By Tonnie Iredia
In a democracy, the legislature is an exceedingly powerful arm of government, it does not only make laws for good governance in a country, it also has supervisory powers over the execution of public policies that can ensure national development and the improvement of the living standards of the people.
But whether its members exhibit sufficient diligence in their performance of these weighty functions will no doubt elicit several reactions.
In the case of the current 9th National Assembly, it is likely that the executive branch of government would regard it as the friendliest till date.
However, many people will remember it as the rubber stamp legislature which under the guise of collaboration may end up in recent history as the most opinionated, which now and again failed to listen to the yearnings of the people.
One achievement it holds-on to, is that it has successfully restored the budgetary year to the standard January-December cycle.
Unfortunately, no one can pretend that the last budget of its tenure, that of 2023, can in truth fall within the said standard cycle because a January-December budget ought to be ready well before December in order for basic modalities for its take-off to be put in place.
To start with, the budget is yet to be passed by the legislators 5 days to January.
What happens if the president decides to first study and comprehend the new estimates which the legislature usually adds to the original estimates?
Even if the president hurriedly signs on new year’s eve, state officials would be on holidays making it virtually impossible for the budget to start running from day one of its cycle.
But that is not as irritating as the refusal of the NASS to take blame for the delay.
Anyone who watched both the senate president Ahmad Lawan and the spokesperson of the senate Ajibola Bashiru on national television some two days ago strenuously explaining off the cause of the delay could never have understood the inexplicable problems they attempted to articulate.
How can two arms of government that have ‘collaboratively’ prepared and passed budgets for 7 consecutive years suddenly lose steam on the 8th year processing a budget from October when it was submitted by the executive till the end of December?
Perhaps electioneering campaigns by the legislators may have contributed to what consumed the time.
Indeed, not much diligence has been applied to any of the functions concerning the National Assembly during the period beginning in October.
In fact, no effort has been made to consider public opinion in many of the assignments of legislators.
A few months back when the Senate was called upon to confirm nominees including card-carrying members of a political party for the position for Resident Electoral Commissioner REC, it ignored public concerns.
The relevant committee of the Senate claimed it followed due diligence in recommending the confirmation of the nominees when all it did was to endorse only the versions of the accused persons.
The Senate overlooked the fact that our Constitution, the Electoral Act and indeed, international standards require that INEC must be truly independent and fully impartial.
As a result, a referee must not only be non-partisan but must be seen to be transparently so.
It is therefore not enough to pick a person to serve as a referee if such a nominee fails the public perception of absolute neutrality.
There are by far too many Nigerians who would seamlessly pass the test thereby adding value to public belief in INEC’s impartiality as well as the credibility of the electoral process.
On the basis of the above, it was also wrong to have cleared two of the nominees who were at that point under investigation for electoral malpractices.
If their confirmation was based on the legal position that they had not been found guilty, it is certainly an application that can hurt the public.
In addition, the Senate as a law-making body should not have dismissed the allegation that the Council of State was not consulted about the last set of persons nominated as electoral commissioners.
Although a petition to the Senate had made the point that previously appointed electoral commissioners since 2015 followed the procedure approved by the Constitution, the petition was discountenanced.
As if the confirmation of appointments of certain top positions is seen by the Senate as a discretion rather than a mandate, the recently confirmed appointments into the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC was similarly handled.
While not suggesting that every objection to a nomination must be upheld, it is improper to confirm a card-carrying member of a party as a referee in a game where his or her political party is a competitor.
It is also patently wrong to appoint persons into positions from which the constitution has barred the category to which the nominee belongs.
In the case of the NDDC, the Senate even waived its own standing arrangement to respect the unanimous position of senators representing the district of the affected nominee.
It is thus against the run of play for the Senate to confirm a nominee from Ondo state to the NNDC Board when all the 3 Senators of the state had cause to object to the confirmation.
It has even been disclosed that governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the same state also drew attention to the impropriety of confirming the nominee.
If all those who represent and govern Ondo state are agreed on a citizen, the Senate ought to enlighten the public on its contrary stand otherwise what is the need for representation which is why the Senate exists?
Having so much to do and not bothering about standards may not be the only distractions of our legislators.
A good look at what usually sways them which is self-interest may have played a greater role in their inability to conclude matters on the 2023 budget.
First, the federal legislators have over the years provided ample evidence of how much self-interest matters to them. How they reacted to the issue of the 2019 audit report for instance is a good example.
It will be recalled that the Auditor General of the Federation early this year produced a report of several scandals in the nation’s finances indicting several Ministries, Departments and Parastatals for misappropriations etc.
The report also accused the Police of failure to account for almost 200,000 missing arms and ammunitions. Whereas the National Assembly immediately began to investigate the indictments, it remained silent on the numerous scandals also reported in its own finances.
Among other things it was revealed that whereas over N5.2 billion was allegedly spent on several projects by the House of Representatives, none of the said projects could be shown to auditors.
Another reason our federal legislators are yet to conclude the budget may be their usual struggle to insert what President Buhari earlier described as ‘worrisome changes’ into the budget.
This is perhaps the most probable of all the reasons as the legislators could not coherently articulate the obstacles they claimed disturbed the work on the budget.
Last year there were as many as 6, 576 new insertions into the budget; distinct from those discussed between the relevant officials of the executive and the legislators.
Painfully, many of the inserted items do not fall within the scope of a federal budget. Again, almost 500 items amounting to about N380 billion were duplicated.
It is therefore possible that delay to conclude the 2023 budget may be due to ‘a working to the answer’ arrangement which has been difficult to balance.
The implication of this is that the much touted collaboration between the executive and the current set of legislators is predicated on material gains by the latter.
The 9th National Assembly has barely 6months to its life span to reduce the negative narratives associated with its exploitative habit.
If not, history may not be kind to its members, many of whom are already displaced from returning after the 2023 elections.
One should however be fair to accept that as bitter as critics may be with the National Assembly, the same critics hardly find what to criticize about state legislators who mostly operate from government house kitchens across the nation.