By Niran Adedokun
More than ever before, Nigerians need to start to pay attention to the survival of its democracy, if they truly desire that system of government. As harmless as it seems to be, the statement credited to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, concerning the 9th National Assembly’s preference for being a malleable institution should agitate the minds of Nigerians on the safety of their future in the hands of politicians who are misguided as to their very essence.
To be sure, no one expects the two arms of government to be at each other’s throat perpetually; but the contemplation of the other extreme in a growing democracy like Nigeria portrays much more danger than the total breakdown in the relationship of the executive and legislative arms of government that could ever bring on a country. I will explain.
The first and possibly most important point to make here is that politicians are not necessarily after the interest of the citizenry or country at large. On several occasions, this column has referred to the assertion by the late French leader, Charles De Gaulle, to the effect that politics is too important a business to be left to politicians.
Whether they are in the executive or legislature, politicians are first and foremost after their individual interest, followed by the interest of their party. The interest of the country and its people always come a distant third in their hierarchy of pursuits. So, when you have two arms of government in bed concerning any proposal from one of them, chances are that they would most certainly subordinate the interest of the people for their individual and party interest. On the contrary, this would be nearly impossible in situations where the legislature is irreconcilably opposed to the executive. When the country may truly not make progress as a result of the failure of the parties to work harmoniously, there are very slim chances that the two arms of government would ever find a common ground to circumvent the good of the people.
Although Gbajabiamila made a good effort of amending his position when he later assured of commitment to ensure checks and balances in the legislative/executive relationship, he already sowed the seed of worry by his first utterance. This concern is worsened by the news that an obscene N37bn for the renovation of the National Assembly building in a country where 90 million out of the 200 million people live in abject poverty, which is a clue to what the future holds. It gets more curious when you imagine that this inconceivable allocation was made with the approval of the otherwise frugal President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). That Buhari, in spite of his well-known penchant for probity, would sign an appropriation law allotting a huge N37bn for the renovation of a building accommodating less than 500 Nigerians while national infrastructure alongside education, health and other social amenities are at their most parlous state may suggest that there is more that meets the eye in the new-found love between these two arms of government.
This was exactly what the founders of the democratic system of government tried to avoid by the principle of separation of powers. Even though democracy positions the executive arm of government to wield enormous power in the daily running of the affairs of states, it allows for the independence of other arms of government, so the executive does get drunk by its own abilities and emasculate other arms of government and become an albatross to society.
And even if they may not all realise it, the 1999 Constitution makes the legislature the most important arm of government in Nigeria. It is like the anchor which holds the vessel from drifting. With the powers to make “laws for the peace, order and good governance of the federation or any part thereof…” granted by the constitution and the powers to conduct investigation, otherwise known as oversight, granted by Section 88, the National Assembly stands in the best position to ensure the fulfilment of Chapter Two (Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy) of the 1999 Constitution. They make the laws which enable the executive and judiciary function, they are also blessed with the powers to monitor the effectiveness of these laws, query their implementation in the case of the executive and review the laws when the desired impact is not achieved. What this means is that the disobedience of the country including the failure to obey court orders and what not should spur action, which should check the executive from the National Assembly.
A committed National Assembly could do far more to change Nigeria on the oversight front and arrest the phenomenal inefficiency and corruption in every area of our national life as allowed by Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution. With the amazing powers bestowed on the National Assembly, you then wonder why there should be so much inefficiency. Do members of the National Assembly understand the enormity of the responsibility bestowed on them or are contributions and positions dictated by the interests ranging from the personal to those of the godfathers, who might be anyone from state governors, former state governors, some political heavyweight from their home states or some other wealthy and powerful fellow who is pressing their buttons from his private convenience. Is this why our legislature is deprived of passionate, robust and intelligent debates aimed at delivering better livelihood to the suffering people of Nigeria unlike what we see in other democracies? Several times since 1999 for instance, we have seen the chambers of the National Assembly turned into fighting rings such that you wonder why debates meant to further the cause of the common man should result in scuffles, fisticuffs and chair-throwing. Such sentiments and actions are only unleashed when some entrenched interests are at stake.
While the current Nigerian legislature may insist on a preponderance of politicians with claims to progressive orientation and love for the people, its attention must be drawn to the fact that the presumption that the executive means well such that it gets easy passage may even be more injurious to the nation. There are too many powers in the hands of the executive to contemplate any haphazard compromise
In explaining the popular saying by the British historian, Lord Acton, that “all power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely”, Ben Morell writes in an article titled, “Power corrupts,” published by the Acton Institute for Study of Religion and Liberty as follows: “…These persons who are corrupted by the process of ruling over their fellow men are not innately evil. They begin as honest men. Their motives for wanting to direct the actions of others may be purely patriotic and altruistic. Indeed, they may wish only “to do good for the people.” But, apparently, the only way they can think of to do this “good” is to impose more restrictive laws.”
The 9th National Assembly has indicated on more than one occasion that it would do the bidding of the current administration. Senate President Ahmed Lawan, in fact, once went as far as promising that any request from Buhari was sure to make Nigeria a better place and would as a result be treated expeditiously. This assumption suggests that there may be no rigorous examinations of proposal of executive proposals, it overlooks the fallibility of all men, surrenders the rights of the people for expediency and generally exposes Nigerian nascent democracy to grave danger. Is this how to deepen a democracy?
Niran Adedokun is a Public Affairs Analyst.