Every day, we learn. No one, no matter your standing in the society, learns every day. Today, you and I will learn something new. The parliament (National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly), is a unique place. Sometimes, journalists deployed to cover the place and lawmakers assume that we know so much.
Sadly, there is so much we do not know. Last week, I had an encounter with a cerebral fellow, Mr. Lawman Nzenwa. He is the convener of a group. I will not dwell on what he does since he is not placing an advertorial to showcase his trade.
I will restrict my brief to his research-based findings regarding the current composition of the National Assembly. Enjoy Mr. Nzenwa’s findings. If you share a contrary view, you can respond.
There is a clear deviation from the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in terms of representation particularly in the Houses of Representatives and House of Assembly of every state in Nigeria. Thus, Nigeria is sitting on the throne of injustice and pretending to maintain unity, the same way kidnappers forge unity with their victims.
The concept of unity cannot exclude the fact that each component of the federation feels more comfortable staying as part of Nigeria than staying alone. If the unity of Nigeria has anything to do with what the proponents of non-negotiability of the unity of Nigeria subscribe to, no section will threaten the nation with secession. It would have been the other way round: Nigeria would have been the one threatening to either suspend erring components from the federation or dismissing such erring member from the polity, outright.
A united country cannot continue to murder its armless youths under any operation whether Operation Python Dance, Crocodile Smile or any wild life operation. A united country will entail that as soon as any person is elected into any elective office by the majority, his service will be for all and not just for the majority that elected him. In a united country, the government holds the nation’s resources and political offices in trust for the people. The leaders do not dispense with the wealth of the nation as though they are writing their wills.
Now let us x-ray Nigeria’s legislature that is the basis of the nation’s democracy and see whether the legislature the nation has in place is the legislature provided for in the 1999 Constitution. The existence of the legislature was provided in Sections 47 and 90 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Section 47 states that “there shall be a National Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.”
Section 90 states that “there shall be a House of Assembly for each state of the Federation.” First point to note here is that Nigeria has multi cameral legislature as opposed to the popular belief that the country has a bicameral legislature.
The multi cameral nature of the nation’s legislature is pronounced more when it comes to the amendment to the Constitution, wherein both the National Assembly and the House of Assembly of all the States of the Federation are involved.
Amendment to the Constitution is a legislative function that involves at least two-third of the members of the National Assembly and 24 states of the federation.
Having seen the critical position of the legislature in the nation’s democracy, efforts would have been made by relevant authorities to get the composition of the Legislature right from the inception of this democratic dispensation.
Unfortunately, what we have today is the legislature whose composition is contrary to the Constitution. There appears to be a national conspiracy against the proper composition of the legislature.
In 2010, I pointed out the unconstitutional composition of the legislature to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but the then INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, did nothing about it. We went to Court. A Federal High Court, Honorable Justice Stephen Adah, now at the Court of Appeal, held that because I was not contesting election into the legislature, I had no locus standi to bring the action against INEC. The Court failed to put into consideration the fact that I was not in Court to challenge the election of any legislator but to challenge the composition of the House of Representatives.
While the decision of the Court was appealable, I was not given a copy of the judgment to enable me take a decision on whether to appeal the judgment or not.
We are still feeling very strong that the current agitations for secession, restructuring or negotiated unity are direct consequences of INEC’s refusal to perform its constitutional role of giving the nation constitutional legislature as opposed to dictatorial legislature currently in place. Why do we describe the legislature as dictatorial? The members of the legislature were elected in contravention of the provisions of the Constitution.
Section 91 of the Constitution defines the relationship between membership of a House of Assembly of a state and the number of seats the state occupies in the House of Representatives. Section 91 states that “subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a House of Assembly of a state shall consist of three or four times the number of seats which that State has in the House of Representatives divided in a way to reflect, as far as possible nearly equal population: provided that a House of Assembly of a state shall consist of not less than twenty-four and not more than forty members.”
Section 91 as cited above was reechoed in Section 112 of the Constitution. Then Section 113 of the Constitution provides for how the membership of House of Assembly of a state will be made. Section 113 states that “the boundaries of each state constituency shall be such that the number of inhabitants thereof as nearly equal to the population quota as is reasonably practicable.”
These are the provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution itself gave power to the courts to interpret the Constitution. The Court abdicated in its constitutional responsibility when we approached it to interpret these provisions and the court held that only people who are contesting election into the legislature can approach it for interpretation of these provisions.
The combined failure of the court and INEC to interpret these sections of the Constitution has exposed this country to avoidable blood bath under the guise of military operations. The injustice complained about cuts across every aspect of this nation. In our letter to the Speaker of House of Representatives which was copied to INEC, Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Justice of the Federation, President of the Senate and of course the press. We made a graphic presentation, and every state is affected. For instance, Nassarawa State with just five members in the House of Representatives is a state in the Northern part of Nigeria. Bayelsa State with five seats is a state in the southern part of Nigeria. If INEC had followed the Constitution in delineating the constituencies, northern states such as Adamawa, Gombe, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Plateau, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara will have more seats in the House of Representatives than the number they occupy currently.
Similarly, the southern states of Abia, Cross River, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Ogun, Ondo and Osun stand to increase their seats in the House of Representatives. Apart from the unconstitutional composition of the House of Representatives, all state assemblies remain unconstitutional to the extent that each house does not maintain the constitutional relationship with the state’s seats in the House of Representatives. Additionally, state assemblies were created in reference to the number of local government areas as opposed to constitutional requirement that House of Assembly of a state shall be delineated in reference to population quota of state constituency to the state.
Now calling for restructuring when the Constitution has not been faithfully implemented, is the worst thing that can happen to this Country. Who will amend the Constitution to reflect the new agreement, if any? It is the current legislature that is standing on the foundation of military dictatorship and not on the Constitution? In the circumstance, the appropriate thing to do is to reconstruct the legislature. Reconstruction is a process of removing from a formal system, items that are in contravention of formal agreements which form the basis of developing the system. Reconstruction also involves bringing in items that were wrongly omitted while developing the system.
It is easier to reconstruct the legislature than to restructure the country. It is the constitutional duty of INEC to reconstruct the legislature. It is not even possible to restructure Nigeria at this time. This is because the current legislature by its composition lacks the constitutional powers to amend the Constitution. Yes, it is the legislature that will amend the Constitution but it is not this legislature. Every Nigerian and the international community should join hands with us to put pressure on INEC to reconstruct the legislature.
As long as the legislature remains in this present state, stability will continue to elude the polity. Agitations will continue. Discomfort with the system will continue. Probably, mass murder of the agitators will continue. We consider the press as a formidable ally and partner in nation building. We are confident that if the press plays its supportive role, we will together save this country from instability.
One more thing….
Going forward, I will publish reactions from responders. Keep your language civil and go straight to the point. Find below what I have for you this week. Cheers.
Re: Before we pass the 2018 budget
Fred, your submission in, ‘Before we pass the 2018 budget’ is surely valid. But one must always bear in mind that there are legal practitioners in the National Assembly who would challenge legislative infractions of constitutional provisions on budget; if any.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, as a thorough bred lawmaker, would not sit over the Senate Chamber and watch the constitution he swore to uphold and defend, being defecated on by senators and not stand up to such a heinous act.
Presidency also must have thought of going to court over “budget padding” only to be advised by its legal arm to shelve the idea. If budget proposals are not subjected to legislative intervention, the presidency might make budgeting an avenue to suck the national treasury dry unhindered, based on the interminable corruption in the polity. Going to court on it might end up a futile exercise.
► Lai Ashadele, Lagos.