Since the nation’s return to democracy in 1999, the relationship between the executive and the legislature has been uneasy. Right from that day on May 29, 1999, that the military handed over to civilians till today, it has been a love-hate relationship. They are friends today and foes the next day. Most often, money is at the root of their altercation. It is either the executive is accusing the legislature of demanding bribe or using its oversight powers to plunder the resources of parastatals.
The Constitution grants the legislature immense powers to enable it act as check on the executive. It is the powerhouse of constitutional democracy; the cornerstone of the house which a nation represents. Without the legislature, democracy is at peril because the nation will be without laws. A society without laws is toying with anarchy and waiting to explode. For a society to progress, there must be synergy between the executive and legislature. They must work in sync for the common good. This Ninth National Assembly headed by Senate President Ahmad Lawan has a lot to do in this regard.
Unfortunately, we have not witnessed such relationship between these two arms of government in the past 21 years. On the rare occasions that they see eye to eye, the people wonder. It should not be so. Being a minister in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) or a legislator in the National Assembly is a privilege which should not be abused under any guise as some of these people are doing. They are custodians of a public trust, so their conduct must be civil and decorous.
In the past few days, we have been treated to another drama between these institutions, as the Niger Delta Affairs Minister Godswill Akpabio and the National Assembly are at each other’s throat. The lawmakers’ probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which Akpabio supervises is at the centre of their rift. The public is faced with a twist in the probe, so to say, as focus has shifted to Akpabio’s allegations against some lawmakers. The leadership of the National Assembly is riled by the allegations that Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila on July 21 rose up in arms against the minister. He gave Akpabio 48 hours to substantiate his allegations that 60 percent of NDDC contracts were awarded to members of the National Assembly.
While appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta on July 20, Akpabio said: “Who are even the greatest beneficiaries of NDDC contracts? It is you people. If you look at your chairman, your chairman…! Are you asking me the beneficiaries in the National Assembly? I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts in NDDC are given to members of the National Assembly but you don’t know about it. The two chairmen (of Senate and House committees on Niger Delta) can explain to you. I was a member of NDDC committee. I know what was going on”.
Of course, as a senator in the immediate past National Assembly, he was an insider who saw everything. But he kept quite then because it paid him to do so. Akpabio is opening a can of worms because his position as a minister is being threatened. This is how our leaders, be they in the executive or legislature, have been shortchanging us. NDDC was established to address the backwardness of the region, which is the goose that lays the nation’s golden eggs. We derive our wealth from the region, but the area knows no development. Its people and environment are in a pitiable state, while their so-called representatives in the National Assembly are living big.
They are cocooned in posh mansions in Abuja while their people live in squalor back home. Rather than vent their spleen on these lawmakers when they come home, their poor constituents flock around them for crumbs from the masters’ tables. They are more at home with pittance from their representatives than with enduring assets befitting of the Niger Delta as the sustainer of the common weal. Why will Niger Delta lawmakers be more interested in their pockets than in the development of their region? Are they not ashamed that their region remains poor and deprived despite its status as the nation’s major revenue earner?
The people too! Why do they allow their leaders to steal their common wealth and blame others for what they brought upon themselves? Since they seem satisfied with what their leaders are doing, they should just remain silent forever and stop whining over the underdevelopment of their region. If they cannot take up their lawmakers for not showing interest in the region, will it be proper for them to challenge leaders from other areas over the matter?
Akpabio has, following Gbajabiamila’s challenge, released the names of lawmakers who got NDDC’s contracts. They are mainly from the Niger Delta. These lawmakers have been fighting tooth and nail to exonerate themselves. Akpabio appears to be a reluctant squealer though. He spilled the beans because he was seemingly forced to. It is hard to discountenance what he said no matter how strong those he accused deny the allegation. Akpabio and these people know themselves and he won’t have accused them for the fun of it, knowing the consequences of such action. Things would not have come to a head, if the lawmakers had not attempted to remove the speck in Akpabio’s eyes without first attending to the beam in theirs.
Now, the lawmakers mentioned in the bulky document he sent to Gbajabiamila to buttress his claim are fighting to clear themselves. But, the House, rather than face reality and do a soul search is bleating for nothing. It said it did not ask Akpabio to write to it, but to release the names of the legislator-contractors. Are some of those names not in the Akpabio papers? The public awaits the next round of the battle.
As mentioned in this space last week, there is no difference between our ministers and lawmakers. What is happening in NDDC is what obtains in other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The lawmakers will look the other way as long as they are carried along. But where they are not, all hell will be let loose. For the National Assembly to maintain its integrity, it should not turn the power of oversight which it wields over the executive to one for coralling contracts and public funds.
If it continues to abuse or misuse this power, it will continue to run into this kind of Akpabio storm. The outcome is obvious: it will distance itself from the people whose support matters most in such times of trouble.
Credit: The Nation