Reduce excessive powers of president, govs — Nigerians on how to deepen democracy


NIGERIANS have called for an urgent constitutional amendment to trim down the powers of the President and to inaugurate members of the National Assembly, and the State Houses of Assembly before holding the Presidential and Governorship elections.

Lawyers, activists, and other citizens, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, weekend, said the present-day lawmakers in Nigeria were string-puppets of the President and respective state Governors, who have too much power.

They said the country was at crossroads with its current contraption of democracy and there should be proper separation of powers between the three arms of government without which democracy would not work in the country. Nigerians also want a modification of the electoral system.

Vote, swear-in lawmakers before presidential/guber polls —Dr. Mudiaga-Odje

Warri- based constitutional lawyer and activist, Dr. Akpo Mudiaga- Odje, who described the state of affairs as worrisome, said, “We require an urgent constitutional amendment to inaugurate the national and state parliaments before the conduct of the presidential and governorship elections.

The election process of the leadership of the parliaments should be by open secret ballot as applied in the historic I993 presidential elections.

“The antecedents and pedigree of the leadership must be tested and known for capacity for independent reasoning and stout guts even in the face of executive intimidation.

We, the electorate must collectively strive to elect men of accomplished character into the legislature. The legislature can be made part- time and less financially attractive to substantially filter away the kind of leadership that can be chosen and installed by the executive.”

We are in trouble —Otu, ex-TUC chair

Lawyer and former Chairman, Trade Union Congress, TUC, Cross River State, Clarkson Otu, asserted, “The Nigerian presidential system of government is an aberration. Its kind does not exist anywhere else except in some dictatorships.

The powers of the Nigerian President are absolute, the Constitution which was fashioned by the military created this anomaly.

“The legislative arm, which should act as a check on the executive is helpless. You can blame the lawmakers for their seeming inability to change the narrative. However, in actual sense, can they confront the behemoth (executive)? “I dare say they cannot. We are really in a bind as country. One of the ways to address this anomaly is to amend the Constitution to reduce the powers of the President in the appointment of certain crucial positions of government, such as the security apparatus.

“There should also be complete financial/political autonomy of the legislature as a way of reducing the enormous powers of the President as contained in the 1999 Constitution as amended.

Legislature, biggest threat to our democracy —Umoh, lawyer

Chair, Lawyers’ Action against Corruption, Cross-River State, Orchadson Umoh, said, “The greatest problem of Nigerian democracy is the absence of a strong legislature when it comes to its constitutional role. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the legislature has merged completely with the executive. Politics is for self aggrandizement in Nigeria, the solution is herculean.

The country faces impossible task of cleansing its political stable. Over the years, the citizens have come under the stranglehold of selfish and self-aggrandizing political class, which only seek to perpetuate themselves, and members of their families in power in any available political position.

”The solution to the problem is not insurmountable but frightening in height. Low literacy and generically low political understanding are keeping things the way they are. These areas must be tackled but by who? The lawmakers ought to be positioned in a manner that they could generally demand probity from the executive and to show their readiness to remove dishonest persons, be it president or governors from office.”

He who pays the piper dictates the tune —Igbodor, ex-lawmaker

However, an ex-federal lawmaker, Hon Peter Igbodor, said, “The Nigerian legislators are product of our disjointed and lay back communities, why blame them? Everybody is waiting for his/her turn.”

“Even some of the lofty legislation they make, our judiciary set new standards in interpreting them, so what is the point. As long as the executive arms control the other two arms of government, expect rubbish because he who pays the piper dictates the tune.

Legislative and judicial arms of government must be independent.”

President, govs have unwarranted powers — Omare, ex-IYC president

A lawyer and former president, Ijaw Youths Council, IYC, Eric Omare, said, “The issue of the legislature becoming an extension of the executive or being controlled by the executive is a very serious threat to virile democracy.

The hallmark of democracy is checks and balances, which we are not experiencing currently because of the executive capture. If the people truly elect the legislators, starting from party primaries, then the executive would not capture them easily. “Currently, the president and governors have too much control over the electoral process, especially the political parties. A closely related problem is that poverty must be addressed for the people to freely elect people with integrity as legislators.”

Our law gives govs unwarranted power —Uti, ex-NBA, Warri chair

Former chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Emmanuel Uti, stated, “I will say the legislature has failed to carry out its over sight functions as clearly stated in the Constitution.

In addition, the lawmakers enacted most of the laws for their own benefits, not for posterity. With respect to members of the state House of Assembly, our laws have made them willing tools because in choosing our political leadership, the party gives power to individuals with funds, and governors fund the party.

“Therefore, for anyone to become an aspirant for the state House Assembly, the governors must give his approval.”

What we operate today is political rascality —Unagha, lawyer

Lawyer and politician, Alhaji Mumakhai Unagha, said to change the narrative, “Firstly they should be guided by the principle of separation of powers.

There should be absolute separation of power. “What we have today is political rascality where a governor would leave his comfort zone, and order a legislator to be suspended.

They collect fat envelopes to pass a bill. Because of this, there is no quality bill. This is not peculiar to the state House of Assembly but also the National Assembly.

“We have to amend our relevant laws to guide against interloping or meddling into legislative affairs. Yes, both the executive and legislature should synergize for good governance, but they should not sacrifice democracy on the altar of political rascality.”

Electoral process defective —Emeh, ex-Rivers commissioner

Lawyer and former Commissioner for Transport and Aviation, Rivers State, Dr. Emeh Glory Emeh, said except the three arms of government: Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary are truly independent in words and indeed, democracy would continue to be at the mercy of any ruling political party in Nigeria.

“The issue of rubber stamp legislators can be traced to the poor electoral management process by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.” A situation where the electoral umpire will set rules, procedures and standards but change half way in the exercise is a major reason one political party wins all the seats in the parliament.

“Another setback is the role allowed the judiciary to play through the adjudications by the Election Petitions Tribunals. It is unfortunate and a shame.

Nigeria can only have independent legislature when the law- making body has competitive membership, and not when one political party wins all the seats by manipulation and double standard.”

Lawmakers failed Nigerians —Akene, development consultant

A development consultant and chair, Centre for Environmental Preservation and Development, CEPAD, Surv. Furoebi Akene told Saturday Vanguard in Yenagoa, “The National and the State Houses of Assembly have nothing to offer.

Actually, they have failed the masses they claimed to represent. They are there to do the bidding of their masters, who handpicked them. One of the reasons for this absurdity is the country’s institutional weakness, and failure.

“If our electoral umpire, INEC and the security agencies played their constitutional duties with fairness, this would not have been so. If you recall, the first National Assembly and State legislature performed better and more objectively because the process that brought them in from the military was averagely fair.”

Nigeria’s legislature has failed —Chima Nnaji

Lagos -based legal luminary and Rights activist, Chief Chima Nnaji, has said that the legislature in Nigeria is a woeful failure and total disgrace to democracy. Nnaji regretted that the legislators allow themselves to become puppets in the hands of the Executives out of sheer ignorance.

According to him, “It’s my considered opinion that the legislature which is the only symbol of democracy has failed and has continued to do so with so much grotesque pain. They have allowed themselves, out of sheer ignorance of the power they have, to be toyed with. “They have surrendered their powers to the Executive arm of Government and go cap in hand begging for their own personal desires.

Imagine that when they were offered autonomy at the state level, they rejected it like the proverbial happy slave who is afraid of being independent from his master. They have become the greatest corruption pool whereby they only bark but don’t bite. All the agencies they are supposed to oversight will come with gratifications and they collect, and that will be the end of the story.

There is a litany of examples of how they have failed and continued to fail, and there is no redemption. You can see how their leadership under the present administration was constituted. The issue is that you must have one albatross, you must have one comma according to Obasanjo so that they will use it to drag you around like a goat because you can no longer assert your own independence, it is very shameful, and society is paying for it.

The way forward is to reduce the sweetener and make it a part time job. Before you become a legislator you must show what you are doing for a living.

You must show evidence that you have been paying your tax regularly, and that you have been nominated by your community – either professional community or local community. “There is so much ignorance even among the legislators. Regrettably, the level of entry into our political space/public office is low.”

Executive can’t control legislature except… Umoh, ex-lawmaker

Former member representing Oron Federal Constituency, Hon. Peter Umoh, asserted, “Let me say here quite frankly that no President, no governor has the power to control the legislature. It is only a legislature that drives itself into the pocket of the governor or the president that will appear to be controlled.

Take it from me I am saying this because I was a member of the House of Representatives and Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly 2001 to 2003. “The people of Akwa Ibom State can bear me witness that the governor of Akwa Ibom then, Obong Victor Attah, did not control Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly because he is a true democrat.

During my speaker-ship, all he did was to work with us. But it will be absurd and highly unfortunate and I pray God forbid for a legislature to allow itself to be controlled by the executive, because if that happens, it is the people that will suffer”

For now, we don’t need legislative arm —Ohams, activist

Similarly, an activist, Dr Clemson Ohams, echoed, “The legislative arm in this democratic dispensation is a clear case of living in a free man’s land. There is no law that the legislative arm has made that can stand the test of time.

What have often come from there are scandals, jumbo allowances, and absolute pursuit of personal interests. This country can function comfortably without that arm of government.”

There should be limit to executive/legislature conviviality- Idi, NNYM scribe

Secretary, Ndokwa National Youth Movement, NNYM, Presley Idi, opined, “In our democracy today, when we look at the process through which the leadership of both the National Assembly and that of the 36 state Houses of Assembly emerge, it is crystal clear that the executive arm of government still has some form of control over the legislature and this is not healthy for us a nation.

“If we continue in this current format where the executive plays a key role in how leaders of the different legislative assemblies across the country emerge, there is no way our democracy will work one 100 percent.

“I am not saying that there should not be a cordial relationship between the two arms of government, however, since the legislators are supposed to be the ones checking the excesses of the executive, there should be a limit to the cordiality.

The only way we can have a better and more robust legislature that will shape our democracy for the better is when we make the National Assembly and the state assemblies unattractive to those career politicians.

Today, every outgoing governor sees the national assembly as their retirement home, thereby taking up spaces meant for those that have genuine interest in lawmaking. When the perks of the offices are taken away, only those truly interested in lawmaking will put themselves forward to become lawmakers.”

Legislature has performed very poorly—Ozinko, lawyer

A lawyer in Calabar, Ozinko Ozinko, said, “The legislative arm has performed very badly. In 1999, there was a semblance of independence by the legislature, but with what Chuba Okadigbo and Evans Enwerem went through in the hands of President Obasanjo, subsequent leaders and members in the legislative arms have become mere rubber stamps. The legislature is completely emasculated and merged with the executive such that it is difficult to separate both or one from the other which should not be the case.

The situation is getting worse by the day and the laws they make are self serving and the ordinary people seem to be at the receiving end of the action of those they elected.

The condition is too bad. “There is hardly any free and fair election of the leaders by members of that arm, but often dictated and selected by the executive and this makes them pander to the executive at every turn and twist.

A Port- Harcourt -based legal practitioner, Amarachi Owhoeli, said: “As it stands, I do not see a difference between the executive and the legislature in this country, which is supposed to be in a proper democratic setting.

It is clear that the executive and the legislature are now the same and working against the people and their development. For Nigeria to get it right we must change our electoral system.

It must ensure that people vote freely at the polls and that results count. By this, only one party will not be winning, rather people’s choices will emerge, and we will make legislature that will not be populated by only one party and influenced by leadership of that party, or the president, who is from the majority party.”

Too early to judge —Robinson, PANDEF publicity secretary

On the contrary, the Publicity Secretary of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Hon Ken Robinson, who differed with others, said, “We have new lawmakers at the National and state House of Assembly, they are less than four months or thereabout. It might not be proper to judge them now. I suggest that we give them some time. Many of them are still having issues in the tribunal and so they could be distracted.”

Democracy has not failed —Peters, lawyer

Lawyer and good governance advocate in Akwa-Ibom State, Mfon Peters, who shares Robinson’s position, said, “Democracy has not totally failed. At least we have learned so many things. Nigerians have become more aware of their rights; especially they have been able to learn the process of voting. We have seen the various innovations that have come up through democracy – the voting processes, and the developmental processes that have come through democracy. “If you understand what party politics means very well, this issue will not be strange to you. When the same party that produces the president dominates the Senate, and the House of Representatives, it will not be strange. I think the National Assembly as an organ of government has failed in some aspects, especially in the area of lawmaking”.

Many lawmakers’ elections bankrolled by govs —Fehintola

A legal practitioner, Mr Adeola Fehintola argued that as long as the executive is responsible for approving funds voted for the legislative arm, the lawmakers will continue to be subservient to the executive.

He argued that apart from financial autonomy, political parties should not allow state governors to choose or select candidates for election. He said, “During the election, most times, majority of the legislative members are being bankrolled by the governors. I think this is the beginning of servitude.

“There should be internal democracy within the political parties where fate of candidates for the National and State Houses of Assembly will not be at the mercy of the president and governors. He who plays the Piper dictates the tune”.

Legislators must receive same wages as civil servants —Bamigboye

Also, an activist, Mr Abiodun Bamigboye, suggested that, “Legislators must also be placed on the same wages and allowances as the civil servants. This will make them feel the same pain and conditions under which ordinary people groan and live and this will make them render effective representation. “There is also the need to discourage execution of constituency projects by the legislature which is a complete deviation from their constitutional responsibility and a means by which they are compromised by the executive”.


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