Nigeria And The Next National Assembly By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN)
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended), sections 4 (1) & (2):
(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 1 of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.”
Come June 2023 or thereabout, the leadership of the National Assembly will be up for a change, the present set having been elected on June 11, 2019, with Ahmed Lawan (APC) and Femi Gbajabiamila (APC) in charge as President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively. They were anointed to take over the leadership of the National Assembly in 2015 following the victory of their political party at the general elections, but that was not to be, as certain influential members of the APC lobbied the opposition lawmakers to upset the applecart, thus throwing forward Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as leaders instead. The lobbying in the present dispensation has been very intense, with all manner of permutations and calculations, from zoning to merit, being bandied to canvass support for certain interests. Some have posited that zoning, faith and gender should play major roles in the recruitment process, given the composition of the leadership of the major political parties. Deliberately and without mincing words, the framers of the Constitution established the Legislature as the First Arm of government, because law is needed to define all other aspects of human existence. It is thus expected that through its additional powers of approval and oversight functions, the legislature will work to curb the excesses of the executive arm of government, especially in situations where retired politicians have hijacked the democratic process, having in their prime tasted power and are not unwilling to hand over to others. These factors have shot the legislature into national focus, especially the leadership.
The National Assembly is a bicameral legislature consisting of 109 members of the Senate and 360 members of the House of Representatives, modelled after the federal Congress of the United States and meant to guarantee equal representation. In the current 9th National Assembly, the APC has 66 seats in the Senate, PDP 38, NNPP 1 and YPP 1 whilst in the House of Representatives, the APC has 227 seats, PDP 121, APGA 4, NNPP 3, ADC 1 and PRP 1. Three seats are vacant in the Senate while one seat is vacant in the House of Representatives. In the 10th National Assembly that will be inaugurated in June, APC has 59 senators, PDP 36, LP 8, SDP 2 NNPP 2, APGA 1 and YPP 1. In this composition, the ruling party has 59 senators whilst the opposition parties altogether have 50, which gives renewed strength for diversity. In the House of Representatives, the APC has 162 seats, PDP 102, LP 34, NNPP 18, APGA 4, ADC 2, SDP 2 and YPP 1. What this has shown is that it is not possible for the ruling party to foist any candidate upon the National Assembly, even though the same scenario played out in the 9th Assembly with the opposition parties unable to pull their weight when it mattered most.
Notwithstanding the seeming plurality of representation, the 9th National Assembly has not been able to assert itself as an autonomous institution, preferring rather to treasure political party affiliation over and above the national interest. In that dispensation, the executive arm of government was always certain of maximum support and approval of all proposals and requests, no matter how unpopular, injurious or backward. In the jurisdiction for which our legislative arm has been patterned, there is the robust system of separation of powers and the doctrine of checks and balances. The three arms of government are expected to operate independently and complimentarily, not dependent upon or patronizing, in the manner that the 9th Assembly has carried on. No doubt it is good to have a responsible legislature for the purpose of harmonization and development but when it gets to the level where the executive is always right, then such level of dubious cooperation should worry all lovers of true democracy. A legislature that cannot supervise and check the excesses of the executive is not worth its name at all. Truth is, such an assembly of persons cannot claim to represent anyone, when the chips are down. They represent only themselves, only their interests and their stomachs. However, the 9th Asssembly was able to conclude the process of the amendment of the Constitution and it also gave us the new Electoral Act, with all its booby traps.
Owing largely to the independent mode of its leadership recruitment, the 8th National Assembly under Saraki and Dogara turned out to be one of the best ever, at least in taming the monstrous executive arm. You can imagine what would have happened under Saraki should the Central Bank of Nigeria dream of the calamitous project of Naira redesign or the needless loans that the federal government has embarked upon in its dying days. It was not business as usual in the National Assembly under Saraki and Dogara, as the legislators asserted their powers to the fullest and held the executive down to follow due process, at all times. As an appointee of the President, you would have to prepare very well for your screening, and ministries and other government agencies had to sit up to defend their budgets and actions. They were very daring, courageous and they took steps to protect the people from an overbearing executive. It was little wonder then that the ruling party did all its best to ensure that most members of that collective did not return to the 9th National Assembly. But Nigeria has paid dearly for that selfish agenda as the 9th National Assembly operated more like a weeping institution, a clearing house and a reporting Chamber, where elected representatives of the people stoop to beg directors of parastatals to attend public hearings, at times issuing empty threats without any follow-up action and granting virtually all the requests of the executive. Having succeeded in installing its cronies in positions of authority at the National Assembly, the executive has since then embarked upon mindless borrowings, putting our nation at the mercy of shylock imperialists, who whimsically drafted contracts that threaten even our cherished sovereignty, at times in their own language. Yes, it is a National Assembly that prides itself in ‘reporting’ errant serving ministers and heads of parastatals who defy its summons, to the President.
As elected representatives of the people, the National Assembly is expected to assert the will of the people by invoking the relevant provisions of the Constitution in the discharge of their statutory responsibilities of law making, supervising the executive arm and also to prevent waste and corruption. Lawmakers who scramble for constituency projects cannot be in the best position to make laws that will impact the people positively. So much has been invested in the National Assembly in order to guarantee optimum performance and so the leadership of such a crucial organ should not be a matter of political patronage or reward for perceived electoral support. We cannot afford the misfortune of parading elected representatives who are whipped along the lines of executive preferences, all the time. There has to be a balance of power and of forces, for our nation to ever dream of attaining the expected growth that our leaders have touted so often.
In choosing the leadership of the 10th National Assembly therefore, the most important criteria should be competence, which can also include experience, qualification and indeed reputation. As the saying goes, the fish gets rotten from the head, so the kind of leaders to be entrusted with the management of the National Assembly is key to our national development. Of course we need to be sensitive to issues of gender parity, faith and indeed zoning, all of which could be accommodated in the primary consideration of merit as indeed it is possible for the right candidate to possess all these features all at once. Although the tradition is for the ranking members-elect of the political party with the highest number to produce the leadership of the National Assembly, it does not have to be along party lines, given that the laws governing the choice of leadership is internal to the legislature. For instance, the opposition parties, either in the name of “the Greater Majority” or any other forum, can swing the tide if they remain united. In this regard, legislators should be allowed to vote according to their convictions, not vote buying. The news filtering that certain candidates for the leadership are campaigning with dollars to garner support should be a disqualifying factor, if at all it is true. Security agencies should beam their searchlight on the members-elect to monitor their activities, especially their finances. We cannot afford to reduce the next leadership of the national assembly to commercial ventures to be sold to the highest bidders, as once corruption has been laid upon the foundation of that hallowed institution, then we can all predict what would happen in the next four years. Members-elect are thus enjoined to discountenance the APC contraption of leadership by zoning. I vote for an independent, vibrant and active National Assembly.