23 September 2003

Nigeria: Speakers Decry Overbearing Control By Executive

Speakers of states' legislative houses yesterday gathered in Abuja, decrying the overbearing control of the executive over the legislature and the continued stay of local government polls, and concluded that there was need for a reversal of the trend.

Under the aegis of the conference of Speakers of Nigerian Legislatures, Speakers of the 36 state Houses of Assembly and the leadership of the House of Representatives also yesterday resolved to work together to provide a workable constitution for the country.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the conference, deputy Speaker of the House of Representives, Austin Opara, said that the legislative arm was operating under the improper financial atmosphere of quarterly releases and that the independence of the legislature will remain elusive so long as it relies on the executive for funding.

He said that for instance the Canadian parliament receives its financial dues for the whole year at a go. "What is due to the parliament is given to the parliament at the beginning of the year So it does not need to go begging, it doesn't need to go negotiating. So are we actually independent?" he asked rhetorically.

On his part, Speaker of the House, Alhaji Bello Masari said that despite repeated demands to rectify the situation, the legislature had continued to be subjected to financial dependence on the executive, and asked the conference to ponder over the need to fund legislative houses directly from the consolidated revenue fund.

"What has been the response of the executive branch to our resolution that funding of the legislatures should be directly from the consolidated revenue fund?" Masari queried.

Coordinating Speaker, Rotimi Amachi, who is also the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, said it was frustrating that laws made by the assemblies were hardly enforced by the executive to the extent that someday, the lawmakers may decide to stop making laws. "So it's very frustrating and it will come to a time when we will stop making laws," he added.

Amachi, who attributed the executive influence on the legislature to the shaky federal system operated in the country, said that despite constraints, lawmakers take time and resources to formulate laws only for them to be flouted by none other than the executive.

He challenged the legislators to assert themselves, while calling on the National Assembly to come out with ways of ensuring that laws are implemented, and legislative houses independently financed.

Opara had earlier expressed reservations on the suspended council polls, saying, "should the process of reforming local governments stop the conduct of local government elections? Can't the democratically elected local governments be in place while the reform is going on?"

He said sentimental topics like derivation, tenure of elected officers and creation of states were bound to crop up, when the constitution review is discussed and sued for cooperation as "the interest of Nigeria is more important to all of us. We shall work with the state Houses of Assembly to produce a constitution that's meant for Nigerians."

Yesterday's conference, which was the third of its kind, was poised to deliberate on the review of the 1999 constitution, especially on the five-year single tenure for elected public office holders, the local government reforms, and the need for capacity building for improved legislation.

According to Masari, who chaired the conference, the issues of cost of elections, and its implications on local government administration, the role of traditional institutions in the running of the councils as well as the autonomy for local councils were also to be discussed.

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