9th National Assembly: When collaboration means compromise

The three core roles and responsibilities of the legislature are defined. Representation is about individual legislators speaking and working in favour of their constituencies for government interventions through infrastructural development and other life-enhancing deliverables. Legislation involves making laws for peace, order and good governance. And then over-sight functions, technically called checks and balances, entail exercising control, monitoring and supervisory roles over the executive, to ensure efficiency in government as well as prevent waste in governance.

But, while law-making and over-sight duties create the enabling pathways for the executive towards good governance, the latter demands effective synergy between the executive and the legislature for success. And also whereas law-making is relatively a long-term approach, over-sight functions offer opportunities for more direct and immediate measures concerning some peculiar socio-economic and political challenges bedeviling third-world nations, particularly.

Hence, any legislature that is not mindful of the dictates of these mandates is not just a failure but a threat to the welfare and security of the people. And this is justifiably the reason legislatures are under attacks whenever the citizenry feels short-changed. Individual legislators bear the direct brunt of their constituents’ anger, pains and frustrations, always. It has even become a common belief that any failed presidential democracy is a reflection of an incompetent legislature.

Apparently, this is a burden that the 9th national assembly is contending with. Even those who are versed on the expectations from the various arms and tiers of government are unfortunately at the vanguard of the unwarranted vilifications visited on the institution. For political expediency and or self-fulfillments, the ignorant and vulnerable are being exploited and instigated at will against the legislature, thereby presenting the legislators as the real problems of the country. And quite sadly, the legislature is not telling its own story appropriately.

This understandably, necessitated the resolve and passion of Senator Ahmad Lawan to pursue a political leadership of a parliament that would be defined by respect to the constitution, commitment to the well-being and safety of the masses, shared-vision and unity of purpose among colleagues, bi-partisanship, harmony among the chambers, transparency and inclusiveness. And above all, there would be deliberate collaboration between the executive and the legislature without in any way, compromising the independence of the two arms, primarily for the overall benefit of the people.

With these as major highlights of his launched legislative agenda, Lawan was popularly elected as the president of the senate and chairman of the national assembly.

Reviewing objectively and factually, the 9th national assembly is yet to be faulted particularly relative to its collaboration with the executive. Lawan is yet to lose his voice in matters of perceived wrong-headed policies and actions of government.

Be it in relation to dispassionate consideration of executive bills and communications, necessary variations and thorough scrutiny of budget proposals, screening and confirmation of nominees, open condemnation of executive’s poor handling of insecurity and calls for sack of service chiefs, persistent clamour for reform of Social Investments Programme, principled stance on the implementation of the Special Works Programme, strict monitoring of government’s response management of COVID-19 to ensure maximum protection for citizens; insistence on every MDA attending budget defence sessions; the 9th national assembly has acted within its constitutional mandate. It has upheld the relative independence of the arms, objectively speaking.

In particular instances, the senate rejected the presidential nominees for Osun State resident electoral commissioner and Rivers State membership of NDDC board. Until presidential written explanation, there was also non-recognition of NDDC interim board as well as rejection of its budget. For keen watchers, this assembly is yet to be intimidated by the executive in any form. Of course, there was a presidential order for ministerial departments and agencies to subject themselves to strict obedience to legislative directives.

However either deliberately or ignorantly, some Nigerians expect the legislature to usurp the prerogative of the president to make certain appointments, so as to be perceived truly ‘vibrant and independent’. They seemingly forget that aside some basic qualifications for eligibility, there are no constitutional characteristics for nominees being considered for appointments. The implication is that the president is at liberty to appoint, and in the case of the so-specified, subject to confirmation of the legislature. And even curiously, constitution is silent on what happens in the event that presidential nominees are not confirmed by the legislature. Cases abound. Yet the national assembly is expected to mindlessly pick fights with the executive in order not to be adjudged a “rubber-stamp” parliament. And this is the peculiar price the 9th assembly is paying.

But thankfully, Lawan demonstrates that mindset is everything. He believes that no challenge is insurmountable. He came to leadership with a clear service mentality and is poised to make necessary sacrifices provided that the people are the ultimate beneficiaries. He is mindful of the dictates of his calling and office. He believes that because a palm cannot make a clap, a new Nigeria is possible. And with this mindset, he has since taken up the gauntlet.

Though some grounds have been covered, the enormity of what was inherited is such that it will take some time for the successes to germinate and bear tangible fruits.

For instance in governance, budget is key to development, and extension of budget implementation period is not a normal practice. It requires intensive monitoring for the causes and effects to be properly addressed for productivity.

In this regard, Lawan recently led the leadership of the national assembly to a meeting with the minister of finance, Zainab Ahmed, for performance review of the 2020 budget whose lifespan had been extended to the end of March 2021.

Declaring the parley open, Lawan hinted that “it is important that we interact with the ministry of finance to know how far we have gone with implementation. Equally important is the implementation of the 2021 Appropriation Act. This meeting is in no way a meeting that is meant to gauge any particular person, but we are very concerned. You might have had your successes and you might have had some challenges. Our intention is to ensure that by 31st March, the implementation of the 2020 capital budget or the extension would have been completed, and we would have achieved 100 per cent implementation. That is our hope and desire”.

Responding, the Finance Minister who reeled out figures to illustrate the recorded successes summarized that, “considering the challenges of the year, this is a reasonably good performance, in fact, this performance is higher than several previous years backwards”.

Meanwhile bills that bear direct relevance to well-being of the people have been passed and accented to, seamlessly. Same is said of timely passage of budgets including reversion to January-December fiscal calendar.

Still expanding the frontiers of legislative interventions, Lawan took the mounting security concerns to the doorstep of the president for the umpteenth time.

This time around he had this to say: “I have come to meet with Mr President, to discuss the issue of security of our nation. And in fact, there is nothing more important today or more topical, than the security of Nigeria. We have discussed, we had a very extensive discussion on the security of all parts of Nigeria, and how we should go about improving the situation. We all have roles to play. Nobody would like to see the kind of thing that we experience in various parts of the country in the form of insecurity. As political leaders, we cannot shy away from that, we have to get our people secured, we have to secure the environment for them to earn the means of livelihood. We would like to see our farmers go back to farms before the rainy season starts. And this means we have to secure the rural parts of Nigeria as well as the urban centres because we need businesses to flourish. So, I believe that between now and probably the next two months, there will be a lot of activities to ensure that we cover and secure environments for people to lead a very normal life”.

Shortly after the visit, the signs began to emerge. In the morning, Lawan charged the new service chiefs to take the battle to the enclaves of the bandits and terrorists. Then in the evening, President Muhammadu Buhari convoked a national security meeting where he instructed the military to be decisive now in their operations, more than ever. He specifically ordered them to reclaim the areas under the control of the insurgents and also to move into the forests and shoot on sight, anyone with dangerous weapons. Furthermore, he charged the immigration service to intensify synergy with international security agencies on tight border security. The service chiefs have being on the move with sufficient zest.

Clearly, these are strong messages as to the inherent dividends of collaboration in governance.

So except for reasons motivated by primordial sentiments, Lawan is a leader who believes and is diligently committed to the Nigerian Project. Equally, the 9th national assembly under his leadership is on course, laying the foundations for a new beginning of socio-economic and political prosperity. Objective assessments only validate these assertions. There is no proof that the legislature is compromised or intimidated.

Therefore, every subjective criticism targeted at the national assembly undermines our journey to nationhood. Rather than solutions, it creates more problems. It is only by dispassionate support and cooperation that we can have the legislature of our dream. And now is the time to begin.

Egbo is print media aide to the president of the senate

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