As the 9th National Assembly is hopefully convened today, the task before it appears fairly cut out. Nigeria returned to democratic governance 20 years ago after a long spell of mixed military rule, which adversely affected the nation’s federal system.
The 1999 Constitution that the departing military bequeathed Nigeria is by far, more unitary that federal: while the Exclusive List reserved for the Federal Government for law making contains 63 items, the Concurrent List where the State Governments can legislate along with the Federal Government has only 14 items. There is no Residual List reserved for the States as federating units, which, in itself, is an aberration.
Since 1999 when the nation returned to democratic government and the 4th National Assembly was first proclaimed, various attempts have been made to amend the 1999 Constitution. Though these attempts started yielding some fruits as from 2007 with the scaling of the 1st amendment, only less consequential areas have so far been amended. Hardcore areas that will restore the basic characteristics of a federal system, such as financial autonomy for the State legislatures and their Judiciary as well as for local government councils, State Police, Fiscal federalism, Power , Rail, Ports, and most others, are yet to be passed into law.
It is self-evident that Nigeria is a federal environment and forcing the nation to remain a unitary system has proved counterproductive, and therefore a clog in our wheel of progress. Restructuring Nigeria to reflect this stark federal reality is a duty that must be performed by the 9th National Assembly, and State Assemblies which concurrent actions are also needed. The failure of the past Assemblies to achieve same stems from their failure to get all sections of the country to see the nation’s return to federalism as a win-win. Another cause of the failure was the refusal of state governors to allow their state assemblies concur such amendments especially when it would erode their sphere of influence and authority such as the granting of financial autonomy to local government councils. Federalism was the system bequeathed Nigerians by both Britain and our founding fathers.
Beyond any doubt, the way the country is structured at the moment has not offered much hope and has led to widespread protestations in many guises, including militancy, insurgency and terrorism. Further evidence is seen in growing unemployment rate in the country and the looming collapse of states which has led to about 27 States had to be bailed out thrice to pay salaries, and many States are still owing over 6 months’ salary and pensions arrears.
Security fault lines have been spreading with the growing impunity of armed bandits, kidnappers, herdsmen and more. The result is the nation’s military being stretched thin and having to stray from their traditional duties to perform police duties in as many as 30 States.
The 9th National Assembly therefore has to work assiduously to provide the legal frameworks that will enable the government to address these negative trends and wantonness to give the nation a new lease of life.
The fact that Nigeria has practiced democracy, however flawed, for 20 unbroken years, is, in itself, an unprecedented achievement. Democracy is work in progress. Nigerians must optimistically see the years ahead as years of promise. For these hopes and aspirations of Nigerians to be, the legislature must be up and doing.
The 8th National Assembly witnessed quite a bit of distraction, which Nigerians eagerly hope will not be the case this time around. Let there be rapprochement between the arms of government. Yes, arms of government are expected to be independent, yet, it does not in any way mean that they have to be at daggers drawn with one another just to prove that they are. The arms must be coordinate and cooperative to be able to deliver more dividends of democracy. A situation where so many Bills are rejected by the President after the tortuous efforts of passing them clearly shows lack of cooperation. This trend needs to change.
The 9th National Assembly therefore has the urgent task of binding and healing the nation’s wounds and restoring hope and dignity to our embattled nation. Equity and social justice is crucially needed for building the Nigeria of our dream, the Nigeria where no citizen or section will feel left behind or marginalized.
The 9th National Assembly (NASS) should hit the ground running. Failure is no longer an option if we have to save and stabilize our nation.
To achieve these noble expectations, the National Assembly needs the cooperation of all Nigerians and institutions as well as stakeholders. For instance, it is appalling and unpatriotic for citizens to ignore making their inputs to the legislative process especially when they are invited to do so or when the need arises, whether they are invited or not.
It is also the expectation of The AUTHORITY Newspaper that the lawmakers themselves will also do some serious self-appraisal and attend to some areas of the operations of the National Assembly which have generated grave concern for the citizens and the nation.
One of such areas is the issue of lawmakers earning abnormally high salary and allowances. Another is the issue of absenteeism from plenary and committee sittings. To whom much salary/allowances are paid, much work/responsibility is also expected from.
We also appeal to the 9th NASS to take the issue of oversight more serious as that helps to enforce disciple in the running of all aspects of the Federal Government and reduce corruption and misapplication of public funds and government policies. We must also advise that in carrying out their oversight function, the activities of the lawmakers must not be tainted with corruption as had been alleged in the past.
Finally, we remind the 9th NASS that it is the heartbeat of Democracy. It must defend Democracy and nurture it, resisting political threats and financial inducement from any quarter because as has been said before, Democracy remains the best form of Government.