National Assembly

By BRAEYI EKIYE

EXPERIENCE is described as practical contact with and observation of facts or events. It has also to do with involvement, participation, exposure to, familiarity with, understanding of, and also insight into the workings of a system or situation.

This description came into play in the choice of federal legislative representation in the Sagbama/Ekeremor Senatorial and House of Representatives seats of Nigeria’s oil rich Bayelsa State at the hotly contested primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, leading to the forthcoming February 2023 general elections.

On the eve of the primaries for both seats, there was a sort of duel over whom best fit the positions. There was clearly the issue of zoning, performance, energy, reach, exposure, focus, and cognate experience at stake; all of which, in the final analysis, swayed the PDP, critical stakeholders, and the delegates in the district to anchor legislative experience and some of the aforementioned considerations as precursors to effective representation at both the lower and upper chambers of the National Assembly.

In a piece I wrote on this subject in late March 2022, I posited that there was a need for greater understanding among the then competing camps within the PDP, the elders and youths across the political divide in the senatorial district in the search for a solution to this thorny issue.

Thank God, due to collective and inclusive reasoning among the contestants, the party hierarchy and stakeholders in the district amicably calmed the raging storm, and the choice of a senator as well as that of the lower chamber at the National Assembly were secured without rancour.  So, Seriake Dickson, former Governor of Bayelsa State and a serving senator, won the PDP primaries, a landslide. Frederick Agbedi, a two-term serving member of the House of Representatives also got back his seat in the primaries, not without high wire politicking.

Now that the storm over this issue has died down and settled in the party level, and campaigns are already afoot for the elections, it will be pertinent to use the Sagbama/Ekeremor experience as a ladder to project into the expectations of the electorate for credible and selfless representation from aspirants of political parties contesting the various federal legislative seats.

I stated in my March 2022 article that, while zoning and consensus as criteria for choice of candidates were desired in a multicultural pluralistic society such as ours, we should not lose sight of encouraging the building of legislative experience for the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of the workings of the legislature for effective service delivery. I argued that a frequent and frivolous change of baton was inimical to an enduring and productive legislative enterprise capable of building and nurturing time-tested, pragmatic, and formidable legislators for the benefit of the constituencies these legislators represent and serve. 

We can draw inspiration from the United States of America’s practice of sustained legislative representation both in the upper and lower chambers, that is based on performance, integrity and accountability. In fact, many, if not most, of her legislators have served three to four terms in office and, in some cases, even more in the legislative houses. 

We can comfortably refer to Congresswoman Nancy Delosi, the 52nd Speaker of the United States of America House of Representatives who has held on to the speaker ship of that hallowed chamber since 2007, 15 years now. This, I believe, is an area Nigerian political parties should interrogate, bringing to the fore such representatives’ penchant for service delivery, hinged on skill efficiency, expertise, experience, and integrity as ingredients for effective representation in their various constituencies. 

At a critical period of our national development, the legislature needs informed legislators with the reach to galvanise support for our shared values of good governance in the Nigerian State. Our people need such values and expectations clearly and poignantly presented at plenary sessions of parliament or in all other working parties or committees of the house. This, therefore, calls for a wider scope of consultations and collaboration between federal and state legislators and critical stakeholders on issues that affect the region in our democratic process. 

I wonder if there is such collaboration, for now, as it appears, it is every legislator to his tent, and at his whims and caprices, in sharing the largesse of the legislature with their constituents. The unwritten oversight function of constituents is assaulted, while they helplessly look on as their rights and privileges are distributed with no recourse to probity and accountability. 

So, the circle continues with the people they represent getting poorer and stripped of the nutrients of life, while they, who are supposed to be servants, get richer and flaunt the perquisites of their offices unabashedly. In my considered opinion, therefore, I think a synergy should be worked out by both federal and state legislators for a more visible, practical, and accountable service delivery to their constituents. The presence of legislators in their constituencies should be felt in and out of season for the deliverance of the dividends of our democratic experience. Their constituency offices in the local governments and the state capitals should be a beehive of activity throughout their tenure in office. 

I am afraid, this is not the case in these offices; poorly built, poorly staffed, and poorly equipped, and in most cases, nonexistent. The legislature is a powerful arm of government and should be seen as holding the balance of power in the governance of the nation and her constituent states. A good and responsive legislature should, therefore, be relatively independent of the Presidency and in the hands of governors in the States. The legislature should wake up to the fact that, that institution is an independent arm of government whose independence, as clearly spelled out in the separation of powers, is sacrosanct.

As we warm up to the February 2023 general elections, Nigerians expect a federal and state legislature that would refuse to be a “rubber-stamp” for executive proposals for self-seeking reasons. And that the emergent legislature from these elections would understand the import and application of the separation of powers as a catalyst to good governance and for the seamless communication of the basic necessities of life to Nigerian citizens. And that, Nigerians would be proud to have a legislature that sees itself as independent and works together with the mutually beneficial terms in the interest of the Nigerian State and her citizens. In addition, a legislature that is creative, credible, and of character that its constituents can be proud of, in Nigeria’s rise to prominence and greatness.

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