LEGISREPORTS EDITORIAL: NASS Resolutions and National Interest
LEGISREPORTS NG – The National Assembly is the supreme embodiment of democracy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As the repository of the collective wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people who yielded their sovereignty to elected members of the legislature, the national assembly ought to be taken very seriously by all and sundry, not least, the executive arm of government. Sadly, this is hardly the case. And the blame for this is both self-inflicted and extraneous. At least as far as the issue of resolutions are concerned.
The national assembly is constitutionally enshrined with the powers of law-making, oversight and appropriation. Besides bills which are passed into laws, resolutions are a key instrument employed for oversight and other functions of parliament. But whereas laws as offshoot of bills command implementation and enforceability once assented to by the President of the Federal Republic, resolutions do not carry the weight of laws which is why they have been referred to by some legal experts as mere advisories.
Although it has been argued and quite appropriately too, that resolutions of the national assembly should be treated with serious regard by the executive arm of government (or any other entity so concerned as the case may be), the issue of implementation has continued to attract a healthy debate in the polity. But the worry is that while the debate rages, the federal legislature has carried on as if its resolutions must be treated by the executive with the same expediency and importance as laws.
LEGISREPORTS believes such expectation is at variance with the doctrine of separation of powers which is a key cornerstone of constitutional democracy and amounts to overstepping of boundaries. Especially so when the national assembly as an arm of government with clearly defined roles and obligations lacks the powers to enforce resolutions.
A classic case in point is a resolution by the House of Representatives in June last year wherein President Goodluck Jonathan was summoned to appear before the House to explain what is being done about the security (boko haram) challenges plaguing the country. To be sure, the House relied clearly on Section 89 (1&2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which states as follows:
“ For the purposes of any investigation under section 88 of this Constitution and subject to the provisions thereof, the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with section 62 of this Constitution shall have power to – (a) procure all such evidence, written or oral, direct or circumstantial, as it may think necessary or desirable, and examine all persons as witnesses whose evidence may be material or relevant to the subject matter; (b) require such evidence to be given on oath; (c) summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions.”
The House can be said to have been moved by a patriotic zeal to address the serial cases of violence raging in the land courtesy of the boko haram menace. Like they say in legal parlance, the intendment of the resolution was noble. But nobility can hardly legitimately issue from a faulty process as the House did not have the powers it sought to activate by summoning Mr. President. This position is guided by the fact that such summon cannot be enforced as no body or authority in the land has the powers to issue a warrant of arrest on the president should he fail to honour the summons. And that is exactly what happened as the president did not turn up and the summons died a natural death! Being aware of that fact, the members of the House should have just avoided the drama and theatrics that summons created in the polity.
Juxtapose the House directive to Mr. President to appear before it with what the Senate did last week on the same security challenges facing the country. The upper legislative chambers invited (and without much drama) service chiefs and top security officers in the country to brief it on the recent upsurge on the activities of terrorists in the country. Even though the session was held behind closed doors, it is easy to see the wisdom in the more functional approach the senators adopted. Instead of grandstanding with a summons on the president, they simply got the men in charge of the situation directly to appear and clear some grey areas on the fight against terror. Thus, what the House lost last year, the Senate gained last week as far as this issue is concerned.
But there have also been concurrence among both Houses of parliament on some issues relating to resolutions. The case of Abdulrasheed Maina, former boss of the Presidential Task Team on Pension Reforms is one of such. And so is the case involving the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as well as the former boss of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
On these cases, the resolutions of both chambers of the national assembly sparked reactions from the public as expected but a line of seeming agreement is that while the president was not bound to heed the decisions, there is a greater chance of implementation on the issues involved. And to his credit, the President has acted on two- the case of Maina who has been removed from his controversial position and Mr. Harold Demuren who was sacked as boss of the NCAA- based on the recommendations of the federal legislature. The case of Oteh remains a ding-dong affair between both the executive and the legislature.
But the lesson to be drawn here is the spirit of give and take that played out in the two resolved instances. While the president could have continued to spurn the resolutions and the parliament insisting on the implementation of same, both arms of government met each other half way and the country is better for it. The same spirit should be engaged in the Oteh matter as sticking to one’s guns will not do the capital market, nay the country any good.
LEGISREPORTS urge the national assembly to always show maturity and rise above partisan interests in dealing with the issue of resolutions. Like laws, they should be engaged for functional purposes only and not for egoistic trips as to which arm of government has more powers over the other. Where implementation and enforceability is likely to throw up a persistent challenge, wisdom should be called in to direct against their use in the first place.
On the other hand too, the president must bear in mind at all times that the sovereign will of the people residing in the legislature must override parochial interests and give way to the patriotic call. No one can know it all. Sometimes, going through the way of resolutions can avert or solve a problem that may take months or even years for passage of laws to fix.
What matters is the interest of the electorate the president and members of the national assembly are elected to serve and which they swore on oath to protect.