House of Representatives and the Avoidable Incidences of Legislative Inaptitude

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Adeyemi Oke

In recent times, the legislative arm of government in Nigeria has received serious bashing and severe criticisms on very many varied reasons, both legitimate and invalid.

Some critics were so extreme as to suggest the abolition of the institution or the merger of the two chambers of the National Assembly to produce a unicameral legislature.

For instance, a simple search on the internet or review of social media discourse on our National Assembly would undoubtedly produce a result that shows a preponderance of negative narratives and disturbing commentaries on the operations of that arm of government.

The erstwhile INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, was on point when sometimes ago, he had decried the way in which some Committee chairmen at the National Assembly allegedly demand for bribes from chief executives of government agencies.

Regardless of the above explanations, however, one certainly wonders whether certain inapt behaviour or conduct of our legislators or the institution itself, are excusable in the light of the almost twenty years of uninterrupted democratic experience in the country and the enormous resources continuously deployed to build the capacity of both the institution and the its members in order to creditably discharge their responsibilities.

On a daily basis, we witness incidences of sheer inaptitude or inconsistencies in the legislative modus operandi of both the two chambers of our National Assembly.

However, due to space constraint, this writer would give just one example to demonstrate to the extent of the disturbing reality of the decay in our hallowed legislative chambers.

On Thursday, 28 November 2019 Nigeria witnessed an unimaginable show of illogicality at the plenary of the House of Representatives.

A motion moved by Hon. Iorember Benjamin Wayo, had sought to investigate one of the federal government agencies, PenCom, over what was described as the failure of the executive to appoint a governing board for the agency. Those who watched the proceedings of the House on that day and in particular the debate on that motion, saw how unsuccessfully the House Leader tried to persuade his colleagues not to engage in such an exercise in futility.

The House Leader realised the illogicality of investigating an agency over a matter that is outside its purview. However, the majority of his other colleagues, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, did not share his views.

They were clearly either deliberately uninterested or genuinely unable to discern the necessary implication of that motion.

It may be relevant to draw the attention of the reader to the fact that PenCom is a regulator of the multi-trillion naira worth of pension industry but just one out of many other federal government agencies whose governing boards are yet to be reconstituted. It is therefore not difficult to discern the motive for singling out the agency for such illogical investigation, especially at this point in time.

The interesting dimension of the matter is, however, the apparent inconsistency of the House of Representatives when it comes to resolution for the investigation of PenCom. Six months earlier, the House of Representatives had, on 23 May 2018, resolved to investigate PenCom within two weeks, over allegations of violation of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and financial mismanagement. Since then, the two weeks period has not expired and indeed, the resolution has entered what may be described in Nigeria as the “voice mail”.

What actually happened to that resolution is still not known but I guess the mover of that motion, Hon. Zakari Galadima, must be asking himself why in the first place he wasted his time.

Indeed, the illogicality and inaptitude of the action of the House of Representatives lies in the fact that it forgot to focus itself to addressing the unfinished business of Hon. Galadima’s motion, which are issues relevant to the interest of the electorates as they relate to matters of probity and accountability. Instead, the House chose the expediency of undertaking another venture regardless of its irrelevancy. Indeed, Lord Acton, that British historian of the late 19th century, was right when he stated that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

There is no gain saying that by behaving the way it did, the House of Representatives appears to have chosen the path of bad behavior in the conduct of its legislative activities.

The institution has ignored the lessons replete in human experience that bad behaviour naturally attracts dire consequences against its perpetrators. Indeed, such persistent negative behaviour incrementally erodes the moral authority of the National Assembly, thereby shrinking the sphere of influence of both the institution and its members in the political space.

It is therefore high time that the leadership of the House of Representatives reconsidered its modus operandi and retraced it’s steps on the matter of PenCom and other agencies of government with a view to focusing on the proper discharge of its legislative mandate.

Agencies are created to serve the needs of the people. It is a serious cause for legislators to create unnecessary problem to intimidate the agencies just as a guise to plunder our common wealth.

The National Assembly must purge itself of inappropriate or inconsistent behaviour which tend to suggest that it is afflicted with poverty of philosophy. It must be realised that the legislature in a democracy not only provide the opportunity for citizens to ventilate their views on matters of governance but also serve as a check against abuse of power by the Executive. Our elected representatives are therefore trustees of our political affairs. They must therefore act as such and keep the trust at all times.

Oke, wrote in from Ibadan, Oyo State