Introduction and definition of key concepts:
I will approach this lecture by first defining key concepts. I will thereafter locate the source of authority of the legislature, its functions and role in a democratic society, and finally x-ray the actual performance of legislative functions over the years to enhance and deepen democracy in Nigeria. For the purposes of this lecture, I will concentrate on the role of the National Assembly, knowing full well that the functions of the legislature at the national and state levels are basically the same. Moreover, there is not enough information to appraise the performance of State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria.
Without sounding very academic it is obvious that this lecture would not be complete without understanding some concepts relevant to the topic of discussion, especially Democracy and Legislature.
What therefore is democracy and how has it evolved over the years? It seems from available evidence, that there are no settled definitions of Democracy. It means different things to different people and is largely dependent on the type and system of government being practiced by a given political entity. Historically, democracy comes from two Greek words, ‘Demos’, meaning ‘people’ and ‘kratos’, meaning, ‘rule’ or ‘power.’ It is thus, a system of government in which the people rule.
Democracy also has roots in the Magna Carta, England’s “Great Charter” of 1215 that was the first document to challenge the authority of the English king, subjecting him to the rule of the law and protecting his people from feudal abuse. In our modern era, perhaps the most popular definition of democracy is credited to Abraham Lincoln, the former President of the United States, in his Gettysburg Address, where he described democracy as: ‘Government of the people by the people for the people’. It was Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister who said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
The Britannia online description of democracy, is perhaps a good foundation of understanding the different strands of democracy, thus: “The term has three basic senses in contemporary usage:
(1) a form of government in which the right to make political decisions is exercised directly by the whole body of citizens, acting under procedures of majority rule, usually known as direct democracy;
2) a form of government in which the citizens exercise the same right not in person but through representatives chosen by and responsible to them, known as representative democracy; and
(3) a form of government, usually a representative democracy, in which the powers of the majority are exercised within a framework of constitutional restraints designed to guarantee all citizens the enjoyment of certain individual or collective rights, such as freedom of speech and religion, known as liberal, or constitutional, democracy.” –
Britannica Online http://www.eb.com:180/cgibin/g?DocF=micro/164/95.html.
6. It may be more accurate to use the term, constitutional democracy which Nigeria currently practices. That Nigeria is a democracy is even stated in the Constitution itself. Indeed S.14 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (the Constitution) provides that ‘
14. (1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.
(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that
(a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;
b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and
(c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
The Constitution made an attempt above to itemize the ingredients of the principles of democracy. S.14(2)(2(c) enjoins the observance of some form of participatory democracy. The key elements of democracy, include:
A political system where the government is enthroned with the consent of the governed through periodic free and fair elections; The active participation of the people, as sovereign, in the affairs of State; Protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights of all citizens; Good governance which encompasses transparency and accountability of government to the people; Ensuring fidelity to the Rule of Law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
The system of government established by the Constitution meets all the democratic criteria set out above. The Federal, State and Local Governments can only be constituted through democratic processes which requires all the key actors especially Legislature and key officers in the Executive Branch like the President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor to be democratically elected. The Constitution also guarantees ‘the system of democratically elected local government Councils.’ The tenure of the Chief Executives of both Federal and State governments is constitutionally limited to two terms of Four years each.
In addition, participatory democracy is constitutionally assured through the right of a citizen to vote at elections for Executive and legislative offices and be voted for, subject to a set criteria of eligibility. There can be no democracy without the effective and active participation of the people. And as stated by former President Dwight Eisenhower: “Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of freemen.”
The Constitution further guarantees basic human rights and individual freedoms in Chapter 4 thereof. It establishes a presidential system of government that fairly separates the personnel and functions of each arm of government namely, the legislature that makes law, the Executive that executes the law so made and the Judiciary that interprets the laws. Apart from separation of powers of government, the Constitution introduced a lot of measures for checks and balances of each arm of government. In Tony Momoh vs. Senate, the Supreme Court admonished that:
“The Nigerian Constitution separates the three arms of government –executive, legislative, and judicial – and each is supreme in its area of authority, but only in so far as it confines itself to, and acts within the powers conferred on it. If it exceeds such powers or acts in contravention of or in conflict with the provisions of the Constitution, it would be the duty of the judiciary to put it in check at the instance of an aggrieved party.”
The purpose of these provisions is to ensure the enthronement of democracy and the prevention of autocracy. It was felt that concentration of governmental powers in one department and fusion of the personnel of different arms would be anti democratic and may lead to dictatorship. After all it was Lord Acton that said:‘ Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. And as was admirably stated by the Court of Appeal in Nemi vs. AG Lagos State, the rule of law “is the first principle of democracy as exemplified in the doctrine of separation of powers which is antithetical to autocracy.”
However, the Constitution has not created so rigid a separation of governmental powers as to lead to anarchy and breakdown of democratic governance. It was this spirit that led the Court of Appeal to declare in Gadi vs. Male,that in spite of the allocation of powers to these different arms, they ‘are under an onerous duty to work with one another in a harmonious and congenial atmosphere, for the purpose of promoting good governance and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of Freedom, Equity, and justice.”
Having fairly dealt with the question of Democracy, it is now apt to attempt a definition of what Legislature means. Historically, the idea of Legislature has been around for a long time. The Greek City States with Athens as the most prominent had a legislature called “Ecclesia,” of which all citizens above twenty years of age were members. They meet forty times a year.
The Constitution of Rome as far back as the 3rd Century BC, had four classes of lower Assemblies. It also had an upper legislative Chamber, called the SENATE with a membership of 300 eminent citizens. They usually reviewed decisions of the lower Assemblies. The Senate was the pre-eminent parliamentary body of the day and is one of the legacies of the Roman Parliamentary System.
The idea of a central legislative Assembly, Congress or parliament can be traced to Medieval Europe. The burning issue of Taxation and the opposition to the ruling Monarch’s control of taxation led to the cliché of “no taxation without Representation” as a banner of and the bedrock of representative government. This eventually led to the birth of the British parliament. The Legislature in the USA was a creation of the Constitutional Convention that produced the US Constitution.
Legislature just like Democracy has different meanings to different persons. Loewenberg (1995:736) conceptualizes legislatures as “assemblies of elected representatives from geographically defined constituencies, with law making functions in the governmental process.” John Stuart Mills clearly emphasized that ‘it is the duty of the legislature to watch and control the government (executive); to throw the light of publicity in its acts, to compel a full exposition and justification of all of them which anyone considers questionable.’
It is useful to underscore the fact that these generic functions of the legislature are adequately covered in the constitutional powers assigned to the Nigerian legislature in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
But whatever definition you may adopt, the legislature is essentially a body of persons, who are empowered to make, change, or repeal the laws of a country, state or entity. The essential purpose of this lecture is to showcase the role of the legislature in deepening democracy and democratic practices, especially in Nigeria.
Powers and functions of the legislature:
The legislative powers of the Federation are provided in Section 4(1-5) of the Constitution and vested exclusively in the National Assembly S.4(1). Furthermore, The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution. – 4(2). It is further provided that ‘The power of the National Assembly to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List shall, save as otherwise provided in this Constitution, be to the exclusion of the Houses of Assembly of States’ S.4(3).
These provisions were interpreted in Attorney General, Abia State vs. Attorney General of the Federation, where the Supreme Court, per Niki Tobi of blessed memory said: “By the provision(S.4(2)), the law making power of the National Assembly is not restricted to the federal government, but also extends to any part of the Federation if the latter is in the Exclusive Legislative List. The second arm of Section 4(2), like the first arm, is not open ended. It is restricted to matters included in Exclusive List set out in part one of the Second Schedule of the Constitution.”
‘In addition and without prejudice to the powers conferred by subsection (2) of this section, the National Assembly shall have power to make laws with respect to the following matters, that is to say:-
(a) any matter in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto; and
(b) any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’ S.4(4).
By virtue of Section 4(5) of the Constitution ‘If any Law enacted by the House of Assembly of a State is inconsistent with any law validly made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly shall prevail, and that other Law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.’
The Constitution also provides in S.4(6) for States Legislative powers as follows. ‘The legislative powers of a State of the Federation shall be vested in the House of Assembly of the State.”
And by virtue of ‘S.4(7): “The House of Assembly of a State shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State or any part thereof with respect to the following matters, that is to say:-
(a) any matter not included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.
(b) any matter included in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto; and (c) any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
The effect of the S.4(7) provision is that any matter that is neither in the Exclusive Legislative List or Concurrent Legislative List is squarely within the jurisdiction of the States as a residual matter.
This was the view of the Supreme Court also In reOlafisoye, agreeing with Professor B.O. Nwabueze, thus, “The Federal arrangement under the Presidential Constitution assigns to the federal government power over enumerated matters, leaving to the state governments, the residue of matters not so enumerated, called residual matters.”
S.4(8) states that ‘Save as otherwise provided by this Constitution, the exercise of legislative powers by the National Assembly or by a House of Assembly shall be subject to the jurisdiction of courts of law and of judicial tribunals established by law, and accordingly, the National Assembly or a House of Assembly shall not enact any law, that ousts or purports to oust the jurisdiction of a court of law or of a judicial tribunal established by law.’
S.4(9) says that ‘Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the National Assembly or a House of Assembly shall not, in relation to any criminal offense whatsoever, have power to make any law which shall have retrospective effect.’
Apart from S.4 of the Constitution which is essentially power to make laws, the National Assembly has a plenitude of other powers embedded in the Constitution, designed to enable it perform its leading role in our democracy. These include power to conduct investigations (S.88); to act as watchdog of public funds; power of appropriations (S.80-84); power of confirmation of presidential appointments, checks and balances, Oversight, removal of certain officials, approval of declaration of state of emergency, implementation of treaties, impeachment of Mr President and Vice President and their removal from office; receipt of Auditor-Generals Report; Power to make laws for the states in certain circumstances, power to override presidential veto of legislation, power to regulate political parties, power to approve troops deployments for war; power to amend the Constitution; Power to regulate its internal proceedings.
Other powers include powers to establish Contingency funds and other public funds of the Federation or states; power to authorize expenditure from Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation or states through Appropriation Acts/Laws; power of the National Assembly to fix remuneration, salaries and allowances for President, Vice President, Chief Justice of the Federation and other officers specified in the Constitution; and the power of the National Assembly to approve proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account and distribution of monies from the federation account between the Federal, State and Local Governments. In fact, a recent study identified about One Hundred and Twenty Two powers of the National Assembly embedded in the Constitution.
I have gone to this elaborate extent to leave no one in doubt as to the plenitude of legislative powers vested in both the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly of the States in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The next question that arises is as to how have these powers been used to deepen democracy in Nigeria?
I would answer this question by submitting that the very existence of an elected legislature in Nigeria is a major development in Nigeria’s democratic history as it was not always so. We are all familiar with the story of military interventions in Nigeria and how they ruled for 29 years without an elected legislature. In Nigeria therefore the term democracy actually essentially refers to the existence of an elected legislature as the Executive and Judicial branches even though with an unelected Executive have always functioned even under various military juntas.
An elected legislature has three essential functions; Law making, representation and oversight. We have already exhausted the law making functions of the legislature represented by S.4 and other enabling provisions. The Constitution also clearly delineates the status of members of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly as representatives. This is the inescapable interpretation of S.48 and 49 of the Constitution: “The Senate shall consist of three Senators from each state and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”
“Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the House of Representatives shall consist of three Hundred and sixty members representing Constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one State”. This is the basis of the Legislatures’ representative functions.
Oversight powers of the Legislature ensures that the parliament exercises a supervisory role over the other organs of government in order to enthrone good democratic governance. It performs its oversight functions through scrutiny of executive branch agencies and policies. The Constitution directly empowers the legislature to act as a check on the Executive Branch.
This is the irresistible conclusion and interpretation of S. 88 thereof. S. 88 says: “(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed 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 for –
(i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and
(ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
(2) The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to –
(a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and
(b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.”
For the efficacy of the powers conferred on the legislature in S. 88, the Constitution provided the means for achieving the lofty goals enunciated. Thus S.89 says “(1) For the purposes of any investigation under section 88 of this Constitutional and subject to the provisions thereof, the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with section 62 of this Constitution shall have power to –
(a) procure all such evidence, written or oral, direct or circumstantial, as it may think necessary or desirable, and examine all persons as witnesses whose evidence may be material or relevant to the subject matter;
(b) require such evidence to be given on oath;
(c) 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; and
(d) issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House or the committee in question, and order him to pay all costs which may have been occasioned in compelling his attendance or by reason of his failure, refusal or neglect to obey the summons, and also to impose such fine as may be prescribed for any such failure, refused or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law.
(2) A summons or warrant issued under this section may be served or executed by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or by any person authorised in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may require.”
In addition to the above, the legislature uses the instrument of legislation to strengthen its constitutionally assigned role of providing checks on the Executive. This is the basis for the enactment of The Legislative Houses, Powers and Privileges Act which further expounds and gives teeth to the legislature to perform its functions.
Furthermore, the Constitution has given the legislature power to control its internal affairs by Regulation. S.60 of the Constitution is to the effect that the legislature shall have power to regulate its own procedure.
The National Assembly has pursuant to this constitutional power, creatively made its internal operational rules called STANDING ORDERS to guide its operations. And because the Constitution directly protects the sanctity and authority of the Standing Orders, it has given the legislature further tools to use to safeguard its legislative prerogatives and ensure good governance in our practice of constitutional democracy.
Contribution of the legislature in deepening democracy:
The legislature in Nigeria has contributed immensely in deepening the practice of constitutional democracy in Nigeria, especially since the introduction of the 1999 Constitution, in its various functions. If Democracy rests on the Due process and the Rule of Law, it therefore means that our Democracy can only be as deep as the laws upon which it is built.
The 8th House of Representatives under my leadership as Speaker, at its inauguration set out an ambitious Legislative Agenda, which serves as a compass of its legislative activities for four years (2015 –2019) to deepen democracy in Nigeria. It committed in the Agenda thus:
“..The legislature’s contributions to Nigeria’s democracy remain critical and important. The 8th House of Representatives will assert its role in providing leadership in the areas of accountable and transparent government, citizens engagement, as well as constituency representation.
The House of Representatives will collaborate with its counterpart in the Senate and other arms of government to legislate for the common good of the Nigerian people. Our legislative activities will cover critical spheres of life in Nigeria. The House will legislate to achieve reforms in Nigeria’s national economy and development, tackle poverty, unemployment, confront the scourge of corruption, terrorism and security challenges in the country. The House will also give priority to green legislations to address environmental challenges such as desertification, erosion and pollution.
The 8thHouse of Representatives will also work assiduously to improve the governance process in Nigeria by legislating to cut the cost of running government, reduce wastage and tackle National Revenue leakages. The House commits to playing its part in rescuing Nigeria from the clutches of hunger, poverty, disease, social, economic, political and infrastructural quagmire.
The 8th House of Representatives, as a Peoples’ Parliament, will be sensitive to public demands for transparency and accountability not just by the House of Representatives but also by government at all levels. Our legislative actions would therefore seek to build public confidence and trust and be responsive to citizens’ questions regarding the conduct of legislative business. The House will work for public good and serve as the institution that defends the rights of the people to an accountable and transparent government.”
Contributions through law- making:
In the area of law-making, it has used its extensive law-making powers to make land mark legislations and critical interventions not only to advance democracy in Nigeria but to promote the economic, social and political wellbeing of Nigeria. The National Assembly has over the years used legislative measures to also promote national unity, democratic stability, national security and good governance.
Law-making is perhaps the most important aspect of the work of the legislature. Legislation involves the introduction of bills by legislators. In Nigeria, a member may introduce a bill, called Private-Members’ Bills. The Executive, especially Mr. President may also initiate legislation by informing the Presiding Officer of his legislative proposals. This is referred to as Executive Bill. However, apart from money Bills, such as Appropriation Bill, Supplementary Appropriation Bill, Contingency Funds of the Federation, the Constitution does not give the President express powers to initiate legislation. This is a distinguishing feature of the presidential system of government from the parliamentary system.
The 8th Assembly at the incipient empanelled a Committee of experts to review all existing laws with a view to recommending ways by which they can be made adaptable to existing realities. A record number of Bills were produced by this Committee which if passed into law will not only help deepen our laws but clean up our statute books. By deepening our laws, the Legislature would have succeeded in deepening our democratic process. This is one of the most important work of deepening our democracy that the legislature is currently engaged in.
Even the most casual observer of Nigeria’s democracy in the last three electoral cycles would admit that despite perceived gaps in the exercise of its oversight mandate, the legislature at the national level has achieved a modicum of institutional growth. At the national level, the legislature is increasingly becoming more assertive in the process of law making. The 6th, 7th and 8th National Assemblies showed remarkable progress in terms of increase in the proportion of Members’ Bill that were considered and passed into law over the number of the Executive Bills that hitherto dominated Bills considered and passed by the National Assembly. Many of them are high impact legislation that includes anti-corruption, Freedom of Information, and constitutional amendments that have deliberately sought to respond to some of the lacuna in the 1999 Constitution and tended to impact negatively on governance.
In order to ensure democratic accountability and ease the work of the legislature, with respect to its law making functions, parliament creates Committees with mandates on different areas or subjects traversing the gamut of the entire governmental functions. This makes specialists out of legislators and leads to better and more qualitative legislative output.
I make bold to say that the National Assembly has been an activist, enlightened and progressive institution, focused on the people’s interest since 1999. It has demonstrated its efforts in deepening democracy through the various legislations on all aspects of our national life. It has been a formidable institution of the Nigerian people over the years in spite of its shortcomings as a human institution.
The National Assembly’s legislative response to the issues of national unity and resolving crises and stemming centrifugal forces in Nigeria has been outstanding. The following examples readily come to mind. During the early Niger-Delta crises, the National Assembly enacted two major pieces of legislation, namely:
– The Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment) Act 2000 and
– The Revenue Allocation (Allocation of On Shore – Off Shore Dichotomy) Act, 2004.
The National Assembly was so concerned with consolidation of peace and democracy in Nigeria that it overrode presidential veto of the Bill and provided more favourable financial terms than Mr. President envisaged.
Only recently, the National Assembly responded to the socio-economic devastation and displacement of over 3 million people in the North East Zone by establishing through a Private Members Bill, the North East Development Commission Act, 2017 to rehabilitate, reconstruct and re-develop the zone.
National Assembly also sought to re-dress the educational imbalances between various states and regions and to uplift the social status of every Nigerian by intervening legislatively in the education sector through the: Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education Act, 2004, which mandatorily requires every government in Nigeria to provide “free universal basic education for all children of primary and junior secondary school age.” Citizens of democracy cannot afford to stay ignorant and free.
The National Assembly intervened to provide a level playing field for the practice of freedom of religion by repealing the Nigerian Pilgrims Act, 1989 which catered exclusively for moslem pilgrimages and replaced it with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Establishment Act, 2006 and the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (Establishment) Act, 2007, to take care of both Moslems and Christian Pilgrimages respectively.
In furtherance of the Constitutional prescription that security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of government, the National Assembly through various legislative measures have promoted democratic stability in the country. The passage of following laws bears this out
• The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps Act, 2003;
• The Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011 as amended in 2012;
• Approval of the state of Emergency proclamation in the States of Plateau, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
Perhaps the most important legislation passed by the National Assembly is related to electoral reforms, geared towards ensuring free and fair elections which is a sine quo non to any meaningful democracy.
In my own estimation, the contribution of the national legislature to the review of the legal and constitutional framework of electoral democracy stands out as a landmark contribution to deepening democracy in Nigeria. If indeed, the widely shared reports of domestic and international observers that Nigeria’s 2011 elections were the most credible since 1999 and that the 2015 general election was even much better, the legislature in Nigeria should legitimately appropriate some of the credit.
The following are some of the specific interventions, on electoral reform:
• The First and Second Constitution Alteration Acts, 2010-2011 ensured the financial independence of INEC by placing them in the first line charges;
• Various amendments of the Electoral Act ensured that the consent of the Senate is obtained for the appointment of State Independent Electoral Commissioners;
• Internal party democracy has been enhanced by the introduction of compulsory party primaries with monitoring by INEC;
• Authorising INEC to de-register Political Parties;
• Introduction of electronic accreditation by INEC;
• Proposed Constitution amendment introducing Independent Candidacy with safeguards to avoid crowding the ballot paper.
• Proposed Constitution amendment introducing qualifications for access to the ballot by political parties and Independent Candidates.
• Proposed Constitution amendment which will ensure that only candidates that have passed through all the stages of the electoral processes are declared duly elected, in a direct reversal of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Amaechi Vs INEC.
• Proposed constitutional amendment reducing age qualification for political offices A.K.A Not too young to Run in response to the yearnings of young men and women who were excluded in the political process.
From our experience in the practice of democracy, the existence of an enlightened and a well-informed electorate is very important for making a democratic and credible choice of candidates or choice of political parties that will best advance the interest of the voter. A well informed civil society also plays a key democratic role of holding the government accountable. It is in this respect that the work of the National Assembly in passing the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, a Private-Members’ Bill, should be appreciated. This Act liberalized access to public records and information as opposed to the Official Secrets Act.
A major legislation by the National Assembly that helps to promote democracy and Rule of Law and observance of human rights, and accountability is the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Amendment Act, 2010, which gave the agency an independent status and established it as a very important organ for redressing rights violations and mechanisms for public enlightenment and citizen engagement including a robust public hearing procedure. Funding of the Commission is now a direct charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government.
In the area of promotion of the Rule of Law, checks and balances and judicial oversight, the National Assembly passed the …”Supreme Court (Additional Jurisdiction) Act, 2002”, giving the Supreme Court exclusive original jurisdiction in any constitutional disputes between the National Assembly and the President, between the National Assembly and a State of the Federation.
The National Assembly also passed “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (third Alteration) Act, 2010” which established the National Industrial Court as a superior Court of Record dealing exclusively with employment, industrial relations and labour disputes.
A major contribution to stable labour relations in Nigeria.
Constitutional democracy cannot survive where there is debilitating poverty and very weak economy. Corruption is one of the major factors that contribute to the poor economy of many countries, where it is endemic. It was therefore as a major contribution in deepening our democracy when the National Assembly passed laws to checkmate corruption in Nigeria.
The laws include:
• Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 which established the ICPC
• The EFCC (establishment) Act, 2007, which established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Further efforts at institutionalizing the fight against corruption and promotion of transparency, was the enactment of the Public Procurement Act, 2007, which in general sought to prevent fraudulent and unfair procurement so that government could have value for money for goods and services procured.
Other transparency related laws aimed at stabilizing Nigeria’s economy include:
• Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 to ensure greater efficiency in the management of public finances.
• Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Act, 2007 which established a legislative framework for ensuring due process, transparency, accountability and the elimination of “all forms of corrupt practices…. in the reporting and disclosure” of all revenues due or payable to the Federal Government and other statutory recipients by extractive industry companies and the application or use of those revenues by the government.
• The Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (Establishment etc) Act, 2011, set up an authority with an initial capital of $1Billion US Dollars, to receive, manage and invest in a diversified portfolio, revenues from the government in order to “prepare for the eventual depletion of Nigeria’s hydrocarbon reserves.”
•The National Assembly has through various legislative measures intervened to specifically strengthen the Legislative institution in order to position it to play its prominent role in our constitutional democracy. A weak legislature is antithetical to good governance and consolidation of our hard won democracy. The National Assembly amended the Constitution in 2010 that placed it on the first line charge thereby ensuring its relative financial and administrative autonomy.
Furthermore, the National Assembly set up the National Institute of Legislative Studies to provide crucial capacity enhancement for legislators, legislative staff and the institution as a whole. The institute has a mandate to also enlighten Nigerians on the role and place of the legislature in our democratic process. The National Assembly Service Commission Act has ensured that service matters of the legislature are handled within the purview of the legislative institution to enhance the separation of powers design of the Constitution. The National Assembly Budget and Research Office Bill (NABRO)has been passed by both chambers and is awaiting presidential assent. This law is expected to provide the legislative arm of government with a robust, well researched and accurate information and data on the economy, budget data and other financial information that will enable the Legislature adopt proper legislative measures on subjects of interest.
• Many other bills have been processed to aid our economic growth and development. These include the National Communications Communications Act, Pension Reform Act, Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 and a host of others.
The House of Representatives has received and processed over 2000 Bills between 1999 and 2017. Interestingly, less than 40% were Executive Bills. The bulk were Private Members’ Bills. The 8th House of Representatives has so far passed 159 Bills out of the 1055 bill presented for first reading between 2015-2017 (November). 30 Bills have so far received Presidential assent since June 2015. While about 6 had been vetoed. The National Assembly successfully overrode the veto of Mr President on one of the bills, the Lottery Act Amendment Bill.
Perhaps one of the greatest contribution to deepening democracy in Nigeria by the Legislature was the rejection of the proposed amendment of the Constitution to extent the term of office of the President and Governors beyond the limit of Eight Years. By so doing, the National Assembly contributed in no small measure to ensuring that the democratic process is entrenched as the means of ensuring respect to term of office limit and for resolving the intractable problem of succession which historically has bedeviled Nigeria’s democracy. It was perhaps one of democracy’s finest hour. It marked out the legislature in Nigeria as independent, enlightened, nationalistic, and a credible institution that had come of age.
Again, in 2010, a constitutional crisis with potential to sound the death knell of the Fourth Republic was averted by the National Assembly, which had to invoke the so called “Doctrine of Necessity” to make the then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan Acting President with a diminished prospect of the ailing President UmaruYar’adua returning to office. The prospect of the ailing president dying in office created anxiety within the then ruling party and the nation. The tension generated across the country and the resurgence of North/South political fault lines sent alarming signals, including rumours of politicians seeking the intervention of the military to avoid a catastrophe. The “Doctrine of Necessity” invented by the leadership of the National Assembly culminated in the passage of a historic motion by both Chambers of the National Assembly. This calmed nerves and returned the country to the path of political stability.
Whatever contributions of the legislature so far elucidated, pales into insignificance when the appropriate role the legislature plays in the public finance sector of the economy is interrogated.
The annual budgetary process presents a yearly opportunity for the legislature to allocate funds to all sectors of the economy. The budget is perhaps the most important piece of legislation dealt with by parliament annually. It is the instrument used by the legislature to ensure that the needs of the people are provided for. Although the Constitution gives the President the power to initiate financial legislation by providing that “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National assembly at any time in each financial year, estimates of the revenue and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year (S.81(1)), the Constitution nevertheless grants the legislature power to scrutinize the budget proposed by Mr. President on behalf of the people who elected them. Ample authority for unimpeded legislative action on the budget by the National Assembly can be found in many parts of the Constitution including Sections 4, 80(2); 80(3) and 80(4). In any case, the ultimate power over money Bills is provided for in S.59 of the Constitution, where the National Assembly is given power to override any veto or withholding of assent by Mr President on any Bill including money Bill.
Contributions through oversight functions of the legislature:
Oversight over the activities of mostly the Executive branch is one of the cardinal functions of the legislature that helps to deepen the practice of democracy, especially in a presidential democracy.
The model of presidentialism practiced in the United States of America influenced Nigeria’s adoption of the presidential system of government. Legislative oversight was developed by practice and judicial approval in the USA. In Nigeria, however, legislative oversight is imbedded in S. 88 of the Constitution, with the tools of conducting it provided in S.89. It is a major devise used by the legislature in Nigeria to expose corruption, waste and mismanagement of public funds in the public sector. The sometimes mind boggling revelations unearthed by various Committees of the National Assembly helps deepen the democratic process and accountability of the government to the people.
I will give a few examples of the work of the Nigerian legislature in this field. The House of Representatives has conducted about hundreds of investigative hearings and presented reports on major economic crimes in the country over the years. The 8th House of Representatives conducted over 50 Investigative Hearings. These include investigations on the award of contract for the rehabilitation of Nigerian Railways; Installation of CCTV Cameras in Abuja and Lagos, alleged $17 billion stolen from undeclared crude oil and LNG exports to global destinations; The investigative hearing on Centenary City Project; Pre- Shipment investigation, Amnesty programme and Several anti-corruption investigations have also been conducted by the 8th House of Representatives. Further instances where Legislative oversight was used as a major instrument for uncovering various acts of corruption and mismanagement of public funds which is healthy for development of democracy and good governance, can be gleaned from these few examples.
• National Assembly oversight work exposed pension fraud worth billions of Naira, about N195billion.
• Aviation sector had also witnessed major investigations and resolutions over the years.
• House of Representatives investigation uncovered various sharp or fraudulent practices by several MDA’s which included under declaration, non-remittance and diversion of revenues generated by them of over 2 Trillion Naira.
• Several National Assembly Committees exposed fraud in the management of Ecological Funds.
• The Petroleum Sector has witnesses a series of investigative hearing. The famous PTDF Investigation unearthed glaring irregularities, in the Agency. The fuel subsidy investigation was a landmark as it exposed the rot and scam in the fuel subsidy regime.
• A House Finance Committee investigation discovered various cash balances in several accounts of Revenue collecting Agencies totalling N563 Billion which had to be remitted into the Federation Account as a result of the legislative intervention.
• NDDC Committee in 2005, secured the release of N18 Billion due to the Commission from various oil companies.
• Frequent intervention of parliament has helped to ensure that pensioners are paid as and when due, that workers returned to work, and that the economy exited from the crushing recession we found our selves in, not too long ago.
Parliamentary oversight has led to ensuring that only projects with direct relevance or benefits to the people in accordance with the MDGs now SDG’s were prioritized in budgetary allocations. In 2007, MDGs committees ensured that about N38.5 billion was returned to the coffers of the Federal Government which was traced to inefficiencies and inability of MDAs to spend on MDGs-related projects.
Contributions through representation:
Representation is the other important function of a legislator. Representation is at the very heart of representative and constitutional democracy. An elected representative is a person sent by a constituency to represent the views and aspirations of his people. He has a duty and responsibility to bring to the attention of parliament the needs, problems and interests of his constituents.
It is this democratic theory of representation that gave rise to what is now commonly known as Constituency or Zonal Intervention projects, which is now an entrenched policy deliberately crafted to ensure equitable representation of every constituency in the allocation and distribution of the resources of the nation.
The rationale is that an elected member of parliament is closer to his people than unelected persons who hold sway in the budgetary processes and policy execution. “He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches,” the adage says. Thus constituency A may require electricity while Constituency B may require a road to enable them evacuate farm produce. In the allocation of resources at the federal level, Mr President, and Vice President who are the only elected persons in the Executive branch are too far removed from the problems of a local Constituency. The logic of democracy demands that the representative be consulted on the prerogatives of his Constituency.
Furthermore, the only way a government can ensure even distribution of projects, amenities and even appointments is to consult elected parliamentarians or other representatives to ensure that Federal character is respected. This is a critical role the legislature plays in a democracy. It was not for nothing that S.14(3) of the Constitution which is part of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State policy, which is the philosophical basis of the Constitution, said: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote National unity .. “
The Legislature sometime uses the mechanism of Resolutions to express the will of parliament on different issues in furtherance of its representational role in our democracy. Many landmark Resolutions have been passed which serves the purpose of bringing the problems, interests and aspirations of the people to the attention of the government. Both Chambers of the National Assembly also maintain a Public Petitions Committee with the primary responsibility of entertaining complaints and petitions from constituents of legislators. This ensures citizens democratic access to the parliament. This process plays an invaluable role of providing citizens with a listening ear and helps to douse tensions and agitations in our polity. It is also a vehicle for political input and a way to bring public concerns to parliament. The people feel that they are part of the governing process and it vindicates the very idea of democracy being a government of the people for the people. It has a long history. As stated in 1947 by Speaker Gaspard Fauteux (House of Commons).
‘All authorities agree that the right of petitioning parliament for redress of grievances is acknowledged as a fundamental principle of the constitution. It has been uninterruptedly exercised from very early times and has had a profound effect in determining the main forms of parliamentary procedure.’
The right to petition is not a feature of only the parliamentary system. The first amendment to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution also acknowledged this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The Representative role of the legislature includes providing democratic legitimacy for the government. The accessibility of the Legislature to the ordinary citizen helps to engender confidence in the system. Citizens who regard their government as legitimate are more likely to obey laws, support the regime and accommodate diverse points of view. Citizen participation in the legislative process is vital to creating this sense of legitimacy. I agree with the Political scientist Norman Ornstein’s comments on the importance of legitimacy of the legislature, using the example of Kenyan parliament: “The real power and influence of the [Kenyan National] Assembly comes through the exercise of its informal powers. The most important informal function the legislature performs is to provide legitimacy to government actions. This in turn promotes support among the populace for the regime. The legitimizing function is vital in light of the revolts and bouts of instability that have plagued other nations in the region. By accommodating cultural and historical realities, the Kenyan Assembly allows for opposition and dissent within the system, yet also provides stability. As a result, the populace feels at ease about the strength and legitimacy of the system; at the same time, it feels it has some say in the political process.
The legislature has a huge role to play in stabilizing our democracy. It needs the support and understanding of citizens as its work is intangible at times. The law Making function is at times not dramatic like the functions of the Executive but its stabilising and legitimising functions in our practice of representative democracy is unquantifiable and immeasurable.
By H.E. Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara
Speaker of the House of Representatives.