By Mohammed Adamu
(first published 04/26/16)
THIS ingenious-even if doctrinaire- Separation of Power device, was thought to be democracy’s eternal staying power, because by sharing power among three distinct arms of government, it was naively thought that the possibility had been eliminated of absolute power uniting in one-arm which could wield it arbitrarily and in a manner inconsistent with the public-good. But the did had long been done since when the legislature was empowered not only to make, to amend or to abrogate laws, but also to approve or to deny spending across all boards; to oversight both executive and judicial arms of government; to approve appointments and removal of judicial and cabinet officers; to override presidential veto, and in fact even to determine when the President has ‘grossly’ mis-conducted himself and to proceed to impeach him. And what remedies are there to check these vast powers? Virtually none, other than the right of the electorate to wait for the next election, or in the interim to initiate recall of erring representatives –a measure which has never been successfully carried out here.
Said David Ingram, author of the book, Law: Key Concepts In Philosophy “The American founders believed that a constitution that placed unlimited power in a legislative majority will inevitably result in tyranny, instability and lawlessness.” But the Americans are even luckier; they have managed to institutionalise a circle of citizens’ perpetual ‘mistrust of their governments’ (on the one hand) and governments’ perpetual ‘fear of the mistrust of their citizens’ (on the other) And it is on this never-ending circle of ‘mistrust’ and ‘fear’ of being mistrusted, that good and responsible governance is established.
Plus in most Western democracies there are in existence, non-democratic –mostly security- institutions that have consolidated, over time, the requisite state power to prevent anyone (including the President) and to disable any institution (not excluding parliament and the Judiciary), from doing or allowing to be done, any action that may imperil the nation. The system has never been averse to excoriating presidents who cross the line. After Senator Barack Obama became President-elect for the first time, CNN’s Christiane Amanpor, while reporting that he would soon be briefed ‘behind Washington’s closed doors’, said that the new President would be told what he would not have been entitled to know even as a Senator –namely the role of non-democratic –mostly security- institutions in whipping democratic actors into line. Whenever they dare to imperil America.
Every parliament ought to be its nation’s ‘moral high ground’. Yet every parliament potentially can also be its nation’s ‘moral degenerate’. It can be both eminently corruptible and a willing infidel. And which is exactly what our NASS seems stubbornly bent on becoming –an assemblage of the eminently corruptible and willing infidels of our democratic learning process. But is it their fault? Our legislature takes undue advantage of a docile, pacifist electorate that has neither the capacity for righteous anger, nor the democratic will for the ventilation of dissent.
It was in discussing the perils of parliamentary life, its lethal combination of inertia, greed and arrogance, that the British lawmaker Fenner Brockway once said: “Sometimes I remark that I have spent three years in prison and three years in parliament, and that I saw character deteriorate in parliament more than in prison”. But nowhere does character deteriorate more than at our National Assembly in Nigeria. American author-cleric Edward Everett Hale, when he was asked whether or not he prayed for the senators, said “No, I look at the senators and I pray for the country”. And which is about all that we can do for now –concerning these greedy men-about-town bent on riding N36 million SUVs even in the face of our severest economic adversity. Yes, we need to pray fervently that this veritable ‘touchstone’ of democratic liberty, the legislature, does not itself become the undoing of democracy in Nigeria
We are at the mercy of a selfish legislative arm that has not only come to the realisation of the full potentials of its legislative powers, but one which has also realised our practical lack of citizen-willpower to organise to bring it to account. Our legislature is not only unlimitedly powerful, the corruption it abets is so instantaneously overwhelming that no radical or puritan had ever been there and did not recant: from unionists like the ‘Honourable’ Orock to journalists like the ‘Distinguished’ Chris Anyanwu. And now we have including ‘comrades’ like Shehu Sani and attention-seeking purveyors of ‘common sense’ like Ben Bruce right on the legislative ‘moral high ground’ as ‘Distinguished’ senators who believe that they can run with the hare and still hunt with the hound.
What do we not know about the deterioration of character at NASS? Our legislators have been caught several times in the past in one compromising situation or the other, either by the executive, e.g. ala Wabara’s ‘bribe-for-budget’ scandal; or by themselves e.g. ala ‘Senator Kuta Report’; but not once has any member ever been brought to book. The only time members get punished is whenever they dare to go against the grain of collective rip off of our common patrimony. Then there will be severe and instant judgment. If memory serves right, a Senate Committee under David Mark’s NASS once confessed to forgery of a Report and the only punishment it got was mere dissolution. And if memory serves right also, concerning ‘Kuta Report’ -which had indicted many senators over NASS contract scam-, senators had simply met at plenary to declare clemency on those indicted with a ridiculous warning to go sin no more.
Ghalli had once said that the NASS was constitutionally incapable of initiating a probe against itself. But the reverse is actually the case in our own situation -ironically. Only the NASS can subpoena the NASS. Or maybe better to say: with the exception of the courts, there is hardly any effective constitutional measure that can bring the legislature to book by institutions extraneous to it. Even the annual audit of NASS accounts by the Auditor General of the Federation –since as far back as Ghalli time- the NASS had fought, claws and fangs, to render in-operational. And since then no Auditor General of the Federation has ever dared to send notice to the NASS he was coming to audit its account. Thus baring the courts, it can only take unleashing the revolutionary anger of the people to bring the NASS to order.
Whenever NASS speaks about ‘checks and balances’ it erroneously gives the impression that the ‘checking’ is an exclusive preserve of the legislature over the other two arms. Any attempt to make NASS amenable to ‘checks’ by others is interpreted as affronting it’s so called ‘independence’. In truth no one arm is ‘independent’ of another. Conceptually all the arms of government are mutually inter-dependent. But our lawmakers will not get this into their greedy, egotistic heads unless we the people are prepared to step out in moral aid especially of the courts to bring wayward lawmakers to justice or in support of an executive we can trust, to force the legislature to tow the path of progress.
Because with a self-serving NASS like this, we may have to do some swinging!