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State Legislators Set For Task Ahead

Peterclaver Egbochue writes on the induction courses organized by the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS), designed to properly equip the newly elected state legislators

The legislature is generally believed to be the stabilizing force in a democracy. In addition to their official lawmaking capacity, most legislatures perform a unique educational role. Individual legislators simplify complicated issues and define policy choices. They use their resources and expertise to filter information from many sources and to resolve conflicting ideological positions, ultimately presenting their constituents with clear-cut options.

This educational function has become increasingly important as societies have become more complex, and the scope of government activity has become more extensive. However, in the twilight of the 7th State Houses of Assembly particularly those of Ebonyi, Enugu, Ondo, Niger and lately Ekiti experienced what many will describe as distortions in their activities following the resolve of some members to remove the governor, his deputy or even their speakers through impeachment. Political watchers posit that impeachment as a constitutional provision to check the excesses of political office holders should be resorted to after all other avenues of resolving contentious issues had been explored. Regrettably, this has not been the case.

It is perhaps against this backdrop that the immediate past Minister of State for Works, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Muhammad, to caution State’s Chief Judges against aiding illegal impeachments. Adeyeye frowned at the way and manner impeachment has been turned to an instrument of harassment and settlement of political scores by the legislative arm of government in the country.

The former minister who was reacting to the failed attempt by the All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers in the Ekiti State House of Assembly to impeach the State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, noted that in a decent society where everyone was sure that the Chief Judge of the State would not participate in an impeachment process in which due process of the law was not followed, the lawmakers would not have been so desperate to carry out the impeachment of Governor Fayose and his deputy, Dr. Kolapo Olusola, in four days.

He wondered how it would have been possible to get the Chief Judge of Ekiti State to hurriedly constitute the required 7-man panel, inaugurate the panel and get the panel to conclude its sitting in three days. Adeyeye said it was important that the CJN cautions Chief Judges on the need to insist that provisions of Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria are followed strictly.

The former minister, who commended the judiciary for helping to stem the tide of impeachments in the country, cited the 1962 landmark judgment in the case of Aderemi vs. Adegbenro where it was emphasized that the decisions of the House of Assembly should emanate from the Floor of the House of Assembly, and nowhere else and the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Inakoju vs Adeleke (2007), where Justice Niki Tobi, stated the intention of the Constitution was to make the House of Assembly sit physically in the building provided for that purpose.

His words, “If not for these two landmark judgments, those who wanted Governor Fayose out at all cost, to the extent of claiming that they sat at a public school in Ado-Ekiti, would have issued a press release, claiming that they sat somewhere and impeached the governor. “As posited by legal giant, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), in advanced democracies of the world especially the United States of America where we copied our Presidential System of government, the weapon of impeachment is sparingly mentioned let alone employed ostensibly because of its damaging potency. “Impeachment is only employed in extreme cases where alternative routes do not just exist at all e.g. vote of censure or vote of no confidence.

Thus, impeachment as a constitutional process is not designed as a weapon of political intimidation, oppression, suppression, harassment, and/or witch hunting of a president or Governor whose face the legislature does not want to behold any longer in the government house. “Therefore, now that the APC is controlling the federal government and considering the party’s attitude to the opposition, there is urgent need by the CJN to prevail on Chief Judges of States in the country to always exercise caution in exercising their powers as provided in Section 188 (5) of the 1999 Constitution.”

On his part, the immediate past Senate President, David Mark, enjoined elected members of the 36 state Houses of Assembly to always assert their independence and refuse to be rubber stamps for their state governors. “If I may tell you, the general impression is that the state legislatures have remained an appendage of the Government Houses or governors,” Mark said, noting that, “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.” Mark gave this counsel to the lawmakers in his keynote address while declaring open, a four-day Induction Certificate Course for members of the state Houses of Assembly legislators- elect, organised by the National Institute for Legislative Studies, NILS, which took place at the International Conference Centre, Abuja recently.

Suggesting ways the state lawmakers could assert their autonomies and operate outside the clutches of the chief executive officers of their states, Mark advised that “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 Local Government Legislative Council Mace to conduct your affairs or resort to self-help by using your Mace to perpetuate violence.” Mark, implored the state lawmakers to exercise restraint in the impeachment of their Speakers, deputy governors and even governors at promptings of forces outside their hallowed chambers. He added that, “impeaching a public elected official is a very serious legislative process and must not be abused or taken for a joke. “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.” The Senate president called for synergy between the executive and state legislatures on matters of public good. Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures, Sam Ikon, who doubled as former Speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, tasked state assemblies to resist any attempt by the executive to undermine the legislature.

In his lecture titled, ‘Legislative Procedures and Practices in the State Houses of Assembly,’ former Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang, expressed worry that state legislatures had become appendages of the executive, adding that “the legislature at state levels is now treated lower than paraststatals or as a mere department in a governor’s office.” Mrs. Sikirat Anako, (APC), a re-elected member of Kwara House of Assembly, said the induction course organised for members of State Houses of Assembly would enable them gain more knowledge about democracy.

She said the training would further equip members on legislative matters and enhance their capacity to contribute to the development of their respective constituencies and the country.. “The induction course is very good for the incoming and the re-elected members because we will get more knowledge to do what we have been doing. It will also correct some mistakes we have been making in the process of legislation. We will put all that we have learnt into action,’’ she said.

Also, Mr. Akiba Bassey, (Cross River- PDP), in his contribution said the training was timely, adding that the experience the participants gained would equip them toward discharging their legislative functions effectively. “My work is to make laws that have to do with the well being of my people and oversee what the executive is doing as an oversight function. A lot is expected from us in terms of procedures, rules formulating laws, the training is a right step in the right direction,’’ he said. With the inductions, it is expected that the legislators are better equipped for the task ahead.

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