Reflections on Democracy and Good Governance

Political Parties

A political party is an organised political group

formed with the intention of putting forward candidates to be elected for

government. It seeks to attain and maintain political power by participating in

electoral campaigns. A party is expected to be based on ideology and specific visions

and goals, hence membership should be of people whose political beliefs and

interests are geared towards the same ideological direction and principles.

Democracy starts at party level where every member is expected to have equal

access to political office through primary elections at the party level. In a

democratic election, it is often allowed that different political parties with

disparate interests can form a coalition in order to gain power.

In Nigeria

today, parties are not often formed on ideological lines, but on selfish and

arbitrary interests which are mostly temporary. Little wonder we have 54

registered parties, of which most are without any clear vision.

We all have political rights that include freedom of

political association. This is contrary to the belief in the first and second

republics where people from certain zones were erroneously expected to belong

to certain political parties, and if they did otherwise, there were stigmatised

as rebels, infidels and public enemies. This even degenerated into burning of

houses and other belongings of the so called ‘infidels’ and in extreme cases,

killing.

EVERYONE IS FREE TO BE A MEMBER OF ANY REGISTERED

POLITICAL PARTY OF CHOICE. In some cases, members of the same family can be

divergent politically.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action movie icon turned

Republican ‘governator’ (a combination of Governor and the Terminator, one of

his films roles) of California

State has a wife who is

not only a descendant of the famous democrat family of the Kennedys, but openly

a member of the Democratic Party. She was even a top contender in the race to

replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate before the latter’s appointment as the

Secretary of States. Why can’t we tolerate opposing political views and

membership?

“You cannot grow democracy that does

not have opposing points of view! People must be allowed to organise political

organisations that argue, that shout, that fight with each other not in the

battle field but in the field of ideas. When a ruling party thinks there is no

need for the other party’s view, then you are already out of democracy and back

into tyranny”. (Colin Powell. Abuja,

Nigeria).

A member of a political party is free to leave and

join another party, but this is not a common scene in a true democracy because

people do not often change in principles and ideologies. However, such is

commonplace in our system as most politicians are just self-seeking. In a case

where a public officer cross-carpets to another party, the Nigerian

constitution makes it mandatory for such office holder to relinquish the office

won on the platform of the former political party, except when the old party

has evidently disintegrated. This is a provision of the constitution that is

often breached mostly when it favours the ruling PDP as evident in the recent

crossing of Yuguda, Ohakim and some National Assembly members who ate their

cakes and still had them.

What an irony! The President and the Attorney General

of the nation who are supposed to be the chief custodians and enforcers of our

constitution to which they swore to protect, are the chief abusers as they

openly embrace this unconstitutional moves. Are they ignorant or do they think

we are? Constitutionally, those who decamped have technically lost their

offices! This was established by the Supreme Court in its ruling that

enthroned Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as the governor of River State.

All good meaning Nigerians should join political

parties of their choices in order to start making changes right from the

grassroots. The problem is not with the parties but with the members. We should

join with the intentions to be agents of change, to make a difference and to

serve in any capacity possible. It is just ridiculous that all the people who

really know how to run the country are busy doing other things or building

other nations! We have left the nation for too long in the hands of

middle-of-the-road politicians and marauders whose roadside politics is all

about personal interest, looting and no result. If good people ignore politics,

bad people will continue to take advantage (as we have now) to make bad laws,

bad budgets, bad government and bad system for good people.

Separation of Powers

Separation of Powers is a key characteristic of a

liberal democracy, whereby the government has an inherent control system to

ensure that no arm of it is able to abuse power. Under this model, the

government is divided into three branches with separate and independent powers,

as well as pre-defined areas of responsibility.

This political arrangement creates a division of the

legislative, executive, and judicial functions of the government among separate

and independent bodies. Such separation limits the possibility of arbitrary

excesses by government, since the sanction of all three branches is required

for the making, executing, and administering of laws.

The Separation of Powers creates checks and balances,

which allows for a system-based regulation that allows one branch to checkmate

another. This is manifested in the power of the Legislature to alter the

composition and jurisdiction of the federal courts, or the judiciary ruling

that a law is unconstitutional.

Separation of Powers in Nigeria

Unfortunately, the Judiciary and the Legislative arm

cannot be said to be independent of the Executive in the Nigerian system.

Events have shown that the executive mostly wields overwhelming influence on

the other arms of the government. As long as the executive determines the

welfare packages of the other arms of government, this trend will continue to

be so.

Legislative

This is an arm of government that is solely

responsible for law making. Legislatures may be unicameral or bicameral. At the

federal level in Nigeria,

we have a bicameral legislature (the Senate and the House of Representatives),

while at the state levels; we have the unicameral legislature (the State

Assemblies). Their powers include writing and passing laws, enacting taxes,

authorising borrowing, declaring wars, establishing government’s budgets,

confirming executive appointments, ratifying treaties, investigating the

executive branch, impeaching and removing from office, members of the Executive

and Judiciary, in addition to redressing constituents’ grievances. Members are

elected directly from constituencies representing an entire population.

In a Presidential system like ours, the Executive and

Legislative branches are clearly separated; but in the Parliamentary system,

members of the Executive branch are chosen from the legislative

membership.

The Legislature in Nigeria

Section 4 of the Nigerian constitution states as

follows:

4. (1) The Legislative powers of the Federal Republic of

Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation, which shall

consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

(2) The National Assembly shall have the power to make

laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part

thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List

set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.

(3) The power of the National Assembly to make laws

for the peace, order and good government of the Federation with respect to any

matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List shall, save as otherwise

provided in this Constitution, be to the exclusion of the Houses of Assembly of

States.

(4) In addition and without prejudice to the powers

conferred by subsection (2) of this section, the National Assembly shall have

power to make laws with respect to the following matters, that is to say:-

(a) Any matter in the Concurrent Legislative List set

out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution

to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto; and

(b) Any other matter with respect to which it is

empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

(5) If any Law enacted by the House of Assembly of a

State is inconsistent with any law validly made by the National Assembly, the

law made by the National Assembly shall prevail, and that other Law shall, to

the extent of the inconsistency, be void.

(6) The Legislative powers of a State of the

Federation shall be vested in the House of Assembly of the State.

(7) The House of Assembly of a State shall have power

to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State or any part

thereof with respect to the following matters, that is to say:-

(a) Any matter not included in the Exclusive

Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.

(b) any matter included in the Concurrent Legislative

List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this

Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto;

and

(c) Any other matter with respect to which it is

empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

(8) Save as otherwise provided by this Constitution,

the exercise of Legislative powers by the National Assembly or by a House of

Assembly shall be subject to the jurisdiction of courts of law and of judicial

tribunals established by law, and accordingly, the National Assembly or a House

of Assembly shall not enact any law, that ousts or purports to oust the

jurisdiction of a court of law or of a judicial tribunal established by law.

(9) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this

section, the National Assembly or a House of Assembly shall not, in relation to

any criminal offence whatsoever, have power to make any law which shall have

retrospective effect.

Executive

This is a branch of government charged with executing

or carrying out the laws and appointing officials, formulating and instituting

foreign policies, and providing diplomatic representation. The Executive is

vested with the power to spend funds allocated for certain purposes, as in the

budget, and may veto laws and grant pardon to convicted criminals. This arm of

government wages war at the direction of the legislative because it peculiarly

derives its instrumentality from it. The Executive is usually empowered to make

decrees or declaration such as declaring a state of emergency or promulgating

lawful regulations and executive orders. In an ideal situation, a system of

checks and balances keeps the powers of the Executive more or less equal to

that of the Judiciary and the Legislature.

The Executive power is vested on the President to

preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the laws of the country. The

principal responsibility of the President is to ensure that laws made

Legislative arm are faithfully executed. The Constitution does not require the

President to personally enforce the law; rather, officers subordinate to the

President may be appointed to perform such duties. The President’s

responsibility is to execute whatever instructions he is given by the law

making arm.

As a check and balance, the President can exercise a

check over the Legislature through his power to veto bills; but legislators may

override any veto by a two-thirds majority in the Senate and House of

Representatives. When the two houses cannot agree on a date for adjournment,

the President may settle the dispute. Either House or both may be called into

an emergency session by the President.

The President, as noted above, appoints judges with

the Senate’s consent. He also has the power to issue pardons and reprieves or

amnesties as we have it in the Niger Delta. Such pardons are not subject to

approval by either the House of Representatives or the Senate, or even by the

recipient.

The President is the civilian Commander-in-Chief of

the Armed Forces. However, it is the Legislature that has the power to raise,

fund and maintain the armed forces, and to prescribe the laws and regulations

under which the armed forces operate. The legislature also has the sole power

to declare war, and requires that all Generals appointed by the President be

confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate before they can assume their

offices.

The Executive in Nigeria

Section 5 of the Nigerian Constitution states as

follows:

5. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the

executive powers of the Federation:

(a) Shall be vested in the President and may subject

as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be

exercised by him either directly or through the Vice-President and Ministers of

the Government of the Federation or officers in the public service of the

Federation; and

(b) Shall extend to the execution and maintenance of

this Constitution, all laws made by the National Assembly and to all matters

with respect to which the National Assembly has, for the time being, power to

make laws.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution,

the executive powers of a State:

(a) Shall be vested in the Governor of that State and

may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any Law made by a House of

Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Deputy Governor

and Commissioners of the Government of that State or officers in the public

service of the State; and

(b) Shall extend to the execution and maintenance of

this Constitution, all laws made by the House of Assembly of the State and to

all matters with respect to which the House of Assembly has for the time being

power to make laws.

(3) The executive powers vested in a State under

subsection (2) of this section shall be so exercised as not to:-

(a) Impede or prejudice the exercise of the executive

powers of the Federation;

(b) Endanger any asset or investment of the Government

of the Federation in that State; or

(c) Endanger the continuance of a Federal Government

in Nigeria.

(4) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this

section:-

(a) The President shall not declare a state of war

between the Federation and another country except with the sanction of a

resolution of both Houses of the National Assembly, sitting in a joint session;

and

(b) Except with the prior approval of the Senate, no

member of the armed forces of the Federation shall be deployed on combat duty

outside Nigeria.

(5) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (4)

of this section, the President, in consultation with the National Defence

Council, may deploy members of the armed forces of the Federation on a limited

combat duty outside Nigeria if he is satisfied that the national security is

under imminent threat or danger:

Provided that the President shall, within seven days

of actual combat engagement, seek the consent of the Senate and the Senate

shall thereafter give or refuse the said consent within 14 days.

Judiciary

This is the branch of government tasked with the

authoritative adjudication of controversies over the application of laws in

specific situations. This power to decide cases and controversies is vested in

the Supreme Court and lower courts established by the laws made by the

legislature. The judges are appointed by the Executive with the approval of the

Legislature, and can be removed by the legislature through impeachment

proceedings. In the course of its duty and power, the Judiciary does the

following:

·

Determines which laws the legislature intends to apply

to any given case

·

Determines whether a law is unconstitutional

·

Determines how the legislature applies the law to

disputes

·

Determines how laws should be interpreted to assure

uniform policies in a top-down fashion via the appeals process, but gives

discretion in individual cases to low-level judges. (The amount of discretion

depends upon the standard of review, determined by the type of case in

question).

·

It also polices its own members

As a check and balance, Supreme Court decisions are

laws binding across the nation. The power to review the constitutionality of

laws may be limited by the Legislature, which has the power to set the

jurisdiction of the courts. The only constitutional limit on the legislature’s

power to set the jurisdiction of the Judiciary relates to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court may exercise only appellate jurisdiction except in cases

involving states, foreign ambassadors, ministers or consuls.

The Judiciary in Nigeria

6. (1) The judicial powers of the federation shall be

vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established

for the federation.

(2) The judicial powers of a state shall be vested in

the courts to which this section relates, being courts established, subject as

provided by this constitution, for a state.

(3) The courts to which this section relates,

established by this constitution for the federation and for the states,

specified in subsection (5) (a) to (1) of this section, shall be the only

superior courts of record in Nigeria; and save as otherwise prescribed by the

National Assembly or by the House of Assembly of a State, each court shall have

all the powers of a superior court of record.

(4) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this

section shall be construed as precluding:-

(a) The National Assembly or any House of Assembly

from establishing courts, other than those to which this section relates, with

subordinate jurisdiction to that of a high court;

(b) The National Assembly or any House of Assembly,

which does not require it, from abolishing any court which it has power to

establish or which it has brought into being.

(5) This section relates to:-

(a) The Supreme Court of Nigeria;

(b) The Court of Appeal;

(c) The Federal High Court;

(d) The High Court of the Federal

Capital Territory,

Abuja;

(e) A High Court of a State

(f) The Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital

Territory, Abuja;

(g) A Sharia Court of Appeal of a State;

(h) The Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital

Territory, Abuja;

(i) A Customary Court of Appeal of a State;

(j) such other courts as may be authorised by law to

exercise jurisdiction on matters with respect to which the National Assembly

may make laws; and

(k) Such other court as may be authorised by law to

exercise jurisdiction at first instance or on appeal on matters with respect to

which a House of Assembly may make laws.

(6) The judicial powers vested in accordance with the

foregoing provisions of this section:

(a) Shall extend, notwithstanding anything to the

contrary in this Constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court

of law

(b) Shall extend, to all matters between persons, or

between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and

proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the

civil rights and obligations of that person;

(c) Shall not except as otherwise provided by this

Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission

by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is

in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State

Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution;

(d) Shall not, as from the date when this section

comes into force, extend to any action or proceedings relating to any existing

law made on or after 15th January, 1966 for determining any issue or question

as to the competence of any authority or person to make any such law.

Role of Education

Change will come when we know true democracy and keep

ourselves informed. We have to encourage our families, friends and neighbours

to populate the educated camp till the ignorant camp is totally deserted. An

individual’s commitment to group effort is what makes it work. It makes a team,

society, civilization work and a change possible. Now is the time for all good

people of our great nation to come to the aid of our flawed democracy.

Education is all we need for this revolution.

Every great change begins with a dream. We have dreamt

dreams and we all have to always remember that we have within us the required ingredients

to reach for the stars and change the world. We have the strength and the

passion which are God-given; we only need to activate them!

“Change is the law of life. And

those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” (J.F Kennedy).

Change neither comes from the East or the West nor

from the North or the South. It comes from you and I. We are the real CHANGE

that Nigeria

needs right now. It’s our moment to make this country a better place than we

met it.

We have to work together to confront the problems

confronting us as a people in order to save the nation of our fathers for the

sake of our children.

“An extra-ordinary change does not require any

extra-ordinary effort of one but the ordinary effort of all” – OteniyaRK

I have chosen to be among those who would be rightly

judged by posterity. What about you?

God bless Nigeria!

Nigeria go better!

Written by
Rufus Kayode Oteniya
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