A Misunderstood Legislature

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No other institution has been the subject of attacks and ridicule as the National Assembly. Chidi Nwachukwu argues that much of the criticism is borne out of a misunderstanding of the constitutional role of the Legislature

The Senate has come under intense criticisms lately for what it was perceived to have done rightly or wrongly depending on the side of the divide one belongs. Although there is no need over-flogging the constitutional mandate of the Senate visa vis the National Assembly, because it is already in the public domain. There is however a need to explain some of the activities of the Senate from an insider perspectives.

Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution as amended clearly states the role of the Legislature as law making for the good governance of the country. This is the only understanding of the National Assembly many Nigerians have. However, the Senate has much more responsibilities than what goes on in the plenary which is often beamed through a live television.

Suffice to state that Section 5 gives powers to the executive to implement or execute policies, while section 6 confers powers on the Judiciary to interpret the law.

It can be reasonably argued that the nature of the constitutional provisions and the checks and balances among the three arms of government is to make it difficult for either the legislature or the executive especially to unilaterally manipulate policies.

I recall recently a story of someone who walked into a Senator’s office and met a woman shedding tears over the loss of her undergraduate daughter in a mysterious circumstance. The woman had come with a petition to have the murder investigated by the Senate saying that she had lost faith in the police investigation. When the woman left eventually, the man who had visited expressed surprise that such a matter could come before the Senate, but the truth is that such cases do come to the Senate.

The Senate hears petitions from members of the public ranging from unlawful dismissal, murder, non-payment of pensions, demolition of properties, abdication of responsibility by the government and many other issues.

Like a judge of any superior court, the Senate has an average 50 items to consider every week in its order paper including reports, bills, motions , petitions, executive communications, committee meetings among others. It becomes more intense during budget periods as every item in the budget proposals presented by the government and its agencies must be looked into and considered accordingly.

I dare say that the lawmaker has more constitutionally designated responsibilities than the members of the executive put together. If you look closely at sections 80-81 of the constitution, one may be tempted to think that the constitution put the country in care of the National Assembly. For instance, the National Assembly regulates disbursement of funds.

The lawmaker is at the centre of governance in a democracy, and little wonder that during any military interregnum, the National Assembly is the first casualty, always dissolved immediately, which is a pointer to the fact when there is no legislature, there will be a dictatorship. However an executive not properly checked in a democracy can equally becomes a dictatorship.

At this point, let me broach on the disagreement between the current Bukola Saraki-led legislature and the executive. For me, it is just a mere disagreement and not a rift or faceoff as has been promoted in the media. And I think it is healthy for our democracy, because any day the National Assembly becomes a mere rubber stamp for executive policies, the country is doomed. It has very little to do with rosy personal relationship between President Muhammadu Buhari and Saraki, rather it is about protecting Institutions.

Many Nigerians including well respected lawyers have criticized the Senate’s resolution to stand down the screening of the 23 Resident Electoral Commissioners. The critics believed that the Senate was out to blackmail the president. But is that really the case? The Senate simply accused the president of not acknowledging its authority after rejecting Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).The Senate’s argument is that when someone has been rejected by the Senate as in the case of Magu, the president ought to relieve him of that position immediately and send another person to the Senate for consideration.

The thinking in the Senate is that in a situation where the president insists on keeping someone who has been rejected by the Senate, he is only saying in unequivocal terms that he does not recognize the authority of the Senate to reject his nominees which would be contrary to the provisions of the constitution .

The Senate is a very vital institution of any democratic governance because not only that it keeps dictatorial tendencies in check, but also ensures that justice is done to all concerned. A typical day for a senator is a very hectic one. Apart from legislative duties, he has his constituents always coming every now and then for personal and collective favours.

The Senate should be seen from a larger picture visa vis politicians who are unavoidably at the center of our lives. There is hardly any institution in Nigeria that was not created by law, which is made by the National Assembly. If we are going to amend the constitution or restructure the country as being canvassed by prominent Nigerians for the benefits of all, it is still the responsibility of the law makers. Why not accord this Institution all the respects it deserves.

The work of a Legislature is a serious business and very demanding unknown to many. It is a sacred institution devoid of propagandist machinery unlike the executive. When the legislature is attacked, as it is often the case, it has no one to defend it, but that is not the case with the executive which has a retinue of spokespersons always deployed to face the public in the event of any attack

The president’s swift intervention on the faceoff between the two arms must be commended, for where two elephants fight, the grass always suffers and in this case the already pauperized masses of this great country.

Nwachkwu, a Special Adviser to Senator Ben Murray-Bruce wrote in from Abuja

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Many Nigerians including well respected lawyers have criticized the Senate’s resolution to stand down the screening of the 23 Resident Electoral Commissioners. The critics believed that the Senate was out to blackmail the president. But is that really the case?