With his leadership so far, Senate President Bukola Saraki has shown that there is no alternative to a truly independent legislature, writes Akintoba Fatigun
Something had told me that the conflagration that hit the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the issues of the appointment of principal officials into the National Assembly in June of 2015 was ultimately going to be for the good of Nigerians.
Framers of the 1999 Constitution and in fact, exponents of the idea of a democratic system of government before them understood the importance of having checks and balances in the laissez-faire nature of the power donated to the executive arm of government, hence the introduction of the other two arms of government viz the legislature and the judiciary.
And from their expectations and what experience has shown the legislature towers in the responsibility of ensuring that the executive remains accountable to the electorate. I do not see the possibility for an effective democracy without an independent, responsive and responsible legislature. This is simply the most important arm of government in a truly presidential system of government.
It is the guardian of democracy and is superior to the other two arms whether they execute the laws made by the legislature or they interpret it. I think that informs the decision of framers of Nigeria’s constitution such that they allowed the creation of the legislature in Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution ahead of the executive and judiciary in Sections 5 and 6 respectively.
By this constitution, members of the legislature at the states and national levels are to perform two major functions, apart from the representation of the constituencies and districts from which they were elected. S.4 (2) speaks about the making of laws for the peace, order and good governance of the federation and state(s) and S(88) talks about directing or causing to be directed, investigations into activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), to ensure that government is held accountable to the people from where it derives its sovereignty. This is usually referred to as the oversight function of the legislature.
The legislature is the gatekeeper between the other two arms of government. The laws that the legislature makes guide the judiciary in the dispensation of justice and the executive in the day-to-day running of the country or state. In addition to this, the legislature has oversight functions, which allows it to apply measures to check and balance the activities of the executive. This is in apparent realisation that the weight of the powers conferred on the executive could tempt the holder of such powers into abuse. An independent legislature is therefore always to the advantage of the people.
But one cannot say Nigeria has been blessed with this since the advent of democracy in 1999. It is true that we have had instances of unfriendliness between the two arms of government in the past, but most of these were antagonism perpetrated by clashes in the interests of persons in charge of each of these arms at the material time. And on none of these occasions has the frictions worked on the side of the people, possibly with the exception of the disposal of the third term bid of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007.
At most other times, leaders of the executive arm of government at state and federal levels have done their best to impose leaders on the legislature to give easy passage to whatever suits their whims and caprices.
This is why one was glad that the current dispensation took off with the executive and legislative arms of government, having fundamental political difference. It is even more gratifying that although the frosty relationship has gradually improved the legislature has very much displayed appreciable ability to hold its own in their interest of the people lately. I will give a few examples.
The most recent example is the rejection of the nomination of the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu by the Senate. When the news broke, not a few Nigerians asked questions about the possibility of such a rejection. But it indeed happened and the Senate has stood its grounds on the rejection on the strength of a security report on Magu as allegedly submitted by the Department of State Services (DSS).
Although one can say that Magu has the love of a lot of Nigerians, who saw him as the true albatross of the corrupt Nigerian, those who disagree with the naming and shaming tactics of the EFCC ahead of credible investigation applauded his rejection. But more than the sentimental reasons behind individual reactions, the rejection has further built public trust in a national assembly that has in the past couple of months shown that it could bite and not just bark.
Before the Magu rejection, the Senate had thrown back to the sender, the 2016-2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) submitted to it by the executive. This followed allegations that it was too shallow for the legislature to receive the attention of the Senate. The Red Chambers also rejected Buhari’s non-career ambassadorial nominees as it also turned down the President’s request for legislative approval to borrow an external loan $29.9bn.
Does this mean one encourages incessant rejection of requests from the executive? Very far from it as that would not be in the interest of the people. The essence of this article is to encourage the Senate and by extension, the House of Representatives and the legislative houses in the states to stand alert on behalf of the people.
And we have seen flickers of this from the Senate. An example of this is the quick intervention in the attempt to impose a level of taxation of data by telecommunication companies with the tacit approval of the National Communication Commission (NCC).
The point one is trying to make is that having a truly independent legislature whose interest is nothing but the interest of the people in check of the possible abuse of power by the executive is a welcome development in a democracy. Of course there is a need to balance this reasonably. That is what one currently sees with our National Assembly and it is a disposition that we must continue to encourage.
-Fatigun is a former chairman of Ekiti Local Government Council in Kwara State
The point one is trying to make is that having a truly independent legislature whose interest is nothing but the interest of the people in check of the possible abuse of power by the executive is a welcome development in a democracy. Of course there is a need to balance this reasonably. That is what one currently sees with our National Assembly and it is a disposition that we must continue to encourage