislature at inception (which had its roots in the prolonged military domination of the political process) were mainly responsible for the initial public misconception and misperception of the legislature.
LEGISLATURE AS THE BULWARK OF DEMOCRACY
In my introduction, I identified the basic roles of the legislature to include law making, representation and oversight.
Beyond these, the legislature carries out many other important functions in our polity which are intended to promote good governance and development.
The legislature in a democracy has the sole constitutional power to conduct investigations into any agency of government with a view to exposing corruption and correcting any lapses in the conduct of public policy. This power is enjoyed under Section 88 of the Constitution as amended.
It provides as follows:
1.Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into:
a.Any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws; and
b.The conduct of affairs of any person, authority, Ministry or Government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for:
i.Executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly and
ii.Disbursing or administering moneys appropriated by the National Assembly.
2.The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this Section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to:
a.Make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws: and
b.Expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
In carrying out its investigative roles, the National Assembly can summon any person in Nigeria “to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness, subject to all just exceptions”.
The National Assembly through its Committees on Public Petitions has the constitutional mandate to receive and enquire into public petitions and complaints brought to its attention. The essence of enquiring into public petitions or complaints is to address or redress any grievances or wrongs done to any person(s) group(s) or community(ies) within or outside Nigeria.
In the last 12 years of our democratic experiment, many of such petitions and complaints have been received and conclusively addressed by both chambers of the National Assembly.
This is one of the representative functions of the National Assembly.
POWER OF APPROPRIATION:
Under its lawmaking role, the National Assembly is saddled with the power of appropriation. Perhaps, this is the single-most important function of the legislature under our Constitution.
The power of appropriation is conferred on the legislature by Section 81 of the Constitution as amended. Under this section, no money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated Revenue Fund or other public funds of the Federation without the authorization of the National Assembly.
Much of the influence which the legislature enjoys in the polity is derived essentially from its power of appropriation which it has effectively deployed with regard to the siting of government projects and infrastructure.
However, no one is in doubt today why the budget was never funded in spite of our huge infrastructural deficits.
Let it be appreciated that we acknowledge our mandate through the ballot; but we note the expectations of the Nigerian public which guide our actions and place a burden of accountability on us. In discharging our constitutionally assigned duties of oversight, representation and law making, our primary consideration is the downtrodden.
Time and events have proved that the aforestated justifications propelled our now historic sitting on 8th January, 2012, the first of its kind on a Sunday, recording the 2nd highest attendance in the history of the legislature; the first being the inauguration of the House on June 5, 2012. The significance of all these facts underscores the value we place on our people, the electorate and the indisputable fact that they are the ultimate repository of power.
We are not unaware that some powerful forces are yet to forgive us for that historic act we undertook and which saved the nation, and we are consoled by not only the huge savings we have made from the wastages of the past but we are also further vindicated by the startling revelations that emerged in the course of our investigations.
We believe that going forward; the Nigerian public will take a more sympathetic interest in the huge efforts we put up in the nation building process.
Our circumstance is not helped by the skepticism that has been the lot of the legislature, given many years of military domination of our polity. Some persons still see us as meddlesome; a burdensome institution and in some cases, an overweight in the democratic project.
Going forward, we should be assessed by the savings we make for the nation as the fear of our inquisition has now become the cure of executive recklessness.
HOLDING GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE
The legislature, through its oversight functions, holds the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) accountable to the public. Since it has the responsibility to appropriate and allocate funds to the various government institutions for their operations, it naturally follows that the legislature must oversee these institutions to ensure that the public get value for their money and also ensure that these institutions are run in accordance with the laws of the land.
POWER OF CONFIRMATION
The legislature also has the sole power under the constitution to screen and confirm nominees for appointment into the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) and other federal executive bodies.
The legislature also approves government nominees for ambassadorial postings. This power is exclusively performed by the Senate. There are however some exceptions in which the concurrence of the House of Representatives is required. For example the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act, 2000 requires the Senate to consult with the House of Representatives in the confirmation of nominees into NDDC Governing Board.
CONFLICT MEDIATION AND RESOLUTION
The legislature also has the added responsibility of conflict mediation and resolution. According to Andrew Heywood (2002:316), “the conflict resolution function involves compromises among interest groups, conflict regulation and furtherance of national unity”
I can testify that in this area, the legislature has established an enviable record of performance. For instance, since 1999 the legislature has positively intervened and settled several government – labour disputes, be it over minimum wage, ASUU demands for better conditions of service in the Universities or most recently, the fuel subsidy crisis. I will dwell a little more on this.
The Fuel Subsidy Crisis and the House Intervention:
The timing of the removal of subsidy from petroleum products by the Executive was most inauspicious. It came at a time when majority of Nigerians were in their various villages and communities for the Christmas and New Year festivities. They were trapped and stranded as they could not afford the huge escalation in fuel price which moved from N65 to N140 per litre of petrol in the average Nigerian community.
No one anticipated such sudden sharp increase as Nigerians had planned the budget for their trips based on existing cost parameters and indices. People were thus thrown into unavoidable economic turmoil and even reduced to the level of destitution and beggary. As the representatives of the people, we were inundated with barrage of calls and protestations from our constituents all over the country on their worsening economic situation occasioned by the subsidy removal.
Confronted with such a terrible situation, the House of Representatives had to convene an Emergency session on a Sunday, 8th January, 2012 (the first of its kind in our legislative history). This culminated in the decision of the House to set up the Hon. Farouk Lawan-led Ad-Hoc Committee on the Investigation and Monitoring of the Fuel Subsidy regime. To address the urgent matter of the impending strike, we set up the Patrick Ikhariale Committee to reach out to Labour and arrest the situation.
The findings of the Committee have since revealed that the huge funds being misapplied by a privileged few in our society in the name of oil subsidy could have been better and wisely deployed in funding the national budget to provide critical infrastructure and tackle mass poverty.
I want to assure Nigerians that in spite of the alleged bribery scandal, the report of the Subsidy Committee as adopted by the House remains sacrosanct. We urge the Executive to implement it without further delay.
The legislature performs the functions of political recruitment and leadership development. The parliament has over time served as major channels of recruitment, providing a pool of talent from which leading decision makers emerge (PARP: 2010: 16). For example, this is evident in the number of legislators that have moved up the political ladder in our country today.
Examples that readily come to mind are Cross River State, whose governor, Liyel Imoke was elected Senator in 1992 and Kano State, whose governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, was similarly elected a member of the House of Representatives in the same year. He was subsequently elected Deputy Speaker.
It is also important to note that the governors of Jigawa, Ogun and Oyo States, Sule Lamido, Ibikunle Amosu and Abiola Ajimobi respectively were similarly groomed in the legislature before being elected into their present positions. Lamido was a member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic while Ajimobi and Amosun served in the Senate in this present political dispensation.
Others are Benue, Bayelsa and Zamfara States whose current governors served variously in the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2012. Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State was formerly Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly.
They are all doing well in their respective executive positions, having been groomed initially in legislative processes. I may, therefore, be tempted to suggest that it is desirable for politicians to acquire legislative experience before aspiring to executive positions if they are to make good and effective executive political leaders.
PROTECTION OF THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE
Effective legislatures connect people to their government by giving them a place where their needs can be properly articulated. As the representatives of the people our responsibility is primarily to protect and defend the interests and rights of our constituents.
Much more importantly, as the true representatives of the people, we also ensure that the dividends of democracy are attracted to our respective constituencies to serve the best interests of our people. We also assist them in getting job placements.
THE PUBLIC MISCONCEPTION OF THE LEGISLATURE
The legislature is a highly misunderstood institution in our country today. Because it is misunderstood as a result of what I call crisis of expectations, it has also become highly maligned even by those who should know better.
Most often, people confuse the roles of the executive with that of the legislature. The doctrine of separation of powers which assigns different responsibilities to different arms of government does not seem to make any sense to most Nigerians who expect the Nigerian legislator to provide roads, schools, bridges, markets, hospitals, electricity, water, etc, in the community, even when this does not fall within the schedule of the legislature.
The provision of such social infrastructure falls within the ambit of executive functions. We only appropriate the money for the Executive to provide these infrastructures.
But most often, our constituents including the enlightened ones believe that an elected representative is empowered with resources to provide public infrastructure. This is one of the many misconceptions which have continued to dog the legislature.
Let me make it abundantly clear here that legislators do not control any vote under our constitution and therefore are not expected to provide infrastructure. The provision of infrastructure is purely an executive function. Like I noted earlier, the legislature can only exert influence through its power over appropriations.
Some members of the public also, probably out of mischief, believe that an average legislator controls special funds for dealing with routine problems in the Constituency. As a result of such misconception, the legislator is put under severe pressure by his constituents, family members, extended relations, community members and friends who usually inundate the legislator with innumerable requests.
Such requests range from school fees and hospital bills to financial support for naming ceremonies, wedding engagements, funeral programmes, soccer competitions, fund raising in the community, church or mosque, age grade competitions, new yam festival etc. The litany of requests is inexhaustible. When these demands are not satisfactorily met, the hapless law maker is painted black by ill-informed critics in the society.
This now brings me to the question of the Running Costs of each legislator in the National Assembly which has been highly misconceived by the public. It is from the money budgeted for running costs that every member of the House meets his obligations to his office in the National Assembly and the Constituency office back at home.
For instance as the Deputy Speaker, I must attend social and community functions of my colleagues like burials, weddings, turbaning ceremonies, thanksgiving services, birthday celebrations etc. I also have security aides and assistants attached to my office who must travel with me on official engagements. In addition, we are entitled to consultants who research on our Bills and Motions. The vehicles with which we travel all the times on constituency visits also need to be regularly maintained.
All these activities are funded from official Running Costs which can hardly subsist. But the erroneous impression created in public opinion is that these are slush funds for members of the National Assembly. Some even erroneously call it allowances. Nothing can be further from the truth!
7TH HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND THE EXPERIENCE AT THE CONSOLIDATION OF OUR DEMOCRACY
The 7th House of Representatives was inaugurated on 6th June, 2011 with Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and my humble self overwhelmingly elected the Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively.
Against the background of recurrent leadership crises in the National Assembly, the seeds of which were sown in 1999 as I noted earlier, the crop of men and women elected into the 7th House of Representatives decided to chart a different but refreshing path for the House by seeking to enthrone the leadership of their choice, away from any political interference.
It was a difficult task but they were determined to do away with the political chicanery that had been our lot in the immediate past. Against the preferred choices of the leadership of the ruling party, members voted massively for the Tambuwal-Ihedioha ticket to place the destiny of the house firmly in their own hands.
So, in a way what transpired in the House on 6th June, 2011 could be described as a bold legislative statement to safeguard the nation’s fledgling democracy from forces of impunity and arbitrariness. The resultant stability that has endured in the House is basically because the leadership emerged through broad-based national consensus.
In enthroning the leadership of its choice, the House membership relied on past experience to guide its action, having been witnesses to the destabilizing impact of externally induced leadership in the past.
However, we are aware that this bold step is posed with its own challenges. We will always require the understanding and support of the Nigerian public to succeed in our commitment to be guided only by National Interest.
THE NEW LEGISLATIVE AGENDA:
One of the first decisions we took when we came on board was the designing of a New Legislative Agenda to guide the House in the conduct of its proceedings and its engagement with the polity. I chaired the Ad-hoc Committee on the New Legislative Agenda. After several weeks of brainstorming and intellectual introspections, the Committee finally came up with a draft Legislative Agenda which was presented to the House for deliberations.
The document was thoroughly debated by Honourable members who hailed it as the legislative compass of the 7th House of Representatives. It was subsequently adopted, having been further enriched with new perspectives from our colleagues.
The new Legislative Agenda, a product of rigorous intellectual efforts, encapsulates the vision and aspirations of the House Leadership in charting a different but refreshing path for the House in the process of nation building. It is a veritable document with creative and pragmatic ideas on how to deepen our democracy and advance the welfare interests of the Nigerian people whom we represent.
There are six core factors captured in the Agenda which would guide the business and conduct of the House in its bid to enhance its operational capacity and improves its standing in the eyes of the public. These include openness, transparency and probity in the conduct of public policy; internal democracy in the running of the House; international best practices; prudent financial management, review of the Constitution and relevant laws to ensure good governance; and productive interface with civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders in the Nigeria project.
In line with the principles enunciated in our Legislative Agenda, we constituted the House Committees by ensuring that the competencies of members are appropriately deployed in the relevant areas. This is why the exercise was without any rancor or crises unlike in the past where the composition of Committees always threw the House into turmoil and commotion.
Since its adoption, the House has been running on the new Legislative Agenda which imposes on us a burden of responsibility to deliver good governance and development to the good people of Nigeria.
Under the Legislative Agenda, “the House seeks to build a new image for the legislature; a strong, vibrant, effective Legislature, able to assert itself as an important partner with other arms of government in the delivery of good governance, according respect to the Rule of Law and Due Process”.
THE LEGISLATURE AND CONSTITUTION MAKING:
Constitution is the legal grundnorm of any country. It is the anchor on which the rule of law is hinged. Although there are a few countries like the United Kingdom that do not have a written constitution, the fact remains that there are certain agreed norms, practices and well established legal principles that are so embedded in a country’s way of life and governance, that it would require more than routine legislative action to change.
Nigeria’s constitutional development derives from several decades of political engineering spanning from the amalgamation in 1914 and the enactment of the Clifford Constitution in 1922, to the present time. In all of the constitutions that Nigeria has had, the indications are that the desire to further fine tune and achieve a popular Constitution remains. Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution anticipates this by providing in section 9 for its amendment and the procedure thereof.
Our grundnorm – the Constitution, confers on the Legislature at federal and state levels the powers to alter the Constitution. Indeed, section 9(2) of the 1999 Constitution provides that:
“An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an Act to which section 8 of this Constitution, applies, shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States”.
The powers conferred on the Legislature to amend the Constitution can however only be exercised with popular participation and support in order for it to win legitimacy.
In 2010, the Legislature for the first time in Nigeria’s history achieved a broad amendment of multiple sections of the 1999 Constitution. The amendments addressed popular agitations and pressures from Nigerians for the reform of the electoral process. These amendments helped achieve the improved elections conducted by INEC in 2011. With the inauguration of the Seventh National Assembly, there have been pressures for even wider and more ground-breaking amendments of the Constitution to reflect demands for greater fiscal responsibility, devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, citizenship rights, and land use reform. The Legislature has started the process of amending the Constitution. We intend however that the process must be inclusive and participatory. Scholars and academics have always provided intellectual content to the development of any country.
May I use this medium to call on the academic community – academics and students to make their input into the constitution amendment process. As I stated earlier, we are not restricting ourselves to any position and are open to receiving any input that would help in the constitutional development and maturity of Nigeria’s democracy.
A NEW PARTNERSHIP WITH THE MEDIA
We in the House of Representatives appreciate the need for a robust engagement with the media in order to deepen the values of democratic governance in our country. We see the media as a major partner in our collective aspirations to enthrone the culture of transparency and accountability in the conduct of public policy.
We need the media to build our democracy. And democracy cannot thrive without free speech and free press. We do recognize the enormous responsibility imposed on the media by Section 22 of the Constitution as amended which empowers it to hold government accountable to the people.
We shall continue to support the media to ensure that a regime of open and free society is institutionalized in the land. Indeed this is the reason why we passed the Freedom of Information Act. With the passage of the Act, the media has been strengthened in its role as the watch dog of the society.
I urge the media to take advantage of the FOI Act to continue to push for a better society. On our part, we pledge our commitment to partner with the media to ensure that the rule of law prevails in our society.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I want to state categorically that the Legislature occupies a central role in any democratic framework. While there can be government without the legislature, there can be no democracy without the legislature. Therefore, for our democracy to thrive, the legislature as a major institution of representative governance must be strengthened. I call on the general public to do away with the misconceptions and misperceptions in which they have continued to hold the legislature. The misconceptions which are without any basis have continued to affect negatively the public image of the legislature.
The legislature is the only institution through which the people participate in government. It deserves the support of the public for it to gain the right democratic temperament and confidence to duly discharge its responsibility to the society.
Mr. Chairman, gentlemen of the press, distinguished ladies and gentlemen; I want to thank you for your kind attention.
In the words of Rev. Jesse Jackson, “If we are related, we shall meet again” I definitely know that we are related in many ways than one. And therefore, we shall meet again.
Thank you and God bless.
1.Okoosi-Simbine, “Understanding the Role and Challenges of the Legislature in the Fourth Republic: The Case of Oyo State House of Assembly,” in Nigeria Journal of Legislative Affairs, Vol 3, March 2010, No 1&2.
2.Remy, R. “United States Government Democracy in Action”, New York: Gilencoe, 1994.
3.The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
4.House of Representatives, “Celebrating a Decade of Sustained Democracy (1999 – 2009)”, 2009.
5.Heywood, Andrew (2002), “Politics: An introduction,” Basing Stoke: Palgrave.
6.Policy Analysis and Research Project (PARP), “Committees in the Nigerian National Assembly: A Study of the Performance of Legislative Functions”, 2010.
7.Webster’s Desk Dictionary of the English Language
8. Lowi, Theodore, Benjamin Ginsberg and Kenneth Shepsle, “American Government: Power and Purpose”, 10th Edition, (NY: Norton, 2008).