As the 8th National Assembly winds down in less than a fortnight, it becomes inevitable to assess its performance given the pivotal role that the legislative arm of government plays in the entrenchment and practice of democracy, which key feature is the doctrine of separation of powers.
This doctrine holds that the three arms of government – Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary – must function independently an act as a counterweight to check any intemperance on the part of one another, thereby protecting all democratic institutions as a whole.
This of course can only be achieved if all arms of government act independently within their constitutional powers.
In the case of Nigeria, the National Assembly has not enjoyed the sort of synergetic relationship with the executive, which appears bent of having its way at every turn. This could be blamed on the long years of military dictatorship to which the polity has been subjected to since independence in 1960, and which has apparently permeated into the civil space.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the executive has actively sought to dominate legislative activity, especially the selection of leaders and has succeeded in deposing quite a few Senate presidents and Speakers of the House of Representative deemed uncooperative.
The National Assembly has been subject of attacks and has been painted by the executive as largely self-serving and even worse, as the bastion of corruption in government all in an attempt to cow lawmakers into submission.
This situation has been similar in the last four years with the emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Chairman of the 8th National Assembly, notably without the endorsement of leaders of his own party but on the wishes of senators from all sides.
Unsurprisingly, Saraki’s era signaled the start of a truly independent legislature, which clearly refused to be reduced to a rubber stamp of Aso Rock but as expected, this generated a lot of friction.
For one, the senate president was perceived as disloyal to his party and combative, but he stood his grounds insisting that his duty was to serve all Nigerians irrespective of party affiliations and that a truly independent legislature was the only guarantee for the sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy.
In spite of the situation and apparent bad blood between the executive and legislature, which the numerous public interactions and photo ops failed to conceal, the 8th National Assembly under Saraki, proved to have been the most active so far.
In the last four years, the Senate passed 293 bills including important constitutional amendments compared with 128, 72 and 129 for the 7th, 6th and 5th Senates.
Some of these bills are the Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme Act (Amendment) Bill, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill (NFIU),, Nigerian Railway Bill, Electronic Transactions Act and the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), include Bankruptcy and Insolvency (Repeal and Reenactment) Act and the Credit Reporting Act among others all geared towards improving economic performance and transparency in the business space.
Other landmark bills include the Not Too Young to Run Act, which widened the political arena for younger Nigerians; Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill , National Poverty Eradication Commission (Establishment) Bill, North East Development Commission (NEDC) (Est., etc.) Bill, Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institution Bill, Police Reform Bill, National Child Protection and Enforcement Agency Bill, and Senior Citizen Centre Bill,, which are aimed at protecting vulnerable segments of the population.
Also scores of polytechnics and other tertiary institutions were established by acts of parliament during the 8th National Assembly, a key issue in catering to the teeming youth left stranded after secondary school.
Remarkably, the schism between the executive and the 8th National Assembly widened with the defection of the key leaders – Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara – to the opposition PDP as the 2019 election season approached but both still held on and skillfully steered parliamentary affairs till the very end while retaining the respect if not admiration of their colleagues despite the fact that both were in the opposition.
This speaks volumes about the huge clout that Saraki commanded throughout his tenure.
However, as he leaves office and prepares to take his seat in the National Council of State, the result of yet another constitutional amendment, Saraki’s insistence on preserving the independence of the legislature is being met with retribution.
The EFCC is now actively investigating his past, a move some analysts will insist is no more than a witch hunt given that fact that Saraki had previously been cleared of such charges by the Supreme Court.
While Saraki’s fate remains unclear, we urge the incoming executive and legislative arms of government to consciously reach across whatever divides in the realization that both are working towards the same purpose – the upliftment of ordinary citizens and deepening democratic tenets and practices in the land.
After 20 years of the Third Republic, politicians should have weaned themselves of the dictatorial tendencies of the past and strive to preserve the freedoms earned with tears and blood.
Crucially, the legislative arm should hone their credentials as true representatives of the people and not themselves as they have been repeatedly accused so far.
Regardless, we believe that improved communication and cooperation, respect for the rule of law and doctrine of separation of powers – which has come under attack not just the legislative but also in the Judicial circles – should also become the norm rather than the exception as government tries, even with limited resources, to make Nigeria a much better place to live.