By: Emmanuel Utibe
In the great independence hall, where in the face of the seeming silence of our current legal scripture to certain issues, there is a heavy reliance on tradition, it then becomes worrying when a seemingly harmless yet morbid tradition is seen emerging.
It’s more of a concern given that the said tradition is one sprouting forth from the most hallowed walls within the hall.
The Independence Hall Assembly, like any other legislative body in a democracy, is one of the foremost symbols of the power of representation in government.
The principle of separation of power prevents power from being concentrated in the hands of just one individual, i.e. the head of government, or a group of individuals, i.e. the executives.
For this, the legislative body in a democracy is empowered to act in an oversight function over the affairs of the executive to check what they are doing and to ensure that it is in line with the general interest of the public and not just their interest. This is one of the main things which allows for the so-called checks and balances.
The issue at hand
Right from the first sitting after the inaugural sitting of the current house, the conduct of the AG and then over time- his executives in the house have not been a good showing.
In the house sitting, where the executives were to present their budgets before the house, so many misconducts were observed on the floor of the house by the executive member, which was not befitting of a hallowed chamber.
Throughout the budget defense, the AG could be seen several times interrupting the speaker with the call of “Mr. Speaker”.
Also, whenever he was not allowed to have the floor, he would proceed to leave audible trailing comments.
Then there was the fact that the AG saw it necessary to interrupt whenever a member of the executive was being interrogated on the details of the budget which they “prepared” and presented. Several times, it would seem like the AG was more knowledgeable in the budgets presented than even the executive member who supposedly prepared the budget.
During the next sitting, when the findings of the finance and budget committee of the Indy Hall assembly on the budget were to be taken, yet again, this case of the AG interrupting the speaker with calls of “Mr Speaker…” whenever he wanted to speak on an issue on ground.
It got to a point where it looked like the AG was trying to subtly toss out a supremacy contest with the speaker during the sitting. To prevent this, different members of the house had to raise a point of order to call the AG to order as regards his conduct.
Despite the several points of orders that were raised to correct the AG and then other executive members who were found erring in house conduct, it took a while for them to come to terms with the fact that the house is not a tool to be ridden over and that legislative business is serious business and should be treated as such.
It’s all the more concerning when you realize that no less than 4 of the current executive members were honourables in the house at one point or the other of which the AG is part of them.
We would not want to believe that the executive members hold the house in contempt and did all this on purpose rather than out of ignorance because it would not tell good of them, especially those who previously served as honourables.
We must realize that all of what the house is doing as regards oversight of the workings of the executives is done for collective interest as that’s part of the reasons the people elect representatives as stated in the constitution.
It would seem like a small thing, but the House Secretary noted N2500 for carpentry workmanship in his budget that was scrutinized. However, the AG changed it to N3500 while he was speaking.
The executive should not expect the Independence Hall Assembly to just be a “rubber stamp” house that is there to come and approve all budgets and proposals of the executive without due diligence paid to scrutinizing it.
Going On From Here
Having considered all the issues and the things which surround them and make them a thing of concern, we would now be going on to look at things that should be done going forward.
Firstly, we would like to admonish the members of the house that while we agree that they are in line performing their oversight function over the executive, they must make sure that this is done in good faith. You must try to avoid asking irrational questions and make sure that all questioning is done from a place of logic. This would give more credibility to what is done and give less room for anybody to think less of your position and have more appreciation for what you do.
Next, the AG and the executives have to acknowledge the fact that the same constitution which empowers them to carry out the duties of whatsoever office they administer in the public interest is the same document which empowers the legislative body to carry out their functions. So, they must avoid doing things which look to undermine their position.
When in the house, things like respecting the mace and the speaker, not discussing while plenary is one, not interrupting other speakers, and respecting the house’s authority amongst others, are very important.
In conclusion, The iroko can stand and the palm tree too, so that the whole forest would indeed flourish. And so, as a great republic, it’s only to the end that all things are done properly, all for collective interests to be upheld.