A Call For A More Responsive National Assembly,By Niran Adedokun

niran(1)Although I admit that this is a very weighty thing to say and I really hope reverse were the case, but I am persuaded to believe that majority of those who represent in elective offices have no idea what they are meant to do with those offices. And honestly, I do not think my position should surprise anyone. We know how people come by elected offices in Nigeria, don’t we?
The protocol is usually that a big man, known as godfather or leader sits behind a throne in some palatial residence, from where he decides who goes where. From the position of councillor to that Governor and even those who go to the Assembly, this godfather exhibits his discretion to the utmost. Every State in Nigeria is blessed or cursed with one of those kinds of people who decide those who represent us without any recourse to the mass of the people. The godfather does not just refuse to consult with the electorate in the choice of their representatives; he also does not consider any interest other than his own. So no matter how incompetent his choices might be, he is content with their loyalty to him and would go all the way to impose his will on the people. His only criterion is that these ones would pander to his every wish without the barest query possible. This is what I consider to be one of the most tragic occurrences in our democratic trajectory.
However, of all the structures that nurtures representative democracy, I consider the legislature to be the one most deserving of competent and independent minded people. I imagine that while it is possible to have an irresponsible executive democracy, it is totally suicidal for any society to have an irresponsible parliament as that would be inevitably lead to the demise of such a democrat experience.
While I am not competent to pass judgement on the competence of members of Nigeria’s current Assembly, I can say with every sense of responsibility that Nigeria would be a better country today if our legislators were a bit more alive to the responsibilities imposed on them by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Sadly, they do not seem to realise this. Most members, from what I have seen in the past couple of years, have concluded that the extent to which the Assembly opposes the Executive is the extent to which it performs. We have, as a result seen a parliament, which rather than work with other arms of government in the very urgent task of moving Nigeria forward, has almost taken over the role of the civil society. With due respect to members of the chambers of the legislature, very few of them contribute to debate or vote on the basis of the interest of their constituents or even some deep personal convictions. Rather, most comments, contributions and , are dictated by the interests of their godfathers, who might be anyone from their state governors, former state governors, some political heavyweight from their home state or some other wealthy and powerful fellow who is pressing their buttons from his private convenience. This is why to my mind; our legislature is deprived of passionate, robust and intelligent debates aimed at delivering better livelihood to the suffering people of Nigeria unlike we see in other democracies. I see no way in which debates meant to further the cause of the common man should result in scuffles, fisticuffs and chair-throwing, sights which our legislators usually feed us with. Such sentiments and actions are only unleashed when some entrenched interests are at stake.
Mind you, this is not an attempt to run the Assembly down. On the contrary, the piece aims at drawing the attention of the 109 distinguished Senators and 360 Honourable Members, who cost hundreds of billions of naira annually, to the enormous responsibility that they bear and that contrary to what they might think, posterity would not exonerate them if anything untoward were to happen to this great country of ours.
Although we may not all realise it, the 1999 Constitution makes the legislature the most important arm of government in Nigeria, they are like the anchor which holds the vessel from drifting. With the powers to make “laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Federation or any part thereof…” granted by Section of the Constitution and the powers to conduct investigation, otherwise known as oversight, granted by Section 88, the National Assembly stands in the best position to ensure the fulfilment of Chapter (Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy) of the 1999 Constitution. They make the laws which enable the executive and judiciary function, they are also blessed with the powers to monitor the effectiveness of these laws, query their in the case of the executive and review the laws when the desired impact is not achieved.
As lawmakers, I am wondering what our National Assembly is doing about providing an up- to-date and uniform criminal justice administration law for the country for example. I am imagining the impact that passing the National Health Bill will have on the lives of ordinarily . I haven’t read the bill but I understand from discussions with those conversant with it and my private research that the bill proposes about N60 billion naira for primary healthcare yearly and it holds the prospect for the provision of free medical care for vulnerable including children below the age of five, pregnant women, adults above the age of 65 and people with disabilities. How I wish the parliament would resolve all the knots around this bill and give us a law. This same argument goes for the Petroleum Industry Bill, which everyone agrees has the potential to move the oil and gas sector forward.
More than that however, I think the National Assembly could do far more to change Nigeria on the oversight front. My God! What awesome privilege they have to arrest the phenomena inefficiency and corruption in every area of our national life. According to Section 88 of the 1999 constitution, “the National Assembly shall have power… to direct or cause investigation into- a any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws, and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged with the duty of or responsibility- (i) executing the administering laws enacted by the National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly…”
With the amazing powers bequeathed on the National Assembly, I cannot stop wondering why there should be so much inefficiency in the system except for reasons, one being that members of the National Assembly do not understand the enormity of the responsibility bestowed on them and the other being, that members are complicit in the rot which has permeated our system.
Whatever it might be, the recent resumption of the National Assembly from vacation presents a unique opportunity for these men and women to put the interests of the Nigerian masses above any other interest. In the two years before the end of this assembly, it is possible to employ the instrumentality of lawmaking and oversight to improve the delivery of education, healthcare and welfare services of Nigerians. There are of course moments when politics take the centre stage in national life but there is time for governance and delivery of dividends to the electorate. The later should immediately preoccupy the minds of our legislators.
Adedokun, a Lagos PR consultant, wrote in via [email protected] You can follow him on twitter @niranadedokun

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