Veto Override Senate Backs Down

Reports have it that the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark told announced after the closed door meeting of that the Senate has resolved not to override the Presidential veto of the Constitution ( Fourth) Alteration Bill 2014. He said:

We are lawmakers and we will not be lawbreakers. We are not just lawmakers we are very senior responsible citizens and very senior lawmakers and this is the apex of lawmaking in this country. Therefore on the issue of the current Constitutional Review that is before the Supreme Court, we want to assure Nigerians that we will not break any law in this country”.  Also, Senator Mark said. “We will take appropriate action that will ensure democracy survives but I will also want to warn that we should not be taken for granted by the executives”. (Daily Trust, Thursday, May14, 2015).

The warning he issued to the executive is a face serving empty threat that serves no useful purpose.  This attitude does not strengthen nor support the growth of our democracy. The 1999 Constitution has explicitly provided for judicial review of laws passed by the National Assembly. Therefore, the warning is strange and alien to the 1999 Constitution. The last minute decision not to override the Presidential veto is more as a result of the mood of the nation rather than being     “very senior responsible citizens and very senior lawmakers” as opined by the President of the Senate.

Under the leadership of Senator Mark, the Senate has failed to pursue the people’s business. A cursory look at the Bills introduced in the National Assembly within this period has not portrayed that the Senate is less concerned about the welfare of Nigerians. Most of the laws enacted are elitist in nature and do not seek to reduce for example, poverty, unemployment, the falling standard of education, tackle  social housing deficit,  bad  roads  and diversification of the economy among others.

The 1999 Constitution (as amended) has devolved the power of leadership selection to the Senate. Regrettably, the Senate has not lived up to expectation in this very important national assignment. It is on record that rigorous screening of Ministerial nominees aimed at selecting the most suitably qualified Nigerians for such positions has been reduced to merely directing nominees to “take a bow” or “carry go”. This Senate in fact, confirmed an ambassadorial nominee that could not even recite the first stanza of our National Anthem. Nigerian children in primary schools are conversant with the wordings of the National Anthem and the Pledge. The question is could such a nominee possibly understand the Foreign Policy thrust of Nigeria?

Even in instances where Senators from parties other than the PDP raise concerns over suitability of nominees, the President of the Senate will overrule them and bang the gavel. Senator Mark has muzzled and suppressed minority views in the Senate.  This is undemocratic. Indeed, the manner in which he ridicules the contributions of the Senate Minority Leader. Senator George Akume speaks volume of the so called “very senior responsible lawmaker.” He uses the gavel to perpetuate dictatorship in a democracy. He is a tribal bigot bringing to the hollow Chamber of the Senate the acrimony between his tribe and that of Senator Akume. Senator Mark is not a statesman as he portrays in public.

The leadership of the Senate under Senator Mark has severally interfered in staff matters. Administrative matters affecting staff of the National Assembly ought to be handled by the National Assembly Service Commission. However, letters of promotion issued by the Commission to civil servants have had to be withdrawn at the instance of the President of the Senate. This has the unpleasant effect of demoralising the staff, and also diminishing the image and rubbishing the powers of the Commission over appointments, promotion and discipline.

With the financial autonomy granted to the National Assembly, Senator Mark has become the Accounting Officer instead of the Clerk to the National Assembly. This is a misnomer.

The incoming leadership of the 8th Senate is best advised to initiate legislation that would promote good governance as against legislation that seeks to massage the ego of members of the elite. It should not interfere in staff matters, but allow the National Assembly Service Commission and the Bureaucracy to perform their functions without intimidation.

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Nigerian Legislatures and Good Governance

Section 4(2) and (7) has empowered the National Assembly and State House of Assembly of Nigeria to make laws for peace, order and good governance.  The Legislatures therefore have a pivotal role to play in ensuring good governance in the country. However, since the return to democratic rule in 1999,  the Legislatures both at the national and state levels have encountered numerous problems that stalled the realisation of its mandate as prescribed in the Constitution. It is no longer news that the executive branch at the national and state levels have continued to interfere in the workings of the Legislature. For example, the choice of the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives or of a State House of Assembly is one area where the executive branch has continued to interfere in the affairs of the Nigerian Legislatures. The situation is worst at the state level where most of the State Houses of Assembly have been turned into departments of the executive branch.  The governors ensure that only legislators that they control and direct are elected as Presiding Officers.

It is on record that most of the State Houses of Assembly took off in 1999 without adequate offices, facilities and a well trained workforce. The General Sani Abacha Administration did not disband the staff of National and State Houses ofAssembly as has been the practice with previous military regimes. This singular act of that regime laid a solid   foundation for successful take off of legislative houses at the end of General Abdulsalami transition to civil rule in 1999.  Regrettably, most of the Clerks (Chief Administrative/Accounting Officers} of the State Houses of Assembly who were trained in legislative practice, procedure and parliamentary administration were redeployed to the executive branch.  In their places, those who lacked capacity and knowledge of the workings of the Legislature were deployed by State Governors to head the legislative bureaucracy as Clerks. The action opened the floodgate to the crises that befell the Nigerian legislatures. Thus, many Nigerians perceived the Legislatures as self serving and mere appendages of the executive. Any Presiding Officer that sought to assert the independence of the legislature was removed from office with the active connivance of the governor of that state.  The governor needed only to bribe the legislators to spur them into action.

The Constitution has empowered the National and State Houses of Assembly to regulate their procedure in Sections 60 and 101.  The procedure for the conduct of legislative business is captured in the Standing Orders which are adopted at the beginning of a new assembly. The Standing Orders are not sacrosanct. They are mere “servants” of the Legislature and are amended the moment it is observed that they impede procedure.  However, once adopted legislators are bound by its provisions.

Our legislative experience has unfortunately revealed that provisions of the Standing Orders are more often than not observed in breach especially as it relates to the removal from office of a governor, a deputy governor or a presiding officer.

Recent impeachment notices served on governors of Ekiti, Ebonyi and Kebbi State as well as the removal from office of Speakers of some Houses of Assembly clearly show that our legislators have not learnt anything since the return to democratic rule sixteen years after. This is worrisome because the Nigerian Legislatures have a central role to play in the realisation of the CHANGE brought about through the Peoples votes in the 2015 general elections.