Democracy is based on the notion that a people should be self-governing and that the representatives of the people be held accountable for their dithering, actions and inactions.
For stability and good governance to be achieved, some degree of cooperation and understanding amongst the three arms is expected. Chambers 21st century dictionary defines legislature as that part of government which has the power to make laws, while the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Science defines legislatures as political institutions whose members are formally equal to one another, whose authority derives from a claim that the members are representative of the political community and whose decisions are collectively made, according to complex procedures.
John Stuart Mill wrote that in a representative democracy, the legislature acts as the eyes, ears and voice of the people. According to him, “the proper office of a representative assembly is to watch and control the government; to throw the light of publicity on its acts, to compel a full exposition and justification of all of them which any one considers questionable, to censure them if found condemnable. In addition to this, the parliament has an office…… to be at once the nation’s committee of grievances and its Congress of Opinions.”
Loewenberg conceptualizes legislature as “assemblies of elected representatives from geographically defined constituencies, with law making functions in governmental process,” while the erudite Professor of Law, Ben Nwabueze (SAN), noted that “the legislature is the distinctive mark of country’s sovereignty, the index of its status as a state and the source of much of the power exercised by the executive in the administration of government. The sovereign power of the state is therefore identified in the organ that has power to make laws by legislation, and to issue command in the form of legislation binding the community.”
The legislature which represents the people and acts as their agent is therefore essential to good governance. The legislature is primarily, a lawmaking body not boxers or fighters which they will be throwing chairs to themselves and has intrinsic link to the people through representation. The legislatures operate under a system of collective decision making. They adopt policies and make laws through the process of deliberation, and are the bedrock of good governance.
But now the reverse is the case, our lawmakers here in Nigeria today have turned themselves into street fighters turned the red chamber of lawmaking body to ring, resulting into public fracas, disgrace and shameful to the international body, for about 30 days in office now instead of appointing their principal officers in the House, they are still deliberating on who to chose while their political parties are bent on choosing for them.
Now that the 8th National Assembly has started on the same well-worn path that doomed the 7th Assembly and aoing by the drama and intrigues that heralded the inauguration of both chambers, then Nigerians should prepare for a legislature whose modus operandi will not be any different from the last one. As the saying goes, the morning shows the day.
Former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi during his tenure, recognizing the pivotal role of the legislature at a conference of Speakers of State legislators in Abuja, in a paper on ‘building a vibrant legislature as a means of deepening democratic consolidation’, said inter alia: “It therefore, becomes a significant issue for those of us in the executive to continue to make efforts to reach out a hand of support and cooperation to you, our dear colleagues in the national legislature, as we are essentially partners in progress, with the promotion of the welfare of our people as the raison d’ etre for our intervention within the public space.”
And, we hope that our honourable members of parliament will take on the gauntlet of being genuine collaborators in development with us in good faith because it is only when there is such synergy, peace and harmony that our programmes and policies can enjoy meaningful passage through the legislature, devoid of bureaucratic hindrances or bottlenecks.
Before the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, there had already been calls for transparency and reduction in funding for the lawmakers who rank among the highest paid in the world. According to ‘The Economist’ magazine, our lawmakers earn around $160, 000 annually based on current exchange rates-more than British lawmakers. While the lawmakers earn so much, Nigerians survive on the N18, 000 monthly minimum wages.
How can we possibly justify this waste in an era when both the federal and state governments cannot pay their workers and when the country owes so much money both domestically and internationally?
What is playing out in the National Assembly is certainly not the change Nigerians either wished or voted for. Nigerians did not expect that their elected representatives will begin to bicker so soon over wardrobe or furniture allowance or who occupies which position. But here we are again confronted by the malfeasance and scandals that blighted past assemblies like the 7th National Assembly, which will go down in history as one of the worst gatherings of lawmakers since the return to democracy 16 years ago.
The role of the legislature, as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution can be seen in Section 4(1) under Part II which states inter alia: “The legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the federation which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representative.”
It goes further in Section 4(2) to state as follows: “The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation, with respect to any matter included in the exclusive legislative list.”
In simple terms, the legislature performs three basic roles or functions- lawmaking, representation and oversight functions.
So, the National Assembly in Nigeria is expected to make laws, carry out representative functions on behalf of the people, who in this, are demarcated in 109 senatorial districts and 360 federal constituencies, and exercise oversight functions on the executive arm to ensure the government is held accountable to the people from where it derives its sovereignty.
For the legislature to play its roles effectively, its hands must be clean, and house put in order. A corrupt legislature will not have credibility and authority to carry out its role as the watchdog of the people.
In analyzing the basic roles of the legislature, vis-à-vis the lawmaking, representation and oversight functions, the question that readily comes to mind is, has the legislature in Nigeria done much in the promotion of welfare of the generality of Nigerians by providing quality representation and provision of basic amenities and enabling environments? They have a duty to represent the interests of their various individual constituencies rather than representing their personal interest, parties and family members.
But our politicians do not seem to mind when the polity is heated up because of their inordinate and selfish ambitions to dominate the power equation in the country, but who is going to be at the receiving end of the crisis except the masses they are governing.
Ademola Orunbon, a political analyst wrote in from Lagos through [email protected]