While idling away in the hallow chambers of the National Assembly without a robust action plan for the good of the country, suddenly, an idea was mooted and hurriedly endorsed to review the 1999 Constitution at least if not for anything, the attached allowances were mouth watering enough to embark on the exercise and for cheap political diversion of public attention from several failures.
The National Assembly is a body of the people’s representatives elected from different federal constituencies and senatorial districts to represent and protect the interests and aspirations of the people for their common good, and for the good of the country. In a federal system of government, the legislature is usually part of the government at the federal and state levels. In Nigeria, we refer to the legislature at the federal level as the National Assembly, which consists of the Senate (Red Chamber) and the House of Representatives (Green Chamber). Both are bi-cameral. At the state level, there is the House of Assembly. Though they vary in scope, their constitutional functions are same.
The legislature is one arm of government which its responsibility matters a lot in any given democracy. This underscores why it is called the bastion or pillar of democracy. Hence, when it is not robust or living up to its billing, it is reflected in governance or service delivery as evident in several federal constituencies across the country.
For either lack of understanding the essence of constituency projects to the living standards of the people or for greed, most constituency projects inserted in budgets are diverted or monetized by thieving lawmakers. In few places where they exist, they were shabbily executed by contracting firms owned by the lawmakers.
In Nigeria, though federalism is defective, the 1999 constitution assigned defined powers in the federal, state and local governments. These powers (exclusive, concurrent and residual lists) define what each of the levels of government can legislate on.
Just as its primary function of lawmaking stipulates, amendment of the constitution of the country is one responsibility assigned to the legislature by the ground norm of the land. It is a joint responsibility of the National Assembly and the States Houses of Assembly. However, the process is started and pushed by the National Assembly. The Houses of Assembly come in the later states for 2/3 concurrence of what the Senate and House of Representatives have articulated and passed. This leads us to the kernel of this discourse which is the opportunities the lawmakers at the National Assembly fail to utilize or what they failed to do during the zonal public hearings on the claimed review of the 1999 constitution.
Lawmaking involves roughly eight stages from my understanding that can be faulted with superior facts to strengthen the records. Each of the eight stages expects certain action. These stages were put in place in order to ensure that a law is implementable and also not draconian and repressive. This informs the stage that demands an input from the people—the public hearing. The crafters of the process understood the imperative of having the input of the people or taking cognizance of their interests and sentiments on any given law being made for their benefit.
According to the senate ad-hoc committee on constitution review, the zonal hearing was held before the national public hearing because the senate wanted to adopt a bottom-top approach by first listening to Nigerians at the geo-political level and knowing their yearnings. It was an opportunity to bring the amendment process closer to the people to be able to feel the pulse of a wide range of Nigerians and capture their views on the constitution. That platform came, but how it was optimized to achieve the aim of the committee is a different story to tell. Though, some Nigerians actively participated by submitting memoranda within the given limited duration of only two days, four days cumulatively, but was that duration good enough for the envisaged success of the exercise? This portrayed the first case of insincerity associated with the exercise.
The zonal public hearing might have succeeded or failed depending on the genuine intention of the National Assembly and one’s standard of rating. However, the primary concern is the contribution of individual lawmakers to the success or otherwise of the exercise in pursuance to their lawmaking mandate. What and how did the lawmakers discharge their constitutionally assigned responsibilities to Nigerians during the exercise across the six geo-political zones of the country? Given that the public hearing wasn’t sudden, even if it was, how many of the federal lawmakers considered their primary roles of appropriations, lawmaking, representation, oversight and consent to high level appointments in their approach to the public hearing?
The public hearing was an opportunity for the lawmakers to visit their constituencies and get them prepared for the exercise that was not done. As the people saddled with the responsibility of lawmaking, and representation, how many of them returned to their constituencies; held town hall meetings to articulate the sentiments and general interests of their constituents for onward transmission as part of their memoranda? How many of those lawmakers mobilized their constituents, and other different interest groups to take part in the public hearing? How many of them sponsored public announcement, enlightenment and awareness programmes on radio, television and the newspapers or in traditional mode of communication about the importance of the exercise?
How many of them deemed it necessary to consult traditional institutions, professional bodies and other civil society groups for the success of the exercise? How many of those lawmakers had a parley with the youths, women and elders in their constituencies to articulate their views in form of memoranda and presentations? How many of them volunteered to sponsor the writing of memoranda for the people who have good ideas, but cannot author, a well articulated memoranda? How many of them organized seminars to guide the people on how to write, submit and defend memoranda? These are some of the actions that any lawmaker that knows his onions was expected to take before rushing to listen to the public unless for a hatchet plan.
I don’t know any lawmaker who consulted properly with his constituents and applied the necessary legislative steps before the zonal public hearing. For the public hearing in Bauchi and Plateau States that I monitored, I never heard or witnessed any town hall meeting those lawmakers organized with their constituents, let alone mobilization. These are the same lawmakers that traverse the length and breadth of their constituencies hunting for votes and deploying all the known deceitful mechanisms including offering bribes for votes and mouth watering promises in elected. They are the same lawmakers that shout blue murder and accuse the government of either incompetence or depriving the national assembly adequate finance. They are now latching on the inadequacies of the 1999 constitution to marginalize the very people that labored to vote them. They don’t fail to use every available platform to talk about how defective the 1999 constitution is, but failed to seize an opportunity to meaningfully address fundamentals that determine the fate of other variables. So, what did the lawmakers present in their memoranda at the public hearing? How did they galvanize them? Perhaps, they went to the public hearing and presented memoranda on issues of personal interest prepared by hirelings irrespective of whether their constituents would have preferred a brand –new constitution other than an amendment of the operational one. Perhaps, it doesn’t matter to them from all indications. That is where we got it wrong as a country relying on incapacitated and unqualified lawmakers.
The other day, I was confused, bemused, shocked and regretted having Femi Gbajabiamila imposed as Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives after reading his sermon on how badly the 1999 constitution fell short of standard. The speaker said Nigeria needs a constitution that is supposed to set the terms of the nationhood and define the manner that reflects her common truths and highest aspirations, which the 1999 constitution fell short of that. He delivered the sermon on Tuesday, June 1, in Lagos at the House of Representatives Public Hearing on the review of the 1999 constitution. Femi spoke gloriously well as a lawyer, but it quickly reminded me of how easily pontificate, talkj and shy away from doing the needful at the right time when it matters most.
I was confused and shocked by the sermon because it exposed the insincerity in Femi or incapacitation for just realizing how defective the 1999 constitution is and the urgency now to evolve a befitting constitution for Nigeria whereas he has been in that House of Representatives since 2003. It means he was either insincere in his sermon or pretended all along with a defective constitution. Femi is a typical crude Nigerian politician that can go extra mile to attempt to deceive even the dead.
Honestly, it’s time for those lawmakers to understand what it means to represent people. They should be told in the language they may understand that they were not elected to be canvassing and lobbying for constituency projects and politically motivated ‘philanthropy’; rather they are in parliament to be the representatives of the people on promise which is sacrosanct. They were elected from a constituency to capture the yearnings of their constituents irrespective of party differences, protect and advance their interests, hence the need for constant meetings and interactions with them.
Representation does not entail divide and rule, imposition of favored stooges on the people or application of primitive deceitful mechanisms on the psyche of the ignorant. I discovered of late that most of our national lawmakers are poorly exposed with poor education and absence of human relationship. They rely more on dictations from their impoverished like minds stationed in the rural areas. We should be bold enough to tell our lawmakers that we know it better and can perform better with the opportunity. Let them stop the game of deceit for foolery!
Constitutional Review: An Exercise in Futility, a Conduit Pipe – By Sanusi Muhammad