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.

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