The current onslaught is just one of the many times that the National Assembly is coming under attack from interest groups, institutions, and non- governmental bodies. The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, in the company of leaders of other affiliate unions went to the National Assembly complex last week to protest against the national minimum wage bill. Labour says the bill is against the interest of Nigerian workers, and the country’s labour unions are battle ready for a nationwide strike over it if necessary.
In recent years, the National Assembly has been accused of either focusing mostly on misplaced priorities or proffering quick fixes to problems that requires lasting solutions. At times, they are seen playing to the gallery by distracting the nation. A clear example is when they raved up imaginary battles against the country’s service chiefs and other frontline players in the fight against insecurity.
The persistent assaults and blames on the National Assembly over the years, more than any of the three organs of government at the federal level, have put the relevance and duties of the two legislative chambers under public scrutiny, especially the operation of their oversight functions as enshrined in the nation’s constitution. Could they be hidden distractions affecting the focus and impact of lawmakers at the federal level?
Good governance in every clime is characterized by participation, rule of law, responsiveness, equity, inclusiveness, effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability.
In the discharge of its constitutional functions, the NASS usually conducts some of their legislative business more effectively through committees and subcommittees.
There are currently 57 standing committees in the Nigerian Senate, while the House of Representatives currently has 89 standing committees.
Seven of the committees comprising Petroleum (Upstream); Public Accounts; Gas Resources, Aviation, Local and Foreign Debts, Sports, Youths and Development are referred to as the ‘juicy’ seven.
At the start of the Eighth Assembly, a panel ranked all committees as Grade A, “juicy”, Grade B, “dry land” and Grade C “Siberia” to support the distribution of committee positions. The “juicy” or “Grade A” committees, listed earlier, are considered the most lucrative and have oversight over Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with high budgets as well as the committee on FCT, Abuja because of access to land entitlements.
Pundits have argued that access to these top MDAs provides lawmakers with the opportunity to enrich themselves, while the gradual expansion of the committee system since inception allows the NASS leadership to retain sufficient support of the members.
It will be recalled that the current Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and 8th NASS Senator, Godswill Akpabio, few months ago, claimed that most contracts from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were awarded to National Assembly members.
The push for personal gains in the National Assembly has dragged good governance to the background as actual implementation of contracts are poorly monitored with reports of corruption spilling out into the media. Other distracting benefits to the lawmakers include the allocation of civil service job slots to National Assembly members, getting their projects into the budget, among others.
Finding has shown that each Senator or House of Representative member belongs to about five Committees or more. This has impacted negatively on their performance as they are confronted with the problem of insufficient time to be active in all the committees.
Analysts are of the view that, apart from being overstretched, the performances of oversight functions of lawmakers in these committees, are affected by several other limiting factors like lack of adequate statutory funding, absenteeism and dearth of expertise on the part of legislators and clerks.
Investigation also indicate many organisations have severally shunned committee’s summons to appear at investigative hearing because so many lawmakers and committee members have been compromised.
Another salient issue stems from the fact that lack of funds for oversight duties leaves lawmakers vulnerable to the influences of agencies and departments that might want to fill the vacuum by providing the necessary funds to take care of accommodation, transport bills, and other logistic needs of the lawmakers.
One latent drawback in quality legislation in the country, is the discovery that some lawmakers are known to promote bills simply to serve the function of gaining media attention without actual commitment to the full legislative processes that should follow. According to NASS Legal Advisor, “Many legislators propose bills, but only for first reading, when the media picks it up, you hardly see them pushing their bill to second reading”.
The implication of most of these shortcomings, is that debates on bills, either at the plenary or committee levels, are not subjected to thorough scrutiny that can bring the best for the citizens who are the main beneficiaries of such bills when they finally become laws.
The inevitable conclusion about legislative oversight functions in the country is that that the legislature has not really lived up to the expectations of Nigerians in terms of making laws that will guarantee good governance.
From revelations so far, many legislators have not demonstrated enough patriotism for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy, since majority of them are driven more by selfish passion for wealth accumulation, than the patriotic desire of leaving lasting legislative legacies.
It is however heart-warming to put on record that despite the above limitations, some members of National Assembly has made remarkable strides in enacting laws that promote good governance in line with the principles of constitutional democracy.
Even with a remarkable number of success stories, the National Assembly and all its committees need manpower development and capacity building if democracy and good governance must grow in Nigeria.