How the Executives floor Legislative Autonomy in Nigeria

By Abubakar Jimoh
Just as the legislature remains the core of democracy—the process and composition of which lays the foundation for any democratic government, democracy presumes a harmonious relationship among various arms of governments.
It is no more news that Nigeria’s mode of governance is patterned to encompass three arms of government—executive, legislature and the judiciary. Though there are three arms of government that have separate powers and functions to perform but, subjected to a realistic appraisal, the legislative arm is the most powerful and definitive to the system of democracy as instituted under the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, which clearly defined powers of each arm.
For instance, Section 4(1-2) of the Constitution provides that “The legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution”. Section 4(6-7) confers the legislative powers of a State of the Federation in the House of Assembly of the State.
As contains under Section 5(1)(a-b) of the Constitution, “…the executive powers of the Federation: shall be vested in the President and may subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Vice-President and Ministers of the Government of the Federation or officers in the public service of the Federation; and shall extend to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, all laws made by the National Assembly and to all matters with respect to which the National Assembly has, for the time being, power to make laws.”
Section 5(2) provides for the executive powers of a State to be “…vested in the Governor of that State and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any Law made by a House of Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Deputy Governor and Commissioners of the Government of that State or officers in the public service of the State; and shall extend to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, all laws made by the House of Assembly of the State and to all matters with respect to which the House of Assembly has for the time being power to make laws.”
In the analysis of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) legislature is expected to perform three basic roles namely: lawmaking, representation and oversight. Legislature makes laws, carry out representative functions on behalf of the people and conduct oversight on the executive arm of government such as federal, state and local governments as well as Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), to ensure they are held accountable to the people.
Section 6(1-2) confers judicial powers of the Federation in the courts established for the Federation; the judicial powers of a State in the courts established for a State.
AOI argues that good governance is depended on the existence of a harmonious relationship among the three arms; and when good governance results from a harmonious relationship, it is only then that dividends of democracy such as poverty alleviation, provision of a reasonable living standard, provision of security of life and property, maintenance of law and order and the provision of a reasonable level of infrastructural development can be guaranteed.
However, Nigerians have witnessed several attempts by the federal and state governments to respectively hijack National and State Houses of Assembly, primarily to fortify their political ego, which lacks the fundamental requirements for standard of civilization, ideals and expectations of an open quality democracy. The executive’s domination and meddlesomeness in the legislative business has hampered the institution from performing the crucial role of citizens’ representation through legislation and oversight.
While the success of the presidential system depends on healthy legislature-executive interactions, in 2013, in a comparative study to understand Legislature-Executive Relations in the Presidential System, Dr. Samuel Olorunmaiye provided some clear features of Nigerian legislative-executive relations when he reveals that a noxious pattern of legislature-executive relations is conditioned by such socio-political and economic culture as rent-seeking, manipulations, impositions, patronage and political clientelism, among others.
He wrote: “This nature of relationship is not only injurious to democratic consolidation, but also treacherous to their political development. Besides, while the legislature’s independence is fundamental to presidential democracy, the executive’s domination and meddlesomeness in the legislative business of the Assembly in the two states hampered the institution from performing the crucial role of citizens’ representation through legislation and oversight. The inability of the legislature to meaningfully impact on policy process and perform its oversight role on the executive portends a reversal from democratic to quasi-dictatorial governance.”
In 2014, at a two-day International Conference organized by Landmark University in collaboration with National Endowment for Democracy and University of America in Omu-Aran, Kwara, Prof. Sunday Otokiti, Dean of College of Business and Social Sciences at Landmark University would argue in consonant with Olorunmaiye when he laments that Nigeria is dominated by culture of fake democracy, adding that the legislature have remained submissive to their executives for they attained political power through undemocratic means like massive rigging, bribery, forgery and other illegalities.
Although the amended 1999 constitution is intended to make the subnational assemblies in Nigeria independent, just like their counterparts at the national level; however, Dr. Olayinka Fashagba, a lecturer at Political Science Department, Landmark University, notes from experience that the extent to which a state legislature enjoys some level of political independence is a function of some factors, most of which are sometimes extraneous. This is evident in the recent the unwarranted and undemocratic action by seven lawmakers of Ekiti State House of Assembly that unlawfully removed the Speaker of the House, Hon. Adewale Omirin. Fashagba did not hid the fact that power of State Legislatures has been undermined by executives as a result of increasingly dependent of the Legislature on the Executives, jeopardizing the spirit of democracy and good governance in State Houses of Assembly, noting that  the state legislatures appear to be suffering from a sense of psychological weakness or inferiority. “Occasionally, most members appear to hold the belief that their political career or re-election bids depend on the political structure of the state governor,” he disclosed.
The above was evident in 2005, in Plateau state, where with the support of the President, only 7 out of the 20 members impeached the governor. The impeachment of the governor of Plateau State was done in contravention of the amended 1999 constitution. Consequently, the action was reversed by the Supreme Court.
Following a pressure from presidency, some Bayelsa State legislators were forced to impeach the state governor in 2006, after an allegation of corruption, money laundering, arrest and jumping of bail in Britain, by the then governor of Bayelsa. Using the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), the presidency was able to induce impeachment proceeding against the governor, and this eventually led to the removal of governor from office.
Also, in Rivers State in 2013, following the irreconcilable disagreement between the President and the state governor, about 27 of the 33 legislators took side with the state governor against the President. As a result, the attempts of the presidency to use the state legislature to undermine and remove the state governor failed; only a handful of members yielded, ready to do the bidding of the presidency against their state governor.
However, unlike in most states, the two chambers of the National Assembly began a dramatic moment and intervened for various reasons. The House of Representatives voted to take over the responsibility of the Rivers State House of Assembly pending the resolution of the bitter acrimony between the pro-presidency and pro-state governor legislators in the assembly. A faction had supported the presidency but only 5 of the 33 members constituted the pro-presidency faction, while the pro-governor members were 27. Although the assembly was crippled and could not operate between July and December 2013, the national institutions and officers did not succeed in instigating the majority of members against the state governor, because of the cordial relationship between the two organs, accountably.
Similar, but unsuccessful attempt was later recorded in the Nassarawa State House of Assembly, where in 2014, following invasion of presidency, some members of the Assembly were allegedly bribed to impeach the incumbent governor.
Of course, Nigerians still hold a fresh memory of the dramatic and unconstitutional barricade of National Assembly Complex, especially the House of Representatives Chamber with armed security forces, preventing the Speakers of the House, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal from entrance to attend an important session to discuss matter of national important, owing to the defection of the Speaker from People Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC). This was followed by undemocratic and unconstitutional reaction of the Presidency and Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba towards the office of the Speaker; as security details attached to the Office of the Speaker were instantly withdrawn.
It is against this background that Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) expresses total dissatisfaction that some State legislators have become insensitive to constitutional provisions and intentionally breaking the law for political gain. According to CISLAC, unconstitutional removal of the House of Assembly exposes the level of immaturity and poor understanding constitutional provisions in part of some members of State House of Assembly where a group of seven members unseat Speaker of the House.
Unwarranted dominance of executives over legislative activities informed a decision of Prof. Yahaya T. Baba at Department of Political Science, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, to embark on a study examining from three states in the North-west Geo-political zones, the phenomena around executive dominance, party control and state legislatures. He observes that the endemic culture of executive dominance in Africa’s one party states and military regimes has made legislatures weak and vulnerable. This scenario continued even after return to multi-party democracy in various African states.
He wrote: “The organization and conduct of political parties in Africa also influence executive-legislature relations, apparently in favour of the executive in most emerging African democracies. In Nigeria, for instance, the strong attachment of political parties to executive arm of government is obvious. This is largely on the account that the executive remain the major source of funding for political parties. Accordingly, agenda control, roll-call behaviour of members and their re-election bids are influenced largely by the executive through the instrumentalities of political parties. Party structures (both within and outside the legislature) thus limits the powers and functionality of legislatures in Nigeria.
“Events have shown that the state governors in Nigeria exercise control over state legislatures much as the presidency does on the National Assembly. The influence and control of the state legislatures by governors appears to be more obvious and destructive to legislative autonomy than what obtains at the centre.”
In his findings, Baba argues that the vulnerability, weakness and limited capacity of state legislatures have made public accountability, transparency and probity dismal and limited at state level. “This has led to personalization of public funds by state governors with which they fund the activities of political parties and sponsor candidates for elections at all levels, particularly into the state legislature. The influence and powers of state governors over political parties and elections generally, has led to the emergence of predominantly one-party legislatures across Nigeria”.
Without doubt, the above findings practically resonate with the ongoing executives’ party dominance in many State Houses Assembly in Nigeria such as Kano, Lagos, Jigawa, among others. For instance, Fashagba noted that in most states, where the incumbent state governors have defected to another party, most members of the state legislatures have often defected along with their respective state governors. In a state like Gombe, the entire members of the state legislature defected to the PDP in 2007, following the defection of the state governor from the opposition All Nigerian Peoples party (ANPP). Similarly, the entire members of the Kwara State assembly defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressive Congress (APC), following the defection of the state governor and the political godfather of the politicians.
It is noteworthy that the extent of executives’ dominance over the State Houses of Assembly has featured in the most recent rejection of the proposal by the National Assembly for granting of financial autonomy to the 774 local government councils in the country, in the ongoing constitution amendment through concurrence of at least 24 of the 36 states Houses of Assembly.
At least 23 states, namely Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Borno, Yobe, Taraba, Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Rivers, CrossRiver, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Enugu and Imo states voted against local government autonomy. However, Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Ebonyi, Anambra, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Plateau, Niger, Kogi, Benue, Kwara and Abia voted for local government autonomy.
Members of the House of Representatives had expressed disappointment over their state assembly colleagues allegedly allowed “parochial interests” to override their judgment on the issue of autonomy for the councils. National Assembly expected the state lawmakers to have widened their scope to appreciate the enormity of the challenges confronting local government administration instead of falling prey to pressures from forces opposing autonomy for the third tier of government.
Over the years, a consensus has been built on the fact that the local governments are the closest to the people and are in the best position to have direct impacts on them, especially in the rural areas. What has been in contention is how the local governments should be run. While some believe that local governments should be created and run by state governments, others insist on autonomy for local governments. Through the autonomy, local governments would be practically recognised as the third tier of government with funds allocated to them directly from the Federation Account.
In order to achieve a sustainable democracy in Nigeria, it has become imperative to critically consider among other things: workable financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly to fast-track maturity of legislatures and independence of democratic institutions; greater respect for constitutional rights to guarantee harmonious working relationship of all arms and tiers of government; enhanced quality of legislation through review of Section 65 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria; and capacity building for legislators through constant exposures to training and retraining programmes.
Legislatures, both at national and state levels must uphold spirit of independence and be wary of external interference that could hijack their primary constitutional responsibilities and sabotage their recorded achievements. They must without fear or bias, remain consistent and committed to their constitutional mandates and core values; and avoid all manners of undemocratic power game resulting in disobedience to rule of law.
The executives are also advised to avoid unconstructive political decisions that can disrupt the nation’s peace and harmony, disregard legislative chambers and disrespect for rule of law. All well-meaning Nigerians and the media are encouraged to never relent in their demand for justice; and strongly condemn all manners of impunity and violation of fundamental freedom of the citizens by any individual or institution.
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