14 January 2018

Nigeria: Power-Shy Legislature Cripples Nigeria's Democracy

Photo: Premium Times
President Buhari, Senate President, Senator Saraki, Speaker Dogara and Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawal at Abuja House in London (file photo).

A widely acknowledged fact about the present administration is the spate of widespread resentment by a widening cross-section of Nigerians over much of its actions, inactions and even avoidable patent missteps, in the context of which it is on the chopping block, for excoriation. To add pain to the injury the President scheduled an appearance at the Umuahia (Abia State) mega rally on Tuesday January 9th 2018, of his ailing party - the All Progressives Congress (APC), even at the expense of a more auspicious solidarity visit to Benue State, which should have provided him the opportunity to empathise with the bereaved families whose relatives were butchered by rampaging herdsmen turned serial killers. He may have by so doing given his traducers ample room for political blackmail, whenever the opportunity may come.

Earlier than this downturn of events for the administration, had been a series of undisguised infractions by key officials of the administration and in respect of which the President attracted disappointment in the opinion of many, over his seeming unwillingness to discipline such errant lieutenants of his. And even when he would do so - like in the cases of the sacked former Secretary to the Federal Government Babachir Lawal and equally sacked former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Ayodele Oke, it was with such inertia which spawned the impression before the public that whoever is close to Buhari, remains an untouchable sacred cow.

However just as it is appropriate that in the face of serial incontinence of a system, the best approach remains a deeper consideration of the situation, there is ongoing across the country, a rave of commentaries on contemporary developments whose critical content is still devoid of emphasis on the primary cause of the reign of anti-democratic tendencies in the country's public space. This is the diminished role of the legislature in the shaping of what government should do, and where it should go. So fundamental is the diminished role of the legislature that it constitutes the make or break factor that determines when and how Nigeria escapes from its presently pre-democratic status to higher levels of political fulfillment.

It is not surprising that a wide cross section of Nigerians actually believe that Nigeria became democratic on May 29th 1999 simply because of the inauguration of a new civilian administration under the presidency of former Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Yet as it is easy to see, from then till now, governance in the country has manifested features which demonstrate unmistakably that Nigeria has been running a form of government that still retains the odious vestiges of military dictatorship, and is anything but a democracy. The tenets of democracy as enshrined in the Constitution have largely been confined in abeyance and complied with in the breach, thereby predisposing the country to operate under a reign of lawlessness. This situation reconciles with the primary query of people like Donald Trump the President of the United State of America who would ask "what is the use of a law when it will not be enforced?"

In a similar context it is obvious that the country's problems will not abate through only the present spate of indulgences by sundry opinion circles in distractions comprising mutual recriminations, foul and hateful speech as well as expressions of loss of faith in the future of the country. Rather, Nigerians should refocus on ensuring that every stakeholder in the country's leadership community and at every level of governance, complies with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Then governance becomes regularized, and outcomes of administrative initiatives predictable. Then and only then can the country commence on the expected journey of a working democracy.

It also does not need to be emphasized that the near system-collapse in the country's public space today, derives from the condemnable deification and worship of the leading lights of the executive arm comprising the President, the state governors and local government council chairmen, by all and sundry including the elected legislators at the various tiers of government. Courtesy of their deification the executive potentates are granted the undeserved liberty to operate as medieval emperors, and on which premise they personalize and appropriate the powers of the state, and now act like leviathan entities. In the same vein the weaknesses of the Buhari administration qualify as the manifestations of the same charade of exercise of state power without control. In this culture of abuse even accidental sojourners in the corridors of presidential power cite Presidential cover, to exercise the liberty of contriving official misdemeanor with the hope of escaping sanctions.

It is in this regard that the role of the legislature eminently qualifies for critical review as the only facility provided by the Constitution to control the executive on behalf of the people. The imperative of assertive legislative intervention is defined by the wide berth of executive excesses and patent infractions on the law. The absence of such intervention clearly indicts the country's legislative establishment as being power-shy and therefore not doing enough on behalf of the citizenry.

For instance, in the prevailing ambience of public lament over the acutely depressed state of affairs across the length and breadth of the country, hardly have Nigerians heard of any significant attempt to impeach the President or a state governor, by any of the legislative houses - be such the National Assembly or the respective state houses of assembly. Why then are Nigerians surprised at the state of affairs in the country?

For the purpose of clarification, the legislative houses have unrestricted Constitutional powers to determine how government should be run in the country. Metaphorically the only thing the legislature cannot do is to turn a man into a woman and vice versa. That is why the Constitution recognizes and lists the legislature as the first arm of government being representative of the various constituencies and therefore the real people that make up the country. It is in that context too, that the legislature is vested with powers to make laws, and ensure through its oversight functions, that the executive arm specifically complies with the laws so extant. Hence just as brakes are blamed in a car that crashes for not stopping when so programmed, so the legislature must take the rap for the failure in governance in Nigeria.

It is significant that some legislators have often tended to defend the diminished response of the legislature in the face of executive infractions by pleading the need to avoid Constitutional crisis that may trail a conflict between the legislature and the executive at either the national or state level. At its best, such a defense remains a hollow and patently extreme act of abdication of responsibility by the respective legislative chambers, and therefore a disservice to the people so represented.

The thesis of this piece is elegantly corroborated by no other person than the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Affairs Senator Ita Enang who was quoted as blaming the Seventh National Assembly (2011- 2015) National Assembly for being shoddy in oversight of the executive arm. According to him if that legislature had done its job well, the serial scandals over the reported misappropriation of humongous sums of public funds as implicated in the cases of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and former Petroleum Minister Diezani Allison Madueke would have been averted. To accentuate the oracular import of his observation is the fact that Enang was the Chairman Senate Rules and Business Committee in that Seventh National Assembly.

In the light of the foregoing therefore, gone should be the day when Nigerians will vote into office lily-livered legislators who will play power-shyness and develop cold feet, when arises the need to throw out errant presidents and governors, for reasons bordering on their personal and selfish considerations.


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