By Tonnie Iredia
For one week, I tried in vain, to understand the purpose of the invitation by the National Assembly to Chris Ngige, Labour and Employment Minister, after having a shouting match with another Minister, in the same ministry, Festus Keyamo. I had hoped that the federal legislators were not planning to report Keyamo to Ngige in the belief that the former was junior to the latter, but that appears to be what played out.
Why would that occur to the lawmakers – does the post of junior minister legally exist in Nigeria? Did the Senate clear Festus Keyamo or any other person for the post of a junior minister? If the purpose was to employ divide and rule in their conflict with Keyamo, did they expect him to tremble before Ngige?
In fact, did they expect one minister to support legislators against another? After all, is it not an open secret in Nigeria that if a legislator is found to be part of any corrupt practise, the usual response of the Assembly, is to hurriedly set up a committee to exonerate their colleague? To my mind, the invitation to Ngige was misplaced.
The open confrontation between the legislators and Keyamo generated ample concern among analysts, some supporting and others opposing each of them. One interesting commentary came from Ayo Arise, a former Senator, Ekiti North, who on national television called for a political rather than a legal solution ostensibly because his former colleagues are not likely to get legal victory over the tussle.
Many of those who condemned Keyamo did so because they saw him as a long-time troubleshooter. One cannot blame them as it is customary for laypersons to often resort to character evidence. Unfortunately, the issue at stake was not about Keyamo’s antecedents or even mannerism, rather, it was a case of two bodies laying claim to a public project whose success ordinarily requires the cooperation of both parties.
The project which is a Special Public Works Programme involves the employment of 1,000 Nigerians in each of the nation’s 774 local government areas. Having approved the project by appropriating a huge sum for it, the legislators had concluded the first phase of their own involvement, leaving the executive to work out the logistics and implementation strategies for the project.
During and after implementation, legislators have fresh opportunities to get further involved in the project which is their power of oversight that is, the power to monitor the implementation. But if the legislators insist on being part of the implementation, then they can no longer objectively monitor the project.
In ordinary day parlance, what we are saying is that if a teacher partakes in the writing of an examination by a student, then, it would be irrational for the same teacher to mark the same paper. In other words, as in all issues, it is always wise to allow for division of labour and in the case of government, the separation of powers among the arms.
Accordingly, the National Assembly should allow Minister Keyamo to play the part assigned to him both by the President and by the relevant law while the legislators ensure that the project is implemented as conceived.
As to who is blame-worthy in the open confrontation, Sections 60, 88 and 89 of our constitution have been correctly quoted to support the argument that Keyamo cannot question the manner of hearing determined by the legislature. We think the argument is simplistic because the issue at stake was again not fully understood.
If the relevant committee wanted a private session, it would have said so ab initio but to publicly indict a minister and thereafter direct him to answer in private, does not appear neat. Same is true of the directive for the minister to hands-off from his official duties as the supervising minister of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) – the Agency mandated to implement the project in issue.
Even the committees set up by the minister which the legislators were uncomfortable with, is backed by law. In the words of Section 16 of the relevant law, “the minister may from time to time, constitute a committee to be known as the special committee of the directorate for deliberation on special matters.”
In like manner, to direct the chief executive of the agency to report directly to the legislature is patently objectionable because Section 6 of the same enabling law says “the Director-General and Chief Executive of the Directorate SHALL be responsible to the Minister for the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Directorate.”
This is still the law till today and if as a result of its fall-out with Keyamo, the legislature wishes to overpower him, it cannot capriciously do so. Instead, it must in line with the dictates of the rule of law, first amend the law setting up the NDE. But because this is Nigeria, the legislature can do so in the twinkle of an eye, by adopting the same provocative procedure by which the 7th senate on the eve of its departure in 2015, passed 46 bills in 10minutes! Even then, such a step is not likely to help the subsisting image of our National Assembly.
There is indeed, no doubt that many Nigerians do not think well of their law makers. While those in the states are generally known for only doing the bidding of their governors, not many know who the federal legislators actually represent, just as they are perceived to be ever self-serving. Each time federal legislators pursue benefits allegedly in the interest of the grassroots, the claim arouses covetousness.
Do federal legislators know or relate with the grassroots? Who do the grassroots know and see more, local councillors or Abuja based political office holders? Why do we run a third-tier level of government if things meant for the grassroots are best sent to them through far away party leaders? Do our politicians know that after elections, those elected are expected to, as statesmen, serve everyone and not only members of their respective political parties? Answers to these questions are best sourced from the way and manner, covid 19 palliatives were hoarded and diverted far away from the ‘most-needy’ in society.
Over the years, the Nigerian legislature has sufficiently attracted too much power to itself to the discomfort of many sectors of our society. The clamour to be ‘carried along’ in every subject often beyond constitutional limits, is becoming suffocating. What many people expect now is for our legislators to use such powers and privileges, like constituency projects judiciously.
Oversight should now be better organized to put an end to the misadventure of the power probe or how the subsidy scam became a celebration of corruption or how corruption fought back through tendentious oversight behaviour in the capital market. The on-going accusations between the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and legislators, past and present, are distasteful.
Our legislators will do well to enable societal institutions utilize their initiative, discretion, age-long expertise and established processes to carry out their functions. The NDE is sufficiently widespread enough and well-tested in the execution of its nationwide functions without daily routine supervision.