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War of the masters

By Tony Momoh
I AM unhappy about what our lawmakers are making of lawmaking. The number of words in their dictionary seems to have been reduced by one important word in the armoury of men of honour. That word is shame. Our lawmakers know no shame, and it is a pity. 

But let me digress before I return to this disappearance of shame from the lexicon of our lawmakers.  When people have nothing to do, they look for something to do. It is always better that they did look for something to do. Or how would you have judged them? If they sat there doing nothing, loafing, would you not say they do not know what to do?

But when they do have right in front of them a whole load of work to be done and they do things that give the impression that they have nothing to do, then you wonder what the hell is going on. Those who have the time will tell you that those who have work to do but would not do it, or are seen to be doing something else, are insensitive.

Then you begin to look for why they would be insensitive and you are unsettled by the fact that there is nothing you can do about their insensitivity. They owe you no obligation to be sensitive, do they?  Why, because the process of calling them to order has been skewed in their favour, effectively undermined. The servants have become the masters, and even if they dance naked in the marketplace, they do not care a hoot what you may say because your protestations are no more than hot air.  Yes hot air, a mere storm in a teacup.

What we have been witnesses to in recent days about where to receive the president’s appropriation bill is the latest public show of shame of our lawmakers.

The Senate of the National Assembly say the president would have to do so in their facility which obviously must have had their number (109) in view when it was being built; and the House said this chore had always been performed in their chamber which was built with the number (360) of representatives in mind.

Is there any doubt about where both houses should hold joint meetings unless there is something these feuding leaders  know that we are yet to be aware of!  But in pushing for who is master in our bi-cameral arrangement, our national assembly members have further reduced their status and clout in the eyes of the executive, and the public they are supposed to serve.

You see, the constitution is a bulky document and many are the things we read into its provisions.  But what is there in the constitution is what overrides even those things we have believed were part of our supreme law.  It took some disagreement for us to know that the constitution did not make it mandatory that there must be an acting president when the president is away, say in Saudi Arabia for his health problems.

The acting president issue comes in only when the president writes to the national assembly that he is going to be away from office!   In this latest eye-opener, we now know that the president does not even have to be at the national assembly to present the budget.

He can even send it by DHL to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House in satisfaction of  section 81(1) of the Constitution which says, “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in the financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year.”

So if we have all along believed that the president must appear at the assembly to present the budget, we know better now, no thanks to the feuding masters of the two houses.

We will not easily erase from our minds the setting for the expulsion of shame from the dictionary of our lawmakers when they aborted the seminar they had planned  early this year on their self-imposed assignment to amend our Constitution.

To push for recognition that the House and the Senate are equal in all material respects, the House members of the Joint Constitutional Reform Committee insisted that they would not accept reference to the House chairman of their 44 members of the joint body which, with the Senate’s 44 nominees, numbered 88.  He must be known and referred to as co-chairman instead of deputy chairman!  And because of this fight of the masters, the team aborted all arrangements made in Minna to enable them discuss constitutional amendments they had proposed.

If we are as serious as we should be in making lawmaking full time (and I have always asked for part-time lawmaking and payment of sitting allowances doing so) we ought to have looked at what happens elsewhere, like in the United States where their national assembly is called the Congress and they do not have full-time lawmakers!

The two Houses, the Senate (100 members) and the House (435 members) are the two sides of the same coin.   Both of them have equal powers.  They perform complementary roles.  Where there are joint sittings, the House does the hosting because there is more space there.

The primary duty of Congress, like our own should be and is on paper, is to write, debate, and pass bills (laws proposed by the executive or by private members, which are then passed on to the president for approval. Laws are executed by the executive arm, under the close watch of the legislature that made them; and they are interpreted by the judiciary which the constitution empowers to do so.

The three organs of government are themselves to be monitored by the press because the constitution says so.  The point being made is that what is in the constitution is what is to be done.  Those who make law for us are not being celebrated, cannot be celebrated because they have a  record of  that slots them in the compartment of non-performers.

I asked a question in my piece, In Search of the Boss, of  Sunday Vanguard of February 22, 2009.  I now also put the question: “Is the man in the National Assembly there because he wants to be an Obama who initiated about 800 bills in the Illinois Senate in two years and had 282 passed into law or he wants to be among a crowd of people who  have 181 days to meet in 12 months of lawmaking but met for only 90 days in eight months and passed only eight bills out of 120 placed before them!”

We were to be told later than in six months of work of the national assembly, only one bill had passed through our citadel of lawmaking. Where is the shame in a dictionary of honour!


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