In the 21st century there is ever growing attention to the issues related to democracy and good governance around the world. This results from the increasing acceptance of the fact that democracy and good governance are not luxury, but a fundamental requirement to sustainable development. Legislature as one of the key institutions in a democratic system has a critical role to play in promoting fair governance. As the democratically elected representatives of the people parliamentarians have an honorable task to ensure government is by the people and for the people. By performing the key functions of legislation, representation and oversight the legislature should actively engage in the development and implementation of laws, policies and projects promoting democratic principles of governance.
The legislature, or parliament, plays an important role in the life of a nation. It thus performs three main functions: adopts new laws, amends the existing laws and oversees the activities of the executive to ensure the government is accountable to the people. Achieving of good governance requires existence of an active, strong and efficient legislature. The parliament plays a crucial role in gauging, collating and presenting the views and needs of the people articulating their expectations and aspirations in determining the national development agenda. As an oversight body the legislature helps to identify problems and policy challenges that requires attention and assists in overcoming bureaucratic inertia.
Since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, political analysts and concerned Nigerians has x-rayed the performance of the second arm of government. Few people gave the legislature in Nigeria a pass mark so far sighting reasons that it was still very young and there would always be room for improvement and perfection of the system. At the same time the others opined that the lawmakers performed far below average. Bearing in mind that the legislature is the arm of government existing only in a democratic setting, one would not expect the parliament to grow at the same pace as the other two “arms”, the executive and the judiciary, which have been in place even during the military regimes. The importance of the legislature in ensuring good governance and accountability cannot be overemphasized.
Over the years, the Nigerian parliament has failed to live up to the expectations and yearnings of Nigerians. The only time we hear rumbling between the executive and the legislature, both at the federal and state levels, is when the flow of cash between them is “slow”. The state lawmakers have virtually turned themselves into mere rubber stamps as the state governors rule their respective states as their personal estates or companies with little or no resistance from the legislatures. Budgets are passed without proper rigorous scrutiny and defense. Bills are often passed on the same day without thorough debates or due consideration whether or not such bills really intend to add any value to the people’s well-being.
The National Assembly has a yearly ritual of accusing the federal government of failure to fully implement the budget of the preceding fiscal year. However, such accusations amount to them the National Assembly indicting itself of weakness and inability to oversight and hold the executive to account. Budget defense by federal ministries, parastatals and agencies have been reduced to a yearly “parley” where various legislative committees and members of the executive negotiate sharing of the “national cake” with no interest to the Nigerian people. Their power of oversight has been slaughtered on the altar of corruption and weakened by their crave to amass wealth at the expense of the masses.
The agitation and clamor for a National Conference convened by President Jonathan was borne out of the fact that Nigerians lost confidence in the current legislature, both at the national, state and local levels. High level of corruption and indiscipline with impurity currently characterizing virtually all government establishments and institutions in Nigeria have persisted because the legislature is weak and irresponsible to the plight of the people. Over the last 16 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria, our lawmakers have constantly denied to put heads together, pass laws that would make the government more accountable and focused on how to add value to Nigeria and Nigerians irrespective of their partisanship. They have rather preferred to identify with their respective political parties and cover up cases of high-level corruption and gross misconducts perpetrated by some members of the executive. Unfortunately, the recent weeks have seen the job of lawmakers virtually halted by the internal politics of the incoming members of the National Assembly. This is not acceptable for a country whose citizenry are in dire need of quality laws that would improve their livelihood.
New government is about to be sworn in come May 29, 2015, and some “fresh blood” will join the returning lawmakers both at the federal and state levels. Thus, there is urgent need for the job of law-making to be taken more seriously if the “change” that Nigerians have voted for is to become a reality. Oversighting the programs and projects of the executive should be a priority as it is the only way to hold the government accountable to the people. The incoming National Assembly should brace up to the challenge of adopting new laws and amending the existing laws to strengthen our national institutions and facilitate the fight against corruption, economic collapse and insecurity. The legislature should always rise above political party consideration to the overall benefit of the masses.
Rather than going to the hallowed chambers to represent their “pockets” and enrich themselves, the incoming members of the National Assembly should selflessly serve their people through quality representation. The legislature is the backbone of democracy and good governance. The commitment and selflessness of lawmakers is crucial for Nigeria to achieve the desired “change”. Hence, there is need for the second arm of government to always be as independent and objective as possible so that Nigerians can fully enjoy the benefits of democratic governance. It should no longer be business as usual members of the National Assembly have to become agents of “change” for the incoming government of Muhammadu Buhari to be able to make any meaningful impact on Nigerians’ lives.