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Wrong-footing the legislature

By Josef Omorionmwan
IN a constitutional order, government stands on a tripod and governmental powers are shared among several independent but inter-related branches: in a broad sense, while the legislature makes policies, such policies are implemented by the executive and the judiciary steps in to interpret any question arising from the policies or from the Constitution.

The legislature is the eldest son in this family and perhaps because of that very fact, it receives the greatest bashing from all of us, the people it represents. There is a false assumption of equality among the children of the family. At every bend, we see the eldest son being short-changed on all sides.

While younger branches kept having a smooth sail, the legislature has had a most checkered history. Each time the Marshall music played, it was the only branch of government that was dissolved. The best that could happen to it at that point was to scatter its staff among the various ministries. And whereas the executive and the judiciary enjoyed continuity, the legislature got truncated whenever there was military intervention and this has been responsible for its unstable and retarded growth.

The legislature is part of a larger political system. Its ability to act and to make its decisions stick is affected by the actions of other persons and institutions as well as the happenings and circumstances in the political process at large. Its linkages with other political institutions stand out clearly.

No matter how specific the intent of the legislature, its decisions will still require the interpretation and implementation by executive officials; no matter how unambiguous its legislative purposes, its laws cannot escape occasional review in the judicial process. In essence, the legislature is not an isolated institution. Quite often, it gets wrong-footed along the line; then it must carry its cross alone and bear the liabilities and all the blames accruing there from.

Daniel came to the office one day to announce that his wife had put to bed  a baby boy. We were all happy for the Daniels because this first child was coming after some ten years of their marriage.

Immediately after work, we all rushed to Daniel’s house for the usual “omomo drink”, only for Daniel to announce to us that the whole thing happened suddenly. Suddenly, indeed, after nine months’ notice! When it concerns the National Assembly, that is the same type of suddenness that has always attended to their affairs.

Until this Fourth Republic, members of the National Assembly were not even considered fit to have offices; yet, their pigeon holes were often loaded with all sorts of papers, some needed and some, outright trash. You needed to see them going along the hallways to the chambers, with the heavy baggage, moving like refugees. Even after it was reluctantly agreed that they should have offices, such offices were never provided in good time. We are now back to the same point.

The current National Assembly is presumed to have resumed duty since June 6, 2011. Members have been sworn in and the expenses on them have started building up. Plenary, which ought to have since started, has been put off till the end of August 2011 because, we are told, the offices are not ready.

This is the same type of story we hear at the beginning of each National Assembly. Like the sudden arrival of Daniel’s baby, the authorities charged with the arrangement of members’ offices and accommodation must always be caught unawares, even where you do not require any eggheads or cult of experts to tell you that a new National Assembly must come around the 6th of June in an election year.

In fact, barring any mishap or shift in our Constitution, the eigth National Assembly will be inaugurated on June 6, 2015; the nineth National Assembly will be inaugurated on June 6, 2019; while the 10th National Assembly will be inaugurated on June 6, 2023 and so on. Why would anyone be caught napping on dates that are as fixed as Christmas Day? The cock and bull story we are hearing now is that the contractors handling the construction of the additional 175 new offices and the repair of the old ones have not finished work.

Meanwhile, members have checked their luggage into hotels and proceeded on compulsory recess, courtesy of the tardiness of the managers of the National Assembly complex.

One bad turn deserves another. The hotel bills are already building up. Members are resting before working and they are being paid for resting in idleness. In the end, these are the very indices that go into determining their output and the cost of maintaining them. Corruption manifests itself in various forms.

But unfortunately, Nigerians only see corruption at the point where one man rolls N40 billion into his personal pocket. Otherwise, there are many nagging questions of national crisis proportion that are begging for answers: One, why won’t heads roll over this national embarrassment caused by the management of the National Assembly?

Two, must we make a fresh beginning every time? What happened to the facilities – office spaces and accommodation – used by members of the sixth National Assembly? Those could easily have been refurbished in a week or two.

Three, if legislators are quick to go on recess each time their facilities are not ready, what really distinguishes them from the primary school pupils who are happy when their school is shut down? For all we know, the task before the seventh National Assembly is daunting and the expectations are high. Good enough, the clock never stops ticking!


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