Repositioning The Legislature For National Development - by Eze Onyekpere

The legislature is the arm of government that defines a democracy. During military regimes, the executive arm of government continues in one way or another while the judiciary is allowed to function, although it may be forced to blow muted trumpets. The legislature is usually dissolved and its role taken over by the usurpers who combine executive and legislative powers. 

Legislators, as the representatives of the people, are elected to make laws for the peace, order and good government of society; to represent their constituencies and to exercise oversight over the other arms of government in the checks and balances continuum of the presidential system of democracy. Societies are governed by law; the quality of the laws and the lawmaking function in any society define its development, level of civilisation and ability to be a force in the comity of nations. It is therefore not about the number of legislative houses available in Nigeria or the number of members in the legislature but the quality of the legislative outputs and outcomes that define the contribution of the legislature to society.

With the elections over and the inauguration of chief executives at the state and federal levels, the attention now turns to the leadership of the legislature since the judiciary is not constituted through elections. Again, the leadership of the legislature at the federal and state levels are not elected by popular suffrage but by the legislators themselves. At this critical time of grave national challenges in all sectors of social, economic and political life, it is trite that the best of persons are elected to lead the legislative houses. 

These leaders should be men and women who are fit and proper in terms of education and learning, moral conduct, leadership qualities and knowledge of the affairs of the world. The new legislative leaders should be individuals who understand the backwardness of Nigeria compared to peers in terms of development; the urgency of moving the country from its backwardness to new levels of productivity and development; and the need to reaffirm the rule of law through the enthronement of merit and justice in all facets of our national life. Thus, the expectation is a leadership which could possibly be composed of philosopher kings.

The days should be gone when what qualifies a person to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives or state House of Assembly or the President of the Senate should be loyalty and endorsement of party stalwarts and moneybags. We have been doing this since 1999 and the results are obvious for all to see – a legislature that fails to be led in the direction of fulfilling its fundamental roles. It takes only an insane person to continue insisting on going down the road of perdition especially after knowledgeable persons had drawn the attention of the journey man to the trajectory of his folly. So, at the federal and state levels, we need to ask the political merchants to back off and let the best hands emerge for the leadership of the legislature.

The legislature needs to do some self-review and introspection as they start the legislative tenure. Pray, why are the Senate and House of Representatives unpopular with the Nigerian people? Why is the image they conjure in the public mind one of graft, being the highest paid lawmakers in the world? Even at the state level, why have we witnessed a lot of boxing, kung-fu and karate sessions in many state Houses of Assembly? Has the legislature at all levels delivered value for money in the legislative process considering their remuneration and public resources spent on them? 

Some federal legislators indeed honestly believe that the populace has been unfair to them especially about their remuneration and perks of office. But should they blame the public or themselves considering their refusal to disclose the components of their budget? If they have nothing to hide, why are their remunerations still confidential and instead of complying with the judgments of High Courts, they have used public resources to go to the Court of Appeal to contend that the same public who own the resources should not know the details of the legislative budget? Would you blame the public for their perception when the last time they saw the federal legislative budget, the sum of N150m was provided and used for “members image laundering”?

Let those who intend to preside over the sessions of the legislature address their colleagues and Nigerians as well with their agenda on how to reposition the legislature and to contribute to national development. They should also tell Nigerians what they have done in the legislature for the number of years they have been there since legislative leaders are usually ranking members who are not just new members. Nigerians need to know the number of bills sponsored and their subject matters; contributions to debates and motions, etc. Just let them tell us exactly what they did in their previous tenure because, as the Holy Book says, he who is faithful over a little, shall be faithful over much. Persons intending to lead the federal legislature should be able to present their thoughts on how to wield representatives of different ethnic, religious and geographical persuasions into a fighting force for the overall benefit of Nigeria.

The legislative agenda should have as priorities the identification of key bills to be passed into law, reduction of the cost of governance including the cost of running the legislature, an accounting code of ethics for the retirement of legislative overheads and how to ensure the oversight function is used for the public good. In the matter of lawmaking, it should be evident to all that we need a National Assembly that will pass the Petroleum Industry Bill in three months from now; begin the immediate review of the constitution; reform the budgeting process and make it an evidence-led exercise; compel the President to set up the National Council on Public Procurement to deepen procurement reforms; take its public accounts committee functions seriously and reform the office of the Auditor-General for greater operational efficiency and effectiveness. Nigeria is rich in energy resources but poor in energy supply and suffers epileptic fuel and electricity supplies. What will be the contribution of the legislature to the electricity and fuel crises? How can the legislature give life to the land assets made dead by the obnoxious Land Use Act and use the land tenure system to propel new life into housing, finance and other facilitators of development? Can we get a legislative leadership who can and will think out of the box?

In the area of accountability and transparency, the new leadership of the National Assembly must commit to the opening up of the federal parliament’s budget through disaggregation and public availability; to enact a specific bill empowering the Code of Conduct Bureau to publicise asset declarations of public officers so that such publicity should no longer depend on the goodwill of office holders, etc.

There is so much the legislature can do in a democracy. All that is needed is the right leadership and presence of mind that is fixed on the Nigerian developmental ball. The legislature cannot afford any day of bickering over the composition of its leadership. Party hawks should therefore stay away and let the legislature elect its leadership and settle down to its work.

- @censoj