By Jerome-Mario Utomi
On Tuesday July 7th, 2020, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila led House of Representatives; going by reports introduced consolidated two bills that among other provisions, seeks to penalize law enforcement bodies that fails to arrest and compel the appearance of Ministers and Heads of Agencies who fail to honour summons of the National Assembly.
To add context to the discourse, the two Bills are entitled; A Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses(Power And Privileges) Act 2917 to Prescribe the Offence and Punishment for Contempt of Legislative Houses, to Provide Punishment on the Police or any other Law Enforcement Agent that refuses to Arrest any Person as directed by a Legislative House, to provide Exception to the kind of person to be compelled by a Legislative House, such as President, the Executive Governors and their Deputies, Diplomats and their agents, Representatives of international Organisations such as the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, ECOWAS.
At a glance, when one analyzes this latest Bill, it brings to the fore the role of foresight in leadership as well as leaves the analyst lost with the impression that such step was developed under the aegis of prophets as it appears so logical. It is a perfect way of restructuring the system and building the nation by extention.It did not come to many as a surprise as a peep into the 9th Assembly reveals that the present Assembly, going by the profile of members, is arguably filled with the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of NASS in Nigeria. But for identified personal interests that will be explained on the course of this piece have not allowed them do the job of lawmaking that will enhance the life chances of Nigerians.
Talking about the merit of the present Bill, aside from the fact that the National Assembly is empowered by sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution, to investigate all agencies and cause arrest, of those who do not cooperate with their enquiry on any issues, the most telling good intention about this latest Bill is signposted in its willingness to making law enforcement officers be alive to their responsibilities while promoting checks and balances among different arms of government.
Essentially also, there are more concrete reasons that made me marvel at the quality of their decision. First, separate from the fact that Nigerians have in the past witnessed situations where some Ministers and Head of Agencies ignored the legitimate legislative and judicial directives, thereby become a threat to the very structure they were appointed to protect, there is an accompanying believe that when leaders are not held accountable for serious mistakes, they, and their successors are more likely to repeat those mistakes. Such has in the past brought unwelcome departure from normal good sense and judgement in the country.
And so what this all means is that, today, and every day, Nigerians have as a responsibility to remember that enforcement of such checks and balances like AL Gore, a former Vice President of the United States of America (USA), noted, will definitely make us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed, and examined through the process of government that are designed to improve policies. And on the part of the Ministers and Heads of Agencies, the knowledge that their decisions will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power. For whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuse’ and in the absence of regorious accountability, incompetences flourishes, dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded.
But, in the pursuit of this new Bill, there is, however, something fundamentally new and different and has to do with moral argument.
Infact, there is a wide disagreement. Nigerians with critical minds are concerned about why the House is seeking obedience/compliance from the Ministers, Heads of Agencies and law enforcement agencies, to their directives whereas they (Lawmakers) have never complied to the detects of the masses that elected them to the office. The underlying premise of representative democracy, they argued, was that the voters in each constituency would be able to communicate freely within the public forum with their representatives and could rely on the free flow of information about their representative’s subsequent performance in the house in order to hold them accountable.
But what Nigerians have witnessed all this years is but increased use by the lawmakers, of sophisticated methods to manipulate public opinion and selectively controlled information relevant to collective decision making. A feat that has brought about on the part of the masses increased public apathy and declining participation in political activities, increased cynicism and distrust of the integrity of the country’s National Assembly. Of course, this explains why what is today said at the floor of the national assembly hardly matters to the people.
Specifically, think about some of the trends Nigerians have seen in the hands of the members of the 9th assembly which comprises of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, that sought a three-year jail term for anyone involved in what it calls the abuse of social media or an option of fine of N150, 000 or both. And also proposed a fine of N10 million for media houses involved in peddling falsehood or misleading the public. The Non Governmental Organization’s governance Bill (the NGO Bill), on its part contained far-reaching, restrictive provisions.
What about the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020’ which aims at empowering the Minister of Health, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and various other public health and allied institutions to regulate on quarantining, vaccination and prevention of infectious diseases in the country?
Away from the above unpalatable propositions, there are several reasons, both morally and socioeconomically that did so well to support the assertion that the lawmakers may afterwards not be better than or different from the people they propose the Bill for or accused of non compliance to the House’s directive.
The first example that comes to mind is the House’s recent but wrong push, through Honourable Odebumi Olusegun, of Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere federal constituency (APC, Oyo), a bill tagged; “Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which provides that: “no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors during their period of office.” And have same provision extended to accommodate/cover Presiding Officers of Legislative offices during their period of office.”
If they were so interested in transparency, accountability and compliance with set rule, why seek such protection? Such move was made worse by the fact that it came at a time average Nigerians were getting worse off, economically and materially, than he/she was in 2015. And when the list of actions not yet taken to better the life chances of Nigerians were still lengthy and worrying.
At this very moment also, Nigerians remember with nostalgia, the recent decline by the house the opportunity to promote local content–an expression that is daily preached within the government circle without compliance. As the house refused to patronize the locally assembled vehicles by Innoson Group, said to have been recommended for them; and in its place, opt for the 2020 edition of Toyota Camry which will not only double the price of the initially recommended but, will cost a whopping 5 Billion to purchase 400 of the Toyota Camry model needed by the house.
Essentially, aside from the rejection of Innoson brand of SUV’s initially recommended for members, and in its place, went for 2020 edition of Toyota Camry, that will gulp about N5 billion of tax payers money, and happening in the face of recent lamentation that the House is broke, what, however, made the development newsy is that the house going by report has before now been at the forefront promoting the local content laws in the country.
Finally, as the debate rages, another important point to make is that every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it remarked Frantz Fanon. Now that lawmakers are faced with the role of nation building, and the nation cries for restructuring, so has their responsibilities graduated to double folds. First, it is time for them to use their pragmatic intelligence devoid of emotional attachment to ask solution oriented questions in a solution–oriented manner. Secondly, and very important is that the hour has come for the Honourables to become the bearers of ‘true’ restructuring flagship by conscientiously restructuring their actions and inactions via leadership by example as it will collectively add up to restructuring the nation.
Very importantly also, Nigerians on their part must develop a ‘war room’ using our resolve and powers to fight the undemocratic and criminal tendencies in our consciences and government in order to usher in a truly egalitarian nation we all yearn for. This pivotal step must be taken as a failure to achieve this may render our race to restructuring elusive and view our discourse as a body without a soul.
Utomi is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.