Towards A Rebranded and Vibrant National Assembly.
One of the major challenges militating against Nigeria’s march to greatness is institutional failure. Many institutions; governmental and non-governmental, have failed in carrying out their expected roles in shaping Nigeria. This is not due to the absence of relevant institutions, but the failure of those saddled with the responsibilities to perform according to expectations.
Nigeria’s political system is run within a framework of a federal, presidential, representative democratic republic, in which constitutional powers are vested in the executive, legislature and the judiciary.
The executive power is exercised by the government, headed by the president and assisted by a number of ministers, collectively referred to as the cabinet. Legislative power is held by the two chambers of the parliament; the House of Representatives and the Senate. Together, the two chambers make up the law-making body in Nigeria, called the National Assembly, which serves as a check on the executive arm of government. The judicial arm is responsible for interpretation and enforcement of the laws of the land. With all of these in place to ensure checks and balances within the system, little has been achieved. The reason is simple! What is lacking is simply and inexplicably compliance.
However, it is instructive to note that, of all these three arms of government, it is the legislature that suffered most during subversion of our democracy, particularly during military regimes. The constitution is usually the first to be suspended and the National Assembly shut; its powers abrogated by the ruling military junta. This may explain why its tenets and practices have taken the form of wanton reluctance to conduct itself within the prescribed rules of the democratic game. Recent events in Nigeria, particularly with regards to the National Assembly can attest to this.
Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry the numerous fisticuffs that have been witnessed in the National Assembly. The images of assault and exchange of blows, throwing of seats, lawmakers with torn dresses, as well as an utter breakdown of decorum, are still very much ingrained in the memory of Nigerians.
What about bogus salaries and emoluments the lawmakers approve for themselves. What is even more annoying is the fact that the amounts are shrouded in secrecy, despite the fact that by Nigeria’s Constitution, the Revenue Mobilisation, Fiscal and Allocation Commission (RMFAC) should be responsible for fixing the remunerations of the Executive and the Legislative arms of government. Presently, details of their remunerations are unknown to the people.
There is the issue of budget padding, where figures are added to some budgetary allocations to various sectors as presented by the President. The actual budget presented by the executive is jacked up to suit whims and caprices of the lawmakers.
Another means by which the National Assembly embarks on corruption spree is their so-called oversight functions. Reports of collision with Ministries, Departments and Agencies for added budgetary provisions to what was submitted by the President, with the aim of sharing the addition, is rife. The resultant effect of this is delayed budget consideration and passage by the lawmakers.
What of the so-called constituency projects, which is a veritable source of corruption in the hallowed chambers of our parliament. These constituency projects are approved in the budget for members of the National Assembly, who most times, are the initiators, executors and the direct or indirect contractors handling such. Most often the projects are partially done or not executed at all after funds must have been released.
We remember the “take a bow and go” phenomenon in the parliament, when rather than scrutinize nominees for executive positions, the lawmakers allow such people to go just because they have been members of the legislature at one time or the other. This practice always blocks the chance of Nigerians to see whether certain people appointed to serve in various capacities are capable or not.
It is instructive to say that the hallowed chamber has failed to realize that accountability is essential for the efficient running of government, particularly the lawmaking arm. This is why Nigeria’s former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, declared in a lecture titled, “NIGERIA YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW: GOVERNANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY”, that “the National Assembly stinks and stinks to high heavens. It needs to be purged”. The big question now is, how can this be achieved.
As difficult as this may appear, the National Assembly needs to purge itself of these tendencies before it loses its relevance, respect and dignity in Nigeria. Recent happenings in the polity point to the fact that drastic measures need to be taken to keep sanity in this important institution.
First is the confirmation of Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, who had on two occasions, refused to be confirmed by the Senate. There were allegations that the Senators’ action was based on a vendetta against Magu. A case of corruption fighting back, because most senators, who are former governors, are being investigated by EFCC. Secondly, is the issue with Comptroller-General of Customs, Hammed Ali, who was summoned to appear in uniform, before the lawmakers to explain the policy of import duty on vehicles by the service. The faceoff between the senators and Ali, who has refused to appear in front of the senators in customs uniform, as well as refusal of the upper legislative chamber to confirm the nomination of Magu as the substantive EFCC chairman, has pitched the lawmakers against the executive and most Nigerians.
These two recent events at the hallowed chamber of the Senate, in addition to previous misadventures, misdemeanors and misconducts, have irked Nigerians and pitched the upper legislative house against many citizens. Many are not happy with the refusal of the senate to confirm the nomination of Magu as the substantive chairman of the EFCC. People are describing the action as a vendetta against Magu. They claim that the action of the senators amounts to cover up, grandstanding and show of force to intimidate, coerce, arm-twist and threaten the anti-graft agency.
Nigerians are also vehement in their criticisms of the senate for the imbroglio with the customs CG. Many say it is a mere waste of time and want of better things to do. Others question why the senate will be preoccupied with a fight with Ali, while other matters of national importance like the passage of the 2017 appropriation bill is begging for attention from the lawmakers. Altercation regarding these cases rages on at the senate, with Nigerians becoming more vociferous in their calls for the heads of the distinguished senators.
This is a delicate matter on our hands as Nigerians. The matter involves a sensitive arm of government, the legislature. We should be conscious of the fact that the legislature is one critical leg of the fulcrum on which our democracy runs, thrives and delivers. Won’t it spell doom for the country if the lawmaking arm is castigated, vilified and nailed to the cross of public opinion? Should others institutions, officials and arms of government continue to call the authority of the National Assembly to question, while we the citizens egg them on? What precedence will government officials be setting with these worrisome confrontations with the senate, even when we know they will fight back? The battle line is already being drawn with the Senators’ refusal to screen and confirm the President’s nominees for State Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs). We must be cautious and ready at all time to allow institutions operate as expected. The senators are no saints, no doubt. The members of the National Assembly have sinned and come short of our sympathy, empathy and respect, but must we throw away the baby and the bath water? I say no, not because I have sympathy for the lawmakers, but because of the need to give respect to institutions of government and allow them to work and flourish in the interest of democratic norms. Today, Ali is yet to appear, as summoned by the senate in customs uniform, yet no one is raising eyebrows. Not even the presidency, which needs to entrench collective responsibility in government officials. It is a dangerous trend and it is pushing us as a country on a precipitous edge. It is Ali today, who knows who will tow his line next?
Yes, we cannot continue to live with the impunity and corruption of the National Assembly, yet we cannot sit and look, while the constitutional powers of the lawmakers to investigate and check excesses of the executive are eroded. Therefore, we should not support this assault, castigation and derision on the National Assembly.
However, the National Assembly also needs to purge itself of these corrupt tendencies and cut excesses of lawmakers to gain the respect of Nigerians. For a start, the lawmakers can appoint external auditors to audit the account of the National Assembly. More so, there must be full disclosure of all relevant fiscal information in a timely and systematic manner.
Also, there is a need for the lawmakers to stop their blatant misbehaviors, misconducts and arrogance in the use of parliamentary immunity as a cover up in the face of criticism. Therefore, salaries and allowances not recommended by the appropriate authorities should not be budgeted for. More importantly, the National Assembly members must be willing to subject themselves to scrutiny; executive, judicial, administrative, Ad Hoc or any form of investigation to rid the hallowed chambers of corruption and abuse of powers.
Above all, Nigerians must demand more accountability from their lawmakers, if their claims of being representatives of the people are to be taken seriously.
May God give the Senate the wisdom, courage, audacity and political will to be able to do with itself, what the Judiciary is doing to cleanse itself of corruption! The time for the National Assembly to act and do the needful to earn the accolade, respect and support of most Nigerians is now!