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Lawmaking as a dance step

By Tonnie Iredia
Anyone who regularly monitors our legislators would, like this column, easily see the correlation between legislation in Nigeria and dance steps. For us the experience has been overwhelming.

First, we observed some months back, the unacceptable way the National Assembly was relating with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); ordering him here and there and seeking to determine what he says as well as when, where and how he should speak.

For us, the posture was a dance step which contravenes Section 158 of our Constitution which guarantees the independence of our electoral body. Even beyond law, there is also the logic that since INEC is the referee of the game of politics while the legislators are players in the same game, it is an abnormal dance step for players to direct the referee of a game.

Transactions between our legislators and ministries, departments and agencies in the name of oversight functions have been another source of disaffection.

Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido says the National Assembly consumes no less than 25 per cent of our national budget. In response, the legislature says the Central Bank gulps 50 per cent. That is a good revelation which looks like the case of a thief who at his trial prefers to identify a bigger thief than prove his own innocence.

With 75 per cent of our budget going to two bodies, I was tempted to get across to our minister of finance to identify who gets the balance 25 per cent. I dropped the idea when I realised that he might later claim that I misquoted him if I publish whatever he tells me. Meanwhile, irrespective of the size of  the National Assembly budget, some scandalous items, such as “Hardship Allowance” in the pay packets of its members are embarrassing dance steps.

Should legislators become members of the executive committees of their parties? While the House of Representatives said yes the Senate danced over it. But, in reality, there is nothing wrong with the standpoint of our ‘Reps’ because all they are gunning for is to gain leverage over other actors in the political arena.

That is what politics is all about- the struggle for power, the handling of the activities and affairs of a state or government through intrigues to gain authority or power. Every politician does that. Indeed, it explains why those who control the executive arm of government monopolise every apparatus of state power. That is why, for example, the public media organs are cowed from publicising opposition parties notwithstanding that balance and objectivity is the ethical hallmark in the media coverage of political activities.

The executive is visibly the richest arm of government perhaps through the award of contracts. From such wealth, its members can dictate the political direction. They can dissolve and constitute local councils as if we are back to military rule. In fact, a governor can garner enough resources to prosecute with ease, the impeachment of his deputy.

This is why an association known as “Governors’ Forum” though unknown to the constitution has virtually become the strongest political institution of our time. No one can win whatever election in a state if the governor of the state does not want him.

It is as if we are having governors for the first time in history. It is in reaction to this, that the legislators are seeking to be wealthy, important and powerful too. To make up for the power to award contracts, they allocate to themselves, inexplicable allowances which add up to make them wealthier than contractors. Lucrative conditions for matters like the passing of the annual budget have also been instituted. This is in addition to the arm-twisting gains of oversight functions.

For the specific issue of the moment- zoning and the 2011 elections-our legislators wanted to use what they have to get what they need. Since their strength is in lawmaking, they decided to outlaw the participation of appointees as delegates to party primaries. This halts the old order where the appointees swell the list of delegates in favour of the executive.

Then, the second onslaught-to legislate themselves into the executive committees of their parties and become the real and bonafide decision makers in political matters. Is there really anything wrong with the strategy? The legislators are in order because they are elected to make laws and it would be wrong to condemn a man for doing what he was mandated to do. Would it be right, for example, to attack a farmer for having a bountiful harvest?

One of my friends reminded me that it was morally wrong for legislators to make laws for their own benefit. There is a point there; just that morality and law are two different things. He then argued that such a law was a bad law. Again, his argument is weighty; just that a bad law is still a law. We also need to make the point that whether a law is good or bad depends on the intentions of its assessor.

For example, a law against armed robbery is bad law to the armed robber. My friend was full of applause for our senators who unlike the Reps bowed to public opinion and did not legislate for themselves on the issue. It is easy to imagine that ‘public’ here refers to some touts who were rented to carry placards to oppose the law. But, what did this ‘public’ say it would lose if legislators became members of the executive committees of their own parties?

And, if public opinion was that important where was the Senate a few years back when the National Assembly ignored the passionate plea of all right thinking citizens and passed the Order of Precedence Act to make the Chief Justice of Nigeria inferior to the Speaker of the House of Representatives?

As usual, we are yet to hear the details of the horse-trading that put the two chambers in disharmony. It may even have been contrived because in politics, nothing is impossible. It will be recalled that last year, many Nigerians were made to believe that the controversy between both Houses over where the President was to present the budget was real.

We now know better. Shortly, what our senators gained to agree to lose membership of the national executive committees of their parties will come out. Whatever it is, Nigerians are not so stupid not to know that the composition of the national executive committee of a party is all about politics. It does not concern the rest of us. Indeed, it cannot increase the number of schools or hospitals in the service of the people.

Accordingly, Nigerians should say no to the unending cosmetic dance steps in the public domain and demand for our leaders to replace them with issues of governance so that we can all dance to good living.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.