By Eze Onyekpere
The legislature is established as an institution to make laws for the peace, order and good government of society. It is one of the three arms of government at the federal, state and local government levels. At the federal level, we have the National Assembly consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives while states have Houses of Assembly. Councillors constitute the legislative arm of the local government system. Beyond legislation, the legislators are expected to play roles related to representation of their constituencies, oversight over executive function, leading to checks and balances between it and other arms of government.
It is a fundamental aphorism that the legislature is the hub of democracy; where there is no legislature, there is no democracy. It is the assembly of the people’s representatives. It is the difference between elected governments and our previous experience with military dictatorships. During military dictatorships, the junta being the executive also usurped legislative functions in the Armed Forces Ruling Council or in the Supreme Military Council. The judiciary was allowed to exist, although it might blow muted trumpets. By the act of inter alia separating executive and legislative powers as well as allowing the judiciary to flourish, a democracy is created and entrenched. Therefore, Nigerians must work for the independence and jealously guard the separation of powers which ensures the functioning of a vibrant legislature at all levels of government.
There is an inbuilt constitutional tension between the executive and the legislature in a presidential democratic system of government. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and it is said that virtually everything stops at his table. He has a larger than life image and is supposed to be an action man who makes things happen. However, the executive led by the President cannot spend public resources without legislative approval.
Laws are debated and approved by the legislature but need presidential assent to become law and in the event the president vetoes a bill, the legislature can override the veto by using the requisite constitutional majority, thereby dispensing the need for presidential assent. All these are anchored on the doctrine of separation of powers which recognises the need to separate the various functions of governance and allot them to different institutions and persons. This is to avoid concentration of powers in one person or institution which will lead to authoritarianism, dictatorship and misrule.
However, at a recent meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari was reported to have stated that the principal task of the lawmakers is to cooperate with the Executive so that together, they can fashion policies that will lift our people out of poverty and out of illiteracy. While there is a need for harmony in the executive legislature relations- hip for the nation to witness progress, economic growth and development, there should be no suggestion that Nigeria needs a rubber stamp legislature that simply endorses every executive position. Such a legislature would be failing in its constitutional duties and would not be worth the votes cast for its members by the electorate.
Constitutionally, the legislature is the first arm of government created by Section 4 of the Constitution before a provision is made in Section 5 for the President and executive functionaries. It is the largest body of elected officials in any government.
Leadership is essential in all facets of life as it is the driver and motivator of change, actions and omissions for the public good. It articulates organisational challenges and issues with a view to turning them into action points for progress and development. Thus, the leadership of the National Assembly will be pivotal in fulfilling and performing its constitutional duties. The 1999 Constitution as amended, being the fundamental law of the land, simply states in Section 50 that the President and Deputy President of the Senate and the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, shall be elected by members of the House from among themselves. Although it is standard parliamentary practice for the leadership of a legislature to come from the majority party in parliament, the constitution was silent on this requirement as it left it to the political actors and members of the legislature to resolve.
It is against this background that Nigerians should approach, analyse and respond the struggle for the leadership of the National Assembly. Therefore, the attempt by a section of the ruling All Progressives Congress to foist some anointed candidates, especially to the office of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives suggests an attempt to create a supine legislature that will bow to the wishes of the executive in all matters. Even when some members of party and federal legislators complained, they were simply threatened to either conform or be expelled. This is not good for democracy especially at a time when the executive is becoming domineering and overbearing on other arms of government. If we recall the cavalier process and approach that led to the ouster of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and the failed prosecution of Bukola Saraki for emerging Senate President contrary to the wish of some of his party members, then every right-thinking Nigerian should oppose the emergence of these anointed candidates.
There is nothing wrong with zoning offices by a ruling party. But this should stop at, for instance, zoning the office of the Senate President to the North-East geopolitical zone.
Thereafter, the senators from that zone should be allowed to use their freewill to narrow down on who should lead them. Leadership of the legislature should not be imposed by outside forces, who seem to have an interest contrary to the interest of the generality of Nigerians or whose interest is only for their narrow selfish political interest which is contrary to the public good. Also, the attempt to use a voting system in electing the leadership of the legislature which would not allow legislators to freely express their franchise stands condemned. A situation where a few persons illegally and brazenly seek to impose a leadership on the legislature, with a threat to victimise legislators who resist the imposition cannot be described as democratic. Those who feel called upon to describe themselves as leaders of a political party and dish out orders without carrying the people along should honestly and meticulously allow their instructions to be tested in a free and fair environment, devoid of threats and intimidation. This would provide a balanced field for these instructions to be tested with the popular vote.
It is therefore time for our elected representatives to stand up as men and women who are not slaves and who fear no gods made with the feet of clay, to declare their full membership of the human family by living their life in dignity and voting according to their conscience. To our dear federal lawmakers, refuse to be cowed and intimidated; resist bullies, dictators and godfather’s. Send a clear message that you shall work for the Nigerian people and not for cabals and those who have held Nigeria down.