I hope for its own sake that the All Progressives Congress APC is not quickly getting carried away with the euphoria of victory to the extent that it would fail on the promise of change before it even starts. Let leaders of the party make no mistake about it, governing Nigeria is a Herculean task which does not compare to what happened in any of the states that they have superintended over in one form or the other in the past 16 years.
Moves, speculated in the media though, being made by leaders of the party to fill leadership positions in the National Assembly just clearly indicate that leaders of the APC may not be totally ready for a departure from the past as they told Nigeria. I am one of those who reckon that it is impossible to effect any serious change in Nigeria without an independent, responsive and responsible legislature. As I always argue, the legislature is the most important arm of government in a presidential system of government.
The parliament is the guardian of democracy and is superior to the other two arms whether they execute the laws made by the legislature or they interpret it. I am persuaded to imagine that the framers of Nigeria’s constitution had this in mind when they allowed the creation of the legislature in Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution ahead of the executive and judiciary in Sections 5 and 6 respectively. By this constitution, members of the legislature at the state and national levels are to perform two major functions, apart from the representation of the constituencies and districts from which they were elected. One as stated in S.4(2) is the making of laws for the peace, order and good governance of the federation and state(s) and the other, by S(88), is to direct or cause to be directed investigations into activities of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, to ensure that government is held accountable to the people from where it derives its sovereignty.
This is usually referred to as the oversight function of the legislature. Now, you must agree, Dear compatriot, that these are extremely important functions. They make the legislature the gatekeeper between the other two arms of government. The laws that the legislature makes guide the judiciary in the dispensation of justice and the executive in the day to day running of the country or state. In addition to this, the legislature has oversight functions which allow it apply measures to check and balance the activities of the executive. This is in apparent realisation that the enormity of the powers conferred on the executive could tempt the holder of such powers into abuse. Given the weight of responsibility which the constitution places on the legislature especially the National Assembly, I find it objectionable that rather than bow their heads in shame and apologise to Nigerians for the utter disappointment that the legislature has been, members of the National Assembly join us to condemn the executive for our current situation.
Forgive me if I sound too judgmental but I really do not see what the federal lawmakers especially the outgoing set have done on behalf of the people. Take the fundamental question of lawmaking for instance, it has become really banal to say that a lot of our laws are outdated and out of tune with modern realities. Some of them have been described as relics of colonial legislation. For example, the 1677 Statutes of Fraud remains the law governing the issue of whether writing or not writing is required for transfer of interests in land while the Real Property Act of 1845 is still the dominant law on whether a document should be by writing or by deed. The situation is especially worse with the criminal justice system. Laws like the Criminal Code, the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Act and the Evidence, which collectively regulates criminal justice dispensation are outdated and not in tune with extant realities. That is why a man who connived with others to defraud the Police Pension Office and pensioners of N27.2bn would get a mere two-year jail sentence with the option of a N750, 000 fine.
This is why people get away with light or no sentence at all for crimes like rape, kidnapping, corruption and even terrorism! That is why I find the pontification of a lot of Nigerians, including legislators about the oil and gas sector in Nigeria appalling. How could an assembly which has kept the Petroleum Industry Bill that is able to reduce the powers of the petroleum minister and bring some sanity into the sector for about three years without passing it into law even speak about corruption in that sector? And when we complain about the inefficiencies and corruption in our MDAs, I always wonder whether forestalling such was not one of the reasons why the constitution generously bestowed the duty for oversight on the legislature. So, are our legislators unaware of their responsibilities or complicit in the fleecing of the country? This is why I think that the incoming administration must see the legislature as a most important part of the change that it promised Nigerians. For starters, speculations on the zoning of the leadership positions in the National Assembly are unpleasing to the ears. I possibly would not be worried if the APC was haggling over the zoning of some executive positions but we must get the best hands to sit at the head of our legislative houses without care for where they come. Where is the place of competence, experience, and exposure, ability to reach consensus and previous contributions to legislative excellence? Each time I hear this argument about zoning,
I am led to see it as the excuse we give for mediocrity and incompetence. I hope that Nigerians would one day not contemplate zoning the position of the Chief Justice of Nigeria just so that we would satisfy some ethnic balancing. If the party insists on zoning these offices however, I hope that it would step back and allow a level playing field in which aspirants would sell themselves to their colleagues and the best candidates emerge. In addition to allowing the National Assembly to choose its leaders, the chance for an independent legislature which is no appendage of the executive should also be part of the change package that the APC has for Nigerians. The party should also ensure that its members who are in the legislature all over the country understand the duties that they owe Nigerians.
There are two things that the party risks if it fails to allow common sense prevail in the issue of the choice of the leadership of the National Assembly. One is a rebellion from members who would love to assert their independence, hence a repeat of the 2011 situation in the House of Representatives. And the second is the institution of an assembly which will end up not working in favour of the people who elected them. Either of this will injure the APC and when it does, only the wisdom employed in the management of the injury will suffice otherwise it would be fatal to the delivery of the promise the party made to Nigeria.
SEE ALSO: OPINION! Bitter Truth: Fayose Deserves Impeachment, But Ekiti APC Are Ineffectual – Yinka Erinfolami
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