Former Senate President, David Mark had in 2002 lamented the abysmal manner in which members of the National Assembly carry out their oversight functions in the country. He noted that if they were committed to their duty, there would be a reduction in some of the failures that characterized governance in the country.
Mark, however, urged the federal legislators in various standing committees of the Senate to submit their reports on the performance of that year’s budget as a way of improving on their oversight functions.
There is no denying the fact that parliamentary oversight function is one of the cornerstones of democracy. Oversight is a means for holding the executive accountable for its actions and for ensuring that it implements policies in accordance with the laws and budget passed by the National Assembly. The robust monitoring of the executive by the parliament is an indicator of good governance. Besides the parliament’s legislative function, it is through oversight that the National Assembly can ensure a balance of power and assert its role as the defender of people’s interests.
The oversight function of National Assembly finds legislative importance in Section 88, Sub-sections 1(a)-(b) and 2(a)-(b) of the 1999 Constitution. Besides, Section 89 of the 1999 Constitution empowers the legislature to procure evidence, summon persons to give evidence and require such evidence to be given on oath through examination of witnesses.
The National Assembly has the power to summon persons to procure additional document or oral evidence and (where necessary) issue a warrant to compel attendance by any person so required, on the pain of punishment if they fail to attend. The legislature has the constitutional responsibility to supervise and regulate the activities of the executive arm of government of the federation to eschew waste and ensure fiscal discipline, observance of the rule of law and strict compliance in implementing laws as passed by the legislature, and execution of development programmes and policies.
If the National Assembly loses faith in an agency, the parliament can respond in a number of ways to put things in their proper perspectives. For example, parliament can pass a law to overrule agency decisions, and/or to narrow the agency’s jurisdiction. It can use its appropriations power to restrict the agency’s funding. It can also narrow the agency’s regulatory authority.
It was in line with the readiness of the 8th National Assembly to be different that made the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki assured Nigerians of adequate oversight functions by the current federal legislators. Saraki, who spoke when he joined the Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara and others in witnessing the signing of the 2016 budget into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja recently, promised that the National Assembly will ensure its proper implementation through diligent oversight.
The senate president, while commending Nigerians for their patience while awaiting presidential assent to the 2016 Appropriation Act, said the responsibility is now that of both the executive and the legislature to ensure that the objectives and goals of the budget are duly realized.
He therefore called on ministers, heads of departments and agencies to hit the ground running with the implementation of the various provisions made in the budget so that the expectations of the people can be fulfilled.
“On our own part as members of the National Assembly, we will closely monitor the implementation of the budget by providing effective oversight. We will also ensure that all necessary laws that will aid the transformation of the contents of the budget into practical policies, projects and programmes that will directly have positive impact on Nigerians will be put in place.
“That is why we have started the amendment of the Public Procurement Act to ensure that a substantial percentage of the money to be spent in the budget is made available to Nigerians through government patronage of Made-in-Nigeria goods and services”, Saraki stressed.
The Senate President thanked Nigerians for their continued support for the present administration and promised that now that the budget has been signed into law, people will start seeing the positive impact on the economy and their standard of living. Saraki restated the National Assembly’s commitment to early passage of subsequent budgets since the President had promised earlier presentation.
In an article, “Legislative Oversight in Nigeria: a Watchdog or a Hunting Dog?” by Dr. Ejikeme Jombo Nwagwu of the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he said the principle of separation of power is the major ingredient of democracy which guarantees that the executive arm of government does not control the affairs of the legislature nor the judiciary.
He explained that the doctrine of the separation of powers implies that there should be three separate organs of government with their separate sets of functions and powers. The presidential system of government being practiced in Nigeria makes provision for separation of powers, apportioning disparate powers and duties to the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government.
Essentially, Nwagwu said the legislature as a symbol of true democracy makes laws which the executive is under obligation to implement.
According to the former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, legislative oversight refers to the power of the legislature to review, monitor and supervise government agencies, programmes, activities and policy implementation strategies of the executive arm of government.
“This is to ensure that the arm sustains the principles of good governance, remains responsive, transparent and accountable to the electorate. The committee structure of the National Assembly (House of Representatives and Senate) is being used to execute oversight functions through supervision, watchfulness, or curtail excesses, review of executive actions and activities. Oversight functions ensure that activities of the executive arm of government and its agencies are kept under constant surveillance and scrutiny by the legislature.
“A leading role for the legislature has always been adjudged an essential defense against executive tyranny. The legislature monitors, raises queries and (where necessary) censors executive activities, activities of government agencies (such as ministries, departments, parastatals, etc.) to ensure good governance and accountability”, Ndoma-Egba explained.
However, there have been incidents of legislative oversight abuse in the country. The oversight functions of the legislature or its investigative power has attracted some degree of criticisms against its apparent abuse of this parliamentary mechanism since the inception of 1999 democratic dispensation.
Nwagwu said in his article that the National Assembly’s perception of legislative oversight function as a short-cut to richness is generally worrisome because it negates the principle of good governance. He stated that any legislative investigation means a sure way of enriching the legislators involved in the exercise, and it earns them political relevance in the system as they seem to assume quasi-judicial demigods to those public officers being investigated. He added that this is why members of the National Assembly lobby for juicy committees either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives.
“Legislators often apply ungodly strategies or undue influence on the leadership of the National Assembly to obtain the chairmanship ticket of one juicy committee or the other, and as well are appointed as members to many other legislative committees. As soon as they secure the chairmanship of these committees, the next item on their political agenda is oversight functions, which results in the preliminary investigation trips to parastatals and government departments under their supervision, and subsequent public sittings (a parliamentary simulation exercise for public entertainment)”, the don stressed.
To buttress the inordinate ambitions and activities of some members of the legislature, an ugly scenario happened in 2012 during a public hearing conducted by a committee of the House of Representatives during which specific charges of corruption were preferred by Ms Aruma Oteh, the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC against the then Chairman of the House Committee, Hon. Herman Hembe which raised fundamental questions about the country’s system of government.

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