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Mark Prepares Lawmakers-elect For Legislative Business

With the general elections over, preparing the incoming lawmakers for the task ahead remains a laudable project that would determine their performance in the incoming administration, writes Peterclaver Egbochue

That lawmaking business in a developing democracy is a serious activity is simply stating the obvious. As such, lawmakers- elect particularly first time legislators would need to be tutored in the best approach to lawmaking even as the 7th national and state Houses of Assembly prepares to wind down.

Nigeria’s constitution, under the doctrine of Separation of Powers, identified three arms of government; the legislature, the executive and the judiciary just as it allotted certain responsibilities to each of them.

Each of these is expected to perform its functions separately. Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the constitution clearly spell out the separated functions of the three arms of government while also creating avenues for collaboration and mutual checks by all the departments.

However, with respect to the states of the federation, the legislative powers of the houses of Assembly are in subsection (6) of section 4 defined as follows: “ The legislative powers of a State of the Federation shall be vested in the House of Assembly of the State and (7) “The House of Assembly of a State shall have the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State or any part thereof.

But the houses of assembly in the last few months particularly in Enugu, Niger, Ekiti, Ebonyi, Adamawa, Sokoto and Ondo states respectively have at different times taken up ‘arms’ against the chief executives of their states in a fashion political watchers describe as antithetical to the growth and development of democratic norm.

In many other instances, most state houses of assembly are seen as an appendage of the executive, doing the bidding of the governor who eventually exudes enormous powers thereby negating the principles of separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution.

It is perhaps, against this backdrop that the Senate President, David Mark, last Monday in Abuja charged lawmakers-elect of the 36 State Houses of Assembly to ensure that they free themselves from the grip of their governors in the interest of sustainable democracy in the country.

He also charged other politicians to emulate President Goodluck Jonathan’s handling of the just-concluded 2015 general elections where he put the interest of the country above his personal ambition.

Mark specifically urged the incoming legislators to resist all forms of Executive interference and refrain from being mere rubber stamps of state governors.

In his keynote address at a five-day induction for the new legislators at the International Conference Centre, (ICC), Abuja, the Senate President charged the politicians to refrain from rushing to election tribunals when avoidable.

The senate president warned the state lawmakers that the general impression is that their legislatures have remained appendages of Government Houses or governors, urging them to learn from the National Assembly, which had achieved institutional stability and transformed from being a “mere rubber stamp” of Executive decisions by resisting the President’s interference.

He said, “The Legislature in Nigeria has a chequered history. But in all its travails, the parliament has stood on the side of the people and intervened at the most critical moments to salvage the system from imminent collapse.

“I have always maintained that the most important legacy of the Legislature in the last 16 years is its commitment to lawmaking, oversight functions and representation to ensure good governance. The Legislature has also come to be recognised as a watchdog of the executive and an important link between citizens and the state.

“At the national level, the Legislature has continued to assert its independence and resist executive interference. Thus, the Legislature has achieved institutional stability and transformed from being a ‘mere rubber stamp’ of executive decisions and policy initiatives into an institution that now enjoys a reasonable degree of legitimacy and respect.

“We are not quite where we want to be though. But can we say the same of state legislatures? If I may tell all of you here, the general impression is that the state legislatures have remained an appendage of the government houses or governors. I recall that when the first constitutional amendment was done, the state assemblies did not have the political courage to muster enough votes for their financial autonomy.

“For example, as lawmakers, you must avoid holding your sessions in the council chambers of the Government Houses. It is ignoble to use the Mace outside the chamber or borrow a Local Government Legislative Council Mace to conduct your affairs or resort to self-help by using your Mace to perpetuate violence.

“You must conduct your sittings in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the extant rules of the House. As state legislators, you must restrain yourselves from the excessive use of the constitutional provision that empowers you to impeach either your speakers, executive governors or their deputies.”

Mark warned the legislators that impeaching an elected official is a very serious legislative process, which must not be abused.

“Impeachment is not designed for a few days exercise. Where it has become the last resort, it must be painstakingly conducted within the hallowed chamber of the parliament in accordance to the extant rules of the House and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is not to say that there should be no collaboration between the executive and the state legislatures on matters of public good,” he added.

He observed that the blend of age, gender, personalities, professional backgrounds and affiliations of the participating legislators is a positive sign towards crafting laws that would address the structural deficiencies of the nation’s economy, the weaknesses of our political system and the ills of the society.

“I certainly expect healthy, stimulating and enriching debates in the days ahead, as we settle down to work and examine different issues from different perspectives. As you commence your duties as legislators, I urge you to conduct yourselves in a manner beyond reproach. I equally invite you all to define your appropriate role as our electoral democracy moves from mere procedural concerns to substantive issues.

“Just as I have called for synergy between state assemblies and the National Assembly, I wish to emphasise that a strong partnership is also required between the executive and the legislature in order for Nigeria to achieve its developmental Mark Prepares Lawmakers-elect goals, increase transparency and accountability and curb corruption,” he concluded.

He said that Jonathan did not only demonstrate patriotism and political maturity, but also put Nigeria on the world map of the league of mature democracies by accepting defeat in the March 28 presidential election.

His words, “As I said at the induction of the federal legislators, real credit must go to Nigerians, and especially President Jonathan for overseeing transparent and credible elections and for promoting a political culture of tolerance.

“The President’s gesture of congratulating the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and conceding defeat, even before the final results were announced, is exemplary. He has demonstrated patriotism, political maturity; but more importantly, as a statesman, he has put Nigeria on the world map of the league of mature democracies.

“This must be a lesson to all politicians that our first loyalty is, and must be to the state. It is also imperative to state that President Jonathan has not gone to any election tribunal. I enjoin politicians to imbibe this example.

“For the first time in our democratic history, a ruling party is handing over to an opposition party. This is a clear indication that our democracy is growing.

We must always remember that the democratic ideal seeks to guarantee equality and basic freedom; to empower ordinary people; to resolve disagreements through peaceful dialogue; to respect differences; and to bring about political and social renewal without violence.

“Thus, I would like to underscore that for us in Nigeria, the 2015 elections marked a significant achievement in the consolidation and deepening of our democracy.”

With this induction lecture, all eyes are on the lawmakers-elect as they settle down for legislative business in the next one-month. Whether they will conduct themselves in line with the advice of the senate president will be seen in a matter of time.

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