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Two burning issues facing ministers

WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, inaugurated his cabinet on August 21, two burning issues were omitted in his speech. I am sure the issues must have been discussed at the ministerial retreat organised by the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the President felt it was no longer necessary to reopen discussions on the two issues during the cabinet inauguration.

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The issues are the relationship between ministers and ministers of state and relationship between ministers and the National Assembly. Let us discuss the latter first.

Deep down in the heart of every minister is how to cope with the insatiable demands of the members of the National Assembly, especially the committee chairmen. And these demands keep increasing daily to the extent that ministers prefer to send their permanent secretaries or top officials to the National Assembly. It is not only ministers that are worried but heads of parastatals and agencies of the Federal Government. And because the members of the National Assembly have the powers to approve or disapprove the budget of the ministries, they now hold the ministers and heads of parastatals hostage. The ministers are under severe and constant harassment.

Section 88 of the Constitution defines the powers of the legislature to investigate. It provides as follows: 88 (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has powers to make laws; and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged or intended to be charged with the duty of or responsibility for – (i) executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly; disbursing or administering money appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly. (2) The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to – (a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.”

Judging by actions of the members of the National Assembly in recent years, they have exceeded their boundaries and they now want to run the ministries as if they are part of the executives like Ministers. They attend functions and events of various ministries. They want to be involved in the employment and promotion of personnel in the various ministries and agencies. They also want to be involved in the execution of the various contracts in the ministries and agencies. In a short, they want to be involved in the complete running of the ministries and agencies and there is no end to their demands. They have forgotten that their primary duty is to make laws and not to enforce the laws made.

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I have read and reread Section 8 of the 1999 Constitution, I do not see absolute investigative powers given to the National Assembly. The former Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, an accomplished lawyer of repute in a paper he presented in Jos of January 23, 2001, was worried about the abuse of power by the National Assembly.

He said “wide as these powers are, limits have been set to them by the Constitution limits which we appear to honour more in the breach than in the observance. Can the legislature order investigation of the executive or any of its parastatals?

If it suspects, even on reasonable grounds, that an individual or organization is guilty of fraud can it order an investigation of such an individual or organization? Can it, by motion o even by law, prohibit the payment of pensions or any other emoluments authorized to be paid by the Constitution to any person, however bad?

When, for any reason at all, the executive has ordered the removal of any of its members can the legislature compel the reinstatement of such persons? Can it command or order the Executive to institute an action in court for enforcement of its rights whenever the legislature considers that those rights have been infringed?

And if it is not satisfied with the conduct of the President can it pass a vote of no confidence in him? Can it propose expenditure on its own initiative or must such proposal be sanctioned by government recommendation?

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