THE hallmark of democratic governance is the existence of functioning legislative institutions. It is a widely recognized fact that an effective legislature is not only essential to democracy, but also to the maintenance of the rule of law. While the constitutional role of the legislative branch is essentially to make laws, the role of parliamentarians goes beyond the simple fact of making laws, but they occupy a strategic position in the whole process of nation-building as well as in the promotion of good governance and socio-economic development. The legislature not only controls, through legislation, the economic, social and political atmosphere of the nation, but also performs oversight functions to ensure good governance, accountability and transparency. These extended functions make the legislature perhaps the most important organ of government. In summary, therefore, the legislative arm of a democratic government fulfills the tripartite function of law-making, oversight and representation. Article 4 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that the National Assembly has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation. In exercising this power, the National Assembly enacted in November 2021 the Electoral (Amendment) Bill providing for the adoption of direct primaries for all political parties and the electronic transmission of results. However, President Muhammadu Buhari
refused to endorse this bill, stating that if the bill were enacted, it would have disastrous effects on the legal, financial, economic and security situation of the country. In a rather disappointing turn of events, the Senate acceded to the president’s “requests” and re-enacted the proposed amendment, essentially reverting to the law’s old position for direct and indirect primaries. To justify this, Senate President Ahmad Lawan reportedly said, “What we did was respond to the President’s observation and we did it in a very patriotic way. Today, in the current state of the bill, all possible options for the selection of candidates, from the presidency to the office of adviser, are provided for. The available options we have are: direct primaries, indirect primaries and consensus bidding. This means that political parties are now, once it becomes law, challenged to ensure that they choose what is appropriate, what works for them in terms of their candidate production processes. The National Assembly’s decision to adapt the amended electoral bill to the dictates of the President sends a clear message to Nigerians: despite the huge budget allocations made each year to the National Assembly and especially despite the fact that parliamentarians are the hope of the masses to maintain effective control, yet he remains indifferent to the whims of the executive.
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Undoubtedly, the proposed amendment to the electoral laws addressed the inherent flaws in the conduct of indirect primaries, which include some instances of the questionable manner in which delegates are appointed. For example, when a sitting governor or political appointees of the president are appointed party delegates, there is no doubt that their appointments will ultimately further the political interests of their appointee. Also, it is not uncommon to find a selection of different delegates at party conventions, conventions, and primaries. This therefore increases the chances of political patronage and stock politics as it is easier to bribe fewer delegates to support one faction of the party as opposed to the reduced propensity to skew the votes of all members of the political party towards a single candidate if the direct primaries were held. On the other hand, direct primaries would have reduced sponsorship and given more power to the grassroots in selecting or nominating those who would emerge as party candidates. This would have been a step in the direction of solving the problem of imposition of candidates by Governors as well as other implications of vote buying.d manipulations. Unfortunately, the benefits that the introduction of the mandatory provision for holding direct party-level primaries would have conferred on improving the country’s electoral landscape, which resulted in the draft amendment to the electoral law, have been truncated. of one man – the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who thought otherwise. Considering the several months of sittings and the commitment of financial resources in the preparation of the bill, it is nothing more than a futile exercise when the National Assembly has not exercised its constitutional powers to pass the bill. Undoubtedly, passage of the bill would have allowed for greater mass participation in deciding who their party would nominate, and ultimately wrested the power to make or influence such a decision from the hands of the incumbent governor.
In addition to examining the benefits that the electoral amendment bill would have conferred, particularly in the field of grassroots participation in the nomination of party candidates, the National Assembly’s recent concession to the dictates of the President clearly reflects the status of the Nigerian legislature which has, more often than not, demonstrated a lack of capacity to effectively discharge its constitutional mandate of enacting laws without deferring to the executive. This is never the intention of a system of constitutional democracy. One of the most important roles of the legislature, particularly for the effective representation of the population, is to provide appropriate checks and balances. This has, over time, created a form of healthy rivalry between the two branches of government, with the judiciary sometimes stepping in to enforce existing laws in the event of a dispute.
This healthy rivalry was aptly demonstrated in the United States of America when congressmen from some states challenged their governors in exercising effective checks and balances. The National Conference of State Legislators reported thus: “In states from New Hampshire to Texas, legislatures have sued to stop governors from spending federal CARES Act funding without their oversight. In May, the Mississippi legislature resumed session early to prevent GOP Governor Tate Reeves from spending federal dollars himself. In response, Reeves suggested that any resulting delay in the disbursement of funds would be detrimental, suggesting that in “the worst case scenario, people will die”. Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican, did not like the suggestion, sending Reeves a letter saying he had misinterpreted the intent of the legislation. “You said we ‘stole the money’ and people were dying,” Gunn wrote. “Such cheap comedies and false personal insults were below the dignity of your office. They were out of character for you personally. Later that year, Gunn sued Reeves, successfully arguing that Governor had improperly vetoed a bill spending coronavirus relief funds. Gunn said he wished he could take another approach, but felt he had to oppose “the offense of the executive to the duties of the legislature”.
The above aptly demonstrates the role of the legislature in maintaining checks and balances on the actions of the executive. Conversely, the legislature should be inclined to take a stand against the executive when the need arises since each organ of government is, in fact, independent of one another.
The Nigerian National Assembly is not an appendage to the executive or even the presidency. The loopholes in the electoral laws that triggered the amendment still remain largely ignored if the National Assembly does not follow through. It should be noted that three previous attempts to change the electoral law were truncated by the presidency for one reason or another. Although I am not advancing the argument that the legislature and the executive must be at loggerheads, the essence of constitutional democracy is totally destroyed when the National Assembly cannot proceed with the exercise of its functions in under the law, especially as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides a remedy where the president refuses his assent to a bill presented by the National Assembly. The legislature can hardly perform its functions of effective legislation, oversight and representation if it constantly defers to the executive on all matters. If the ultimate goal is to build a better Nigeria, the legislature must cease to be an appendage to the executive but must be able to overrule the president in the overall interest of the nation.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LLD. D.Litt.