Is the Human Memory that Short?

The recently conducted 2015 General Elections clearly demonstrates the commitment of Nigerians to participate in the democratic process of electing their leaders through the ballot box. Nigerians voted, waited patiently for the votes to be counted, results announced at the polling units, moved to the collating centres, held vigil until final announcement of results.

The Channels Television Correspondents that worked tirelessly  informing viewers  of developments across the 36 States of Nigeria with heart rendering  images of  the very old, the sick being pushed in carts to polling units,  a voter who had left her sick child in a hospital in Maiduguri  to cast her vote,  Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East Nigeria who turned out in thousands to cast their votes despite the threats of attack by Boko Harma, horrifying images of voters who lost their lives in Rivers State, reports of  intimidation and harassment of others, the youths that held vigil outside the INEC office in Bauchi to protect their votes despite the curfew imposed by the State Government and so on an so forth.

These images represent the collective determination of Nigerians to effect change in the manner in which their country was being governed.  Unfortunately, the politicians have soon forgotten the numerous sacrifices made by Nigerians in the just concluded elections and are now spiting fire and brimstone in the struggle for leadership positions in the National Assembly. The leadership of the APC needs to be reminded in case it has forgotten too soon that internal wrangling; uncompromising stand on issues, impunity, imposition of candidates; lack of internal democracy and lack of consensus were the very demons that paved way for the defeat of the PDP at the polls. Reports emanating from the incoming 8th National Assembly are very disheartening and discouraging. The APC is in a deep crisis. The Godfathers are after its soul.

Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara are determined to contest the Senate Presidency and the Speakership of the House of Representatives come rain come sunshine. The duo have rejected the anointed candidates of the APC namely; Senator Ahmad Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. Their supporters have vowed to present their candidates for the election to the positions of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives on Tuesday 9th June, 2015. From all indications, none of the contenders is willing to step down for the other. Perhaps it is only Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila that is reported to have extended hands of fellowship to Hon. Yakubu Dogora and his group. Both Saraki and Dogara have dared the APC leadership and vowed to slug it out on the floor of the National Assembly.

These Questions are begging for answers: Will these legislators indeed pursue the people’s agenda when they eventually get elected to the positions of the President of Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives? Why are they so desperate? Have they soon forgotten the suffering masses that waited long hours patiently in long queues to cast their votes,  in the sun, in the rain, without food, provided generating sets in the absence of power to aid the counting of votes that translated to victories that brought the legislators to the National Assembly? Is this the CHANGE the APC promised? Are they aware that Nigerians are no longer interested in a rancorous National Assembly that is self serving and not pursing the people’s business?  Are they also aware of the numerous socio-economic and political challenges confronting Nigeria? Are the APC legislators aware that their colleagues in the PDP are enjoying the unfolding drama? It is crystal clear from the foregoing, that if the APC fails to manage the contending self interest of its legislators the Party may soon split.  That would be an unfortunate betrayal of the trust reposed in the Party by Nigerians.

The 8th National Assembly can ill afford to start on this negative note in view of the numerous complaints of low performance raised against the outgoing 7th Assembly. Analysts have scored that Assembly very low. On the last day of its sitting the Senate hurriedly passed forty-six bills while the House of Representatives passed fifteen.  Many people have been calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold Assent of the rushed bills. The 8th Assembly is expected to change the negative perception of the outgoing 7th Assembly, partner with the Executive in tackling the numerous challenges confronting Nigeria. In this regard, the legislators  are advised to set aside selfish interests in order to focus on enacting  laws for peace, order and good government as provided in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended).

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.

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.

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.