The recent face-off between the legislature and the executive is a symptom of larger malaise afflicting the National Assembly. Contrary to expectation,the legislature, not the executive, is power-hungry. Given the recent clash between the President and the President of the Senate on the one hand and the President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives on the other on the issue of budget implementation, there had been concern expressed in many quarters, including the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, whether the ship of state was headed for a crash.
My reading of what is going on is that the legislature, constitutionally the warden of the well-being of the Nigerian state, is becoming a power in its own right. This is contrary to the notion that the parliament, the executive and the judiciary are the three groups that control Nigeria.
Nigeria’s parliament has become irritable very easily. The slightest criticism of it by anyone ignites a fury and threats of punishment or sanction. Is the legislature above criticism? All of us who are in journalism are taught that those whose business it is to criticise others should be ready to take criticisms from others. The parliament sits everyday and at each sitting, an individual, a group or an institution, is put on the table and literally knifed.
Just last week, the House held a public sitting to strip the Central Bank of Nigeria of its powers. From what transpired, this action against the CBN enjoys the support of only one group – the members of the House itself. Those who came to testify, to wit, the sitting CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the former CBN governors like the respected Mallam Adamu Ciroma and Joseph Sanusi, the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, The Association of Banks Executives, the Financial Correspondents Association and the Nigerian Bar Association, the latter, having been on record for having called for Sanusi’s sack on a different matter, all opposed the reduction of CBN’s autonomy.
I remember that at an earlier appearance, Chukwuma Soludo, the reformist former CBN governor, remarked: “You don’t legislate in anger or target the law at an individual.” The parliament’s grouse is with Lamido Sanusi and for which reason they want to take back the autonomy the parliament gave the CBN barely five years ago (2007).
The vendetta against Sanusi began on the day he declared that 25 per cent of annual national budget was going to the welfare of the lawmakers while millions of ordinary Nigerians are living in abject poverty. Sanusi, who made the declaration at a university public lecture in Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State, was instantly summoned by the lawmakers the following week to appear before them to withdraw the statement but he told them he would rather vacate his seat than apologise for speaking the truth. The CBN Governor became an instant hero of Nigerians, because, unlike other meek public office holders, he refused to apologise as they demanded.
Recently, two principal officers of the government, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, and the President’s Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe,were rebuked publicly for saying things that had been said before by others, which is that resolutions of the legislature are merely advisory and not having the force of law. In fact, a survey of senior lawyers’ opinion by a daily newspaper predominantly disagreed with the legislature for attempting to give a force of law to their resolutions. According to them, the only thing that can be binding on the executive are their bills when they become law. The motions and observations of the parliament need to be translated into reality, but do they have the force of law? The reality is that they don’t.
Mr. Maku, who was more or less a victim of torture in the crucible of the parliament, was unjustifiably made to eat his own words, having stated the obvious that their resolutions have no force of law. In the matter of Maku, the President of the Senate, David Mark, was most uncharitable in dismissing the Minister as a loose talker. I have a belief that Maku is no loose talker compared to Mark, whose penchant for reckless and inflammatory speech is well known. In the wake of his indictment of the Minister or thereabout, the President of the Senate himself made two controversial statements that did not befit his exalted seat. One, he said in reaction to the gruesome killing of students in Mubi, Adamawa state, that the culprits be killed. He didn’t say that they should be subjected to trial. Two, when the cattle herdsmen killed Tiv farmers in Benue State, the President of the Senate, seated in the hallowed seat in the chamber, requested that herdsmen be confined to their states of origin to avoid the trouble they often caused. Where is his respect for the constitution which guarantees freedom of movement?
Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, was also on the chopping block of the legislature for insisting on $75 oil bench mark rather than their own $80 bench mark. They accused her of calling them illiterates for doing her job honestly, expertly, patriotically and confidently. Instead of giving her the chance to defend the rationale of the $75 oil bench mark, they launched into a battle of ego with the former Deputy Managing Director of the World Bank. In fact, one lawmaker even alleged that the budget was written single-handedly by her. The woman had to develop a thick skin to this frequent harassment of other public office holders.
The irritating thing about these lawmakers is their attempt to arrogate to themselves superior patriotism and knowledge than any other Nigerian. Our legislators are almost always critical of the conduct of others but yet they are the least tolerant of being criticised by others. They are intolerant of being held accountable by anybody but they take pleasure in publicly humiliating others in the name of oversight functions.
Recently, the Auditor General of the Federation reported that over N60 billion voted for constituency projects supervised by the lawmakers have remained unaccounted for. They silently ignored this report because they are the culprits. If this dereliction of accountability was done by others, they would have launched a public hearing into the issue. For goodness sake, if our lawmakers come to equity, let them do so with clean hands. Nigerians have suffered enough tyranny under the military and civilian pretenders to democracy. No one is prepared to go through all that by a supersensitive parliament unwilling to accommodate criticism. In a democracy, the highest office is that of the voter. Let our parliamentarians learn to accept criticism, or do the next best thing, which is quit the kitchen if they can’t stand the smoke.