Tinubu, please listen to Akpabio On this!

Nigerians are desperately yearning for a legislature that embodies the wishes and aspirations of the people as well as the ideals of democracy. The majority have even concluded that an effective legislature remains a mirage in Nigeria, lamenting that all the investments in institutionalizing democracy since independence have amounted to a wasted venture.

And then interestingly, this view found an apt expression in the recent observation by former president Olusegun Obasanjo to the effect that democracy cannot work in Nigeria because it is alien to the African culture and tradition.

Though this opinion is incompletely validated, the legislature has largely failed in its roles and responsibilities, as the shield for the citizenry, particularly in holding the executive accountable. Corruption, insecurity, poverty and poor leadership are geometrically growing sequel to the absence of diligent legislative oversights. Consequently, there is a high sense of frustration fuelling the already poor perception of the legislature. In other words, public trust today favours the other arms more than the legislature. Yes, the legislators are not trusted due to accumulated failed expectations from them in addition to limited public knowledge about the legislature’s mandates.

However, on the flipside, democracy is still the best form of governance the world over while the primary cause of Nigeria’s under-development lies squarely with the constitution. In the place of pragmatic laws and policies to drive the system optimally, a weak and shallow document that was hurriedly packaged by the military and foisted on the people as a constitution is in force. These pseudo-laws do not substantially reflect the wishes of the people. Rather than strong institutions, this obsolete constitution created and sustains strong individuals who dominate the democratic landscape thus exposing Nigeria’s democracy to stunted growth.

Yet ironically, all those at the vanguard of criticizing the legislature for underperformance are well-versed in this fundamental error. They are fully abreast of the numerous flaws inherent in the constitution and as such, agree that amendment or outright replacement is the panacea. But typical of the elites whose sense of hypocrisy has since become legendary, they are rather selective in their clamours. They only champion alterations in the aspects that serve their self-seeking interests. For instance, they are vociferous in calling for devolution of powers, creation of additional states, local government autonomy, state police, and funding of political parties. Despite how popular and germane these thematic areas are, the elites are only driven by the latent opportunities to advance their perennial agenda of self-preservation. And of course, restructuring and true federalism mean different things to different elites, depending on what suits their expectations. Furthermore, whereas this issue of faulty constitution has been receiving the attention of the legislature, no one is raising a voice for the strengthening of the legislative framework. None seemingly is concerned that all the powers and influence of the national assembly are merely theoretical. All feign ignorance that the legislature is being mercilessly dominated and controlled by the executive and also, that there is no practical protection for the legislature to independently exercise effective supervision over the executive. We pretend not to know that the legislature wholly depends on the executive for existence notably in the areas of operational funding and logistics.

As just one insight into the fragile situation of the federal legislature, the immediate past president of the senate, Ahmad Lawan, penultimate week, reminded his colleagues that “while it is true that on paper, lawmakers have the power of the purse, the execution of the project lies in the hands of the executive arm of government through various ministries, departments and agencies that should be lobbied”. That was during a debate on the need for the legislature to have greater control over the funding of constituency projects.

Lawan has only reiterated that the powers of the legislature, particularly in supervising the executive, begin and end on paper, but with collaboration, there could be a difference. Apart from becoming a presiding officer, he has been in the national assembly since 1999. So he knows enough having seen it all.

Expectedly, that proposed legislation was jettisoned by the Senate.

Understandably, the lawmakers acknowledged that they lack both the constitutional and political wherewithal to engage the executive in any form of governance battle. They might have also recalled several incidents where certain individuals openly disparaged the legislators in the course of their duties, even right inside the national assembly and nothing happened. Similarly, representatives of government and private organisations have serially shunned legislative summons with no repercussions. No doubt, the Senate is conscious that the executive determines the pace and direction of oversight duties using funding and logistics as baits. Then above all, they reasoned that what becomes of legislative resolutions has always been at the discretion of the executive in the same manner that the presidency chooses the bills to accept, despite the concerted efforts of the legislature in playing its roles.

Regrettably, all these democratic misnomers have become entrenched in the polity because the laws have not adequately empowered the legislature to perform. And this is why every sensitive legislature settles for collaboration with the other arms in the discharge of its functions being aware that whatever a legislature can deliver is a function of what the executive is willing to offer.

Guided by these facts, the president of the senate, Godswill Akpabio, was careful in reading a riot act to the executive, recently. Speaking at a public hearing on the 2024-2026 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, he noted that “any serious appointee or any head of any agency that is interested in the success of President Bola Tinubu’s administration ought to be here. Chairman (of the event) should give me the list of all the heads of agencies that you invited who have failed to show up in this session. This is the beginning of their failure in their various offices”. Continuing he stressed that “any head of agency that sends representation here is not a serious person and therefore the president must take a second look at such a person’s appointment. It is not a threat but the truth”. And to further underscore the critical importance of that function, he announced that “I shelved even my appointment to appear in Owerri today for our final rally of my party and other schedules that I have, to make sure that I appear so that we can strategize on how we can succeed”.

Instructively, in an enlightened democracy, no concerned stakeholder could have been absent on such a critical occasion. Yes, in the face of a strong and truly independent legislature, it is an offence with grave consequences for the executive to treat governance issues with levity. But sadly, this is the Nigeria of today!

Therefore interpretatively, there are veiled but direct messages for President Bola Tinubu in those Akpabio’s remarks. To begin with and by the records, Akpabio has yet to hide his sense of dedication to the success of Tinubu’s presidency. He has made it so profound that it was the major thrust of his legislative agenda while campaigning to become the Senate president. He reiterated it at his inaugural address and has been consistent with such a mindset. So it was not strange that he utilized this recent outing to reaffirm it. Tinubu am sure understands this first message.

Again, Akpabio recognized that the legislature lacks the veritable instruments to achieve compliance from the executive. He was convinced that even if the legislators decide to bite the finger that feeds them, they neither have the energy to move the jaws nor strong teeth to act. He as well communicated clearly.

Also, Akpabio reminded Tinubu that the Senate merely confirmed the appointees as required by the law but the hire-and-fire prerogative resides with the presidency. Put differently, Tinubu could have bypassed the legislature and seamlessly appointed anyone, given the weakness and shallowness that define the Constitution. This was the third message.

So in all, Akpabio passionately appealed to Tinubu to deliberately make his appointees’ level of commitment to honouring legislative summons a major part of his assessment of them among other key performance indicators. It is equally safe to add that Tinubu should lead by example, particularly by treating legislative resolutions with the deserved respect and urgency. This is very important in fairly rating the legislature because a cursory look at the resolutions so far passed by the 10th National Assembly is reassuring. Certainly, if they receive commensurate attention, there would be overwhelming developmental tangible across the country.

Hence, if only President Tinubu could ponder these underlying requests and favourably consider them, Nigerians, especially the poor, would indeed breathe. And then of strategic importance, if only he could use his power and influence to give Nigeria a people-oriented constitution, prepared through an all-inclusive process, the masses would be convinced that democracy indeed can work in Africa and Nigeria, particularly. Mr President should be persuaded that there is no better challenge now than creating functional democratic systems that work for the people. He should see the need to free the masses from the suffocating grips of the elites, through robust leadership, especially now that it has mattered the most. Otherwise, it amounts to hypocrisy and unfairness expecting the legislature to deliver within the prevailing configuration. So Tinubu, the ball is in your court if you wish to receive a generous mention whenever our history is rewritten. But in the interim, please Your Excellency, listen to Akpabio on this, for he has spoken the minds of well-meaning Nigerians.

Egbo is a parliamentary affairs analyst