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New Constitution Review: Fillip for the legislature and Nation?

With the announcement last week of a new Constitution Review Committee by the President of the Senate – Godswill Akpabio, the stage is now set…

With the announcement last week of a new Constitution Review Committee by the President of the Senate – Godswill Akpabio, the stage is now set for another round of tinkering with the current, amended Constitution, pursuant to re-inventing it to be closer to the dream Constitution of the citizenry. While Nigerians may have greeted the development with mixed feelings, such a disposition does not blight the reality that the current Constitution is still a far cry from what the country needs at this stage of its development. For virtually on a daily basis, there comes up one glitch or the other in the workings of the document. Given the role of the Constitution in guiding the course of governance in a democracy like Nigeria, the need for reviews and changes in it will always arise since the polity is fluid and manifests different characteristics over time.

However, while there are several trending areas billed for amendment, also of perhaps more strategic significance are at least two areas which need to be addressed, in order to give fillip to the nation’s legislature, and accentuate its capacity to deliver the dividends of democracy, as is statutorily expected of the establishment. For unbeknown to many, is it beyond conjecture that the preponderance of the country’s socio-political challenges, derive from the defective state of the Nigerian legislative establishment, which for most intents and purposes, suffers from a state of defectiveness that keeps it technically indisposed to perform better. Hence while the legislature at the various tiers of governance may be seen as exercising some powers including that of the purse whereby it passes budgets and some laws, such dispensations are only a window dressing, when compared to what statutory relevance the Constitution envisages for the establishment of the legislature, as the first arm of government which remains primarily accountable for fostering good governance for the citizenry. And until such defectiveness is addressed, so will the nation remain in a state of arrested development.

First of such areas is the lack of functional convergence of the legislative agendas of the National Assembly with those of the 36 state assemblies. Second is the inclusion of past leadership of the National Assembly in the country’s Council of State.

Taking the issues up closer in reverse order is revealing. For instance the Council of State whose   functions are mostly advisory, constitutes the highest brain trust of the country, and presently has the following members namely the President, all former Presidents and heads of government, all former Chief Justices of the federation, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, serving Governors of all the states and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the federation. Conspicuously missing in the membership are the former Presidents of the Senate and Speaker House of Representatives. Put in context, this membership structure renders the body one in which the contributions of the legislature is structured to be paltry.  The exclusion of the past leaders of the central legislature of the country, obviously detracts from the contributions of the legislature from the enterprise of the Council of State.

Just as well, while it is traditional for the national and state assemblies to draw up respective legislative agendas, hardly do such dispensations enjoy convergence in intents, strategy and eventually enterprise outcomes. Even the most cursory glance at the legislative agendas of the country’s assemblies betrays a disturbing state of disarray in the various items designated as adopted inclusions in the respective legislative agenda of most of them.

On a comparative basis this lacunae in the country’s legislative system constitutes an area where the arm of government can take guidance from the other arms of government namely the executive and judiciary where formal and regular interface between the federal and state components is traditional.

In the circumstance of disjointed or inchoate national legislative agendas, it constitutes no wonder that the country’s democracy of which the legislature is the crucible, is simply strutting over time as a ship without a rudder and runs into crises that shake the foundations of the country. As provided for by the Constitution, the core functions of the legislature comprise constituency representation, lawmaking for good governance of society, and oversight of all arms of government to ensure that government complies with the laws so made. Hence, also the Constitution provides for a legislative establishment for the country with uniformity in features at the various tiers of governance. Thus the intention of concentric alignment between the institutions at various tiers remains an expectation of the Constitution. Hence also, the failure of fostering a convergence in the legislative agendas of the assemblies constitute a breach in the workings of the Constitution, with gravely telling, negative impact on the course of governance in the country.

For instance, it can be appreciated, what definitive responses Nigeria could have mobilized against some of the most burdensome crises presently facing the country, if only there is a convergence of the legislative agendas of the assemblies. One can easily think of insecurity, wide spread food shortages, runaway inflation rates, political conflicts and insurgencies, just to name a few. The truth therefore is that while Nigerians may be talking in the various legislative houses they are only talking in restricted circles, and not across the wider divides that define the expanse of the country. And that is why there is hardly a credible national consensus on any matter, and the national politics features the jungle principle of winner takes all.

That is why the new Constitution review exercise should provide a fillip to the country through a revived legislature.

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