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LEGISLATIVE BASENESS

By NBF News

The essence of the institutionalisation of the three arms of government in a democracy is to deepen the practice of democracy by ensuring that powers are not usurped by any arm, to the detriment of the other arms and the people under whose aegis the powers held by these arms are devolved. Even though the three arms of government, in Nigeria, have tried over the years to cooperate with one another, unfortunately all that has come out of these years of interaction is not all that soul-lifting: It has always been one form of rancour or another - with each accusing the other of interference, usurpation and, strangely too, highhandedness.

Worrisomely, the situation in the legislative arm has presented more problems than good laws it is expected to make. Today, it is crisis in Legislative House A; tomorrow it shifts ignominiously to House B. In fact, the preponderance of crises in the legislative houses, both at the federal and state levels, has got to such a point that it has become a way of life. Legislators, who ordinarily should be men and women of honour and integrity, have reduced themselves to pugilists and belligerents - squabbling at the slightest provocation to outdo one another. Why affix such titles as 'Honourable' and 'Distinguished' to their names when they lack the candour and decorum to live by such titles? It is the height of absurdity and deceit to pretend to claim what you lack the moral right to defend.

It is no longer contestable that some legislators, by their conduct, do not possess the justification to remain in the legislature, let alone bear the title 'honourable' or 'distinguished.' How on earth will they continue to make laws for the smooth governance of the country when they cannot live up to the dictates of their legislative duties?

When the people elected the legislators they gave them the mandate to represent them by making good laws that would enhance our democracy and promote the growth and development of our nation. But what happened in the hallowed chambers of the Federal House of Representatives last week (Tuesday, to be precise) was a shameful spectacle. There is nothing wrong in people disagreeing. But everything is wrong when such disagreements degenerate into fisticuffs, even to the point of throwing caution to the dogs. The situation became a national disgrace when the whole world was treated to the bizarre imbroglio.

Painfully, nobody, up to this moment, has called the shameless legislators to order. The odium and stigma of that unfortunate incident do not lie only with those members expelled but on the entire house. The interpretation an ordinary Nigerian would give to that disgraceful incident, not withstanding that fingers are being pointed at a few members as the instigators, was that the entire House of Representatives brought itself into disrepute. There was no reason for the House to drag itself into such an embarrassing quagmire.

The focus of this article is not to discuss the propriety or otherwise of the action of those members who call themselves 'Progressive Minded Legislator' or to apportion blames. My interest is to draw attention to the slur the House members have cast on our national pride and in the process arouse the consciousness of the nation to the need to elect only people of faultless character into the House of Representatives and Senate. I feel deeply appalled and embarrassed by what had happened. As a former member of the House of Representatives, I am totally ashamed over the sad incident.

There were instances when we were in the House of Representatives when members were gravely angered, yet they did not lose their cool. We had an internal mechanism for resolving our differences without resorting to undue baseness.

Our sensibilities, particularly, those of the visiting school children on an excursion to the House, were assaulted by the sight of Honourable members punching, kicking and gyrating - all in the name of fighting. What about those whose clothes were torn into shreds and left half-clothed by their fellow members? I consider the dimension the matter took as too extreme and uncivilised. I believe that if those aggrieved had allowed the fire of patriotism to overcome their pettiness and egocentricity that national catastrophe would have been averted.

There are sufficient provisions in our statutes to deal with charges allegedly brought against the Speaker of the House of Representatives by the aggrieved members instead of taking the laws into their hands and throwing the entire House into commotion. What is the function of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) if not to deal with the sleaze and malfeasance that characterise our public life? The aggrieved members did quite well, in the first place, by taking the matter to the EFCC. Why then did they decide to change their minds and disrupt the House the way they did?

There is no doubt they might have a plausible reason for embarking on the agitation ab initio. But the approach they adopted later was immature, infantile, puerile and amateurish. They should have known that the politics of the House hinges on number. When the first Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, was impeached those who championed the cause used number. The same thing happened when Madam O. Etteh vacated the office of Speaker over a lesser offence.

From my experience in the House of Representatives, from 1992 to 1993, it may be foolhardy for anybody, who wants to move against the leadership of the House, to do so through mere emotionalism. Apart from having convincing and foul-proof evidence the alleger must have the backing of the majority of the members. It is not enough to allege without having any concrete facts to solidify it.

I must confess that I am worried by the increasingly rate of belligerent and pugnacious behaviour of the members of the House of Assembly and Representatives. The situation is gradually assuming a frightening dimension in this present dispensation, which makes it imperative on the various stakeholders to intervene to quell it before it consumes our democracy.

Every right-thinking Nigerian should show equal concern about the rising allegation of profligacy against the members of the House. And this is exacerbated by the public outcries over the fixing of fat salaries and allowances by the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate for themselves. This action smacked of lawlessness, greed and betrayal of trust.

I appreciate the fact that some members of the House are responsible and responsive having associated with some of them in diverse ways over the years, but this may not exonerate some of them from the grievous allegations levelled against them. The right thing to do in the circumstance is to institute an independent inquiry into the affairs of the House to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of the allegations. It is not a matter to be swept under the carpet when the Speaker is accused of self-enrichment. If I were the Speaker - to prove my innocence – I will call for a full-scale investigation into the allegations instead of resorting to any form of self-help.

What happened in the House last week does not do much good to the image and character of the Speaker and his leadership of the House. Pummelling and disgracing his fellow members in the full glare of cameras was too drastic. Even though his action was somewhat inevitable – to restore order to the rancorous House – he would have exhibited more restraint on the level of force brought on his errant colleagues.

It is important to remind members of the various legislative Houses across the country of the enormous responsibilities placed on their shoulders by the people that elected them. There have been cases where legislators, especially in the state Houses of Assembly, embarked on malicious and reckless breach of the law, including the constitution. In fact, the situation in some states has the capacity of causing a breach of the peace.

I wish to point out the danger in the legislature pandering to the promptings of the executive. The Constitution clearly defines the duties and powers of each arm of government. What is expected from each arm is cooperation and complementation with one another for the survival and strengthening of our democracy and not subservience. The legislature will erode its own power by making itself a pawn in the chessboard of the executive.

Again, it is expected that the legislature should serve as checks and balances on the activities of the executive, as is obtainable in other climes. This role will engender mutual respect among the three arms of government; enhance the quality of legislation by the Houses and foster peace and order in the nation.

It is important to remind our legislators of their primary responsibilities to the nation and those who elected them. First is lawmaking. As lawmakers, it is their duty to make laws for the good governance of the country and well-being of Nigerians. Such laws should not be characterised by undue sentiments and clannishness or parochialism. Second, is the oversight function over ministries and government agencies to check and monitor their operations and ensure compliance with budget targets and extant laws. Third, is the attraction of development to their various constituencies through their goodwill and statutory allocations for constituency projects. Attending to these functions religiously is enough to keep them busy and divert their minds from undue distractions that caused the hiccup in the House of Representatives a little over a week ago.

They should examine their minds to find out how well they have discharged these duties since their election in 2007. But the greatest challenge facing them at the moment is the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, which has been transmitted to the state Houses of Assembly for their input. They should divest their selfish interests from the amendment process and ensure that the exercise is smoothly and successfully carried out to the benefit of the nation. They should also appreciate the urgency to amend the Constitution early enough for the 2011 elections.

If they fail to achieve the target of the amendment it then means that all their efforts in the past three years would be in vain.

I must confess that I am not amused by the allegation ascribed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives to the effect that the harmonised copy of the amended Constitution sent to the Houses of Assembly was doctored. This allegation is grave, criminal, and a breach of trust, if proved to be true.

In my opinion, the entire nation should rise up in condemnation of the onslaught on our collective psyche by their ignoble actions. Those involved in this show of shame should tender their resignation letters immediately. Where they fail to do so then those who elected them should call for their recall.