Home People & Power 7th Assembly: Between personal interest and constitutional obligation

7th Assembly: Between personal interest and constitutional obligation

MUSA BABA AHMED, Abuja

In a democracy, all the three arms of government must work in harmony to bring about the art of good governance. While the Legislature makes or passes adequate laws or resolutions that engender good governance as well as check the excesses of the Executive through checks and balances, the Executive on the other hand ensures adequate implementation and compliance with same with unity and sincerity of purpose – albeit exerting its veto powers where appropriate.
The Judiciary as an arbiter must also act as an unbiased stabilizing factor drawing the lines of responsibility through legal interpretations, should there be areas of conflict among the other two arms (Legislature and the Executive) requiring such.
It is in the light of these that both arms always come up with institutional working guidelines in the form legislative agenda or a development (Transformation or otherwise) agenda depending on the government of the day in the case of the Executive.
For both chambers of the National Assembly, the fight against corruption and the assurance of good governance form an integral part of the legislative agenda. That is why the concept of probity has become one very serious aspect of checks and balances for that particular arm of government.
However, the pertinent questions are that; how have the lawmakers conducted themselves in the face of temptations, blackmail, intimidation and threat in the course of the last three years?
Have they actually instituted probes with the sole purpose of exposing corruption and ensure the discouragement of it?
Are there many probe exercises that were free of controversies arising from impropriety of lawmakers who allegedly demanded for gratification from individuals and organizations they were supposed to expose?
Perhaps, the reasons for resolutions arising from probe exercises in the country not being implemented by the Executive may not be far-fetched, given the manner in which the processes leading to such reports or resolutions were handled by lawmakers. Instances abound to the alleged complicity of legislators who eroded the credibility of reports from the probe exercises they handled by implication and conduct.
Very disturbing is the excessive desire of lawmakers especially in the House of Representatives to protect personal interests at the expense of the nation. The public which has been fooled for almost four agonizing years has not seen any fruitful outcome from the numerous probes and damning reports from public hearings conducted over the years.
If the constitution empowers the Legislature to probe the Executive and expose corruption to ensure good governance, what then should a responsible lawmaking institution do when the Executive tramples on the constitution by refusing compliance to laws and resolutions?
It’s an open secret that the embattled Speaker of the House of Representatives drew the battle line between the House and the Presidency when he openly accused President Jonathan of using body language to encourage corruption. The current administration has been rated as the lowest in terms of capital budget implementation in the past four years. But when the Minority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) proposed an impeachment proceedings against the President should he fail to achieve more that 70% capital budget implementation by September, 2012, it was Tambuwal who killed the enthusiasm, saying that; “let’s not overheat the polity. Gbajabiamila came under heavy attacks from PDP and Presidency loyalists who saw him as a dare-devil-lawmaker.
In a serious democratic clime where there is a responsible Legislative arm, what should be the fate of a President who violates appropriation Act by under-implementing capital allocations, whereas recurrent expenditures always hit the roof in implementation?
This protection of personal interests has also sacrificed the conduct of oversight duties where lawmakers often time allegedly demand for gratification from Ministries Department and Agencies MDAs to wave established cases of embezzlement and misappropriation of budgetary allocations.
We all know the hands behind the resolute stance of the Petroleum Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke who went to court to ensure that the House was barred from probing her expenditure on the N10billion private jet controversy. We saw the double standard played by members of the House when the information broke. The same House spokesman who told the media of the court order made a U-turn to deny ever saying such when the Justice quoted in the report threatened legal action against the House.  Where in the world does the Judiciary stand in the way of the Legislature in the conduct of its constitutional responsibility?
Just recently, a public hearing slated for the probe of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC)  on a petition by fishermen and leaders of the shore-line communities in the Niger Delta on the December 20th, 2011 Bonga oil spill by the House Committee on Public Petitions was put off on the excuse that the House was on recess. When has recess prevented members from conducting public hearing, more-so that the Public Account Committee has been conducting public hearings since the recess began?
Where did the Hon. Uzor Azubuike-led Committee on Public Petition get its rules from to the effect that it cannot hold a hearing that has already been slated before the recess was called? It was not surprising when the affected victims of the oil spill alleged foul play when they were told to go back home due to the recess embarked upon by the House. However, information from the groups suggested that Shell had already written to the Committee declining appearance at the hearing. They are of the belief that Shell may have reached out to the Committee with a view to frustrating the probe.
Each time issues of national importance arise, politicians have always truncated the advance of reasonable and progressive views of ‘let’s not overheat the polity’. Such self-serving and stance has been routinely employed by the leadership of the House on issues that require firm demonstration of courage and patriotism. Even issues of corruption that are already in the public domain are prevented from being debated by members on the basis that they have national security implications.
Now, the chicken has come home to roost. The polity which must not be heated up is now threatening to boil as the lawmakers can no longer oversight any agency of government without the express approval of the Presidency.
My interactions with Clerks of Committees in the House revealed that all agencies they wrote to, notifying them of an impending oversight visit have replied to inform them that the President has to give his nod before they receive lawmakers on oversight. The same applies to invitation for public hearing.
That is not all, the highly protected President is now tearing the House of Reps apart following the defection of the Speaker, insisting that he either resign or be impeached. A pointer to that was the series of meetings held with principal officers of the PDP in the House and the withdrawal of the Speaker’s security aides last Thursday.
Lawmakers loyal to the Speaker are now threatening to open the President’s-Pandora’s box and move for his impeachment. The alleged constitutional breaches that were hitherto a no-go-area for the sake of keeping the polity stable are now been gathered to ‘turn the hunter into the hunted’, now that it has come to the defense of personal/group’s political interest. This goes to show that it has never been about the wellbeing of Nigeria as a country. It boils down to a scenario where people in positions of authority take their personal interest and foist it on the people as their national interest.
It is said that a partner who doesn’t know his or her rights in a business venture would always be usurped and relegated to the background in the scheme of things. Likewise, a lawmaking body which sacrifices constitutionality for pecuniary motive in the name of stabilizing a perpetually unstable polity is not only shying away from legally exerting itself but being self-serving.

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