April 14, 2024

Will Nigerians Ever Trust Their legislators?



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By Tonnie Iredia
Nigerian citizens who may not have fully followed the tense political situation in neighbouring Niger may have been misled into thinking that for once, their federal legislators are no longer disposed to playing their rubber-stamp role towards the executive branch of government. But we can hardly know if they are really set to act as a check on the executive.

First, has President Tinubu actually asked for approval from them to militarily coerce the Nigerien army to restore democracy to Niger?

Some say Tinubu merely informed the legislators of the prevailing viewpoint of ECOWAS on the situation in that country. Consequently, the senate could not have rejected a request which had not been made. To the onlooker therefore, both the president and the senate have been imitating our colonial officers of old.

What the posture suggests is that Tinubu has deftly informed his senate-friends to expect a possible request for their approval for deployment of Nigerian troops to Niger while his friends have skilfully informed him to expect a likely rejection of any such request.

No matter from what angle any analyst perceives the dialogue, it is premature to imagine a change of behaviour of the senators or to think that their current posture will last.

If the token sent by the clerk of the legislature to each of them last week to enjoy their recess is tripled by adding the prayers of several well-meaning religious leaders to that of the senate president to enable the holiday makers have a safe trip, the multiplier effect will be too huge to resist.

As to what truly motivates our legislators, history is our guide.

During President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, the much talked about plan for tenure elongation failed woefully and many legislators took credit for it by successfully documenting their rejection of advances allegedly made to them by the presidency.

But no one told us what our courageous legislators garnered from the leading opponents of the third term bid.

There were pieces of evidence at the time that the bid would have sailed through if the offers made by those in support had surpassed what their opponents provided.  

We can only hope that future researchers would stumble on ample literature that would illuminate Obasanjo’s revelation that the tenure elongation would have worked if the originators of the bid were actually able to persuade him on it.    

Nigerians need to note the unusual conciliatory diction of our current senators who rather than reject a request that was not made recommended other options to the one they imagined the president had in mind.

It would thus appear too early to begin to rejoice that we now have a group of courageous senators who may at appropriate intervals serve as a check on the executive as it ought to be.

It is by far too early to think that the average Nigerian legislator would put aside his personal benefit as a contribution to the emergence of a viable nation.

No Nigerian politician relishes opposition; instead, everyone wants to be in power, hence legislators supposedly elected by majority of their people to the senate, the highest law-making body of the nation do not leave anyone in doubt that they prefer the executive branch where contracts are awarded.

From the story-line so far, how easy would it be to change the public perception of legislators as lovers of materialism?

Many legislators especially those at the federal level are very well educated and fast at getting the thrust of any argument.

Some of them are also quite eloquent and pragmatic in making a case for or against any subject which is why this column and others constantly focus on them.

Our belief is that with the quality of our federal legislators, no one is better positioned than them to alter the trend of the nation’s stunted growth.

In other words, weekly and indeed daily criticisms of our legislators are borne out of frustration that help is not forthcoming from the most expected segment of society.

In which case, lack of faith in our legislators is likely to evaporate when they begin to champion the public good.

\Many people no doubt love the proactive approach the legislature adopts whenever lapses or corruption in any government agency are uncovered.

The rot in the federal character commission in which citizens are made to pay huge sums into private accounts to secure employment may end with the huge publicity the on-going probe into the subject has received.  

In the past, the legislature adopted same approach to dirty reports in several sectors; but to the chagrin of many, such probes ended with accused persons getting-off the hook after parting with a huge percentage of their loot. The power probe which ended with the conviction of the chairman of relevant committee of the House of Representatives was a public embarrassment.

The case of citizen Arunma Oteh, director general of the security exchange commission SEC who was being blackmailed during president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to bribe the chairman of the committee on capital market was more annoying. Painfully, the senate supported the house of representatives to resolve that it would not appropriate funds to SEC for as long as Oteh remained in office notwithstanding that it was their member that transparently abused his office.

Last year, the report of the auditor-general of the federation highlighted shortcomings in several public organizations.

The legislators promptly set up panels to investigate all indicted organizations but remained silent on aspects of the report which exposed huge corrupt practices in their own abode.  

It is not impossible for our legislators to reverse the negative brand with which they have painted themselves.

To start with, they have to stop behaving like a secret cult whose members swear to keep the group’s secret from outsiders.  

Not many have forgotten the draconian measures such as suspension of accused members from the relevant chamber for as long as 180 days.

Senator Ali Ndume was dealt with for venturing to call for the investigation of certain allegations against the senate leadership while Representative Abdulmumini Jibrin (Kiru/Bebeji, federal constituency, Kano) was greatly sanctioned for exposing budget padding. Interestingly, despite the public interest the subjects generated, no effort was made to disprove the allegations.

What mattered was that the group’s secrets were exposed.

Perhaps what upsets everyone the most is the consistent policy of deceiving the public concerning the exorbitant take-home pay of our legislators which numerous sources say is the highest in the world.

It is more annoying that the figure is different from what was approved by the revenue mobilisation and fiscal allocation commission (RMFAC) whose duty it is to fix the remuneration package of legislators.

Although the commission fixed recess allowance at about N200,000 per annum, senators last week reportedly got N2million each as token/prayer for one recess break less than 2months of their inauguration.

Apart from the unacceptable high figure, it has been difficult to understand the nature of the workload of legislators who are entitled to several intervals of one-month recess.

In a democracy, the legislature is crucial because governance cannot be premised on the rule of law where the law-making organ does not exist. The implication of this is that Nigeria cannot do without the legislature.

It is perhaps this idea of indispensability that has translated our legislators to problems rather than solution to the task of nation building.

At the same time, we can also not do with timid or house-boy legislators such as exist at state level where the functions of the executive and the legislature are under the control of governors.

The way forward therefore is for civil society groups to begin to interrogate the nature of the legislature that can best serve the nation. Here, several options are available.

To start with, Nigerians can vigorously agitate for a one-chamber federal legislature as is currently the practice in the states.

This option will drastically reduce the huge expenditure on the legislature.

In addition, Nigeria can opt for part-time legislators which is what we have in practice now that our legislators are spending more time on recess than law-making.  

It is therefore time for Nigerian legislators to engage in introspection before they lose every iota of public respect.

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