At a recent leadership retreat of the Senate Committee on Legislative Compliance, the Senate President, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, raised a very vital point on the challenges the National Assembly has continued to face over the years in its working relationship with the Executive arm of government. Akpabio, who was represented on the occasion by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Barau Jibrin, decried the attitude of the Chief Executives of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government who were in the habit of snubbing the summons of the Committees of the National Assembly or not complying with the laws and resolutions of the legislature.
Akpabio`s observation is sure to generate a national conversation on the role of the legislature in the deepening of democratic governance in Nigeria, as it equally draws attention to the best legislative practices elsewhere in the civilized world. Speaking on the occasion, the Senate President warned the MDAs that disobedience to the laws of the land and resolutions passed by the National Assembly would no longer be tolerated.
Senator Akpabio further assured Nigerians that the Senate Committee on Legislative Compliance would henceforth ensure that the legislature and the executive arm of government live by example in matters of compliance with the rule of law. In his words:
“The mood of the current Senate is that non-compliance with our enactments and legally made decisions will not be tolerated because to tolerate that is a way of allowing for threat to the foundation of our democracy. We call on MDAs to at all times, fully abide by legally made decisions of the Senate and also the enactments made by the National Assembly.”
He further reiterated: “The Senate Committee on Compliance will ensure that the executive arm executes its policies and programmes in compliance with the laws and resolutions of the legislative arm of government. Such compliance is necessary for the deepening of our democracy and instilling the checks and balances in the system.” He further noted that if we are to have a decent society, laws must be respected.
Democracy is built and thrives on the rule of law. Non-compliance with the laws of the land can only lead to anarchy. For our democracy to survive and endure, all the arms of government, including the executive, legislature and judiciary, must comply with the rule of law.
The observations and charge by the Senate President could not have come at a better time than now, considering the fact that another budget cycle is here with us. As the National Assembly begins the consideration of the 2024 budget which would soon be tabled before it, the Chief Executives of the MDAs are expected to appear before the various Senate and House Committees to defend their budget estimates.
The Committees may be requesting from the MDAs relevant documents with regard to budget performance in the preceding year with a view to justifying the current budget proposals. In the past, some of these MDAs, hiding under spurious excuses hardly honour summons by the Committees. We are also aware that some Chief Executives of MDAs, with the backing of the Presidency, used to shun invitations to investigative hearings by the National Assembly.
Such flagrant attitude which is in breach of Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution was very rampant, particularly during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. Many Ministers, during that period, were in the habit of evading summons to the National for one flimsy reason or the other. Again, some Members of the National Assembly also got entangled in government contracts and became compromised. This created room for the disdain with which the executive treated the communications emanating from the Assembly.
In the light of the postulations by the Senate President on the issue of legislative compliance, the National Assembly should assert the legislative powers solely conferred on it by the Constitution. For example, Section 89, sub-section (1c) gives powers to the National Assembly to “summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions.” The Constitution under sub-section (1d) of Section 89 further empowers the National Assembly to compel attendance to its summons through the issuance of arrest warrant.
It must also be noted that the resolutions of the National Assembly carry the moral force of law; and therefore binding on all authorities and persons in Nigeria. This is with regard to Section 4 (1) of the Constitution which confers the legislative powers of the Federation on the National Assembly. Analysts believe that the tough stance of Akpabio on the issue of legislative compliance would send clear signals to the MDAs that it would no longer be business as usual. Those in charge of our MDAs must, therefore, show responsibility and accountability in line with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act passed by the 7th National Assembly.
Senator Akpabio, through his actions, has shown that the 10th National Assembly under his watch cannot be a toothless bulldog. The Assembly is ready to bark and bite. The MDAs which constitute the engine of government must sit up and deliver on their mandates in strict compliance with the laws of the land.
Dr. Nwosu, a Political Analyst writes from Abuja.