Of executive profligacy and legislative docility in Nigeria

by Joel Nwokeoma

It is given that the ability of any democratic government to deliver the concrete benefits of good governance to the citizens is determined by the smooth functioning of the executive, judicial and legislative arms of government. This assumption reinforces the theory of separation of the powers of the different arms of government to prevent arbitrariness, tyranny and recklessness.

As the Indian political scientist, Arjun Appadorai, affirms in his famous book, The Substance of Politics, “Such separation is necessary for the purpose of preserving the liberty of the individual and for avoiding tyranny,” as no one of the arms is to have “controlling power” over the other.

In all democracies, parliamentarians, being the direct representatives of the citizens, act to check the tyrannical tendencies of the executive. To thus function, the legislature must, at all times, be alive to its statutory duties of scrutinising the activities of the executive. It is not expected to behave as an appendage of the executive arm, always affirming and approving its actions and decisions without questions. But, the story of Nigeria’s experiment with democracy since 1999 has largely been that of over-bearing and reckless executive arm, be it at the federal, state or council level, and legislatures that appear not too sure of their place and relevance in a democracy.

The consequences of this sad reality include a rapid decline in citizens’ confidence in the government, rising discontent and disenchantment. This, perhaps, contributes to the ranking of Nigeria’s democracy among “authoritarian regimes” in the recently released “Democracy Index 2010, A report from the Economist Intelligence Unit”, that states that existing “formal institutions of government” have “little substance.” Obviously, the little substance of such formal institutions of government as the legislature in Nigeria has been decapitating to many state governments, in particular where the governors mostly behave like imperial majesties.

The experience of democratic rule in Nigeria since 1999 is about the profligacy and recklessness of the executive arm of government, accentuated by a docile and pliant legislative arm. Recently, members of the Abia State House of Assembly, who were elected then, like the governor, Theodore Orji, on the platform of the Peoples Progressive Alliance, defected with the governor, first, to the All Progressive Grand Alliance, and, then, to the Peoples Democratic Party as school children would follow their head teacher.

In Gombe, the state governor, Mohammed Goje, shocked not a few when, months to the end of his first term in office in 2007, he sent a bill to the House of Assembly to authorise a generous payment of N200m to himself and N100m to his deputy, John Yoriyo, and all past and future civilian governors of the state as pensions without the lawmakers raising any eyebrow. Having received that hefty pay package in 2007, he is billed to receive another one on completion of his second term in May.

Similarly, in Ogun State, the government has been operating without a legislature for months following the closure of the House of Assembly on September 7, 2010 over altercations between two factions, the Group of 11 and Group of 15, which led to a fracas on the floor of the House. Interestingly, the House had been largely compliant with the executive before the incident, approving every bill and request thrown at it by the governor.

In Jigawa State, Governor Sule Lamido recently elevated some districts to emirates and got his docile parliament to pass the law, that would add to the overhead of the government at a time the state government expressed difficulty in paying the new national minimum wage.

In such states as Abia, Bauchi and Bayelsa, the legislators have almost always lent themselves to the support of the governors against their deputies, leading to the impeachment of the latter, apparently to please the former. In Bauchi, for instance, the Deputy Governor, Mohammed Garba Gadi, was impeached for refusing to defect with the governor, Isa Yuguda, to another party in 2009.

Imo State presents a most preposterous spectacle. In an interview published in some national newspapers recently, Governor Ikedi Ohakim admitted to being “the subject of greater attacks than some other governors” in the country. To watchers of political events and governance in the state in particular, this assertion might not be false after all. He is one of those governors that have been in the news more for the wrong reasons. Some commentators have even said that controversy seems to be his middle name.

But Ohakim attributes this opposition to his “unparalleled performance” in office since 2007, wherein the state had been taken, as he put it, from “the level of hopelessness in terms of service to the level where, for once, since Sam Mbakwe days, Imo can claim to have a government at their service” has, quite ironically, made him a victim of “virulent opposition” in many quarters.

His critics, however, insist that the governor is being pummeled for perceived executive recklessness and profligacy in office such as the controversy that trailed his “Job-for-the-Youths” scheme, where tens of thousands of applicants to the 10,000 jobs his government purportedly created in the state bureaucracy were made to part with N2,000 each as “application fees”. Even though the government was reported to have eventually offered employment to some beneficiaries of the scheme, there are many who insist that they are not up to the advertised figure as the names were not made public as expected.

There has also been negative publicity that has greeted the reported virement request of N24 billion made recently by the governor to the Imo House of Assembly, an amount he was said to have spent outside the 2010 Appropriation Act. According to reports, Ohakim sent the “Re-Ordered Estimates (Virement) of the 2010. Appropriation Act of Imo State of Nigeria” to the House, which was meant to seek retroactive endorsement of virement, a legislative approval to empower the executive to divert funds appropriated in the budget for certain projects to other ones it deemed of higher priority. The funds that are being sought to be vired had allegedly been spent already by the executive.

Though the state assembly has hesitantly composed a seven-man panel to investigate the matter, the leadership still went ahead to clamp down on two of its members, Ifeanyi Agwu and Onuora Olumba, who raised the matter before the plenary. For asking the House to investigate the allegations, the Speaker of the House, Goodluck Opiah, promptly dissolved the Budget and Appropriation Committee hitherto headed by Agwu. Besides, as if to lend credence to the allegations, the House last week passed a bill to extend the operation and lifespan of the 2010 budget in controversial circumstances. According to reports, “The bill, which was not on the order paper of the day, was introduced, scaled through first, second and third readings before being passed in what a member described as indecent haste.”

As long as any legislature is largely made up of lackeys and errand boys of the executive, any governor would continue to carry on recklessly. After all, Governor Gbenga Daniel once called Ogun State legislators “my boys”! The minority G11 faction of the state assembly has since passed the N102 billion budget for 2011 which the governor has signed into law.

Unfortunately, internal democracy is so weak in the various political parties and does not allow for the emergence of independent-minded and competent individuals that could fit the mood of courageous legislators that would check the excesses of the governors. A democracy is d

oomed when the legislature is too weak to interrogate the actions of the executive.

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