On Friday July 12, 2019, Senator Ahmad Lawan had cause to, once again, reiterate that the possibility of his leadership of the 9th National Assembly, as its chairman and as the President of the Senate, becoming a rubber stamp legislature was non-existent. The event was a courtesy call on him by women parliamentarians, led by Senator Joy Emordi, where he stated inter alia: “There is no time I will ever be a rubber stamp. We are going to challenge the executive in a manner that is decent but decisive. As a minister, you have to do your ministerial job well. We will make government appointees do what is required of them.”
While the President of the Senate spoke for himself and for the 9th National Assembly on the comical postulations of those inclined to believe that the legislature may be a rubber stamp of the executive, his certainty of the apex legislative body in Nigeria working for Nigeria and Nigerians and not the whims and caprices of the executive (assuming those are anti-people) is further buoyed by the normal operations of the bi-cameral and multiparty legislature we operate and the processes of legislation, oversight and representation. At the root of the conjecture of the possibility of a rubber stamp legislature is a misunderstanding of the operations of the democratic concept of “separation of power” among the executive and the legislature and the judicial arms of government. The concept, as propounded by Montesquieu in his book, The Spirit of the Laws (1748), was, in origin, meant to prevent any form of authoritarianism by the concentration of the exercise of power in one arm of government, usually the executive branch, and not to act as a clog in the wheel of running a smooth representative democracy. Since under a democratic government, elected members of the executive and legislature represent the same people and are at the pleasure of mandates bestowed by the people, any convergence and/or divergence on issues between the two arms must be seen as ultimately in the interest of the people, particularly when such has been subjected to the rigours of democratic scrutiny.
As Lawan stated, the allegation that he may turn out to be a rubber stamp President of the Senate started during his campaign for the position of Number Three citizen and similarly for Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Seen in that perspective, the charge of a rubber stamp is just a political tool by those with personal and/or opposition agenda against the position of the ruling majority All Progressives Congress (APC). It was simply yet another strategy to detract from the candidacies of those poised to win. At some point, it was even alleged that the duo of Lawan and Gbajabiamila were the imposition of the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Preposterous as that sounds, it was much a campaign strategy for those against the ruling party’s choice, with a plot to repeat the Bukola Saraki example of 2015 and possibly foist another opposition party legislator as Deputy President of the Senate or, worse, contrive for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to clinch both the President and Deputy President of the Senate!
With the emergence of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly, one can say without mincing words that the august body cannot be a rubber stamp legislature in any sense or indeed in the sense of what we have in most state legislatures, where the executive, nay, the governors, have the state assemblies in their pocket with legislators at that level hardly ever having a contrary position to the executive. One cannot easily imagine how the President of the Senate or the Speaker can be pocketed as to serve as mere rubber stamps. It is just not possible from the operation of the legislature.
In the first place, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives are presiding officers over the process and intricacies involved in lawmaking, oversight and representation. Without going into the process of how a bill becomes a law for the executive to implement or the process of oversight activities of the parliament, the final stage is usually a democratic decision based on majority, with the presiding officer being the arbiter on what are usually partisan positions.
And following the dictum of “the majority having their way and the minority having their say,” the majority decision, at the end of the process, is the decision of NASS. If at the end this tallies with what the executive contemplates, there is no way this can be termed rubber stamp, considering the rigours of the process.
The same can be said for the confirmation of appointments of the executive falling within the purview of the Senate. There is usually a process, beginning with the communication from the President of the nominee(s) to the Senate, which is then referred to the appropriate committee or considered by the Senate as Committee of the Whole, with voting on confirmation or otherwise. At no point is anything automatic in the process and the end result of such a process cannot be termed rubber stamp, as the legislature has discharged its duties pursuant of good governance and prevention of dictatorship.
Again, the charge of possible rubber stamp fell flat in the face of the bipartisan nature of the 9th NASS and the eventual emergence of Lawan and Gbajabiamila. To garner their overwhelming winning votes at the election, both candidates had to reach out to members of the opposition with their programmes and the shape of what their leadership would entail. The coalitions that gave the eventual winners their votes are not one to sit idly by and allow any rubber stamp in NASS relations with the executive. Certainly, whatever majority decisions are arrived at in the NASS are the wishes of the people the legislators represent and not any executive rubber stamp. Even President Muhammadu Buhari noted the positive effect of the bipartisan forces that led to the emergence of the leadership of the 9th NASS when the leadership paid him a courtesy call. He was quoted to have said the bipartisan vote shows maturity and patriotism and signalled to all Nigerians that love for nation supersedes party affiliations, stressing that such bipartisanship would deepen democracy and speed up development process by saving the cost of delays.
In conclusion, while the concept of separation of power is at the heart of any democratic set-up, it does not imply compartmentalisation but interdependence in running a government devoid of authoritarianism and delivery of development to the people. Background consultations, negotiations and cooperation on issues of national importance for positive development for the people between the executive and the legislature should be the ideal and not ego-tripping conflicts and crises that have every tendency of delaying needed development.
As it is, the 9th Assembly is poised to play its part in the programmes and policies of the present administration.
• Odunaro writes from Abuja