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Nigeria at 61: Nation’s legislative arm struggling amid executive control, other historical controversies

The Nigeria Independence Day celebration has always been about celebrating the nationalists who fought for Nigeria’s Independence against the British.

Those nationalists like Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa and others were all legislators. Through the Westminster style parliamentary system, the lawmakers ran the country in the first republic under Prime Minister Balewa.

Over the years, the country’s political landscape has changed, the Westminster system did not survive the bloody coup of January 15, 1966. Hence, the status of the legislative arms has decreased compared to the executive.

Military interventions have also contributed to the weakening of the institution. The parliament could not co-exist with military rule, hence the rationale for suspending the parliament after coup.

In this report, the National Assembly from independence till today, exploring different controversies.

Out of the 61 years of independence in Nigeria, only 32 have been under a Democratic system.

1st republic and brutal coup of 1966

The politics of the 1st republic was defined by ethnoreligious demarcation. The Action Group was more or less a Yoruba-led party, the National Council for Nigerians and Cameroon was majorly Igbo, while the Northern Peoples Congress was dominated by Fulani/Hausa.

Even though the NPC and the NCNC coalition formed the government, the animosity between Mr Awolowo, who was the minority leader in the House of Representatives, defined that era.

On the 10th of April 1964, Awolowo and some of the AG members bagged prison terms for treasonable felony charges. The Prime Minister, the Premier of the North and other members of the ruling coalition lost their lives in the bloody coup carried out by some majors.

Soon after, the leader of the January 1966 coup, Kaduna Nzeogwu, in his broadcast said, “The Constitution is
suspended and the regional government and elected assemblies are hereby dissolved.”

That put an end to that Republic and equally marked the travail of the parliament. The coup set the template for the suspension of the parliament.

2nd Republic and the 1979 Constitution

Following 9 years of military rule, the Olusegun Obasanjo regime proceeded with the transition embarked upon by Murtala Muhammed, who was assassinated in 1976 failed coup attempt.

The Rotimi Williams-led committee had recommended the America styled bicameral system for the nation. That republic, from 1979-1983 was cut short by the coup that toppled that government.

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Just like in 1966, General Muhammad Buhari suspended the constitution and dissolved the parliament.

Short-lived third republic and June 12

The Babangida regime conducted an election into the federal parliament in 1992, where lawmakers like Bola Tinubu were elected into the senate. Unfortunately, that republic was truncated by the June 12 controversy.

Return of democracy and surviving Obasanjo

The 4th Assembly (1999-2003) was more of a struggle between the lawmakers and former President Obasanjo.

Obasanjo from the get-go was interested in controlling the leadership of the House and Senate. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) controlled the majority, while regional parties, Alliance for Democracy (AD) which is dominant in the Southwest and APP which is dominant in some parts of the north, led the opposition.

According to reports, the former president was able to get Evans Ewerenme to become the Senate President and Salisu Buhari as the Speaker.

In less than a year, Sen Ewereme was ousted and replaced by Chuba Okadigbo. In less than a year, Senator Okadigbo was also replaced by Anyim Pius Anyim.

While Salisu Buhari was disgraced out of office for a forged certificate, he was replaced by Ghali Na’abbah.

One of the highlights of that Assembly was the veto of the President in the passage of the Niger Delta Development Commission. It would be recalled that the President had earlier refused assent to the bill. However, the two chambers reconsidered and re-passed the bill.

The NDDC remains the only act without the signature of the President.

5th Assembly and the 3rd term agenda

The 2005 National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) produced some sets of constitutional alteration recommendations to amend the 1999 Constitution. However, the process snowballed into crisis due to an attempt to elongate the tenure of Presidents and governors.

The saga, which is popularly referred to as the Third Term agenda divided the National Assembly, with those in support and those against.

Public outcry led to the abandoning of the entire Constitution amendment in that era.

6th Assembly: Stability in David Mark’s senate, Royal Rumble in Bankole’s House

The emergence of Sen David Mark brought stability to the Senate from 2007-2015. The former military governor presided over a senate that was relativity calm, compared to the previous 8 years of 1999-2007 where the red chamber had 5 Senate presidents.

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When the sickness of former President, Umar Yar’adua created a vacuum in government, David Mark’s senate was able to use the Doctrine of necessity to transmit power to President Goodluck Jonathan. It would be recalled that when the late president travelled out of the country for medical, he did not transmit power to his deputy.

In the lower chamber, the House had become more rebellious and rowdy. First, Patricia Etteh, who emerged as the first female Speaker in 2007 was removed over allegation of spending N628 million on renovation.

The integrity caucus led by now convicted Farouq Lawan was able to force Etteh out, despite a last-minute attempt by the progressive camp led by Dino Melaye.

The emergence of the young Dimeji Bankole did not stop the wrangling that characterised the House. Instances of fistfights dominated the affairs of that House.

7th Assembly: More calm in David Mark’s senate– Tambuwal and the gate climbing lawmakers

The relative stability in the Senate continued in the 7th Senate under David Mark. It also coincided with ex-governors moving into the Senate. Governors like Ahmed Yerima, Goni Bukar, Bukola Saraki and others started the trend of moving to the Senate.

In the House, the rebellion against the imposition of the speaker continued. Aminu Tambuwal emerged as The Speaker by working with the two main opposition parties in the House – The Action Congress of Nigeria and the All Nigeria Peoples Party.

With that coalition, the PDP’s backed candidate, Mulikat Akande was defeated by Tambuwal.

The rebellion led to an alleged plot to remove Tambuwal in 2014 when an emergency session was called but Tambuwal and his supporters were locked outside. The images of lawmakers scaling the fence trended all over the world.

That House also produced the Farouq Lawan scandal. Mr Lawan who is serving a jail term over bribery was the chairman of the House ad hoc committee investigating fuel subsidy scams. The sting operation by the DSS and oil magnate, Femi Otedola and controversy that trailed the affair defined that House.

2015: APC-led National Assembly — one drama per day

From the day of the inauguration on the 9th June 2015 till the day it adjourned sine die, the 8th Assembly, led by Saraki in the Senate and Yakubu in the House, was filled with drama.

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From the charting away of mace, locking of NASS gate by DSS, to Saraki’s CCT trial to the constant drama by Dino Melaye, it was packed.

The emergence of Saraki and Dogara against the dictate of the party defined the path of the 8th Assembly.

It was a complete frozen relationship between the executive and the National Assembly. When the Senate refused to confirm ex-EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, the president kept him in an acting capacity. The lawmakers passed several votes of no confidence on the then service chiefs, ex-IGP, Ibrahim Idris and the refusal of Customs Comptroller General, Hammed Ali to obey the directive to wear Customs uniform.

On the part of Dino Melaye, his threat to impregnate Sen Remi Tinubu and subsequently visiting Burdillon avenue in Ikoyi, the street where the house of Bola Tinubu is located, is just one of the many dramas in that era.

The relationship between the executive and National Assembly even affected the passage of bills like the electoral bill and the Petroleum Industry Bill.

However, certain landmark bills like the Not too young to run bill, House of Assembly autonomy and others were passed in the 8th Assembly.

Many commentators described that Assembly as one of the most Independent Assemblies.

9th House: getting things done under the tag of rubber stamp

The 9th Assembly under the leadership of Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila has been described by many as a rubber stamp Assembly.

Although, the relationship between the executive and the lawmakers has helped to speed up passage of critical bills like the Petroleum Industry Bill, production sharing contract, police reform act and returning the budget to January to December timeline.

While the verdict is still out on the 9th Assembly, what appears to be clear is that the legislature is still struggling to get back to the old glory of the 60s.

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