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The Importance and Duties of the Legislature in Democratic Governments: NIGERIA A CASE STUDY

In the words of Abubakar Jimoh,
"Proper constitutional roles of the legislature in the promotion of democracy in Nigeria remains paramount in legislative discourse; as democratic culture cannot be sustained without qualitative legislation for good governance"

 In spite the weaknesses, fault-lines, and challenges that the legislators would continue to encounter in their struggles to build a truly inclusive, participatory, open and people-based democracy, it has become imperative that they will continue to build democratic governance, as their individual and collective survival, progress and prosperity depend largely on nurturing democratic values, institutions and practices.
In order to achieve a democratic government.

Section 4 (1-9) of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria provides:

“(1) The legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

(2) 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.

(3) 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.

_The effect of the above is that each levels of government is empowered to legislate on a broad range of issues that if effectively utilized through quality legislation and diligent exercise of the legislative oversight functions, will translate into good governance_.

In line with principle of democracy, National Assembly would be remembered for enacting into law some Acts that promote democracy in Nigeria such as :

Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Act,

 National Health Act,

Violence Against Person Prohibition Act,

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act,

 Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Act,

Freedom of Information (FOI) Act,

Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act,

Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Evidence Act, National Human Right Commission Act,

 Public Compliant Commission Act, National Agency Against Trafficking in Person Act, among other important Acts.

_However, the extent to which the legislature understand and consider the importance of democratic government  would be put to question whenever Nigerians reflect on other significant Bills which would have improved standard of living and good governance in the country, lying dormant and begging for legislative attention in the National Assembly_.

Among these are Petroleum Industrial Bill (PIB), which has never been passed into law at the National Assembly since 2007, Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill, Protection of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, to mention but few.

As posited by International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, one of the major ways to rate and respect a democratic clime is the international and municipal and overall involvement in the implementation of international multilateral or bilateral agreements. This is achieved through three essential processes called Ratification, Domestication and Implementation of the Treaties and Conventions. It is worrisome that the abandonment and non-domestication of these Treaties and Conventions by the National Assembly so far render them inoperable and unenforceable in the country.

A journey towards a sustainable democratic government, must dutifully observe a legislative Cum executive good working relationship. I.e

1. Meet the need and satisfy the yearning of the people in terms of development and standards of living;

2. Institutionalize procedures for guaranteeing and protecting the rights of the citizens at all times within the constitutional framework;

3. Promote self-actualization and alleviate poverty and suffering of the people;

4. Recognise rights of the citizens to education, good health, uninterrupted electricity, water, sanitation, security, as legally provided for in the above mentioned Treaties and Conventions.

In a remark presented at a Conference on *“Emerging Democracy in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities” in Abuja on 17th June, 2013, former Ghanaian President, Jerry J. Rawlings stated that true democracy is the process where every individual is involved and convinced that his opinion has been factored into the decision-making as far as the management of his society is concerned.

He said further: “A government irrespective of its mode of appointment, which gives ear to the people and approaches decision making and policy implementation from a human-centred and continued consultative process is closer to democracy than a duly elected government that fails to consult and also treats the opinion of the legislature as of little_.”

The position by Rawlings reminds us as to what extent or how effective is the legislatures’ independence or executive Cum legislative in Nigeria to improve democratic governance.

Nigerians have witnessed repeated attempts by the federal and state governments to respectively hijack National and State Houses of Assembly, primarily to fortify their political ego, which lacks the fundamental requirements for standard of civilization, ideals and expectations of an open quality democracy. The executive’s domination and meddlesomeness in the legislative business has impeded the institution from performing the crucial role of citizens’ representation through legislation and oversight.

For instance, Dr. Ifedayo Akomolede, a law lecturer at the Ekiti State University lamented the degree of legislatures’ independent of the executives in Nigeria, when he said: *“The legislature today is truly not independent of executive and often incapacitated from acting as the watchdog of executive activities.

In early 2014, at a seminar themed “African State Legislatures: Sub-national Politics and national Power” in Omu-Aran, Kwara State, Dr. Joseph Fashagba of Department of Political Science, Landmark University: _argued that in most African countries today, the power of State Legislatures has been undermined by executive as a result of increasingly dependence of the Legislatures on the Executives. This according to him has hampered the spirit of democracy and good governance in the legislature_.

Also, in a paper titled “Executive Dominance, Party Control and State Legislatures in Nigeria: Evidence from Three States in the North-west Geo-political Zone of Nigeria”, Prof. Yahaya T. Baba, examined the phenomenon of executive dominance, party control and subordinate nature of legislatures at state level in Nigeria. He argued that the endemic culture of executive dominance in Africa’s one party states and military regimes has made legislatures weak and vulnerable. “This scenario continued even after return to multi-party democracy in various African states. Suffice to say that the pace of democratization across the political landscape of Africa only produces strong chief executives that undermine the autonomy of legislative institutions. The latter are merely seen as appendages of the former. This power interplay, which is skewed against the legislature hinders the institutionalization of democracy in Africa. 

The above was evident in the 7th Assembly, where Rivers State in 2013, following the irreconcilable disagreement between the President and the state governor, about 27 of the 33 legislators took side with the state governor against the President. As a result, the attempts of the presidency to use the state legislature to undermine and remove the state governor failed; only a handful of members yielded, ready to do the bidding of the presidency against their state governor.
Similar, but unsuccessful attempt later on resurfaced in the Nasarawa State House of Assembly, where following invasion of presidency, some members of the Assembly were allegedly bribed to impeach the incumbent governor.

Moreover, Nigerians would always recall the dramatic and unconstitutional barricade of National Assembly Complex, especially the House of Representatives Chamber with armed security forces, preventing the Speakers of the House, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal from gaining entrance to attend an important session to discuss matter of national importance, owing to the defection of the Speaker from People Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC). This was followed by undemocratic and unconstitutional reaction of the Presidency and Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba towards the office of the Speaker; as security team attached to the Office of the Speaker were instantly withdrawn.

It is evident that the Assembly oftentimes play to the gallery to prove to the public that she is working, but always fail to complete the mandated period for legislative sitting. For instance, the House ought to sit for 181 days in a year as constitutionally mandated. This back pedalled debates on some significant legislation for good governance. 

While it is common knowledge that conflict of interest had in the past hindered effective functionality of legislators to uphold democratic governance, it becomes mandated on them to understand that as representatives of the people not only do they derive their mandate directly from the electorate, but also owe the electorate proper accountability of their conducts in the legislature. 

People-oriented legislator must therefore, strike reasonable effort to avoid conflict of interest and effectively contribute to good governance by performing important functions that are necessary to sustain democracy in this complex and diverse country, rather than needless pursue of selfish interest. A workable legislative Code of Conduct should be developed to guide members in their legislative activities to promote value of excellence, professionalism in legislators’ performance; and ensure civility and responsible conduct inside and outside of the Assembly commensurate with the trust placed in legislators by the electorate.
While high moral and ethical standards must be maintained to guarantee public’s confidence, reduction to a minimum of any conflict between private interests and official duties, should be carefully observed and differentiated. By so doing, members should strive to avoid all manners of engagement that might comprise legislative code of conduct, values and ethical standards. The legislators must build mutual cooperation and synergy to ensure qualitative legislation to promote the rights, welfare and standards of living of the people.

On this note, legislators must shun ethnic prejudice, intolerance, and struggle for the democratic workability in their representative capacity. They owe Nigerians the fundamental duty to insist on good governance through qualitative legislation that can lead to socio-economic progress and prosperity of the country.

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