The Legislature in Nigeria since 1999

Owing to the historical fact that the legislative arm of government in Nigeria has always suffered a hiccup each time military misadventures sacked any government, this vital organ in democracy has remained diffident and subservient to the whims and caprices of the Executive branch.

Sadly, since 1999, the Executive branch as represented by the President and State governors, has seen itself as senior and the most powerful of the three arms of government. This is antithetical to the letter and spirit of democracy.

Nowhere is this subservience and dithering found as in the Houses of Assembly in the country. In December 2021, the Delta State House of Assembly (DSHA) approved a loan request by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for an N20 billion facility from Fidelity Bank Plc.

The Speaker of the DSHA, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, read the letter of the governor to the legislators requesting for a loan to finance the state government’s five percent equity in the UTM offshore Limited Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) Project.

With less than 13 months in office, and only 5 months after the approval of 20 billion was granted, DSHA has approved a “bridging finance facility” of a N150 billion loan for the government that has barely one year to the end of its tenure.

Its purpose, government explained, is to settle the arrears of ‘unpaid certificates earned by contractors with respect to the completion of some critical ongoing legacy projects awarded by past and present administrations in the state. Part of the loan would be used to pay outstanding pension commitments to the State and Local Government Areas, amounting to N20 billion and N10 billion respectively.

What happened in Delta State is common in all the legislative houses in the country. The National Assembly is equally guilty. The legislature under the Executive system of government is a major arm of the three arms or organs of government. It is not a junior partner.

It is one of the defining features of democracy. Being the law-making body, it serves as the guard and guide of the Executive arm. The principle of representation is mostly reflected in the legislature since every constituency is represented in the various legislative houses.

The power of the legislature is enamoured by its ability to issue or withdraw funds to the Executive arm through appropriation bills. It could query, rightly impeach, or out rightly sack the executive from office. In the absence of a strong opposition party, the legislature is expected to be the critical arm of governance.

It is therefore sad that the legislature in our democracy has reduced themselves to mere rubber stamps of the Executive arm. Various reasons have been averred for this timid and robotic attitude of legislators. Some of them are contractors to the government, full-time politicians whose survival depends on fat hand-outs from the Executive, a hangover of the long years of military dictatorship that never had a legislature as well as naivety of those parading themselves as legislators. What we have today is a far cry from democracy.

It is executive dictatorship! Committees of the National Assembly with oversight functions failed to detect huge fraud in the national treasury. Why the silence of this arm of government in the face of open thieving? In saner climes, the National Assembly would have summoned the relevant government agencies to give explanations. Insecurity in Nigeria, the prevalence of unknown gunmen, bandits, terrorists, kidnap cases, the collapse of our public health and education sectors, mass unemployment, collapsed industries, a failed economy, and food crisis are enough matters for a conscientious National Assembly.

We strongly believe that the Nigerian legislature has failed in the assignment entrusted to her by the people. They are merely self-seeking egoistic people. For a few, the legislative houses are nothing but protective bunkers where politicians hide from being probed as former governors, ministers, drug barons, etc.

A nation’s national assembly is a place for seriousminded persons who are highly knowledgeable in state affairs. We have not been so blessed with such an assembly of people here in Nigeria. Hence the call for a unicameral assembly at the national or at the extreme a return to a much cheaper system of governance at the State and or National levels that the Parliamentary system offers.

It must be pointed out that history will not exonerate the legislature from the sorry state of the country. Members of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly should brace up and begin to make laws that would guarantee the purpose of government.

Nigerians expect a government that promotes the common good, protect lives and property, secure the economy as well as promotes justice and fairness across its citizenry. The time has come for Nigerians to organize and mobilize themselves through non-Governmental organizations, trade unions, and the civil society to activate the processes of recall as entrenched in the Constitution to put so-called ‘representatives’ on their toes.

The level of political participation must be stepped up by citizens. There cannot be effective democracy without informed public opinion and political participation by all. Currently, Nigeria cannot afford a docile and timid legislative assembly.

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