THE OF LEGISLATURE ON DEMOCRATIC SUSTAINANCE IN NIGERIA (A CASE STUDY OF NASARAWA STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY LAFIA)
In virtually all democratic systems, there are three basic institutions or arms of government. These include: the Executive, the Judiciary, and the Legislature.
For stability and ultimately good governance to be achieved, some degree of co-operation and understanding amongst these three arms is expected. The executive arm is commonly referred to as the body that executes the policies of government. The judicial arm, on the other hand, is seen as a body that interprets the law. On its part, the legislative arm is charged with the basic responsibilities of makinglaws.
Law-making is not a new concept in Nigeria. It has always been an integral part of administration, even in the pre-colonial Nigerian societies. According to Coleman (1986:41) prior to the creation of the present state of Nigeria, through the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 by Lord Lugard, there were large state structures with well-developed and organized systems of administration. We had, for instance, the Borno Empire, the Bini Kingdom, and the Oyo Empire, among others. Even in the stateless societies of Igede, (Omenka, 2002: Okpaga, 2000) Tiv (Ahire, 1993; Hembe, 2001 and Makar 1994) and Igbo land (Ibezim, 1985), there existed well-defined institutions for the administration of the communities.
In Igede land, for example, the Council of Elders, ‘Igabo’ was the highest decision making body (Omenka:2002). The various age grades, ‘ikpa,’ on the other hand saw to the day to day running of the affairs of the community in terms of execution of projects and enforcement of decisions taken by the Council of Elders. In the Sokoto Caliphate (Oladosu, 1980; Ibezim, 1985 and Coleman, 1986), and Oyo Empire, administration was centralized in the monarchy (Best, 1998). The emirs, Shehus, Obas and Alafins, were the custodians of Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers, even though history recorded a system of checks and balances, especially in the old Oyo Empire. In Igbo land, (Ibezim, 1985:50) the pivotal political institution was the Assembly of the people. The Assembly may be constituted at the level of the village, town or clan. It was usually open to all adults and it took decisions of general interest which were binding on the entire community. In the pre-colonial Sokoto Caliphate system, on the other hand, Best (1998:3) pointed out that the legislative functions were performed by the Emir, in session with the Waziri and other palace titleholders.
At the advent of the colonialist, these institutions were found very useful for the administration of the state through the indirect rule system of government. As Coleman, (1986:36) noted, British administration in Nigeria formally commenced in 1861, the year that Lagos was ceded to the Crown. At this time, the authority of the colony was vested in the Legislative Council. The Legislative Councils at this time consisted of the Governor, six officials (two Europeans and four Nigerians), and, its functions were limited to the confines of the colony of Lagosonly. Under the Clifford Constitution of 1922 how ever the authority of the council was extended to cover both the colony of Lagos and Southern Protectorate (Oladosu, 1980) In terms of powers and functions, the Legislative Council was charged with the responsibilities of making laws, with the approval of the Governor, for the colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria. It was equally expected to pass the financial estimates.
The McPherson Constitution of 1951 was by far the most significant effort at legislative development under the colonial era in Nigeria. It was this constitution that introduced a representative legislature whereby more than half of its members were elected in Nigeria. The constitution established a House of Representatives comprising a President appointed by the Governor, six Ex- Officio Members and 136 elected Representatives (Coleman 1986).
Even though it could be argued that the Legislative Councils under the various constitutions highlighted above were strictly advisory and could not hold the Governors responsible and accountable, they nevertheless epitomized the principle of election and representative government.
Nigeria thus by independence in 1960, had developed some semblance of democratic institutions. The Federal Legislature in the First Republic (1960- 1966) was known as the Parliament, comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives (Dudley, 1982).
At the regional level, there was a House of Chiefs and the House of Assembly. At both the federal and regional levels, the lower House comprised members, all of whom were elected while some candidates were nominated as Senators to the Upper Legislative Chamber.
The above structure of government in Nigeria was disrupted in 1966 following Military coups (Ibezin, 1985:105, Dudley, 1982:75, Jibo 1996:44). Under the successive military administration in Nigeria, the Legislative and Executive bodies were made up of members who were appointed rather than elected, and their powers were fused. At the Federal level, for instance membership of the highest law-making body, the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and later Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), was not based on the principle of election and representative government. The Head of State was the Chairman of the Council and some members of the Executive Council (Ministers) doubled up as members of the legislative body—the Supreme Military Council, or Armed Forces Ruling Council (Akintayo, 1999:27; Trevor Clark, 1991:806).
In 1979, the structure of government in Nigeria was again changed significantly, particularly in respect of the Legislature and Executive (Ojigbo, 1980:276). The 1979 Constitution vested the Legislative powers of the Federation on the National Assembly, which were bicameral i.e. the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the States, the House of Chiefs as constituted during the First Republic was abolished thereby introducing a unicameral legislature. The House of Assembly of a State was vested with the power to legislate for the State. The constitution also provided for two legislative lists (the exclusive and concurrent lists).
The 1999 constitution mirrors the 1979 constitution in most respects. Section 4 (1) provides for the legislative power of the Federation which is vested in the National Assembly consisting of the Senate and the House of Representative with the exclusive legislative authority over certain items listed in part 1, Second Schedule of the Constitution. Section 90 maintained a unicameral Legislature (the House of Assembly) for each of the state of the federation. The legislative powers in respect of the items on the concurrent list are spelt out in part ll, Second schedule of the constitution. Section 4 (5) preserves the superiority of the National Assembly over the House of Assembly, in respect of matters on the Concurrent list. A notable provision concerning the legislature under the 1999 Constitution, however, is the provision of section 69 and 110. This is the power of the electorate to RECALL a representative in any of the legislative houses. This innovation, as lmhanobe (2001) observed was enshrined “to ensure accountability, genuine representative government and good governance”. This precisely raises a fundamental question: since the traditional role of the legislature is to make law, how does the law made translate to good government and socio-economic development? Is the legislature just simply a law making body, or does it has other functions to perform? For instance, does it have any oversight function? That is, is it a mouthpiece, a watchdog or the voice of the electorate, which ensures that public fund is well-managed, public amenities, are evenly distributed and wrongs are redressed? Or is it an obstacle to socio-economic development? These questions becomes pertinent when it is realized that as representatives of the people, it is the duty of legislators to ensure that their roles transcend mere routine of law-making to include that of enhancing rapid socio-economic development by attracting constituency project ssuch as industries,roads,hospitals, amongothers. Whether the legislators in Nasarawa State have been able to achieve these or not is what this work is set out tofind.
The stated aim of government all over the world is to achieve or accomplish good governance. By good governance, we imply the delivery of goods and services to the people. It also entails the maintenance of law and order in the society. Compared to the experience of other types of government (Military regimes, for instance) goods and services are better delivered under a democratic dispensation in which checks and balances between the different arms of government are ensured. In a democratic government where leaders are representative of the people, elected on a periodic basis, they try to ensure that the real benefits of democracy (both material and moral) are readily and consistently accruable to the citizenry.
In Nasarawa State, for instance, it is contended (Ukpoju, 2002; Jibo, 1993) that the processes of socio-economic development have been better enhanced under a democratic dispensation. The establishment of industries and institutions like the Taraku Mills, Otukpo Burnt Bricks, Nasarawa State University, Lafia, etc by the regimes of Governors Aper Aku and Moses Adasu between 1979-83 and 1991-93 respectively has been used as reference points.
Observers (Ayatse, 1995; Denga, 1995, Jibo, 1993: 159 – 168) of the pace of development in the State described these periods, in comparison to the era of military regimes, as the glorious periods of Nasarawa State. (Jibo, 1993; Tseayo, 1975). According to Jibo (1993:164) several Benue indigenes were appointed into key positions at the Federal level. Several reasons are advanced for this development. It is believed, for instance, that the laudable achievements recorded under civilian regimes were made possible because of checks and balances that existed between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government. As a major organ of government that is primarily responsible for law making, the Legislature, (Jibo, 2000; Tyoden, 1998) decides on major policy issues and checks the activities of the other arms of government. Through such a check, these other arms, especially the executive is constantly made to live up to the expectations of the people. (Anyaegbeunam, 2000; Akintayo,1999)
Against this backdrop, Nigerians were enthusiastic when in May 1999 a democratically elected government was enthroned. In Nasarawa State in particular, this enthusiasm was very high in view of the dismal performances of the various military regimes in the State, which culminated in the collapse of most industries and infrastructures set up by the civilian administration of Aper Aku and MosesAdasu.
Nasarawa State was created in 1976. Since its creation the state as we noted has witnessed intermittent changes in leadership between the military and civil authorities. Basically, the state is predominantly rural with the majority of its populace engaged in peasant agriculture. As at May 1999 when another democratically elected government was enthroned in the state, there was a total or near absence of basic amenities in most communities. Schools and health care delivery system were in a very dilapidated state. Most communities were not properly linked by good road net works. Electricity and portable (pipe-borne) water were not available. In communities where these amenities were available, the supply was epileptic. Even though the state is endowed with lots of solid mineral deposits such as Limestone, Coal, Barite, etc the level of industrial development was a sorry case (Denga, 1995). It was prevailing conditions such as these that became campaign issues during the electioneering campaign leading to the 1998 general elections in the state. (NewsWatch, 1998; TheVoice, 1998). These sorry conditions, expectedly pose a great challenge to the leaders of the state, particularly the state legislators who are not only the people’s closest representative in the government, but leaders who secured their mandates in the first place on the promise to address these poor conditions of living of the people. It is precisely the need to find out how, and whether, the political office holders, particularly the Legislators, in Nasarawa State have addressed these pressing issues that we have embarked on this study.
A common belief among Political Science scholars (Mill, 1958:230; Almond, 1970, Riggs, 1967, Oyovbaire, 1987), is that for liberty and freedom to be maintained, and to ensure justice and equity, there should be a separation of powers among the three branches of government, namely the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature. This system of government, it is argued, would provide a safeguard against the concentration of too much power in a single authority. While stressing that tyranny results when power of all the three branches of government are accumulated in the same hands Montesquieu, (1976:4) suggested that to preserve political liberty, the Constitution should ensure that the power of one branch of government should not be exercised by the same person(s) which possess the power of another branch.
This situation, he concluded, would be destructive to liberty.
This doctrine of separation of power is reflected in the Constitution of most countries of the world. For instance, in democratic countries, we often have constitutional provisions like;
all legislative powers should be vested in the legislature; the executive powers in the presidency, and all judicial powers in an independent judiciary (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, Part 11, Section 4,5 and 6).
In some system of government, however, especially those operating the Cabinet model like Great Britain, (Norton, and Hayward, 1986) it is impossible to achieve complete separation of powers as envisaged above because by definition, the Executive or the Cabinet consists of the leaders of the political party or coalitions which won the majority of seats in the Parliament. But even in this kind of political arrangement, the Cabinet is responsible to the Parliament and can, indeed, be voted out of office by the Parliament. This implies that some kind of difference between the Executive and the Legislature is recognized and maintained. Moreover, the Judicial branch is separated more distinctly and carefully from the more political branches (Executive and the Legislature) in order to ideally ensure the highest degree of judicial independence and impartiality.
The central idea of the concept of separation of power is that a government seeking to act despotically cannot pass laws arbitrarily, administer them recklessly and judge corruptly any opposition to them. Put differently, it is believed, theoretically, that no government that is popularly elected can afford to allocate state resources arbitrarily. The needs of the people, or the society at large, have to be recognized before programmes are devised to meet them. In other words, for proper allocation of state resources especially in developing countries like Nigeria where there are great inequalities in living conditions, and in opportunities, due recourse to the needs of the people must be taken into consideration. And such a practice is better realized when there is a clear demarcation of authority or functions between the three arms of government with each of the three arms serving as a check on the excesses of the other. Apart from serving as a check on the excesses of one another, it is expected that the three arms of government should equally work in tandem to implement socio-economic programmes that would improve the living standards of the people. To be adequately abreast with the needs and aspirations of a people, requires being very close to them. This, precisely, is where the legislator comes in. As Burke (1976:19)opined:
it is the legislators in any vibrant democracy that could be said to be the true representative of the people.
When compared with their counterparts in the executive, legislators represent more definite and smaller constituencies. While the Executive Governor of a State may have the whole State made up of several Local Government Areas (LGAs) as his constituency, a member of the State House of Assembly may have just one LGA or a section of the LGA as his constituency.
This makes interaction with the constituency easier and on a more frequent basis. Thus, he could feel the pulse of the people; determine their needs and aspirations better than his counter part in the executive arm with a wider constituency. In view of this development, legislators are looked upon, either individually or collectively, as agents for articulating, communicating or championing the demands of the governed in any democracy.
It should be noted that the virtue, spirit and essence of democracy are the extent to which policies and programmes reflect the needs of the people, or are relevant. And, a relevant programme is no doubt, that which operates within the prism of the law. Taking into consideration that it is the Legislature that enacts the law, and the Executive (or government) is expected to operate within the parameters of the law thus enacted, one can conclusively say that the Legislature in modern democracy is the soul and essence of thenation.
Perhaps it is for the above reason that Lijphart (1977:20) felt that:a government responsible to the Legislature becomes in the long run, a government responsible to the people and thereby a responsive government influenced by, the voice of the people.
It should be noted, however, that Legislatures are not just bodies that communicate or express the wishes of the people to the authorities. They also convey to the people certain policies and programmes of the government. Thus, they (that is the Legislatures) both express and represent. Performing these dual roles also places the legislature in a pivotal position to equally form, shape and, indeed, manipulates public opinion. In other words, the legislator as an individual, does not only express and represent, he organizes what Key Jr. (1961:433) describes as “chaotic publicwill”.
An ideal legislature, going by the above proposition, then is not simply a law making body. It is equally a watchdog, a mouthpiece or the voice of the electorate charged with the responsibilities of ensuring that public fund is well- managed, amenities evenly distributed and wrongs done are made right. As the eyes of the government too, it directs the attention of government to incidental cases for remedy in addition to passing down to the people, government polices and programmes.
Indeed, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (part 11, 4(1)) identified legislative powers to include “the power to make laws for the peace,Order and good governance of the federation or any part there of…”
Section 88 specifically empowered the Legislature to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into-the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, Ministry or government department… expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence.
The provision of these sections of the Constitution implies that the legislatures (both the National Assembly and States Houses of Assembly) have widespread powers to make laws and carry out such other necessary oversight duties to enhance the living standards of the people (Roberts, 2003; Akintayo, 1999). But the question is: what is the relationship between law-making by the Legislative Assemblies in Nigeria in general, and the general standard of living of the people? In other words, what is the direct output of the Legislative activities to the conditions of the people in developing countries of the world, particularly in Nigeria, which has witnessed intermittent disruption in democratic governance? Taking into consideration that for over forty years (1960- date) of Nigeria’s independence, the military have ruled for about thirty years (1966 – 79 and 1983 – 99) how has the legislative arm of government fared? This question is necessary in view of the fact that under the military experiment in Nigeria, the legislative function was for most part fused with the executive functions, a practice which in itself deserve investigation but which however is not the focus of this work.
Generally, what is the role of the legislature in the socio-economic development of a nation and a people? Put differently, with the return to democracy in Nigeria after a long period of military rule, has the legislature any vital role to play in terms of uplifting the lot of the ordinary Nigerian? Has it played this role effectively?
This study provides answers to these and other related questions by carefully reflecting on the country’s current and past political democratic experience. In doing this, the study tried as much as possible to avoid a mere recount of Nigeria’s recent history and politics. Instead, salient elements, which lend themselves to theoretical and empirical interpretation, were chosen in the knowledge that contemporary Nigeria politics revolve more or less around them.
Specifically, the study focused on the roles of the Nasarawa State Legislature in the socio-economic development of the State. It determined whether or not the legislature has passed necessary laws that enhance ‘good governance’ and aid socio-economic development of the state. Indeed, the study examined the extent to which the legislature has ‘direct or cause to be directed’ an investigation into the conduct of affairs of any person or government;expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of the state by the government of the day. Attempt was also made at identifying inhibiting factors to development in the state. Appropriate solutions were then proffered.
This study is guided by the following research questions
- What is the nature of legislative behaviour, processes, and organization in Nigeria in general, and in Nasarawa State in particular? Do they constitute a hindrance or catalyst for socio-economic development in thestate?
- What are the appropriate patterns of relation between the legislators and their constituencies, and how have these aided socio-economic development in the respective constituencies?
- How has the legislation passed by the Nasarawa State
House of Assembly impacted on the lives of the people of Nasarawa State? That is, to what extent is the level of socio-economic development in Nasarawa State dependent on the roles of the state legislators?
1.4.5 What lessons have been learnt from the roles of the legislature in Nasarawa State?
The main aims or objectives of this study are:
- Determine the extent to which the legislature could be a basic institution for the translation of the masses preferences like provision of basic health facilities, roads, employment, etc into public policy through appropriate legislation,etc.
- Explore, in depth, legislative behaviour, processes and organization in a poor agrarian State likeBenue.
- Provide enough exposition on the wider issues of democracy and good governance.
- Specifically determine whether the pace of socio-economic development in Nasarawa State can at any time be attributed to the roles of the legislature; and
- Recommend ways through which the activities of the legislature can be strengthened in order to obtain an enduring democracy in the country.
The decision to embark on this work was anchored on a number of factors. First and foremost is the fact that Nigeria, after a prolonged period of military rule became a democratic nation on May 29, 1999. Its government, at all levels, was revamped and revitalized through competitive elections to serve the peculiar needs of democracy. With the return of democracy, there is the need to carry out some reflections on the nation’s political experience. Naturally, a state like Benue, which as we pointed out in 1.2, is a poor agrarian community that has experimented with democracy at various times in the past, provides a good case study. The emphasis on the Legislative arm of government is borne out of the fact that the prolonged military rule has adversely affected its operations much more than any other arm of government. For instance, it experiences intermittent disruptions. Its operations are always suspended each time there is military intervention. The legislative processwas changed from the Parliamentary System during the First Republic (1960-1966) to Presidentialism in subsequent Republics (Coleman, 1986; Oyovbaire and Olagunju, 1996). This development complicated matters. While under the Parliamentary System a member of the Parliament could serve as a Cabinet Minister, the Presidential System does not permit such dual roles.
The confusion arising from these changes and from the constant punctuation of the legislative process is, without doubt, a cause for concern. This is more so as the Legislature which represents a core pillar of an enduring democracy is, according to Elaigwu (2000:1)
primarily responsible for law-making, deciding on major public policy issues, checking the activities of the executive and judicial arms of government.
It is in recognition of the importance of the legislature in the sustenance of a credible and dynamic democracy that we found it imperative to carry out a study on the role of the Legislature in the socio- economic development of Nasarawa State.
Specifically, the study is significant in the following ways:
- Cast more light on the nature and process of legislation particularly at the statelevel;
- Show how good government can be enhanced through effective legislation in ademocracy;
- Provide a basis for determining appropriate functions of the legislature such as oversight, representation and of course law-making among others;
- Specifying, in concrete terms, the concept of legislative-executive relations. To this end, the various actors/players involved were identified, and appropriately analyzed.
As pointed out, the Nasarawa State legislature is the major focus of this study. Similarly, the study covers all the past periods of democratic experiments in the State – from 1979 -1982; 1991-1993, with more emphasis on the Fourth Republican Legislature (1999 – 2003). Time and financial constraints necessitated the limit of the scope of the study to Nasarawa State. Nigeria has thirty-six states and a Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Each of these states of the federation operates a democratically elected system of government with the three arms of government in full operation. Most of these states of the federation are predominantly rural in nature and are in dire need of socio- economic growth and development. Indeed, Nigeria, according to the study done by the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI) in 1992 has about a hundred thousand (100.000) villages and rural communities (National Concord; 25/5/92:10). Under the present civilian government all of these rural communities have elected representatives directing their energies towards the upliftment of their respective communities. In order to determine how these elected representatives go about achieving these objectives will require a thorough examination of the activities of legislative houses and their member sinall states of the federation. Engaging in a study of such magnitude however, will require a lot of time, human and material resources, which are certainly beyond the scope of the researcher.
As a way out, therefore, we choose Nasarawa State as a case study. This is done taking into consideration the fact that the geo-political entity, which is today known as Nasarawa State is experimenting a democratically-elected system of government and is equally a predominantly rural area. It shares the same attributes with other states of the federation characterized by low level of per capita income, and general poverty of the population; non-availability of basic infrastructures like electricity, motor-able roads, pipe borne water, health and educational institutions, etc. So, research findings in the Benue case study may have country wide relevance! This contention not withstanding, references were specifically made to Lagos and Nasarawa states for purpose of comparative analysis.
In this work, we focused on the Nasarawa State legislature’s primary functions of Law Making, Constituency Representation and Oversight, among others. In order to enable us do this, we utilized a combination of both Primary and Secondary data sources.
- Primary Sources:- The work demanded going out to the field, to the selected constituencies to see for oneself, works or projects executed through the lobbying efforts of the various legislative representatives; meet various stakeholders such as political party leaders in selected communities in Nasarawa State. Politically, Nasarawa State is divided into three (3) Senatorial Districts.
These Senatorial Districts are subdivided into twenty-nine (29) State Constituencies. None of the senatorial districts has less than Nine State Constituencies. In order to ensure balanced coverage, we selected six (6) constituencies from each of the three senatorial districts for our study. This brings to eighteen (18) the total number of constituencies covered in our study. This research method is participant observation. This involved the collection of information and data through a direct intensive interaction with the people. Occasional observation of some of the proceedings and activities of the State Legislature was done. Through this method, we have an in-depth knowledge of what informs the taking of certain decisions and how they were taken. It equally enabled us to ascertain the number of projects executed and their impacts on the lives of the people. In addition to the above, the work depended heavily on interview method. Structured interview were conducted. Questions were open- ended, providing the participants with enough room for comments, and clarification of ambiguous issues. General questions (such as in 1.3-Research Questions) were followed by simpler and more precise ones targeted at obtaining specific and/or necessary background information concerning the activities of the Nasarawa State Legislature, projects or programmes executed so far, prospects and problems encountered by both the legislators and the communities (constituencies), etc. Towards this end, interview of eighteen (18) members of the Nasarawa State House of Assembly who were the representatives of the selected eighteen constituencies were conducted.
In addition, identified party and community leaders as well as fifteen (15) other people from each of the selected constituencies were interviewed.
- Secondary Sources: – this involved an analysis of the Hansard of the Nasarawa State Legislature to determine important issues rose. The State Budgetary Allocations were also examined. Other necessary official documents, publications and statistical data or records, etc of both Nasarawa State Legislature and the State Government were examined. Generally, the data collected through instruments highlighted above were classified, reorganized and where possible tabulated to facilitate analysis and appreciation of the role of the Nasarawa State
A content analysis was made with regards to documents, records, books and all other relevant materials from Secondary Sources. In addition, quantitative and qualitative analyses were employed to summarize information generated in the research.
In the course of this research work a lot of problems were encountered. These problems range from lack of resources to difficulties in obtaining certain vital information, among others.
The researcher does not enjoy any scholarship or financial assistance from any individual or organization. This means that funding the research was very precarious. The researcher depended solely on his personal income (monthly salary) which was very meager.
Apart from the above, it was very difficult obtaining very vital information. Tracking down certain individuals for interviews was very difficult. Repeated journeys, in some cases, up to five times were made. Key government officials, in some cases, hid under the cover of ‘official secret act’ and refused to divulge certain information.
It should be noted that the nature of the research is such that regular observation of the proceedings of the Fourth Assembly of the Nasarawa State Legislature was required. Visits to various project sites to ascertain the level of work done vis-à-vis claims made were also required. In addition, a pain-staking perusal of vital documents such as Annual Budget Estimates and Votes and Proceedings of the Assembly as well as other related materials was done. Finally, a visit to the National Assembly and other selected State Houses of Assembly like Nasarawa and Lagos to compare proceedings was made. These visits required a lot of time, money and personnel which were not available in abundance.
In order to wriggle out of these problems, the researcher resorted to ‘belt-tightening’ or personal sacrifice. Every available income was channeled towards the successful execution of the project. Research Assistants were engaged to carry out specific assignments. It is these Research Assistants that, in some cases, conducted interviews and obtained needed information for our analysis.