Nigeria’s first national assembly and the challenge of democratic governance in the fourth republic
NIGERIA’S FIRST NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AND THE CHALLENGE OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN THE FOURTH REPUBLICIntroductionOn May 29 1999, the newly elected President of Nigeria’s fourth Republic, ChiefOlusegun Obasanjo, was sworn-in in a colourful ceremony well attended by severalforeign heads of states and dignitaries. [Sam: Can we refer to the inauguration speechitself, particularly any reference to importance of separation of powers and respectfor the rule of law] Barely a week later, on June 3, he proclaimed the NationalAssembly, thereby restoring the legislature after a period of fifteen years of obscurity.[Sam: What about the existence of NA between 1991-93 August? Maybe we shouldsay ‘relative obscurity’]. The inaugural speech of the President, his diagnosis of the‘Nigerian condition’ and the promise to deliver democracy dividend in a short periodraised hopes that the emerging constitutional framework of governance would addressthe manifold dimensions of governability crisis bequeathed by long years ofauthoritarian, military rule. The inauguration of the national parliament [assembly] ofthe new Republic and the 4th legislative assembly since attaining nationhood in October1960, therefore, made a bold statement about the place of the legislature in the emergentprocess of democratic governance. Following the valedictory speeches of the Presidentof the Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim, on June 4 2003, and the Speaker of the House ofRepresentatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’abba, on June 3 2003, the life of the first NationalAssembly came to an end. And with the successful “civilian to civilian transition”which followed the 2003 elections, as well as the subsequent inauguration of the secondNational Assembly, an assessment of the role of the first legislative assembly inNigeria’s democratic project would provide a timely measure of the journey so far. The legislature may be defined as a body of persons in a country or a state vestedwith power to make, alter and repeal laws. Although the nature and composition of thelegislature may vary from one country to another, the primary function is to make laws“for peace, order and good governance.” This function embraces deliberation onmatters of general and/or particular interest, law making, debating, amending andenacting government proposals for the use of public money or appropriation, and
checking the executive branch through oversight functions. Other important functionsof the legislature, especially in a presidential democracy, would include checkmatingthe excesses of the executive, the performance of judicial functions, providing politicaleducation for the public, as well as leadership selection. The framers of the 1999Constitution, like the previous ones, intended elected public officers, especially theLegislators to be the custodians of the peoples’ sovereignty as enshrined in Chaptertwo, Section 14, 2 (a) of the Constitution which expressly states that, “sovereigntybelongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitutionderives its powers and authority”. To give effect to this, the Constitution places a veryhigh premium on the question of accountability of the legislative assemblies to thepeople by providing for periodic elections (four years) and the recall of elected lawmakers. Section 169 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the recall of erring electedmembers of the National Assembly. There are similar provisions in respect of states andlocal government legislators. In respect of the members of the National Assembly, asuccessful recall bid requires a petition signed by more than a half of the peopleregistered to vote in that constituency, and subjecting it to confirmation by a simplemajority in a referendum. It however needs to be reckoned that the challenge of assessing the performance ofthe national legislature in the realm of governance is a very daunting one. To beginwith, there is the question of what can be attributed to the effectiveness or otherwise ofthe legislature given that the country’s return to civilian rule in the last five years hasbeen marked by continued economic decline alongside episodic attempts to grapplewith economic reforms, deterioration in the state of security, progressive decline in thematerial living conditions of most Nigerians, all of which have resulted in obvioustension between state and civil society, and the fear of relapse into military dictatorshipSecond, there is the fundamental problem of what constitutes the index of governanceto be used in the assessment. For instance, given that the foremost role of a legislativeassembly is law making, should the focus be on the number of bills passed? What aboutconsideration for the quality of such bills and their relevance to urgent national issuesof economic reform, sustainable growth, the promotion of welfare and national unityand integration? Or given that the overbearing powers of the executive has been arecurrent decimal in Nigeria’s troubled democratic past, should we not focus on the
effectiveness of the oversight functions of the legislature to the detriment of otherissues? After all, it is within the framework of the oversight functions that the doctrineof separation of powers and checks and balances central to the principles of democracyand governance take on greater meaning. There is also the additional dilemma ofwhether we should focus on the effectiveness of the legislators in the primary task ofrepresentation especially where the contradictory pulls of constituency interests and thenational interests may co-exist in tension. These concerns resonate when dealing with the legislature in the fourth Republicconsidering the divergent viewpoints regarding the expectations from the legislature.For example, there is what could be regarded as a minimalist position, shared by thosewho consider the restoration of civilian rule in May 1999 as marking the beginning ofNigeria’s transition to democracy. In the words of Ofeimun (2002:7), it had “ a specialhistorical task spelt out for it, in the opinion of at least, the advocates of a SovereignNational Conference, to perform as transitional legislature over its four-year term”(2002:37). From this perspective, issues such as convening a conference of ethnicnationalities, constitutional reform and the re-professionalization of the armed forces,among others, were expected to occupy the attention of the first National Assembly.Another equally important perspective would be to see the fourth Republic legislatureas an institution for policy making in a democracy, in which case, its assessment needsto be situated within the overall framework of the functions of the legislature in relationto lawmaking, supervision of the executive through oversight functions, and a host ofother functions. It would seem to us however that any meaningful assessment of the firstNational Assembly in relation to Nigeria’s governance project, of necessity, has to takeon board all these concerns. But this then takes us to the problematic of what constitutesthe most appropriate methodology to be adopted. It is widely recognised, for example,that studying the legislature requires, among others, a very close relationship with thelegislature and legislators to be able to observe how debates and votes are conducted,and how the legislators relate generally within and outside the legislature. This calls fordirect and close observation of proceedings of the National Assembly, which, for allpractical purposes, requires time and resources. Aware of these methodologicalconcerns, this qualitative assessment of the first National Assembly of Nigeria’s fourth
Republic has drawn extensively from documented activities of the first NationalAssembly by civil society groups who monitored closely the activities of the parliamentat the national level and the records of its activities kept by the National Assembly.Notable examples include the Newsletter of Constitutional Rights Project devoted tofull coverage of the activities of the National Assembly, Assembly Watch and TheLawmaker, a Kaduna-based Legislative Magazine. The assessment has also drawn fromthe documented accounts of the activities of the National Assembly, The SenateHandbook and the accounts of stewardship rendered by the leadership of the NationalAssembly at the end of the first National Assembly. These sources are complementedby media sources. The assessment presented in this volume is organized into five sections. Sectiontwo which immediately follows brings into focus the challenge of governance faced bythe first National Assembly. Section three examines the background to the emergence ofthe fourth Republic in order to underscore the implications it has for the performance ofthe national legislative assemblies. This is followed by section four which explores thenature of the environment, which provides the context for performance of thelegislature. Section five evaluates the national parliament in relation to its core functionof law making and the formulation of public policy. The sixth section of the assessmentdeals with the performance of the national legislature on the related issue of providinga linkage between the people and the civil society on the one hand, and the policy-making arena on the other. Section seven of the assessment deals with the overarchingIn section eight of the assessment, the role of the first National Assembly of the fourthRepublic in institutionalizing the legislature is examined. Section nine provides theconclusion and the way forward.The Legislature and the Challenge of Governance in Nigeria’s Fourth RepublicThe challenge of democratic governance in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is real. Aspopularized by the World Bank, governance is about the conscious management of thepublic realm based on certain common goals such as the promotion of popularparticipation, accountability and transparency. The theory of governance assumes thatthe conscious management of regime structures enhances the legitimacy of the publicrealm, generates trust for the public realm, and enhances reciprocity between the
political system and the citizenry (Hyden, 1994). In its formulation on governance, theBank tends to put more emphasis on the management of the country’s economic andsocial resources for development, and by so doing, divest the concept of its politicalovertones in favour of economic policy and management (Robinson, 2003:37). But asArcher (2003 :13 ) correctly points out, the strength of the ‘good government’ approachlies in the fact that it “promotes certain political factors, especially democracy, the ruleof law, and human rights on the grounds that markets and government will onlyremain efficient if they are held to account by voters and consumers – the public”. Whatthis then suggests is that, regardless of reservation, which we have about the notion ofgovernance, there are positive values in the governance discourse to be cultivated andengaged with, in a creative manner. At the core of the crisis of governance in Nigeria’s fourth Republic is the legacy oflong years of military dictatorship. Decades of military dictatorships, among others,have had the effect of eroding constitutional federalism through massive centralizationof power and resources, the violation of the rights of citizens, the erosion of the cultureof rule of law, and the enthronement of a culture of arbitrariness and impunity resultingin high levels of corruption and reliance on violence as a means resolving differences. Itis against this background that one could appreciate the enormous challenge ofbuilding enduring democratic institutions that would restore the rule of law, curtail theexcesses of the executive, combat corruption and promote decentralization of powerand resources. The one institution that has a critical role to play in this process is thelegislature. That the performance of the legislature within the general framework of lawmaking, executive oversight and the making of public policy provides a strongindication of improved governance regime is hardly in dispute. First and foremost, thelegislature is the real site of representation in a democracy. Modern democracies,especially the liberal democratic type is about the people exercising their powersthrough elected representatives. The diversity of interests and constituenciesrepresented in the legislature, therefore, makes it an important structure in linking thepeople to the state and in the exercise of the sovereignty of the people through theelected representatives. It is for this reason that the legislature is often regarded as the“First Estate” of the realm contrary to the tendency to give pre-eminence to the
executive because of the very history of perversion of governance with which we tendto be more familiar. Second, the legislature has a critical role to play in promotingchecks and balances since the doctrine of separation of powers is at the heart ofpresidential democracy. In this regard, the legislature is expected to be the first line ofdefense, and the bulwark of resistance against executive excesses and the highpossibility of descent into authoritarianism characteristic of presidentialism. This is veryuseful in the Nigerian context where executive dominance has become part of thechequered history of democracy. In summary, therefore, the importance of the legislature arises from the fact thatits functions are versatile, encapsulating both executive and judicial functions. It is astronger expression of the popular will of the people. Indeed, if one were to extrapolatefrom the experience of western democracies where the creation of parliaments andconstitutions that became the foundations of the liberal state emerged from thestruggles of the nobilities, the middle class, workers and peasants, a legislativeassembly can be said to represent, as Marx would put it, the illusory forms of the classstruggles, providing a platform for contestations of several political forces andtendencies that exist within the political community. As an embodiment of the principleof representation and a key element in the theory of representative democracy, theperformance of parliament provides an opening, no matter how limited, of measuringthe extent to which the people, through their elected representatives, exercise power inthe arena of law making and policy formulation. But it is important to provide somebackground to the emergence of the legislature in the fourth Republic and sketch theimplication for the performance of the national legislature. It is to thus we turn in thesection that follows.Transition to the Fourth Republic and the Making of the National Assembly Nigeria’s democratic re-birth which ushered in the fourth Republic followed, notjust decades of authoritarian rule, but also a series of either truncated or stalledtransition programmes that were not intended to install viable democratic order. Thesetransition programmes spanning the military dictatorships of General IbrahimBabangida (1985 – 1993) and General Sani Abacha (1993 – 1998) have been
appropriately characterized as Nigeria’s “permanent transition” (Young, 1997) or“transition without end” (Diamond, et.al. 1998). However, the sudden death, on June 8,1998, of General Sani Abacha, dramatically changed Nigeria’s political landscape as itbrought to grief, the self-succession agenda of the transition programme he initiated.General Abdulsalami Abubakar, his successor, realizing the obvious threat to Nigeria’scorporate existence, occasioned by regional reactions to the annulment of the June 12presidential elections and the continued incarceration of the winner, Chief MKO Abiola,quickly moved to announce a 12-month long transition to civil rule programme. Theseries of transition elections, which commenced with the local government elections inDecember 1998 and ended with the presidential election in May 1999, thus returnedNigeria to civil rule. But the spectre of a hurriedly implemented transition continues tohaunt the performance of democratic institutions in general, and that of the nationalparliament in particular. The first important issue here is the composition of the National Assembly interms of party representation. The first National Assembly threw up a very interestingpattern in terms of party representation and composition. There was a total of 468members in the two legislative chambers. Symbolizing the equality of the constituentstates as in the American federation, the Senate is composed of three Senators from eachof the 36 states in the federation, with membership strength of 109. Of this, four –Adamu Augie, Ajayi Joseph Olatunji, Shettima Mustapha and Idris Abubakar - died bythe end of the legislative session. However, representation in the lower house, theHouse of Representatives, is based on population. This accounts for a total membershipof 359 in the House of Representatives, reflecting the number of federal constituencies.Reflecting the inherited patriarchal ideology and the low level of representation ofwomen in the decision-making arena, representation in two legislative chambers wasskewed against the women folk. Thus, while the Senate had 3 female members, theHouse of Representatives had 12 female members. The three political parties that took part in the transition elections between 1998and 1999 - the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), the All Peoples’ Party (APP), andAlliance for Democracy (AD) - were all represented in the National Assembly. In theSenate, the ruling PDP had an overwhelming majority of 65 members, followed by theANPP with 24, and the AD, with the least representation of 20 Senators. In the House of
Representatives, the distribution reflected the clear dominance of the ruling PDP with359 members, the APP with 79 members, and the AD trailing with 69 members.Expectedly, the dominance of one party generated some initial fears and expectations.In one sense, it led to the expectation that cordiality would characterizeexecutive/legislature relationships, making the legislature a mere rubber stamp of theexecutive. A related fear was that the absence of a meaningful opposition could subjectthe entire process of governance to the whims of the ruling party. But as borne out bysubsequent experience of turbulence that characterized executive/legislative relationsand the threat of impeachment of the President, these fears and expectations werelargely unfounded, offering useful theoretical insights about the nature of politicalparties after prolonged authoritarian rule and the place of the legislature in thiscontext. [Sam: This is my addition – Kayode] There was a sense, however, in which initial developments within the nationallegislature appeared to provide the basis for such fears. One of such developments wasthe interest of the executive, reinforced by the zoning policy of the ruling party, todetermine the selection of the leadership of the National Assembly. There was also theproblem arising from the exclusion of other party members from the screening of 49and 15 nominees for the position of ministers and advisers respectively, by the rulingparty, which led to protest and walk out by senators from the APP and the AD. (TheGuardian, June 23, 1999) But as already noted these initial fears were dispelled by thefriction that characterized executive/legislature relationships for much of the first fouryears of Nigeria’s return to democracy. An important dimension in the sourrelationship between the executive and the legislature was the initiative from membersof the ruling party to impeach the President, and the overwhelming support given bythe same parliamentarians. The hurried nature of the transition earlier alluded to was not helpful toNigeria’s emergent democratic governance order in more ways than one. Although themanner in which General Abdulsalami Abubakar executed the transition programmewas tolerated because of the overriding concern to get rid of the military, it hasremained a source of problem to the routinization of democratic governance in post-military Nigeria. To begin with, the Constitution, as the supreme will of the people, onthe basis of whom the legislature was expected to exercise sovereignty was not enacted
by the people, nor was it a product of debate, consultations and negotiations involvingthe people. The Justice Niki Tobi-led Constitutional Review Committee engaged in alimited consultation with the people and simply amended a few sections of the 1999Constitution. The fact that the constitution that provides the framework of governancewas not a product of a people-driven process raised a fundamental question regardingthe legitimacy of the actions of the legislature. A closely related issue was the credibilityof the elections, which ushered in the fourth Republic. The elections were marred byallegations of rigging and other forms of electoral malfeasance well documented byelection monitoring groups (TMG, 1999). The implication of this ‘selection’ ofrepresentatives of the people rather than election through a free and fair electoralcontest was a severe blow to the moral authority and legitimacy of the members of thenational legislature. Aside from these problems, a number of people elected into the NationalAssembly in 1999 were individuals who suffered credibility problems and thereforelacking in the moral character required of people involved in the making of laws andpublic policy at this level. Without doubt, there men and women of integrity in the twolegislative houses at the national level. For example, among those elected into theSenate were eight former ministers, four ex-governors, six former permanent secretariesand directors-general, twenty-eight former parliamentarians, three professors andprofessionals like lawyers, medical practitioners and pilots as well as retired generalsand accomplished businessmen (Anyim, 2003). But the presence among the ‘elected’ or‘selected’ law makers, of persons of questionable integrity had implication for thepublic image of the national parliament. Not only did some of these legislators playvisible roles in the past military regimes, or were politicians involved in the campaignsfor the extension of military rule, but some were also associated with criminal activitiessuch as Advanced Fee Fraud (419) and drug trafficking. So worrying were the signalsrepresented by these revelations, early in the life of the fourth Republic, that membersof the National Assembly were forced to set up committees to investigate the veracity ofthe allegations. The reports of these committees, unfortunately, were never put in thepublic domain. It is however on record that some members of the House ofRepresentatives were arrested, detained and put on trial in relation to financial crimesof different sorts. One of such members, Maurice Ibekwe, died in detention.
Added to this was the certificate scandal that rocked the leadership of the Houseof Representatives early in the life of the fourth Republic. Soon after he was electedSpeaker, it became public that Alhaji Salisu Buhari had a case of perjury to answer,having made false claims regarding his age and degree certificates. In his submission tothe Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Alhaji Salisu Buhari falselyclaimed to have obtained a degree certificate from the University of Toronto in Canada.As a result, he lost both his position as Speaker and member of the House. Buhari, whoresigned his position as the Speaker on July 21, 1999 was later convicted on July 28 offorgery and perjury, having pleaded guilty of falsifying his educational qualificationand age (This Day, August 3, 1999). However, as it turned out, the Buhari episode was amere tip of the iceberg. Several other members of the national legislative assembly hada similar credibility problem. Again, the Committee set up by members of the NationalAssembly to investigate this issue never made its findings public. [Sam: As part of this initial credibility problem, shouldn’t we also talk aboutthe furniture allowance problem, which portrayed them as self-seekingrepresentatives uninterested in the needs of the larger public] The overall performance of the national legislative assembly in strengthening theemergent governance regime was largely dictated by political dynamics within theruling PDP and the legislative assembly, and the relationship between the executiveand the legislature. The zoning policy of the ruling party, for example, confronted theNational Assembly with a fait accompli in the recruitment of its leadership. This,somehow, tended to tamper with the constitutional provisions that members of theNational Assembly shall elect from among themselves, persons to occupy positionssuch as Senate president and Deputy, and the Speaker of the House of Representativesand the Deputy. Thus, despite the spate of removal of the leadership, especially in theSenate, the choices were limited to the zone to which a particular office had beenallocated. The desire of the executive to control the legislature became a key factor in thestability and coherence enjoyed by the two chambers of the National Assembly. Thisdesire tends to be encouraged by the uncontrolled access of the executive to money forinducement and for patronage politics. This was more obvious with the Senate wheretwo presiding officers, Evans Enwerem and Chuba Okadigbo were removed. The
difficulty experienced by the presidency in controlling the leadership of the House ofRepresentatives after the removal of Buhari was a sore point in the frictions thatcharacterized executive/legislature relationship for much of the duration of the firstNational Assembly. But not to be ignored was the internal political dynamics within thetwo legislative houses which, added to the antics of the executive, accounted for muchof the instability, internal rancour and frequent change in leadership. The experience of the House of Senate in particular, brings into bold relief, howthe internal dynamics within the legislative assembly undermined its viability as acounter-veiling power to the executive. Internal power play and pecuniaryconsiderations set the members against themselves and made the National Assemblyvulnerable to executive manipulation. Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the third Presidentof the 4th Assembly Senate admitted this much when he lamented openly in hisvaledictory speech that the Senate was “……factionalized into various groups and the various groups were at one another’s throat; a Senate whose leadership was at war with itself; a Senate where the motivating reason for attending sittings was to forestall the chance of an opposing camp taking advantage against the other; in fact, a Senate whose relationship with the executive was very very sour and therefore counter- productive”The consequence of this state of affairs was that every Senate President was forced todevise his own survival strategy and manage the ever-conflicting interests of factionsand fractions of the members. As survival strategies of the successive leadership tookprecedence over legislative and policy duties, the consolidation of governance becamethe major casualty. This internal dynamics within the legislature and the response of the leadershipin the Hobbessean game of survival explains the dramatic increase, at some point, in thenumber of standing committees in the Senate from 31 to 63. Although Senator Anyimdefended the increase in terms of “coping with the demands of expanded executivewith 49 ministers and sundry committees” and the “need for effective oversight ofministries in the absence of experienced and skilled legislative aides”, it would appearmore plausible from his own admission that the primary factor was the need to copewith the internal power struggles and the jostling for leadership positions and theaccompanying pecuniary benefits (Anyim, 2003).
The point to bear in mind, therefore, is that a realistic assessment of theperformance of the first National Assembly in the realm of democratic governance mustfactor in the very circumstances that shaped the transition to the politics of the fourthRepublic in general, and, in particular, the kind of actors that were to emerge. Equallyimportant is the internal dynamics within the legislature.The Political Environment of the Fourth Republic Legislature The performance of the Legislature as an institution for the making of laws andpublic policies depends largely on the political environment, which defines its context.This would include, among others, factors identified by Shultz (1968), as characterizingthe legislature in the Third World - executive dominance, functional ambiguityproceeding from a limited decision-making role, the popular election of legislators,constitutional supremacy, the absence of lobbying by private interests, and uninformeddebates often focusing on parochial concerns of the legislators. These characteristics arewidely shared by the successive Nigerian legislative assemblies, and to a large extent,by the legislature in Nigeria’s fourth Republic. But more significantly, they areimportant defining characteristics of the environment of the legislature in Nigeria. Besides, important environmental factors include the prevailing party system,the salience of ethno-religious and regional identities in the construction of politicalidentity and political mobilization, and the prevalence of the culture of militarism. Itmay be helpful to elaborate on the salient aspects of the political environment and theimpact it could exert on the performance of the legislature. Take for example, the tradition of executive dominance and what is widelyacknowledged as the relatively ‘underdeveloped’ nature of the legislative arm of theNigerian state. Here, it needs to be pointed out that the dominance of executive powerand the corresponding decline of parliamentary bodies is a more generic problem inpresidential democracies including the United States of America (Olson, 1980), widelytouted as the most successful presidential democracy. The specific manifestation of thistradition of executive dominance is related to Nigeria’s colonial and post-colonialhistory, and, in particular, the continued strengthening of the executive branch becauseof the frequent disruptions of constitutional framework of governance and the longhistory of military rule. By extension, it is also related to the dominance of the public
bureaucracy in the policy making arena, a situation which tends to be strengthened bythe lack of experience and understanding on the part of the legislators, of the complexworking of government and the policy-making process. It may be helpful to brieflyelaborate on this matter in order to draw out the implications on the performance of thefirst National Assembly. The conclusion that the legislature remains a weeping baby in its relationshipwith the executive arm of government derives largely from the episodic history of thelegislature in Nigeria. In the colonial period, what then existed as the LegislativeCouncil was not the organ of the colonized people in exercising power or influence. Inthe post-independence period, the frequent interruptions of the democratic experimentshave not allowed for the growth and nurturing of the legislature. The first sovereignlegislature or parliament in Nigeria came in October 1963 when the National Parliamentenacted a Republican Constitution. The 1964/65 general elections a year later offeredthe opportunity for its consolidation, but series of political conflicts shook the newdemocracy to its foundation. Within the political class, intolerance, bickering, politicalthuggery, corruption and the failure to respect the rules of the political game truncatedthe democratic experiment. Prolonged military rule and some civilian interregnumfollowed until the restoration of civil politics in May 1999. Thus, while the executive branch had always survived under the unitarycommand of the military junta, the legislature was always sacked and the constitutionsuspended. For the entire period of military dictatorship, the legislature was more orless completely absent. What existed under the military as a parody of the legislaturehardly met the requirement; be it the Supreme Military Council (SMC) under GeneralGowon, or the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) as it existed under the Babangidajunta. The command structure of the military ensured that power was extremelycentralized under the control of the military head of state. The return to constitutionalrule inherited this military legacy, and it appears to have been exacerbated with theemergence of a “monarchical” or “imperial” presidency under Chief OlusegunObasanjo who is “Baba” of the Nation. Among others, there are two important consequences that derive from this forthe performance of the legislature. To begin with, the tradition of executive dominanceexplains the fact that external forces, especially the interest of the executive to control
constitutes a strong component of the political dynamics that influence the behaviour ofthe legislature. With respect to the first National Assembly, the preponderance of billsinitiated by the executive and the frequent changes in the leadership of the NationalAssembly are fairly strong indications of this dimension of the environment of thelegislature. In another respect, the tradition of executive dominance tends to explain thepathologies of the legislature especially its tendency to unduly antagonize theexecutive. More often than not, the legislature suffers inferiority complex in relation tothe executive, in some instances, arising from the control exerted by the latter overresources of the state and opportunities to dispense patronage. The consequence is that, the legislature tends to come under pressure to assert itspowers and relevance, and to demonstrate that it cannot be reduced to a mereappendage or rubber stamp of the executive branch. While the oversight functions ofthe legislature is not in doubt, the tendency for legislators to resort to threats ofimpeachment and other forms of blackmail in relation to the executive at all levels sincethe return to civilian rule in 1999 can be partly explained by the these pathologies.Anyim (2003) underscores the pathology of the first legislative assembly of the fourthRepublic in his allusion to “a long culture of Executive government and in particularwhere the executive is the only source of patronage in a poverty-riddenenvironment….and the duty of providing social amenities, and the overriding duty toprotect the other arms of government”. Second, the prevailing party system and the level of institutionalization of politicalparties constitutes a very important environment that determines the efficacy orotherwise of the legislature. For two reasons, the effectiveness of the legislature in apresidential democracy has to be undergirded by a strong party system. In the firstplace, the presidential system, unlike the parliamentary system, has no place for“official” opposition. Again, while the legislature under the latter enjoys considerableleverage over the executive, it is not the case under the former. It is expected, forexample, in the presidential system that legislators will canvass the position of theirparties and seek to bring their party philosophy and viewpoints to bear on the policymaking process. This is even more so when the party in control of the executive equallycontrols the legislative assembly. Against this background, the organization of politicalparties, the degree of internal coherence and the control they can exert on their
members in the legislative assembly become critical in determining the behaviour andperformance of the legislators. Unfortunately, the political parties of the fourth Republic are far from beingpolitical organizations of people sharing common visions and values regarding thepolitical community. Neither do the political parties exhibit internal coherence norclearly articulated programmes and manifestoes as the basis of actions by the dominantactors including the legislators. Instead, the political parties are amalgams of strange-bed fellows, united more by the exigency of capturing political power. Consequently,the political parties are bedeviled by lack of internal democracy and are hijacked by afew financiers and power brokers. The ruling party, the PDP, provides a cleardemonstration of the institutional weakness of the political parties of the fourthRepublic as vehicles for building democracy. The party is a rainbow coalition ofremnants of the politicians of the Second Republic, coalition of groups and individualsin the frontline of the opposition to the Abacha military junta, and some elements of theso-called “new breed” politicians nurtured by the succession of post-1984 military rule,representing different political tendencies and interests. The hurried nature of thetransition programme did not allow adequate re-alignment of political forces. At theend of the day, the party emerged from a fusion of the most dominant Peoples’Democratic Movement (PDM), the G 34 that took on the Abacha dictatorship and otherpolitical associations and groups. While the ANPP emerged from the same kind of alliances and combinations, theAD reflected ethnic and regional interests with the strongest base in the Yorubaspeaking South West. The core of the party was drawn from activists of the NationalDemocratic Coalition (NADECO), and Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba political movementwhich derived its legitimacy from the struggles against the annulment of the June 12presidential elections and opposition to Abacha’s self-succession designs. Perhaps, theonly explanation for the registration of the party given the constitutional requirementsof demonstrable national presence of party structures, organizations and membershipwas the need to assuage the feelings of the South-West in the context of the stridentopposition to the annulment and the incarceration of Chief MKO Abiola, the assumedwinner of the June 12 presidential polls. Unlike the other political parties, it had aclearly articulated programme and manifesto defined by commitment to welfare issues.
To its advantage too, is a measure of internal coherence deriving from a regionalinterest to push for the political restructuring of the country, although this could beperceived to be in conflict with the quest for national unity. Nevertheless, theundemocratic, oligarchic and gerontocratic tendencies of its leadership ensured theoverall weakness of the party as a vehicle for building democracy. The last manifestation of the institutional weakness of political parties in thefourth Republic relates to the overbearing influence exerted by elected executive such asPresident and Governors in the control of the party machineries. This flaw largelyderives from the history of the political parties and the disconnect between themembership and the leadership of the political parties. And since the funding of partiesappear to come from the contributions of elected public officers sponsored by thevarious political parties, they are in a vantage position to exercise undue influence overthe directions of the parties. By the same logic, wealthy individuals who contribute toparty finances and elections are in the position to hijack the decision-making processeswith the political parties. There is also the problem of Nigeria’s political environment defined by thesalience of the political mobilization of ethnic, religious and regional identities. Although this isultimately tied to the class basis of politics and the patronage system that characterize it,these identities supply the idioms of Nigerian politics including the construction of thestate, the definition of citizenship and the manner of resource allocation as well as theperquisites of power. To a large extent, the character of ethnic and communalmobilization that characterized post-annulment politics and the emphasis on powershift had sufficiently framed the prism of political discourse. Party formation and theallocation of party offices, the zoning of key political offices such as president, vice-president and the leadership of the National Assembly bear the stamp of “ethnicarithmetic” and the desire for ethnic and geo-political balancing. The salience of the ethnic paradigm in the construction of state power and in theshaping of perception of political events and issues impacts on the performance of thelegislature. As will be demonstrated later, ethno-regional and religious perception ofissues was a critical factor to consider in assessing the first national legislature of thefourth Republic. This can be immediately illustrated by two episodes. In the wake ofallegations of financial improprieties against the Senate President, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo,
Ohaneze N’digbo, a pan-Igbo political and cultural organization sought to ethnicise thematter by rising to his defense A similar attempt to introduce ethnic and regionalsentiments into national discourse was made at the peak of the feud between theexecutive and the legislature and the threat to impeach President Obasanjo. TheSpeaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’abba, who was pitchedagainst the President, came under the accusation of implementing a “Northern”agenda. The culture of militarism at all levels of governance constitutes yet anenvironmental challenge for the nurturing and consolidation of democratic governancein Nigeria. After decades of military dictatorship and the desecration of rule of law andconstitutionalism, there has occurred profound disorientation in the psyche ofNigerians. This becomes more obvious when it is realized that the bulk of themembership of the political class has been nurtured under successive militarydictatorships. The consequence is that, arbitrariness and violence tend to becomepreferable to civic virtues and democratic ethos of tolerance, dialogue, negotiation andconsensus building as mechanisms of conflict resolution and the management ofdifferences.(Fayemi, 2002) Finally, there is the problem of capacity that faces the legislature. There a severaldimensions of the capacity gap of the first National Assembly. First, is the problem ofinexperience on the part of the legislators and the absence of legislative culture as aresult of prolonged military rule. Second, is the problem of loss of staff with requisiteskills and experience to both the executive branch and the private sector. This loss ofqualified manpower capable of supporting legislative work becomes more obvious inthe quality of legislative/research staff available to the legislature. But this couldalso be explained in part, in terms of the relative under funding of the legislature,and, partly, as result of failure on the part of the legislators themselves to appreciatethat the quality of legislative assistants and researchers they recruit has a directimplication for their performance as lawmakers. Added to these problems would bethe inadequacy of facilities such as computers, fax machines and accommodation. Asmany of the members of the first National Assembly themselves have admitted, theproblem of inadequacy of basic infrastructures undermined their efficacy in the task oflaw making (The Guardian, March 17, 2003).
[Sam: My addition] Yet, in reflecting on the capacity challenge, it is importantto also review on how receptive the membership of the legislature is to capacitydevelopment. Given their antecedents as described above and the politicalenvironment amply illustrated above too, all of which contributed to what some havereferred to as their basic lack of interest in good governance, there is a feeling thatthey also showed interest in the per-quisites of training rather than in training per se.Nevertheless, there were a variety of training initiatives in legislative developmentand performance embarked upon by both external and internal bodies – notableamongst which were the USAID sponsored National Democratic Institute (NDI) andthe International Republican Institute’s (IRI) training programmes whichcommenced immediately after the election of members of the National and StateAssemblies. More focused legislative training programmes were also run by avariety of institutions, specifically dedicated to the various committees of the twochambers – for example NDI’s focus on the Appropriation Committee, Centre forDemocracy & Development’s (CDD) training of the Defence and National Security &Intelligence Committees of the Senate to mention just two. The African CapacityBuilding Foundation (ACBF) engaged in a more extensive programme for legislativestaff and institutional development was an example of an in-depth and on-goingcapacity building arrangement. What the extensive turnover of the first fourthrepublic National Assembly demonstrates though is the challenge of concentratingcapacity building initiatives on legislators, given the potential of the loss ofinstitutional memory when they are deselected at the party level or lost their place inan election.The First National Assembly in the Law and Policy Making ArenaThe making of appropriate legislation for law, order and good governance is theforemost constitutional responsibility of the legislative assembly. The extent towhich it engages in this task is an important parameter in assessing its contributionto the strengthening of the process of democratic governance. In this regard, thepertinent issues to consider include the number of bills, and the extent to which billsare initiated from within the legislature as opposed to bills that originate from the
executive arm of government in continuation of the tradition of the dominance ofthe latter. Also important will be the quality of laws passed and their relevance inaddressing urgent national issues that relate to the survival of the polity and thewelfare of the people. In the same vein, the level of public participation in themaking of laws and legislation is a critical element in the role of the legislature as arepresentative institution that connects the people to the government and the policymaking process. Despite the leadership crisis and internal upheavals that characterized thefirst National Assembly, it scored fairly high in terms of number of bills passed thusmaking it difficult to suggest that it was a mere “talking shop”. The SenateHandbook (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2002) provides a comprehensivedocumentation of the activities of the Senate, including the inner workings and thenumbers of bills passed. According to the Handbook, by the end of January 2002, atotal of 165 bills had been moved on the floor of the Senate, 38 being sponsored bythe Executive. Out of this total introduced on the floor, the Senate passed 27. At theend of the four years, it received a total of 258 bills out of which 74 were bills thatemanated from the executive, while 178 came as Private Members’ Bills. This was aslight departure from the experience of the second Republic during which most ofthe bills originated from the executive. [See section of this book that reviews theBills handled during the first four years] But what is more important than bills either received or moved on the floor ofparliament is the number of bills actually passed. The Senate passed a total of 65bills. Aside from these a total of 14 bills were defeated on the floor before reachingthe stage of being committed to the Committee of the whole house. It alsotransmitted to the lower house a total of 65 bills while it received 17 bills from thelower house. Considering bills, which were passed by the two houses, availablerecord shows a total of 36, out of which 26 were assented by the President as laws,and consequently, enrolled at the Supreme Court. While 10 of the bills passed by thetwo houses were not assented to by the President, the national parliament used itspowers to override 4 cases of presidential veto.
A closer examination of the bills passed would show that Appropriation andsupplementary appropriation bills topped the list of bills passed by the first Senateof the fourth Republic. Other important bills that were passed include the Bill for anAct to make provision for a compulsory free Universal Basic Education, the Anti-Corruption Bill, the amendment of the National Minimum Wage Act, the Bill for anAct to make provision for Statutory Allocation of Public Revenue to LocalGovernment Councils in the Federation, and the Bill for an Act to prohibit andpunish unconstitutional take over and service in an unconstitutional Government. The House of Representatives, again, like the upper legislative house, scoredfairly high in the area of law making. During its first legislative session, beginningfrom 4th June 1999 to June 9th 2000, for example, a total of 31 bills were introduced,while 10 were actually passed. Again, in a clear departure from the experience of theprevious republics, only 8 of these bills emanated from the executive; 23 emanatingas Private Member’s bills, while 2 came from the Senate. A total of 15 bills werepassed in the third legislative session from August 2001 to June 2002. FromSeptember 2002 to January 2003, the House passed a total of 41 Bills. Apart from theregular Appropriation Bills, some important bills passed include Allocation ofRevenue (Abolition of Dichotomy in the Application of Principle of Derivation),Establishment of the Debt Management Office, Bitumen Development Commission,Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences, Electric Power Sector Reform Bill,and Border Communities Development Agency Bill, among others. Also included isratification of international protocol to which the Nigerian government is asignatory such as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking inPersons, ratified in January, 2003. However, beyond this impressive figure of billspassed is the more fundamental question of the degree of relevance to urgentnational problems or the level of responsiveness to the yearnings and desires of thepublic. Indeed, a critical component of the powers to make laws relates to the degreeof responsiveness of the legislative assembly to issues of urgent national importancewhich can be gleaned from examples provided from bills and resolutions passed bythe lawmakers. From available records, the lower chamber alone passed over a
hundred resolutions demanding immediate response from the executive and otherrelevant agencies of the state. More often than not, these resolutions were passedfollowing motions brought before the House by representatives from the affectedareas, suggesting some degree of responsiveness to constituents’ needs. Somenotable resolutions passed include those condemning the invasion of Abia andBorno State Houses of Assembly by persons believed to be sponsored by theexecutive, the violent communal disturbances between Tsaragi and Share localgovernment areas of Kwara State, urging government to take necessary actions inrespect of oil pipeline fire disaster in Okpe Local Government Council of Delta State,and ordering investigations into the activities of the Education Tax Fund, followingalleged disappearance of large sums of money. Others were passed in relation tothe eruption of ethnic and religious violence in Plateau State, alleged destruction oflives and properties by invading Nigerian soldiers in Benue State and flood disastersin parts of Kano and Adamawa States. A further examination of the bills passed by the two chambers of the NationalAssembly shows that some of the proposed laws address issues of governance,development and welfare of Nigerian citizens. The Anti-Corruption Law, forinstance, created an agency for promoting horizontal accountability, and dealingwith the menace of corruption and the pervasive culture of impunity, which havebecome obstacles to development and welfare of Nigerian citizens. Theoffshore/onshore issue deals with the thorny issues of fiscal federalism. One can goon and on in pointing to the significance of each of the laws that have been passed.These, added to resolutions and handling of complaints addressed to the two armsunderscore the relevance of the legislative assembly in the nurturing of democracyand governance in Nigeria. The passage of these bills and resolutions notwithstanding, there are groundsto suggest that the first National Assembly failed largely as an institution forbuilding and nurturing democratic governance in the fourth Republic. This is moreso, considered from the point of view that the most immediate challenges of thepost-1999 era were essentially reformist in nature, and marking the beginning oftransition to democratic governance and eventual consolidation. The failings of the
national legislative assemblies on the reform of the 1999 Constitution and thepolitical restructuring of the country to promote a balanced federation provide clearbasis for arriving at such a conclusion. Take for example, the review of the 1999 Constitution. The return to civilpolitics in May 1999 witnessed the implosion of the most protracted ethno-religiousand communal conflicts across the length and breadth of the country. Although anumber of such conflicts pre-dated the emergence of civilian rule the liberalizationof the political atmosphere provided space to groups and communities whose angerand interests were suppressed by the prevailing atmosphere of authoritarian rule.But more importantly, the festering political conflicts arising largely from themobilization of ethnic, regional and religious identities tend to occur in the contextof the struggle over power and resources, and directly relate to the legacy of militaryrule which eroded democratic culture and centralized political power and resources.This distortion was reinforced by related problems of citizenship, the decline of theeconomy and the systematic withdrawal of the state from the provision of welfareneeds of the population as dictated by the imposition of IMF and World Banksupported Structural Adjustment Programme. It was against this background that many Nigerians and the civil societygroups in particular identified the holistic review of the 1999 Constitution as themost important agenda of political reform. It was expected that the opportunitiesprovided by civilian rule would lead to a process-led and a people-driven approachto the re-making of the Nigerian constitution as a framework of governance and as amechanism of conflict resolution through the building of consensus on a number ofcontentious issues (CFCR, 2001; 2003). Among others, the most contentious issuesidentified by both the Citizens’ Forum for Constitutional Reform and thePresidential Technical Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution includeissues of federalism, revenue allocation/resource control, the crisis of “ethnic”citizenship, gender equality and the language of the Constitution, political partiesand freedom of association, the issue of social and economic justice and theentrenchment of independent commissions. It was expected in many quarters thatgovernment commitment to an open and transparent review of the Constitution
would partly address the agitation for a Sovereign National Conference. However,because of the realization that the locus of review lies with the legislature, it becamecentral to the advocacy strategy of a number of civil society groups and coalitionscommitted to constitutional review to engage the national legislative assemblies inparticular. Unfortunately, the first National Assembly failed in playing a leading role inthe process of reviewing the Constitution, and, indeed, was lacking in the politicalwill to do so. First, as a result of abdication of responsibility by the NationalAssembly, the executive and the presidency in particular took the initiative. Thepresidency first toyed with the idea of a Committee drawn from all the politicalparties before it set up a Technical Committee on the Review of the 1999Constitution. However, the National Assembly set up a joint Committee chaired bythe Deputy President of the Senate. It is instructive to note that for the four years itexisted, the Committee did not take the issue of a review process involving thepeople seriously, although largely under the prodding of the executive, it engagedin a limited public hearing on the constitutional review issue and focused publicdebate narrowly on the question of terms of office for elected public officials. In theface of the lack-lustre attitude of the National Assembly and its refusal to work withcivil society, the country continued to witness tensions in the polity arising from thedefects in the 1999 Constitution. Related to this was the attitude of the National Assembly to the issue ofconvoking a Sovereign National Conference. Although the return to constitutionalframework of governance had raised questions regarding the “sovereign” status ofthe conference, endemic and protracted political conflicts won more converts to theside of the proponents of national conference. At least, some kind of consensusappeared to emerge that a credible platform for the various nationalities and interestgroups top discuss and re-negotiate the basis of Nigeria’s continued existence hadbecome inevitable as a way of sustaining the Nigerian project. Within the NationalAssembly, the AD remained the only political party committed to the politicalrestructuring of the country. It however, lacked the political muscle to push theagenda given its regional character and the corresponding low level of
representation it enjoyed in the national parliament. Its own internal crisis resultingin the defection of some of its legislators to the ruling PDP further eroded itsstrength. Nevertheless, it tried to pursue this agenda using the platform of theNational Assembly. In March 2000, Senator Femi Okunronmu of AD proposed a billthat would provide a law for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference.The Bill was dismissed by the Senate on grounds of lack of merit, and for allegedviolation the 1999 Constitution. Besides, there were clear instances of abuse of legislative power by the firstNational Assembly of the fourth republic. One example was the repeal of theCorrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 by the National Assembly.The bill that resulted into the establishment of the Act was introduced to the Senateby the executive two days after it was inaugurated on June 6, 1999. It however, tookthe Senate almost nine months before it was passed on February 15, 2000. The Anti-Corruption Commission was hailed by all stakeholders in the Nigerian democraticproject and the international community as an agency [a vehicle?] for fighting theendemic culture of corruption. Thus, in keeping with the trends associated worldwide with agencies of horizontal accountability, it was given wide powers withsubstantial independence, although its funding was tied to the pleasure of theexecutive. The performance of the Commission has been bogged down by a number offactors, some of which are acknowledged by the Commission. For instance, apartfrom the issue of under funding, the operations of the Commission are fettered bylegal provisions such as the lack of prosecutorial authority on cases investigated aswell as lack of pro-active powers by the Commission since it can only investigatecases reported to it in the form of petitions. The frequent resort to courts forinjunctions by persons under investigation also considerably disabled theCommission. In addition, the performance of the Commission could not be better inthe absence of a legal regime that guarantees freedom of access to information aswell as the protection of whistle blowers. Curiously, the first National Assembly satover the Freedom of Information Bill sponsored by the Media Rights Agenda, aLagos-based NGO, and had for long been subjected to public hearing. These
constraints, notwithstanding, the Commission has brought a number of electedpublic officials under its search lights, including some state governors, and the keyfunctionaries of the National Assembly, especially the Senate President, Pius AnyimPius and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba.This development provided the immediate context for a proposed amendment andthe subsequent repeal of the Act by the first session of the Fourth republic assembly. The first move to repeal the Act was made by the Senate when it alleged thatthe Anti-Corruption Commission was being used by the executive to even scoreswith the leadership of the National Assembly. The leadership of the NationalAssembly alleged that the presidency was opposed to its determined effort todefend the independence of the legislature. But the timing and the speed with whichthe Upper legislative body handled the repeal and the passage of a new bill becamea source of concern to the Nigerian public and civil society groups in particular. Thespeed with which the bill for the repeal passed through the first and secondreadings in particular raised suspicion. Setting aside its own rules, this was done onthe same day whereas it took the same Senate nine months to pass the bill whichbrought the Act into existence in the first place. The question of timing was also asource of concern because the move to repeal the Act followed the commencementof investigations of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House by the Anti-Corruption Commission following petitions it allegedly received on their corruptpractices. The decision of the to conduct public hearing on the Act as a result ofpersistent pressures from coalitions of civil society groups was merely an afterthought. Despite the initial sign that the House of Representatives would not supportthe move by the Senate to pass a new Anti-Corruption Bill that would significantlywhittle the investigative and prosecutorial powers of the anti-graft commission, itlater joined in the fray. On Thurday, March 10, the House, attended by only 60 outof the 360 members passed the bill repealing and re-enacting the Corrupt Practicesand Other Related Offences Act 2000, following the second reading a day earlier.What was particularly striking in the bill passed by the House is the grant ofimmunity to the both the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of
Representatives. While repealing the Act, the House of Representatives announcedthe sack of the entire staff of the Justice Mustapha Akanbi-led Anti-CorruptionCommission (Vanguard, March 14, 2003). A frustrated citizen simply accused theleadership of the National Assembly leadership of engaging in acts that amountedto “legislative terrorism”. The controversy that attended to the Electoral Act 2001 and its subsequentrepeal to make way for Electoral Act 2002 brings into bolder relief the failure of theNational Assembly, especially the House of Senate, to contribute to the process ofstrengthening institutions of democratic governance. This is particularly incognizance of the role of elections in a democracy. Nigeria’s political history showsthat the crisis of democracy often emanates from unresolved election disputes. Thecrisis of legitimacy triggered by electoral malfeasance often provides the ground forthe opposition to question leaders thrown up by the electoral process, andsubsequently for the military to remove such unpopular governments. The massiverigging and violence that characterized the 1983 general elections precipitated thedemise of Nigeria’s second democratic experiment on December 31 1983. Despitethe unpopularity of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), it secured majorityvotes in many parts of the country, including the stranglehold of opposition partiessuch as the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the south-west and the NigerianPeoples ’Party (NPP) in the south-east. Thus, as in the first Republic, it heightenedthe legitimacy crisis of the government and prepared the ground for the subsequentmilitary coup. In fact, given the legitimacy issues that arose from the 1999 elections, and inparticular, the concern about the absence of a level playing ground in the electionsbecause of the institutional weaknesses that characterised the Independent NationalElectoral Commission (INEC), the reform of the electoral law and the electoral bodywas considered central to the survival of Nigeria’s electoral democracy. Given thisbackground and the immediacy of the 2003 general elections, as well as the localgovernment elections, which were to follow, the reform of the electoral, law andother relevant institutions became core issues to be addressed as part of thechallenges of strengthening democracy. When the legitimacy deficit which followed
the 1999 elections which was characterized by vote rigging, intimidation, bribery,forging of election results and violence is added to these, the handling of theElectoral Act becomes a key issue in the assessment of the first National Assembly. In August 2001, the Chairman of INEC, Dr. Abel Goubadia, proposed a bill tothe National Assembly. The Bill, according to him, represented an improvementover the 1982 Act and the provisions in the 1979 Constitution (National Interest,October 13, 2001). The first problem arose from delayed deliberations on the Billgiven the imminence of the local government elections initially slated for April 2002and the 2003 elections, which would follow in April 2003. Without doubt, the 2001 Electoral Act was far from being the ideal legalframework for addressing all the concerns about elections and the electoral processbecause of the limited consultations that preceded it, and the lack of political will todeal with the reform of INEC to enhance its autonomy. But the Electoral Bill aspassed by the Senate contained some novel provisions including those that relate toregistration of new political parties and independent candidacy. However, as signedby the President following behind the scene manouvres involving him and somekey leaders of the National Assembly, not only tampered with some importantprovisions, but also introduced new provisions that undermined the tenets of thedemocratic process. The surreptitious manner in which the Bill, as passed by theHouse was distorted, was described by Senator Femi Okunronmu of the AD as “un-parliamentary” in procedure”. (Okunronmu, 2001). The issues that generated controversy in the Electoral Law include the tenureof local government, the barring of some state governors from contesting the 2003elections, guidelines on registration of new political parties and the order ofelections. On the tenure of local government chairmen, contrary to the three yearsprovided in the 1999 Constitution, and the express powers of the State House ofAssembly in determining the structure and mode of operation of the localgovernments, the new law signed by the President extended the tenure of localgovernment Chairmen to four years. This was perceived as an affront on stategovernors who, for political expediency, required the control of the machinery oflocal governance. Equally contentious was the provision in the new Act which
barred sitting governors who were elected governors in the aborted Third Republicfrom contesting the 2003 elections on the presumption that by being electedgovernors in 1999, they were already serving the maximum of two terms prescribedby the 1999 Constitution. By this provision, the governors of Ogun State, ChiefSegun Osoba,; Taraba, Reverend Jolly Nyame; Kogi; Alhaji Abubakar Audu andYobe, Alhaji Bukar Ibrahim would not be eligible to contest for the same position inthe 2003 elections. By far the most worrisome of the provisions in the Electoral Act 2001 relatesto registration of new political parties. The proviso introduced by the President inSection 180 (1) established a threshold of 10% as the minimum votes to be garneredby political associations seeking registration as political parties in the localgovernment elections, which had several implications. For one, since the localgovernment election comes last in the order of elections proposed in the Act, itmeant that the new parties would not be eligible for the 2003 elections. In addition,this proviso introduced requirements that derogate from the provisions of the 1999Constitution. Expectedly, this provision provoked reactions across the land. It wasparticularly considered as a calculated move by the ruling PDP to remain in powerby excluding new political actors that could effectively challenge its dominance. The 36 governors later dragged the federal government to court on threemain contentious issues in the Act: the extension of the tenure of local governmentto four years as contained in Section 10, the re-ordering of elections to start with thepresidential election, and the stringent conditions for registration of new politicalparties provided in Section 74 of the Electoral Act (Sunday Vanguard, March 24,2002). The extension of the tenure of local government Chairmen brought Speakersof the state Houses of Assembly together in opposition to the new law. A SupremeCourt ruling on the suit nullified provisions in the new Act, which violated theprovisions in the 1999 Constitution. The Court re-affirmed the power of StateHouses of Assembly in relation to the determination of tenure of local governmentchairmen, and ordered the registration of new political parties before May 18, 2002on the ground that all extra-constitutional conditions in the Act were illegal(Weekend Vanguard, April 20, 2002).
One important conclusion that can be drawn from the political intrigues thatattended to the passage and signing into law, the Electoral Act 2001 is that, for themembers of the National Assembly narrow political calculations took precedence overnational interest. For example, extending the tenure of Council chairmen from three tofour years, disregarding their initial three-year tenure, was motivated by the need torespond to the fear that the executive, including the Presidency and state governorsstood to make electoral gains from an early council polls. Thus, in instances where thepolitical calculations of the Presidency and that of the leadership of the NationalAssembly coincided, the latter willingly played along. Finally, the first National Assembly failed to play its expected role in theformulation of the blue print for the reform of Nigeria’s economy and polity asenshrined in the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy(NEEDS). Indeed, from the very beginning when the government embarked on theill-fated Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) process, the executive did notconsider it necessary to involve the legislature. And despite the fact that the WorldBank group rejected Nigeria’s interim PRSP on account of absence of a consultativeprocess, NEEDS, the so-called successor to the PRSP did not involve the input of theNational Assembly. The president merely briefed the House of Senate on theNEEDS document (Punch, November 27, 2002), without the kind of consultation andinput required of a major reform document whose implications for state-societyrelations, and, indeed, the development process is very profound.Law making, Civil Society and Public Participation Legislation is the primary task of elected representatives of the people in thelegislature. The mandate conferred by their being elected notwithstanding, thelegitimacy of the routine exercise in writing laws and making of policies is determinedby the extent to which they capture the mood and desires of the electors. This, therefore,warrants the need for some kind of public participation and the expression of the voiceof civil society. Among others, public participation in the process of policy formulationprovides a useful mechanism for the public to enforce accountability on the electedpublic officials. However, given the peculiar nature of Nigerian-type society,characterized by the absence of professional lobbyists, the disconnection between
political parties and the populace as well as the tendency of the political andbureaucratic elites to alienate the people from the policy-making process, civil societyorganizations provide the most important arena of promoting public participation inthe process of governance. Civil society is the “realm of organized social life that is open, voluntary, self-generating, at least partially self-supporting, autonomous from the state, and bound bya legal order or set of shared rules”(Diamond 1999: 221). What distinguishes civilsociety from society in general is the fact that it involves citizens acting collectively inthe public sphere. The importance of civil society in the policy-making arena largelyderives from three key elements in the definition and conceptualization identified byOsaghae (1997). These include its autonomy from the state, public character (setting anormative order for the state) and furtherance of a common good. The numerousgrassroots social movements that draw their strength from the solidarity and thestruggle of the people against oppression in different parts of the country are parts andparcels of civil society. Unlike the previous republics, the emergence of a strong civil society and a widerange of associational life provided a fairly distinct environment for the functioning of alegislative assembly. The economic failure of the 1980s and SAP regime which followed,led to the emergence of several civic organizations ranging from human rightsorganizations and professional associations to business and mutual self- helpassociations thriving across the country, in both urban and rural areas. As Alemika(2000:3) aptly observes, the era of adjustment and military dictatorships in the 1980sand 1990s witnessed the proliferation of the “NGO industry” around diverse issuessuch as human rights, environment, democratization, women empowerment, povertyreduction, population, reproductive rights, health, development, to mention just a few. Furthermore, Roniger (1994) provides additional elaboration when he arguesthat the primary function and significance of civil society comes from the fact that itprovides the platform for the citizens to express their interests, preferences and ideas, toexchange information, achieve collective goals and make demands to improve thestructure and functioning of the state. Within these range of activities the question ofholding state officials accountable for their actions is very central to the raison de’tre ofcivil society. A very strong assumption, therefore, in the notion of civil society is that
associational life provides a mechanism through which public interests andcommitments are formulated and through which ideas regarding basic freedoms andentitlements of the citizens are clarified and defended. The struggle for the expansion of the democratic space, and the frontal challengeof successive military dictatorships was spearheaded by a number of pro-democracyand human rights groups, many of which emerged in response to the brutality ofmilitary rule, and the shrinking political space. Not surprisingly, therefore, the civilsociety has come to be recognized as a major stakeholder in the Nigerian democraticprocess. Against the backdrop of the immediate history of civil society in the strugglefor democracy, and what is expected of its role in the consolidation of democraticgovernance as well as the legitimation of the process, the relationship between thelegislature and the civil society in the policy making arena provides a strong indicationof how the former advances the process of democratic governance. Despite the reservation in some quarters that civil society organizations may nothave cultivated the culture of engaging a democratic process as opposed to providingbarricades against military dictatorship(Abdulai, This Day, , there is evidence to suggestthat civic groups have a programmatic perspective of what the requirements are fordemocratic consolidation. This has led to the necessity for civil society organizations tobuild networks and coalitions around key issues of democratic reform andconsolidation. Thus, in addition to the formation of the Transition Monitoring Group(TMG) which monitored the transition elections, several other coalition groups haveemerged. The important ones include the Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform(CFCR), the Electoral Reform Network (ERN), the Zero Corruption Coalition andNational Coalition on Violence Against Women (NCVAW). Each of these groupsinvolves a coalition of several NGOs and CBOs that engage in information sharing anddeveloping common strategies of dealing with specific issues. The Freedom of Information Bill sponsored by the Media Rights Agenda (MRA)is one good example of the opening of the legislative process to public participation.The bill is so central to the quest for transparency and accountability in governance aswell as enhancement of citizens’ access to information. The House Sub-Committee onMedia Practice and Regulation conducted a public hearing in 2001 at which several civilsociety groups were present. Although the bill is yet to be signed into law, it is a
significant development that a tremendous opening has been created for the publicparticipation in the making of policies. A similar point can be made about the bill ondomestic violence, which was submitted to the National Assembly by the NFVAW. Thesummit organized the Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP), ShelterRights Initiative (SRI), the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) and theNigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in May 2002, drew attention to the need for greaterpublic participation in the budget process (Wasah, 2002). Interestingly, since then,several organizations of civil society have emerged with specific focus on the budget,and have sought to engage the legislature on several fronts. There is ample evidence that this trend will increase with the consolidation ofdemocracy and it remains to be seen how the legislators will recognize the critical roleof civic groups in the process of law making. Emergent trends towards the end of thetenure of the first National Assembly suggest some positive signs as demonstrated bythe intervention of Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC), Transparency International (TI)and the Citizens’ Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR) in the public hearingsconducted by the Senate in the wake of the repeal of the Anti-Graft Law early in 2003.However, the decision to conduct public hearing after the new bill had passed throughthe first two readings would create a climate of distrust in the efforts of civil society toengage the democratic process. Notwithstanding some moderate efforts to involve the civil society in themaking of laws and public policies, the conclusion which one can draw is that, thefirst National Assembly failed largely to provide opportunities to the Nigerianpublic to participate in the process of policy making and formulation through theinstrumentality of public hearing. There was evident reluctance on the part of thelegislature to accept the civil society as the ultimate guarantor of the survival ofNigeria’s democracy, but even as a partner in the business of sustaining democraticgovernance. Accompanying this disposition was the tendency to perceive the civilsociety as rivals, and to hide under the narrow argument that the constitution veststhe powers for legislation in the legislature. Evidence of reluctance can be seen in the slow pace of the reform of the 1999Constitution despite prodding from civil society groups, and opportunities ofengagement provided by a number of coalitions of civil society on constitutional
reform. The Joint Committee of the National Assembly squandered theopportunities provided by the first four years of democracy to make any appreciableprogress in the realm of constitutional reform. Similarly, the legislature stalled theprocess of passing and enacting the Freedom of Information Act which is critical tothe pursuit of important political values of transparency and accountability, andultimately, in the anti-corruption crusade. In particular, the National Assemblyfailed to use the instrumentality of public hearing as a means of promoting publicparticipation in the budget process, and to see the budgetary process as a means ofbuilding legitimacy for public policy.Legislative Oversight and the Use of Impeachment as Instrument of Control The mutual tension that tends to characterize the relationship between theexecutive and the legislature has remained one of the most important challenges sincethe return to a constitutional framework of governance in 1999. At the vortex of thetension and conflict between the two is the exercise of oversight functions by thelegislature. It is however, a challenge that is rooted in the culture of executivedominance and the relative institutional weakness of the legislature in Nigeria’s post-independence political history. The attempt by the first national parliament of thefourth Republic, especially the House of Representatives, to reverse this trend byasserting its constitutional powers to oversight the executive in the implementation oflaws and public policies resulted in tension and conflicts with the legislaturethreatening to invoke its ultimate power of impeachment. Considering theconstitutional powers conferred on the legislature in the system of checks and balancesthat undergirds Nigeria’s presidential democracy, the performance of the legislature interms of oversight functions, and the use of impeachment as instrument of enforcingpolitical accountability on the executive becomes crucial in assessing the performance ofthe legislature in the realm of democratic governance. Central to presidential democracy is the doctrine of separation of powers, bywhich the mutual veto embedded in each of the three organs of government as aguarantee against possible abuse by one domineering branch. Since the tendency in thepresidential system is for the executive to dominate, the watchdog role of theparliament simply translates into checkmating the excesses of the executive branch. The
experience of the United States is telling in this regard as exemplified in adisproportionate growth in executive authority and a wide accretion of powers in thepresidency beyond the original intention of the framers of the constitution (Burns, et al,1993: 406). The ability of the legislature, therefore, to provide countervailing power tothe executive is a good measure of improved governance regime in a transitionaldemocracy. Indeed, the supremacy of the legislature within the ambit of separation ofpowers is reflected in its oversight functions. Although it can be argued that thelegislature in Nigeria has failed largely to express its supremacy in the order ofbranches of government through effective use of the “power of the purse”, theconstitution expressly recognizes its oversight functions. Thus, re-affirming the absenceof a watertight compartment, the power of the parliament does not stop withappropriation of funds. It has the additional responsibility of monitoring the executivein its implementation of public policies and ensuring that laws and policies aretranslated into concrete social delivery. As a measure to check the authoritarianism thatinheres in the wide powers vested in the executive in a presidential democracy, theconstitution confers on the legislative assembly the power of impeachment as well asthe procedure for effecting the impeachment. Consequently, it can be argued that thelogical conclusion of the power of oversight on the executive branch is the power ofimpeachment by which a sufficient breach of the Constitution provides the legislaturethe opportunity to use its power to remove the executive from power. The question,however, is what constitutes grave breach of the constitution that should warrant thelegislature to invoke the power of impeachment. While an easy answer to this dilemmais not fathomable, it is important to stress that it is power which is seldom used by thelegislature as the history of executives successfully impeached in America’s over 200years of presidential democracy seems to suggest (Burns). However, as the Nigerian experience tends to show, the kind of pathologiesearlier alluded to tend to shape the psychological disposition of the legislature who,more often not, resort to the use of impeachment more as an instrument of blackmailthan the constitutional control of an overbearing executive. The first four years ofNigeria’s democracy provides a glimpse into the possibility that exists for abuse in theuse of the oversight powers of the legislature and the power of impeachment in
particular. The threat to repeal the Anti-Corruption Law in the first instance and itssubsequent amendment is one indication of this general tendency. But even moreinstructive is the way in which legislative assemblies in the various states tended tomisuse the impeachment clause in the constitution considering the spate ofimpeachment of Speakers. In Enugu State, the House of Assembly removed in quicksuccession four Speakers through impeachment, while in both Imo and AdamawaStates, the Houses of Assembly removed three Speakers invoking the impeachmentclause. In Abia, Bayelsa and Cross River States, there were at least two instances ofSpeakers being removed in each case through impeachment. Although it could beargued that the desire of the various state Governors to exert control over the legislaturewas a key factor in the spate of impeachment, there was a sense in which impeachmentbecame an instrument of blackmail and political opportunism rather than the originalpurpose for which it was designed by the framers of the constitution. The same can be said of the National Assembly, especially the upper legislativehouse where twice, changes were effected in the leadership using the instrumentality ofimpeachment. The first President of the Senate, Chief Evans Enwerem was removedbarely six months after he was elected presiding officer on the allegation that hecompromised the independence and integrity of the Senate. His successor, SenatorChuba Okadigbo was removed barely a year in office on grounds of misuse of power.The last president of the Senate in the first session managed to survive threats ofremoval. Perhaps, the only exception was the removal of the first Speaker of the Houseof Representatives, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, early in the life of the first National Assemblyon grounds of falsifying his age and academic certificates. To a large extent, the spate ofimpeachment and threats of impeachment of the leadership was partly symptomatic ofthe low level of internal governance within the legislative body, and partly a function ofexecutive interference, but there was also a sense in which impeachment as aninstrument of control and checkmating the excesses of elected public officers became acheap instrument of blackmail and political opportunism. Against this background, it is important to examine in greater detail theperformance of the national parliament on the question of exercising oversightfunctions and the manner in which it used impeachment as instrument of enforcingpolitical accountability. For close watchers of the politics of the fourth Republic, the
stand-off between President Olusegun Obasanjo and the National Assembly, followingthe move by the House of Representatives, to impeach him dominated the last quarterof 2002, and brought the current democratic experiment to a stand still. The mostcurious aspect of the impeachment drama is the fact that the ruling party, the PDP,enjoyed control of the two arms of the national parliament, and was not in the positionto avert the confrontation between the executive and the legislature. What this points to,however, are the obvious institutional and attitudinal weaknesses that characterizeNigeria’s democratic experience namely, the weakness of the party system and theabsence of democratic temperament in the behaviour of elected public officials at all thelevels of governance. The impeachment drama started in the middle of August 2002 with the House ofRepresentatives suspending a two-week recess to set in motion the machinery for theimpeachment of the President. Although the theatre of the drama shifted to the Houseof Representatives, threats to impeach the President had been a recurring issue in therelationship between the executive and the legislature in the brief history of the fourthRepublic started from the House of Senate. The first threat o impeach the Presidentoccurred in June 2000 when Senator Arthur Nzeribe, a PDP Senator, circulated a litanyof impeachable offences purportedly committed by the President in the Senate. Thealleged complicity in the impeachment saga of Senator Chuba Okadigbo who was thenSenate President was believed to be responsible for his eventual removal. The secondcall to impeach the President was sponsored by Senator Idris Abubakar of the ANPP,and it centred on non-implementation of federal budgets. The fact that the motion toimpeach the President was tacitly supported by the Senate President, Pius Anyim,believed to have been put in leadership position by the President to do his bidding, ledmany to conclude that new trends were emerging in the relationship between theexecutive and the legislature (Mamodu, 2002:44). Unlike the previous threats, the notice of impeachment and the option to resignwithin two weeks, which the House of Representatives confronted President Obasanjowith, in August 2002 was more than a superficial episode. Not only did it reflect thegroundswell of opposition to the dictatorial tendencies of the President within thenational legislature, there was a clear political will to defend the independence of thelegislature. (Nwachukwu, 2004:44) provides a detailed account of how the relationships
between the President and the lower house evolved, and eventually degenerated intotension and the impeachment move. The relationship started with friction and somelevel of distance between the President and the leadership because of the perceivedcontempt of the President for members whom he preferred to refer to as “boys”. This,however, changed late in 2001 when Alhaji Umar Ghali Na’abba decided to move closerto the President as a strategy of winning material benefits to members of the House whowere starved of funds. But this fairly smooth relationship between the lower House andthe Presidency which peaked with the Speaker enjoying the privilege of usingpresidential jet for his lesser hajj trip in 2001 did not last as the controversy whichtrailed the Electoral Act, 2001 brought back mutual tension and antagonism. Thisantagonism reached the highest point following the “State of the Nation” debateconducted by the House during which a litany of allegations including highhandedness, dictatorial tendencies, failure to grapple with economic and socialproblems, and gross violations of the constitution, among others, were leveled againstthe President. Thus, following the debate on the “State of the Nation”, the House, following theadoption of a motion, issued an ultimatum to the President to either resign within twoweeks or be impeached. The motion to impeach the President was sponsored byMohammed Kumaila of the ANPP who accused the President of incompetence, lack ofpolitical will to tackle corruption, and non-implementation of budgets. The House lateron compiled a total of 17 allegations of constitutional breaches against the President.Most of the allegations bothering on unauthorized spending and outright violations ofthe Revenue Allocation Act include: i. Issuance of a presidential order purportedly amending the Revenue Allocation Act which amounted to a violation of Sections 161 (1) and (2) and 313 of the 1999 Constitution; ii. Engaging in extra-budgetary spending including N60 billion on the National Stadium, Abuja; payment of N12billion to Julius Berger Plc and the purchase of 63 houses for Ministers to the tune of N3 billion, in violation of Section 80 (2), (3), and (4)of the 1999 Constitution;iii. Deployment of troops to Odi in Bayelsa and Zaki Biam in Benue State in 2000 and 2001 respectively, resulting in murder of innocent citizens and massive
destruction of property without lawful authority contrary to Section 217 (c) of the 1999 Constitution; iv. Refusal to fully implement the recurrent budget as it affected the salaries of staff and overheads of ministries contrary to the provisions of the Appropriation Act, 2002; v. Unilateral cut across the board of overhead costs contained in the 2002 Appropriation Act by 50% without the approval of the National Assembly; vi. Unilateral merger of the Federal Road Safety Commission and the Nigerian Police without a bill for an Act to harmonise the two bodies and/or repeal the Federal Road Safety Commission Act.vii. Merging without an enabling legislation, the Nigerian Bank for Commerce and Industry (NBCI), the National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND), and the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB) to form the Bank of Industry, while the laws establishing each of these institutions were still valid and subsisting.viii. The appointment, without consultation with the Police Council, of Musiliu Smith as Inspector-General of the Police, contrary to 1999 Constitution; and ix. The appointment of an Acting Auditor-General of the Federation exceeding a period of six months without the resolution of the Senate contrary to Section 8 b (3) of the 1999 Constitution (Newswatch, September 16, 2002). On the basis of these allegations, a number of which had to do with allegedviolation of appropriation laws, the growing insecurity in the country and the runningof the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), the House served on thePresident a formal notice of impeachment (Tell, September 23, 2002). The president’sremark at the end of the ultimatum given him to resign, to the effect that theimpeachment threat was “a joke carried too far” inflamed the passion of the legislators.Considering the gravity of the alleged breaches and the tide of public opinion whichappeared to register disaffection with the style of leadership of the President, the Upperlegislative house joined the impeachment move. Emboldened by the support of theupper House, the Speaker of the Lower House was quoted as saying that 13 newoffences had been discovered and added to the initial seventeen (This Day, October 10,2002).
It would appear that the resort to impeachment as the ultimate instrument ofoversight and ensuring political accountability was necessitated by the increasingfrustration of the legislature to stamp their authority on the process of governance. Thiscan be seen in the failure of the leadership of the National Assembly to check thegrowing powers of members of the executive. At the end of July, for example, theSenate took a decision to invite Mallam Adamu Ciroma, the Minister of Finance overthe decision of the Federal Executive Council to slash the capital vote in the 2002 budgetby 44% (This Day, August 2, 2002). Prior to this, the issue of low level of implementationof appropriation law and the deliberate refusal of the executive to be engaged on thematter had been a key issue in the relationship between the two arms of government.The National Assembly was so enraged over the implementation of the 2001 budget inparticular that it initially refused to debate the 2002 budget proposal. To worsenmatters, the President sidetracked the National Assembly in the review of theAppropriation Act 2002, which the national Parliament reluctantly enacted once theSupreme Court judgment on resource control in April 2002 virtually rendered non-existent the Appropriation Law. Instead, the President relied on a committee, which heset up to carry out a review (Nwachukwu, 2002:44). The impeachment imbroglio, which lasted for about three months, appeared tohave taught the President a major lesson about the dynamics of democracy. ThePresident was forced to shift from dismissing the move as a “joke” and to confront it asa political reality. As part of his last ditched effort to diffuse the threat, the Presidentengaged in lobbying members of the Senate to his side in a desperate move to ensurethat the impeachment motion did not secure the required 2/3 majority in the upperhouse. He was not only reported to have resorted to praying and fasting (Newswatch,September 23, 2002), but also sought the intervention of elder statesmen, particularlycredible northern political leaders. This became necessary following the inability of theparty machinery to resolve the impasse. The intervention of the National WorkingCommittee of the ruling party, and the initiative spearheaded by Chief Audu Ogbeh,the Chairman of the party, who uprightly accused Umar Ghali Na’abba of treason, thelower House maintained its resolve to impeach the President. The President firstallegedly sought the intervention of Alhaji Umaru Dikko and Alhaji Umaru TankoYakassai to prevail on Ghali Umar Na’bba to back down on the impeachment threat.