By Jide Oyewusi
Democracy adjudged as probably the best form of government and embraced by most advanced countries of the world is built on trust, probity and responsibility. Trust is when someone reposes confidence in another to do what is expected while the latter is representing the former. Probity presupposes that players in democracy must be transparently honest and be ready to subject themselves to scrutiny whenever the electorate who they represent deem it necessary.
Responsibility is the duty conferred on the various organs and tiers of government which if carried out diligently as required can guarantee good governance. If however the case of Nigeria’s democracy is juxtaposed with the above ideals, it is doubtful if the players, particularly the National Assembly can be given any pass mark. The focus is on the National Assembly because they are the true representatives of the people, and the responsibility or otherwise they bring into the proper discharge of their functions can either make or mar any democracy.
The leadership of Nigeria’s National Assembly, right from inception, has been enmeshed in various forms of accusations and litigation among which is that of false declaration of assets. In saner clime, such situation is strong enough to force the man in the eye of the storm either to step aside voluntarily, or be forced to do so in order to allow the law to take its proper course. But what has happened so far is that of a house trying to play the ostrich and a serious case almost being swept under the carpet. To have sworn falsely under oath is otherwise known in law as perjury and in some lands, such offence attracts a heavy fine or up to five years imprisonment. Perhaps, unknown to the National Assembly, the issue has since then made the whole house quite contemptible as it portrays them as people bent at perverting justice. It should therefore not be surprising if some key officers of the state treat the National Assembly with disdain by refusing to honour their invitations. Respect is better earned than forced. Rather than follow a path of honour by challenging and or changing a tainted leadership, members of the National Assembly opted for that of controversy. By trying to unseat the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Mustapha Magu, under yet-to-be-proven allegations, they only made matter worse as most enlightened Nigerians are able to read between the lines. The refusal of the executive to acquiesce to their demand to sack Magu has tended to cause so much disaffection and no love lost between the executive and the legislature, thereby slowing down the pace of governance as reflected in undue delays in passing of budgets.
Trust under democracy suggests that members of a national assembly will not comport themselves in a manner that makes them a national burden. Only recently, the wind blew and the leaking, stinking fowl’s rump was exposed unceremoniously. All of a sudden, what had seemed like hidden forever was blown open by Shehu Sanni, and the years of clandestine conspiracies of lawmakers in the issue pertaining to their emoluments became public knowledge. Nigerians were alarmed at such betrayal of trust and even though there was nothing anyone could do, the disclosure at least opened the people’s eyes to some hidden facts about the insincerity of supposed lawmakers. It was simply like a hit below the belt especially at the present time and with the continuous recourse to external borrowings to fund national projects.
The major responsibility of any national assembly is to pass the national budget preferably before the commencement of another fiscal year to afford all governmental functionaries the opportunity to continue to play their roles undisturbed. But the case here is different as members either never attune their minds to the proper workings of the government, or just prefer to act as saboteurs. While they find time attending to issues that are better left in the law enforcement agents, they never see passage of national budget as very crucial or paramount. Now almost at the middle of the year, the 2018 budget is yet to see the light of the day. Political theorists are always quick to emphasize the relevance of the three organs of government under the theory of separation of powers. But it is good that they too realise that, in practice, such separation cannot be put in any watertight compartments as there are sometimes overlapping of functions between and among the three organs of government. None will ever foresee a situation where a national assembly would constitute itself into a big burden and a law into itself, or where national budgets would be unduly delayed, or parliamentary budgets will almost surpass those of some of the states of the federation.
Nor can strong advocates of democracy ever think of a situation where the executive acts all alone in issues where he is required by law to seek the approval of the legislature. Never will anyone envisage a situation where members of the judiciary, the third organ of government, are completely frustrated financially and relegated to the background, forcing judicial officers to seek ‘extra-judicial’ means of survival, a scenario that has given rise to poor public image of members of the bench with unceasing cases of a corruption levelled against various judges by the National Judicial Council.
Almost all the desirable tenets of democracy have been rubbished and set aside in Nigeria. What remains to be seen is how a forthright executive with a positive progression hopes to achieve anything with a national assembly populated by those whose only aim and objective, it seems, is to continually increase parliamentary votes through budget padding and by concocting all manners of devices such as sitting allowance, and constituency project allocations among others to hoodwink the nation thereby extending their own horizons so that when there are no adequate funds to address all moribund infrastructures across the country, assembly members can continue their larger-than-life existence.
Considering the huge resources needed to maintain the two houses of national assembly, it may be necessary for the nation to do an appraisal and quite urgently too in order to decide whether to still continue with the two somewhat ineffective houses of assembly, or change into a unicameral legislature. Indeed, since each state of the federation has only a unicameral house of assembly, and is able to carry on well, so to speak, should that not be a lesson and an eye opener that what the nation requires is a unicameral and not a bicameral legislature with over-bloated budgets? With a highly-reduced cost of maintaining a single house, the nation will be able to save more funds to address other areas begging for attention. Besides, members of a single legislature themselves will be more disciplined, more focussed and more serious with the issue of good governance.
Oyewusi is an educationist, lives in Lagos.