Nigeria is under siege by the current crop of leaders who are supposed to protect democratic norms, instead, they are engaged in acts which are diametrically opposed to the continuation of democracy. In no other institution is this challenge of the clash of powers more manifest than in the legislature. The struggle for the control of the National Assembly has exposed the weak links in our democratic chain.
During the ill-fated military dictatorship, the executive combined legislative powers in the Armed Forces Ruling Council at the federal level and the military administrators at the state level. By the grace of the military usurpers, the judiciary was allowed to exist, even though they were only permitted to blow muted trumpets through the Federal Military Government (Supremacy and Enforcement of Powers) Decree. The legislature, as an arm of government, was not allowed to exist. The legislature is the assembly of the elected representatives of the Nigerian people; it is the hallmark of a democracy, as distinct from a president and a vice president who are the only elected members of the executive arm. Other members of the executive are appointees who serve at the pleasure of the President. The judiciary on the other hand is a non-elected branch of government.
In recognition of the essence of the legislature, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides for the legislature in Section 4 as the first arm of government, the provision for the executive is in Section 5 whilst the judiciary is provided for in Section 6 respectively. The constitutional sequence of the arms of government is not a mistake or merely perfunctory considering that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through the constitution derives all its powers and authority. As such, the independence and virility of the elected representatives of the sovereign are key determinants of a democracy.
From 1999, Nigerians made the mistake of electing a former military dictator to lead the executive arm of government and he continued with the mindset of ruling from his previous experience as a maximum ruler. President Olusegun Obasanjo did not hide his disdain for the legislature as he sought to control the institution, expose it to public ridicule and contempt and interfered on many occasions in the running of the National Assembly through constantly sponsoring the removal of the leadership. At the time President Obasanjo was announcing to Nigerians that the legislature was collecting fat furniture allowances, he failed to tell the people that those were allowances approved by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission for very senior cadres of public office holders. Thus, from the permanent secretaries, ministers, judicial officers and even the President himself had collected their own furniture allowances. But the focus was on the National Assembly. He created a siege mentality which portrayed the lawmakers in a very bad light so that from the very first day, the members had an image problem with Nigerians. Yes, the members of National Assembly also contributed through their action and inaction to their poor image. However, they may not have committed more infractions over and above those of the elected and unelected members of the executive.
Fast forward to 2015 and another former military dictator in the saddle, this time with the ruling All Progressives Congress, could not get its acts together as to who leads the National Assembly. Since the emergence of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, the National Assembly has not known peace. The ruling party kicked since Saraki was not their choice but he was the choice of the majority of the senators as demanded by the constitution. Saraki was dragged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the case continued until the Supreme Court resolved it in his favour.
The acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, appointed by the President, who statutorily requires the clearance of the Senate, but failed the test twice, was asked to continue occupying the office by the President. The Inspector-General of Police, taking a cue, has on several occasions, refused to appear before the Senate even when it was clear that he had failed in the performance of his duties and owed the representatives of the Nigerian people an explanation. Surprisingly, otherwise eminent jurists began to equivocate when they started supporting positions which encouraged the denigration of the legislature as if the National Assembly is the equivalent of its leadership. Evidently, when an otherwise knowledge man or woman says an official can continue in an acting capacity for years, such a person questions the rationale of the law demanding screening and clearance. However, this questioning should be done through a bill to reform the law and not to treat extant laws with disdain.
We witnessed a situation where on the orders of the Inspector General of Police, the homes of the Senate President and the deputy were barricaded, so as not to allow them to exit their residence. Nigerians watched this on television only for the police spokesman to attempt a denial. Before then, thugs were let into the Senate chambers and the mace, the symbol of authority, was stolen and the police and other security agencies looked on helplessly. Up till date, no concrete action has been taken against the perpetrators. The same police boss disobeyed the orders of the President to relocate to Benue State during the crisis that took so many lives. It has become an open season for everyone in the executive, especially the security agencies to threaten the legislature culminating in the Director-General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Daura, deployed masked operatives to invade the premises of the National Assembly last week. Instead of the Commander in Chief apologising to Nigerians for such a treasonable act of a man who reports to him, even after sacking him, the ruling party is spinning to heap the blame on the leadership of the Senate.
Not yet done, the chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole, who is not a senator, is threatening the leadership of the Senate with impeachment in circumstances clearly suggesting that he seeks to procure the impeachment through unconstitutional and illegal means. Yet, his party cannot muster the numbers for the impeachment.
It is time to call out the executive and the hierarchy of the ruling party to leave the legislature alone. The members are mature enough to select and remove their leaders if there is the need. It has to be done on the floor of the Senate or House of Representatives and according to the rules set in the constitution and the rules of the respective houses.
Evidently, the National Assembly faces more crises every time a former military dictator is elected President. The President does not need to come personally to interfere in legislative proceedings. As the Commander in Chief, the President is responsible for every infringement committed by those who should report to him. We need to see sanctions, for illegal actions of the security agencies. The sanctions go beyond relieving an officer of his responsibilities. Prosecutions should follow obvious illegalities.