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!!!

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR NIGERIA?

Since President Muhammadu Buhari took office on 29th May, 2015, Nigerians have been making demands severally in the media on issues they would want the government to address. The wish list of citizens is so long.  The government alone cannot solve all problems confronting our country.  We all have to find solutions to the numerous problems beginning right from the family level, community, local, state, national, civil society organisations, faith and community based organisations and Nigerians in the Diaspora.

The challenges before Nigeria are enormous and require that all good hands must be on deck in order to tackle head-on these problems. Is it insecurity, corruption, infrastructure deficit, epileptic power supply, youth unemployment, kidnapping, human trafficking, extreme poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, pollution, ethics and values, lack of  social housing, disease, illiteracy, ignorance, indiscipline, impunity, absence of  community service, among others.

It is therefore worrisome that Nigerians daily make demands on government without indicating what they can do to make a difference to their neighbours, communities, and the country. Or what they can do to inculcate moral values in their children for the betterment of society.

The level of indiscipline in our country is mind-boggling. A visitor arriving Abuja the Federal Capital from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport is welcomed by pedestrians dashing across the express way at great risk to their lives and those of motorists instead of using the overhead bridges provided for their safety. Equally disturbing is the fear of head-on collision with motorists who drive against the traffic without regards to the great risk they pose to other road users.  Why has the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) not deemed it necessary to address the nuisance being perpetuated on the Airport Express Way and that of Kubuwa.

The roads leading into the capital city from Zuba and Keffi axis expose visitors to the slumps and squalor dwellings of Abuja. The Keffi dual carriage way now serves as a dumping ground for refuse. The situation of the Zuba road which has the Zuma Rock tourist site is equally filthy. This kind of attitude does not support development.  The inhabitants of these settlements should organise themselves to watch over   their environment to ensure that refuse is only dumped in designated collection points.  The Nasarawa State government is doing its best but the sheer huge population of these settlements namely; Marraba, One Man Village, New Nyanya, Ado, Karu and Masaka present a great challenge which calls for all good hands to be on deck to tackle this problem. This is just one example of the numerous challenges facing our country. Government alone cannot address all the problems.

It is therefore necessary for all Nigerians to join hands with the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to tackle the numerous challenges facing our country. With each one of us contributing positively in his or her little corner and by so doing bring CHANGE to our fatherland.

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.

WE HAVE THE FLOOR

The title of this write up is inspired by the book entitled – The People Have the Floor – a History of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) by Yefime Zarjevski. The Inter-Parliamentary Union is “the international organisation of Parliaments that promote world-wide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples for the firm establishment of representative democracy.”  The National Assembly of Nigeria is an active   member of the IPU.

Now that the elections have been won and lost; we the People of Nigeria Have the Floor to set an Agenda for the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari. The Agenda is loaded because we the People have been in the cold for so long, insecurity, hunger, poverty, unemployment, epileptic power supply, poor infrastructure have been our lot. Our children sit under trees and on the floors during lessons, student hostels and facilities are in a state of disrepair,the entire educational system needs overhaul, we live in slumps, there is no provision for social housing, health facilities have collapsed, the roads are death traps, so much injustice has been melted to us as a result we have lost a sense of direction.

We hustle to survive and in the process vent our frustrations, anger and hopelessness on ourselves. We fight, steal, kill, rape, kidnap, drive against the traffic, tear down barricades on our dual carriage ways, vandalise oil pipelines, electrical installations, litter the environment, dump refuse in drainages, canals, defecate and urinate anywhere. Yes, we have lost our sense of self esteem. What transpires at our airports both local and international reflect the disorder that has become our way of life. We need Value Orientation to purge ourselves of these ills in order to embrace the wind of CHANGE that is blowing across our great country Nigeria.

Nigeria has become a dumping ground for all sorts of goods. We are disturbed of the health and environmental implications of some of the goods being dumped on us. The capacity to effectively dispose for example, electronic waste that is embedded in imported fairly used items such as computers, refrigerators, etc. is a source of concern.

We are in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the world. We have lost great opportunities to turn our country into paradise on earth so that nationals of other countries can also queue at our foreign missions to obtain entry visas to visit our beautiful country.

We know our expectation is high and resources scare but Nigerians have good spirit, are reasonable and understanding. Dialogue with us, canvass support at home and in the Diaspora. Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora are performing excellently well developing host countries. They are invaluable assets to our  great country.Together, and with Almighty God on our side we are determined to move Nigeria to enviable heights.

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.

 

POWER OF THE PEOPLE

The just concluded 2015 presidential election in Nigeria has brought  to the fore the power of a  people to take their destiny into their own hands.  That Nigerians have the power to vote out a government that has failed to meet their aspirations is no longer news. The Nigerian people have ably demonstrated this power and politicians can ignore this fact at their own peril. The signs of an impending defeat at the polls by the incumbent  were there but those who surrounded President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan failed to decode. They were engrossed pursuing personal agendas and creating enemies for the President and could not decipher the warning signs on the political horizon. The impunity of those in the corridors of power continued unabated. Genuine and constructive criticisms of government actions or inactions by respected elder statesmen and citizens were met with indecorous language from these political aides. Rather than response to issues, insults, and curses were heaped on well meaning Nigerians while the President looked the other way. The Cabal held the President hostage and contributed to his failure at the 2015 polls. The true electoral value of these political gladiators has been revealed by their inability to win votes for President Jonathan even at the Ward level in their States. These members of the Cabal thrive best in an atmosphere of confusion.

The Lagos Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Jonathan Support Group led by Senator Musiliu Obanikoro for example, spent millions of Naira in newspaper advertisements for the sole purpose of tarnishing the integrity and capability of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega to conduct free and fair elections in Nigeria.   The actions of the Group contributed in no small measure in aggravating tension in an already charged political environment. Indeed, the attempt to spread outright falsehood rather than vigorously peruse issue based campaigns further alienated their Principal form the people and hampered his   re-election chances.  Similarly, the culture of IMPUNITY exhibited by political office holders and the systematic destruction of public institutions are issues which the incoming administration of the All Progressive Congress (APC)  need to confront head on so as to avoid the pitfalls of the past.