Legislative Duties and Democratic Governance in Nigeria: The Mistakes 8th Assembly should not repeat

By Abubakar Jimoh

Proper constitutional roles of the legislature in the promotion of democratic governance in Nigeria remain paramount in legislative discourse; as democratic culture cannot be sustained without qualitative legislation for good governance.

In spite the weaknesses, fault-lines, and challenges that the legislators would continue to encounter in their struggles to build a truly inclusive, participatory, open and people-based democracy, it has become imperative that they will continue to build democratic governance, as their individual and collective survival, progress and prosperity depend largely on nurturing democratic values, institutions and practices.

In order to achieve democratic governance, Section 4 (1-9) of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria provides: “(1) 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. (2) 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. (3) The power of the National Assembly to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List shall, save as otherwise provided in this Constitution, be to the exclusion of the Houses of Assembly of States.

The Section continued: “(4) In addition and without prejudice to the powers conferred by subsection (2) of this section, the National Assembly shall have power to make laws with respect to the following matters, that is to say: (a) any matter in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto; and (b) any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. (5) If any Law enacted by the House of Assembly of a State is inconsistent with any law validly made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly shall prevail, and that other Law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.

“(6) The legislative powers of a State of the Federation shall be vested in the House of Assembly of the State. (7) The House of Assembly of a State shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State or any part thereof with respect to the following matters, that is to say: (a) any matter not included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution. (b) any matter included in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto; and (c) any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”

The effect of the above is that the respective levels of government are empowered to legislate on a broad range of issues that if effectively utilized through quality legislation and diligent exercise of the legislative oversight functions, will translate into good governance.

In line with principle of democracy, National Assembly would be remembered for enacting into law some Acts that promote democratic governance in Nigeria such as Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Act, National Health Act, Violence Against Person Prohibition Act, Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Act, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offence Commission (ICPC) Act, Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Evidence Act, National Human Right Commission Act, Public Compliant Commission Act, National Agency Against Trafficking in Person Act, among other important Acts.

However, the extent to which the legislature understands and considers the important of democratic governance would be put to question when Nigerians reflect on other significant Bills which would have improved order and good governance of the country, lying dormant and begging for legislative attention in the National Assembly. Among these is Petroleum Industrial Bill (PIB), which has laid un-passed at the National Assembly since 2007, Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill, Protection of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, to mention but few.

As posited by International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, one of the major ways to rate and respect a democratic country both regionally and internationally is its regional, international and municipal overall involvement in the implementation of international multilateral or bilateral agreements. This is achieved through three essential processes called ratification, domestication and implementation of the Treaties and Conventions. It is worrisome that the abandonment and non-domestication of these Treaties and Convention by the National Assembly so far render them inoperable and unenforceable in the country.

Among such abandoned regional, continental and international Treaties and Conventions by the Assembly identifies by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) are: African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; African Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Africa Health Strategy 2007-2015; Maputo Plan of Action for the Operationalisation of the Continental Policy Framework for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; African Youth Charter; African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme; Sharm El-Sheikh for accelerating the achievement of Water and Sanitation Goals in Africa; African Union Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the United nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights;  UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Protocols; UN Convention on Biological Diversity; UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances; Arms Trade Treaty; Chemical Weapons Convention; UN Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951 and its Protocol; Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court of 1998, Nigeria ratified on 27th September 2001; UN Convention on the Prevention & Punishment of the Crime of Genocide ratified by Nigeria on 29th July 2009.

Similarly, West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) classified Nigeria among other 16 African States which have ratified all binding international instruments. The Forum noted that Nigeria has ratified major international legal instruments on human rights, but the country’s willingness to meet international obligations in this area is hampered by non-ratification of convention at both national and internal levels. Operationalisation of these in the country has been challenged by Section 12 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which states: “No treaty between the Federation and any other country shall have the force of law except to the extent to which such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly.”

Section 12 (2) states: “The National Assembly may make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to matters not included in the Exclusive Legislative list for the purpose of implementing a treaty.” By Section 12 (3): “A bill for an Act of the National Assembly passed pursuant to the provisions of subsection 2 of this section shall not be presented to the President for assent, and shall not be enacted unless it is ratified by a majority of all the Houses of Assembly in the Federation.”

While the Federal Executive Council is mandated to sign and ratify treaties, the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly are constitutionally charged with the responsibility of enacting or domesticating them into law. The aforementioned constitutional provisions and duties imposed on the legislatures notwithstanding are obviously observed in breach and with reckless abandon, especially by the 7th Assembly. It is hopeful that the 8th Assembly will avoid repeating same.

As there is no form of government that is superior to a democracy, Oni Samuel, lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Covenant University would argue that citizens’ representation embodied in the legislature is a central component and an indispensable principle of democratic governance. This is because the legislature is the primary mechanism of popular sovereignty that provides for the representation in governance, of the diverse interests in a multicultural and subnational society.

A journey towards a sustainable democratic governance, must dutifully observe legislature-executive working relationship to: meet the need and satisfy the yearning of the people in terms of development and standards of living; institutionalize procedures for guaranteeing and protecting the rights of the citizens at all times within the constitutional framework; promote self-actualization and alleviate poverty and suffering of the people; recognise  rights of the citizens to education, good health, uninterrupted electricity, water, sanitation, security, as legally provided for in the above mentioned Treaties and Conventions.

In a remark presented at a Conference on “Emerging Democracy in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities” in Abuja on 17th June, 2013, former Ghanaian President, Jerry J. Rawlings argued that true democracy is the process where every individual is involved and convinced that his opinion has been factored into the decision-making as far as the management of his society is concerned.

He said: “A government irrespective of its mode of appointment, which gives ear to the people and approaches decision making and policy implementation from a human-centred and continued consultative process is closer to democracy than a duly elected government that fails to consult and also treats the opinion of the legislature as of little.”

The position by Rawlings reminds us as to what extent or how effective is the legislatures’ independence or executive-legislative in Nigeria to improve democratic governance. Nigerians have witnessed repeated 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 impeded the institution from performing the crucial role of citizens’ representation through legislation and oversight.

For instance, Dr. Ifedayo Akomolede, a lecturer at law, Ekiti State University, lamented the degree of legislatures’ independent of the executives in Nigeria, when he said: “The legislature today is truly not independent of executive and often incapacitated from acting as the watchdog of executive activities.”

In early 2014, at a seminar themed “African State Legislatures: Sub-national Politics and national Power” in Omu-Aran, Kwara State, Dr. Joseph Fashagba of Department of Political Science, Landmark University, argued that in most African countries today, the power of State Legislatures has been undermined by executive as a result of increasingly dependent of the Legislatures on the Executives. This according to him has hampered the spirit of democracy and good governance in the legislature.

Also, in a paper titled “Executive Dominance, Party Control and State Legislatures in Nigeria: Evidence from Three States in the North-west Geo-political Zone of Nigeria”, Prof. Yahaya T. Baba, examined the phenomenon of executive dominance, party control and subordinate nature of legislatures at state level in Nigeria.

He argued 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. Suffice to say that the pace of democratization across the political landscape of Africa only produces strong chief executives that undermine the autonomy of legislative institutions. The latter are merely seen as appendages of the former. This power interplay, which is skewed against the legislature hinder the institutionalization of democracy in Africa. In terms of raw power, most African legislatures like legislatures worldwide remain weak in relation to the executive”, Baba bemoaned.

The above was evident in the 7th Assembly, where 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.

Similar, but unsuccessful attempt later on resurfaced in the Nassarawa State House of Assembly, where following invasion of presidency, some members of the Assembly were allegedly bribed to impeach the incumbent governor.

Moreover, Nigerians would always recall 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.

Reacting to the development, CISLAC expressed total dissatisfaction that some legislators have become insensitive to constitutional provisions and intentionally breaking the law for political gain. CISLAC noted that 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.

At the end of 7th Assembly, a study by CISLAC revealed various several unresolved high profile corruption cases the Assembly had denied exhaustive investigation or prosecution. Among the notable unresolved cases are: N195billion Pension Scam, attributed to Abdulrasheed Maina, the Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team; Kerosene subsidy scam by NNPC; Police Pension Fund Fraud; Former Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah’s N255 million armoured car scandal; Missing N20billion Naira oil money; $9.3million private jet/arms scandal; Abba Morro Immigration Scandal; Malabu Oil’s $1.1million scandal; Ekiti Electoral scandal; Farouk Lawan’s $620,000 scandal.

It is evident that the Assembly often played to gallery to prove to the public that it was working, but always fail to complete the mandated period for legislative sitting. For instance, the House ought to sit for 181 days in a year as constitutionally mandated. This backpedalled debates on some significant legislation for good governance.

While it is common knowledge that conflict of interest had in the past hindered effective functionality of legislators to uphold democratic governance, it becomes mandated on them to understand that as representatives of the people not only do they derive their mandate directly from the electorate, but also owe the electorate proper accountability of their conducts in the legislature. People-oriented legislator must therefore, strike reasonable effort to avoid conflict of interest and effectively contribute to good governance by performing important functions that are necessary to sustain democracy in this complex and diverse country, rather than needless pursue of selfish interest.  A workable legislative Code of Conduct should be developed to guide members in their legislative activities to promote value of excellence, professionalism in legislators’ performance; and ensure civility and responsible conduct inside and outside of the Assembly commensurate with the trust placed in legislators by the electorate.

While high moral and ethical standards must be maintained to guarantee public’s confidence, reduction to a minimum of any conflict between private interests and official duties, should be carefully observed and differentiated. By so doing, members should strive to avoid all manners of engagement that might comprise legislative code of conduct, values and ethical standards. The legislators must build mutual cooperation and synergy to ensure qualitative legislation to promote the rights, welfare and standards of living of the people.

On this note, legislators must shun ethnic prejudice, intolerance, and struggle for the democratic workability in their representative capacity.  They owe Nigerians the fundamental duty to insist on good governance through qualitative legislation that can lead to socio-economic progress and prosperity of the country.

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