Lawmaking is critical to the democratic process. Without law, the society will be in a state of anarchy. Governance is grounded on the social contract, which is the constitution either written or unwritten, collectively agreed to by the people. The constitution is a body of laws put together by the people for the people. Though the 1999 Constitution opens with these words: “We the people”, the fact remains that it did not come to be through our collective will.
It was put together by people chosen by the military just as the 1979 Constitution was written by those referred to as “49 wise men”. The need for a constitution is based on the fact that there must be a set of rules to guide the people. These laws are for the common good and they are supreme to any other law in the land. When God created the earth, He set His own rules and the rules or the laws, if you like, are contained in what He told Adam.
A constitution also contains do’s and don’ts. But unlike the Divine Constitution, the people operate their country’s constitution in order to achieve its objectives. Lawmakers are the chief operators of that constitution. They are elected to make laws for the good governance of their country and also ensure the smooth operation of the constitution. Lawmakers are the live wire of democracy. They are the ears and eyes of the people who they represent in the National Assembly or by whatever name their chamber is called. They act as a check on the executive. To show how strong lawmakers are, they are the only ones constitutionally empowered to impeach the president.
They have other powers, such as appropriation of funds, passing the budget and clearing the president’s appointees, especially ministers. These powers entail that lawmakers be people of high integrity; people who cannot be induced. Lawmaking is not a money making venture but an avenue to make society work for all. Unfortunately, from the Nigerian experience, many get there and forget the reason for coming there. Of late, we have heard a lot of stories about corruption in the National Assembly. Honestly, these stories are not new. We have been hearing about them for years now, except for those who were not in their country then.
If you were in this country about 15 years ago, you would have been a living witness to the bribery scandal which rocked the Senate over the confirmation of ministers. The scandal led to the ouster of Senator Adolphus Wabara as Senate president in 2005. In 2003, former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister Nasir El-Rufai alleged before the Senate Ethics and Privileges Committee that former Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu and former deputy leader Jonathan Zwingina demanded N54million from him to facilaite his confirmation as minister. The senators denied his allegation, but El-Rufai, who is now Kaduna State governor insisted that both senators promised ‘’to recruit an army of senators to act as my defenders, and stated that about N54million would be needed to secure the support of a majority of the senators’’.
Nothing has changed since then, going by revelations by another former minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former electoral umpire Prof Attahiru Jega. Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister, claimed that the National Assembly refused to pass the 2015 budget until an additional N20billion was introduced as election expenses for its members. ‘’We insisted that the amount be dropped because it nullified the 13% cut made for their statutory budget of N150billion but we managed to reduce the N20billion by only N3billion to N17billion. This became the price to pay to have the 2015 budget passed”, she claimed in her book: Fighting corruption is dangerous: The story behind the headlines.
Jega, in a lecture to mark the 2018 Democracy Day, hit the lawmakers hard. He accused them of asking for bribe before passing the budgets of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to beam his corruption searchlight on National Assembly committee chairmen, who engage in this act. “I wonder here what is happening with the intelligence and investigative responsibilities of security agencies in policing our National Assembly. Some chairmen of the committees in the National Assembly have become notorious on this issue of demanding for bribe with impunity…”, he said.
Without doubt, there is cause for concern. In the 19 years of our democracy, many do not have anything good to say about our lawmakers. Till today, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, despite his own failings, cannot stand the National Assembly. He derides the lawmakers at any given opportunity because in his words ‘’they are corrupt’’. Coming from Obasanjo, we cannot discountenance that tag. The National Assembly put itself in this bind. Rather than work for the progress of the country and push its constituents’ interest, it has always been itself first. Its members collect jumbo pay for working for only 181 days in a year. A senator goes home with N7.5million monthly in a society where those he represents can hardly feed. This is minus other allowances and benefits which are not known to the people.
The National Assembly should be the bastion of democracy and not the den of corruption. Sadly, it has written itself into the bad book of Nigerians, who believe that nothing good can ever come out of the place. Can the National Assembly change? Yes, it can. It will cost its members nothing to change their ways and resolve to work for the people who voted for them. They should remember that they did not put themselves in office but were sent to the National Assembly for the sole purpose of making laws for the betterment of our country. Things cannot continue like this. The people’s patience may be elastic, but it will snap if it is stretched too far.
As a reminder, power, they should know, resides with the people and not with them, as lawmakers. If push comes to shove, the people know what to do. We only hope that it would not get to that.