THURSDAY Column WITH Mohammed Adamu
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Last week yours truly was a guest of the Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Ajayi Obasa, at his Alausa office. This privilege was courtesy of an invitation extended to me by a professional senior colleague, Mr. Lisa Olu Akerele, who is a friend of the Speaker. And as with the saying that ‘whenever an artist sees a vista, he wants to draw’, it is equally true of journalists: that whenever they meet a news source, they want to ask a question or two. Well, I did not ask ‘one or two’ questions. I asked a dozen: ranging from everyday lawmaking processes, oversight functions down to the routine obligation of maintaining ‘harmonious working relationship’ with the executive arm.
Lagos has become an excellent example of how disparate but forward thinking agencies of government work inter-dependently to bring about good governance. And as with virtually every sphere of governance and administration, the State Assembly, it appears, is also showing the way to how the executive and the legislature cooperate to bring about good governance. But against the backdrop of the ‘theory’ of mutual checks and balances, isn’t it contradictory, I asked him, that ‘a harmonious’ -rather than ‘acrimonious’- working relationship is what is required to bring about good governance in a democracy? Is ‘mutual cooperation’ or ‘mutual opposition’ between the executive and the legislature an incentive to good governance or is it a drag?
As a fourth time member and now Speaker of the State Assembly, Hon. Obasa demonstrated excellent grasp both of the simple rudiments of legislative ‘theory’ and of the complex vicissitude of legislative ‘practice’. He does not believe that a surfeit of executive-legislature cooperation necessarily translates, in all circumstances, to a gang-up against public interest. And Lagos he insists is an excellent, practical example of the incentive that can accrue to good governance when the executive and legislative arms cooperate with one another. Yes, a harmonious working relationship, he admitted, can be the tonic that feeds a ‘rubber-stamp’ assembly where ‘special interest’ is elevated above the ‘public good’, but not every harmonious working relationship, he insists, necessarily gives birth to a ‘rubber stamp’ assembly.
And so as our discussion assumed a life of its own, it was clear that I was the one who was obsessed with ‘theory’. The Speaker was concerned less of theory than he was of ‘practice’. And he insists that lawmakers who wear the legislative ‘shoes’ on a daily basis deal with a practical reality that trumps ‘theory’ on every encounter. Yes, he said in theory legislators are to make good laws to engender good governance. They are not at parliament to make ‘good money’ for the economic empowerment of our constituents. But in reality he asked how many constituents worry about whether or not their elected representatives make good laws? But they do care that whenever their representatives come home, they do not do so empty handed. Now, whether this is out of sheer ignorance of the proper role of the legislator, Hon. Obasa said, or it is out of selfish obstinacy, is immaterial to the practical reality that a lawmaker has to do all that is necessary to carry his constituents along.
Said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “theory is all gray, and the golden tree of life is green”. The world of ‘legislation’ and of the ‘legislative process’, Obasa said is not a world alone of ‘theory’. It is a world both of ‘theory’ and of ‘practice’. And that very often the ‘practice’ of it always trump the ‘theory’. It takes experience on the legislative arena he said for a politician to be weaned from obsession with theory to a necessary romance with ‘practical reality’. In fact some of these realities, he said, can sometimes be rudely awakening. Like when constituents openly tell their elected representatives they prefer cash hand-outs to ‘projects’ as dividends of democracy. That ‘dividend of democracy’, if it will not come ‘cash at hand’, it is not dividend enough!
In fact once when he was a councilor Obasa said, he won a borehole project for his Ward. This was his first ‘game’, if you like, from the legislative hunts-field. And he recalled how proudly he had called a meeting of the youths and elders of his community –so they could decide where to cite the project. He said that both youth and elders thanked him profusely for a job well done. But then they also asked him a question: ‘who told you that this community wants a bore hole?’ An influential local cartel of water sellers of the community insisted he took back the project back. They said that they had sent him to go and bring back home ‘economic’ empowerment for the people and not to come home killing the petty businesses that they live by. Nothing could have been more rudely awakening. Nothing could have trumped ‘theory’ more –than this kind of practical reality.
“Einstein’s space” said the Hungarian-born British writer Arthur Koestler “is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s sky”. This reality, the Speaker said is the same virtually everywhere. Including in the United States of America. It has nothing to do with the sophistication of the system, or the level of contentment of the people. It has everything to do with the universal human element. Constituents even in the United States of America are occasionally feted by their elected representatives.
The ‘legislative process’ in any democracy is the heart and soul of the democratic enterprise. It is tended to for the overall good of the entire body polity, and it is ignored often at great peril not only to the Executive arm but to the entire system’s operation. The ‘legislative process’ feeds the democratic circulatory system from the mighty jugular pipe of life, right to the minutest capillaries of everyday administration. It is the most all-encompassing of any governmental processes touching on virtually all sectors of a polity and of a necessity leaving no stone unturned.
I have interacted with lawmakers mostly at the national level. But my encounter with the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Honorable Mudashiru Ajayi Obasa, was one of the most refreshing –not to add- down to earth experience. Besides, he is one of few Nigerian lawmakers I have met also who does not believe in the utopia of so called ‘independence’ of the arms of government. Neither the Constitution he said theoretically envisages that nor does the practical reality of ‘checks and balances’ make that feasible. He believes like I have always espoused in my writings, that all arms of government are inter-dependent –and mutually self-checking.