LEGISLATIVE OVERSIGHT AND CORRUPTION

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) has empowered the National Assembly in section 88 to by a resolution published in its journal or the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into:                                 

1(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:

executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly; and

disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be 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:

make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and

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.

Therefore, it is mandatory for Standing Committees of the National Assembly to exercise oversight of Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs to assess policy objectives and implementation strategies; identify lapses and factors inhibiting successfully implementation of projects; advice on improvement; and identify misapplication and mismanagement of funds. Reports of oversight visits are expected to be presented in plenary of the two chambers and if need be, the provisions of Section 88 of the Constitution evoked for full investigation.

Regrettably, since the return to democratic rule in 1999, oversight of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs by Committees of the National Assembly have been ineffective in exposing corruption and waste in the public sector. Serious allegations of committees members demanding for example, MDAs to fund their local or foreign trips or to provide funds for public hearings, and solicit contracts among others, from the same MDAs they are expected to oversee has negative effect of diminishing the role of the National Assembly in promoting good governance. It also undermines the principle of checks and balances in the conduct of governmental affairs.

Furthermore, the budget approval process has been adjudged by members of the public to be less transparent. Allegations of committees conniving with MDAs by “burying” huge sums of money in the budget with a view to retrieving same after the budget has been passed and signed into law abound. Budget hearings have become mere rituals and do not guarantee judicious deployment of scarce resources to the most felt needs of citizens nor promote transparency and accountability.

Equally worrisome, is the incessant fight of members of the National Assembly over the so called “juicy committees”. Section 62 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as Amended) empowers the Senate or the House of Representatives to appoint a committee of its members for such special or general purpose… and delegate any functions exercisable by it to any such committee. Therefore, “juicy committee(s)” is strange to our constitution and in conflict with the expected role of committees as envisaged by the Constitution.

In other jurisdictions, committee assignments are perceived by a legislator as opportunity to offer meritorious service to one’s country.  The Nigerian experience has shown that private gains as against national service  is a major factor in the constant fight on the floor by legislators over the so called “juicy committees” There is clearly conflict of interest between self gains and national service. Flowing from the above, it can be asserted without fear of contradiction that failure of legislative oversight in Nigeria is responsible for the massive corruption and impunity in the public service.

Indeed, the numerous investigative hearings conducted by committees of the National Assembly whether in the power sector, aviation, petroleum subsidy, capital market, etc., are pointers of failure of legislative oversight. Committees as the engine house of their respective chambers should be proactive in exposing corruption, inefficiency or waste in the public sector and not wait for things to happen before commencing investigations.

The President of the Senate Bukola Saraki was quoted recently lamenting that “poor oversight by the National Assembly caused the financial scandal of the former National Security Adviser, retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki.” Pointing out that “if the Senate committees on National Security and Intelligence as well as the one on defence had performed their Constitutional roles on monitoring and investigating how funds allocated to that sensitive area had been utilised, the nation will not be witnessing the mind boggling stories that are coming out.” Therefore, the President of the Senate advised committees “to take their duties more seriously to prevent the high rate of abandoned projects and fraudulent tendencies of government officials.” (Daily Trust, December 16, 2015)

It is only time that will tell whether the wise counsel of the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki has been heeded by committees of the National Assembly. Let us pray!!!

 

THE ROT IS VERY DEEP

Since the inauguration of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, on 29th May, 2015, attention of Nigerians and the international community has been focussed on among other issues; how to tame the hydra headed monster called Corruption. The war commenced with focus on public institutions and immediate past government officials alleged to have plundered the Treasury under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party. There are high expectations that the stolen funds would be returned to Nigeria to facilitate development.

Corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society. We conduct ourselves as if Nigeria is a country without national ethics. Section 23 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended) prescribes the national ethics as: Discipline, Integrity, and Dignity of Labour, Social Justice, Religious Tolerance, Self-reliance and Patriotism.

Unfortunately, the Family – the institution which is expected to inculcate these values in its members has abrogated its responsibility in pursuit of mundane issues. The Family it can be asserted without fear of contradiction has failed the nation. This position is informed by the gamut of societal ills bedevilling our country which are manifestations of moral decadence. Otherwise, what else could propel some parents who reportedly hire members of the public to write examinations on behalf of their children or purchase examination question papers thereby sending wrong message to the children that it pays to cheat? There are reports of children at such tender age in nursery schools who steal snacks from lunch boxes of other children, of university students who cheat during examinations or pay lecturers to obtain in advance examination question papers before examination day so to pass the exams. Children who hitherto were community assets and protected by members of society are presently subjected to all manner of abuses and targeted as objects of trade. Those who establish baby factories to manufacture babies for sale, the armed robbers, the kidnappers, the suicide bombers, and Boko Haram sponsors are all manifestations of collapsed family system. Indeed, the Rot is very deep.

Examples of pervasive Rot in our society are numerous. In our markets, traders cheat unsuspecting members of the public by for example, hiding rotten tomatoes at the base of baskets while scattering large and healthy looking tomatoes on top to give a false impression of the entire content of the basket in order to extract maximum amount of money. The practice is same for food items such as yams, potatoes and so on. What about those engaged in the production and sale of fake drugs, counterfeit currency or collude to convert our beautiful country into a dumping ground for substandard goods, hazardous electronic waste or import sand as fertilizer and water as petroleum products and are paid subsidy.

The traditional institutions that harbour our rich cultural values have not been spared the rot. In times past, traditional rulers were seen custodians of our rich cultural values, an embodiment of truth and justice. They shielded their communities from imminent danger. Regrettably, in present day Nigeria, some traditional rulers are known to harbour armed robbers and participate in the sharing of loot snatched at gun point and through the spilling of the innocent blood of citizens. Similarly, faith, community based and civil society organisations, labour unions, students and professional bodies house elements that engage in corrupt practices. The Rot is very deep indeed.

As Nigerians, therefore, it is our collective responsibility to join hands with President Buhari’s Administration to bring about positive CHANGE in our fatherland. We cannot stand aloof and criticise the government of inaction or inability to deploy the “magic wand” to effect positive CHANGE in Nigeria. All Nigerians need to stand up to be counted as CHANGE Agents by doing the RIGHT THING. So that TOGETHER we shall bring positive CHANGE in our country.

Thumbs Up for President Goodluck Jonathan

 

Newspaper reports indicate that the President has rejected the amendments made to the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly; demanding credible evidence that the requirement prescribed in Section 9(3) of the Constitution was met. That is, approved by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of each House, and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States. Also, reports have it that the President raised other issues that bordered on the principle of separation of powers between the three arms of government namely; the legislature, executive and the judiciary. There are a number of provisions in the Act that altogether constitute flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and an unjustified whittling down of the executive powers of the federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution.”

By withholding assent to the Constitution (Fourth) Alteration Bill 2014, the President has demonstrated incredible knowledge of issues of good governance. Indeed, this action has exposed the legislators as not conversant with the provisions of our constitution that guides and directs governance in Nigeria. The politicians were advised severally during public hearings on the proposed alteration to consider the in the interest of the people above all considerations.  Regrettably, group interest seems to be the overriding consideration in some of the proposed alterations hence   the President has withheld assent.

Section 68(1)(e) of the 1999 constitution states that a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if-…he becomes a member of a commission or other body established by this constitution or by any other law. The implication of the above constitutional provision is that a member of the National Assembly cannot be a member of any executive body unless he or she resigns his or her seat in the Senate or House of Representatives. A new provision was sought to prevent a member of the National Assembly from vacating his or her seat if he or she becomes a member of a parliamentary body or any similar body by virtue of his or her position. This provision is a smoke screen and continuation of illegality and impunity as exhibited in the last 16 years by the political class. It is an attempt to cover up the illegality that is being perpetuated by members of Council of the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS). In line with Section 68(1)(e) members of the Council ought to have vacated their seats in the National Assembly having breached the above constitutional provision.  A Constituent of the President of the Senate David Mark had taken him to court on the matter, urging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to declare his seat in the Senate vacant by virtue of occupying the position of Chairman of the Council. In reaction to the court case Senator Mark averred that the Constituent was seeking to get to the Senate through the back door. The case was never heard of thereafter. Indeed, members of the Council ought to have vacated their seats in parliament and refunded all salaries and allowances paid to them from the date they became members of the Council. It is even more surprising that the Bill establishing the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) received presidential assent when certain provisions were clearly in breach of the 1999 Constitution.  It is an attempt to evade justice that Section 68 is being altered to cover up the illegality. The Council is not a parliamentary body as the lawmakers would want Nigerians to believe. It is not on the same footing with parliamentary bodies such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) or the African Parliamentary Union (APU).

The oversight of the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste… is now hampered because members of the National Assembly are also members of the Council of the Institute. Where therefore is the doctrine of separation of powers between the three arms of government as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution? Where also is accountability and transparency in the conduct of public affairs?

The President’s refusal to assent to the Constitution (Fourth) Alteration Bill is in the best interest of the country. The executive is indeed teaching the lawmakers the art of lawmaking.  The National Assembly is advised to take a critical look at the cogent observations made by President Jonathan and not to override the President’s veto .  After all, the  mandate  of the National Assembly  is  …to make laws for peace, order and good government…and not to create disorder. However, should they go ahead to override the President’s veto, in order to justify the huge amount of money spent on the exercise, then the incoming government is advised to revisit the matter.