The importance of legislation to the development of any nation cannot be overemphasised. Hon. Bimbo Daramola, a lawmaker representing Ekiti North (1) Federal Constituency made this point very clear when he stated that the only thing that can defend Nigeria corporately is the firmness of the law.
In fact, he noted that strong legal foundation helps to build very strong and enduring institutions.
It is indeed the basis for driving national development; hence bills are in most cases sponsored by the executive. Besides, members of the legislature also sponsor private bills, which may originate from discerning members of the public.
So far there are 310 bills pending in the house from 2011 till date, while only 24 have been passed into law. Topping the list is Terrorism Prevention Act 2011, Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011, Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Law, 2011 by Sen. Domingo Obende, Occupational Safety and Health Law 2011 by Sen. Chris Anyanwu and Institute of Registered Safety Professional Law 2011 sponsored by Sen. Wilson Ake among others.
While some of these bills have become law, others are either pending or have been outrightly rejected on the floor of the House. There are some okayed by both houses but end up being killed as they travel through the state houses of assembly. One of these unfortunate bills is the House of Assembly autonomy bill, an amendment that would give all the state houses of assembly autonomy to carry out their oversight functions on the executive without fear or favour. That law could have placed lawmakers at state level at par with their Lagos State counterparts, who now have full autonomy. But this was not to be. The state lawmakers turned down the offer for freedom to their detriment and that of the nation. It is perhaps for this reason that the former Secretary General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG), Mr. Ovie Kokori, says that lawmakers across the states are failing because they have become nothing but mere kitchen girls for the governors.
“I think that one of the problems we have today is the legislature, especially the state legislatures. I call them the kitchen girls of the governors, they are supposed to be a forum for checks and balances on the executives, not just to be the concur members of the executives. So they have not done to the satisfaction of Nigerians”, he said.
Chairman, Board of Trustees, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Mr Emeka Umeagbalasi attributes this development to parliamentary quackery.
“In standard law-making chambers, there is competition among lawmakers to try to outshine one another in legislative intellectualism. Unfortunately, what we have in Nigeria is competition over legislative materialism. An average internationally rated lawmaker operates a world-class legislative library and laboratory, which serves not only as a rich resource for private and public-oriented civil and criminal inquiries, but also national interest, public security, safety and foreign policy formulation resource centre. The art of modern law-making requires being a thinker and virile agent of social change. The floor of a universal legislative chamber is composed of ‘Amicus Curiae’ or a team of experts vast in natural and social science disciplines, egg-heads in the Bench, Bar, criminology, security, medicine, pharmacy, sociology, theology, politics, diplomacy, environmental safety, and human rights”, he explained.
A constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Joshua Wugira attributes this failure to the process that led to their emergence. According to him, most of the lawmakers secured victory through political godfathers and are consequently devoted to serving their benefactors, which are in most cases the governor rather than the people. “Some of the members of the House of Assembly are failing in their responsibilities because they are representing certain interests and not the people,” he said. Experts are saying that these interests, which worked against the State Houses of Assembly Autonomy Bill, may also work against the Local Government Autonomy Bill, since all the state governors are against it.
For Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), the Anambra State House of Assembly is populated by toothless bulldogs: “All the lawmakers in the House don’t have the mind of their own. They are under the control of their political godfathers and the state governor, Mr Peter Obi.”
Ngige explained that the lawmakers only do the bidding of the governor, stressing that the situation is not peculiar to Anambra. For him, the financial autonomy sought for state assemblies in past constitution amendment processes failed because the proposal did not get two-thirds support from members of the state legislatures across the country due to the influence of the governors on the lawmakers.
He explained that what should be a source of worry to members of the public is not the conference of both houses where the issue of the LG autonomy will be resolved through votes.
“When we go for conference, those who voted in favour of it will still vote again, including those who voted in the Senate. We are all determined. There is no way it will not scale through in the NASS. The problem of the local government autonomy cannot come from the NASS. You know that amending the constitution is a rigorous process. From the NASS it will go to the 36 State Houses of Assembly. And you will have not less than 24 Houses to pass it for it to scale through. This means you have to get 24 states minimum, for it to become law, otherwise, it will die. That is where the problem is.
He argued that at the outset of the constitutional amendment financial autonomy was granted to the state Houses of Assembly nationwide.
“It went to them to ratify or concur, but they turned it down. They want the governors to be giving them their money. It is like somebody you said, Ok, let me give you money and he says no, give me my money through my father and let him be giving it to me. Have you ever heard of that? We make noise today in Abuja because the President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, does not control our money. Our money is first charge, given to us as it is given to the Executive, directly. That is why we are independent of the executive that is why we can stand our ground.
“But the state assemblies are being controlled. If you make noise, they starve you of funds and you just suffocate? Let me tell you, my late father, when I was in Secondary School, if he gives me my school fees I will be grumbling that it is not enough, he will say, if you like, you go; if you like don’t go, I have done my bit. So, I am borrowing from him. We have done our bit on our own side”, he noted. The lawmakers contended that for heading the calls of the people and voting for local government autonomy, members of the National Union of Local Government Employee (NULGE) in Isiala Ngwa paid him a courtesy call and thanked him for voting according to their dictates.
“I said, fine, you have always crossed this snake, you have not killed it. The major task lies ahead in the state Assemblies. Let your local branch, either state or the local government arms, move in and talk to them. Go and plead with them, ask them to vote for it. If they don’t vote for it, all that we did in Abuja will be rubbished.
“So, that is where the work has to be done now. We cannot come down from Abuja to pressurise them. Most of them are attached to their governors and they can’t do much. Let them not be sycophantic in terms of pleasing their Oga (Governors) and the people will suffer in the name of being good boys to the governor. The governor will come and go after his tenure but the local government autonomy is futuristic. The law will be there till it is amended. It is not targeted at any particular person, group or state; no. So, that is the area that the major work has to be done; the state assemblies, getting not less than 24 states assenting, concurring with the NASS,” he said.
For now, the battle to give autonomy to the local government is still a long way since the governors have vowed never to let it happen given the enormous resources at their disposal and their determination to make sure it does not happen.