By Ochereome Nnanna
MEMBERS of the current session of the National Assembly surely qualify as the worst crop of legislators ever assembled in Nigeria. Since the Freedom of Information Bill was introduced about 10 years ago, the House of Representatives, Senate and Presidency have been dancing circles around it to ensure it does not become law because if it does, governance will be demystified in accordance with genuine democratic traditions.
Members are either introducing obnoxious bills (such as Abike Dabiri-Erewa’s Press Council Bill which was shellacked in the media) or they are awarding themselves millions of naira every quarter in the name of constituency projects.
Since we entered the last lap of the current political season usually characterised by nominations, campaigns and elections, the National Assembly has joined the Executive branch (President, governors) in the desperate power grab antics to ensure that they return to office after the impending polls, whether the people want them to return or not.
When the Presidency sent in a Bill asking the National Assembly to, among other things, make political appointees automatic delegates of their political parties to enable him gain the upper hand against his opponents angling for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket, some Assembly members responded by demanding that they too be given automatic tickets.
Later, another Bill seeking to make federal lawmakers automatic members of the highest decision making organs of their political parties – the National Executive Councils (NEC’s) – came to light.
Apart from seeking to dictate to the various political parties who should be members of the NECs, this enactment, if it sails through, will reduce all the 52 registered political parties into identical, mass-produced parties with little or no choice available to the people. It will turn the House of Representatives into a political monster, not only inside the PDP but the nation at large. With its 262 members Reps will hijack the NEC of the PDP and, among others things, force the party to grant its members the automatic tickets they so desperately covet.
There are many negative implications that will come in the wake of this Bill if it is passed into law. It will amount to a waste of time, effort and funds because the President is not likely to sign it into law unless the President is part of the conspiracy.
Even if the NASS toes the foolhardy line of overriding the President’s veto, the Bill will be killed in the court of law. The reason for this bleak prognostication is that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, at Section 223 (1) and (2) has given the various political parties the power, through their constitutions and rules, to decide the composition of their executive committees, provided that they reflect the national character.
If the Bill sails through, the number of the PDP Executive Council members from the House of Reps alone will jump to 309 from the current number of 129 combined Senate and House of Reps. The Speaker of the House of Reps will become the de facto leader of the PDP while the North will use its boosted numbers to ride roughshod over the rest of the country.
The constitutional demand of federal character will be defeated. It is precisely because of these problems that the Bill will not stand. It is sad and indeed worrisome that those pushing the Bill do not seem to be aware of these dangers. Knowing that many of them will not be able to get re-elected based on their poor performance the federal legislators have resorted to exploring undemocratic and unconstitutional means to achieve their unholy purposes.
These lawmakers have repeatedly demonstrated their lack of fitness for the job. Many of them came from military backgrounds or came into prominence licking the boots of military people. Senate President, David Mark and Speaker of the House of Reps, Dimeji Bankole, are retired soldiers. Mark was a serial coup plotter and election annuller who later fled into exile only to return to change political masters the way you change your underpants.
From being an “IBB Boy”, he worshipped Obasanjo, thereby earning his current position as Senate President. Then he dumped Obasanjo and opted for the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. But as soon as he smelt the end in sight he switched over to President Goodluck Jonathan. For these chaps, staying in power is the paramount object of being in politics. It has nothing to do with democracy or representation of the people.
Most of them have no genuine political pedigree or upbringing. They don’t know the difference between being in the legislative and the executive branches. That is why a Senator or Rep will be envious of an “unelected minister” and seek to confer on himself some executive powers such as the money they draw quarterly from the federal purse, ostensibly to carry out “constituency projects”.
A lawmaker is a messenger of the people and the political party that sponsored him for election. A lawmaker cannot,therefore, make any law that transforms him into the overlord of his party. He cannot impose himself on his people, which is what automatic tickets will result to.
It is a pity that when the principal organs of political parties meet, they are not there to give directions to party members and elected leaders on how to approach politics and governance in line with party policies. This was how the Action Group, for instance, was able to effect the carpet crossing of 1952 and sponsor the motion for Nigeria’s independence through Anthony Enahoro. These two acts changed the politics of Nigeria for good.
What have the PDP and other parties done, through their internal processes, to change Nigeria, except for members to grab more and more power?