I must confess that I have benefited so much from a paper delivered by my mentor and lecturer ,Professor Sam Egite Oyovbaire at an international seminar in Abuja in the year 2000. But I take all blames for whatever deficiency that may be in this write-up.
Nigeria is celebrating its “Democracy Day”. I would like to believe that it is about Nigeria’s return to constitutional democracy from military authoritarianism. Whether or not, looking at the journey over 21years ago, it is worth celebrating, is neither here, nor there. But I will like to believe along with others that the mere return to civil rule, no matter how bad the civilian rule is, is better than a benevolent military rule. I say, congratulations Nigeria.
The return of constitutional democracy principally marked the return of the Legislative arm of government. We had all the three arms of government functioning during the First Republic( 1960 to January 1966), The military intervened in politics and governance bwgining in1966, including subsequent military regimes up to 1999. As they came, they sacked the Legislature and all the political office holders, suspended parts of the Constitution and ruled the country by Decrees. It got to a time when any public statement made by the military Head of State was regarded as law and of equal status with the existing laws.
It is important to note that when the military arrived, they merely sacked the Legislature and changed the political actors. What remained intact was the judiciary , because it was seen that their role consisted in interpreting the laws and the military-made decrees. The military took charge of both the Executive and legislative functions of the two arms of government.
When the military decided to leave governance and the political scene, it enacted a constitution by decree which returne governance from military authoritarianism to civil constitutional democracy in 1999.
It is not surprising therefore, that of the three arms , the Legislature is not only the least developed, but the least publicly appreciated, as well. Some have described the Legislature as the “weakest link”, while others say that it has never been adequately nurtured, inspite of the status all constitutions since 1954 accord the Legislature, as the “primus intrepares “, yet it has not made its contributions adequately to public policy and good governance acceptable to all. It is an irony, therefore, that inspite of the return to constitutional democracy and it’s revivalism and revitalization, yet it is the Executive arm that is generally looked up to by the citizenry as “the government “. But for that, the celebration of “Democracy Day”, should have been a celebration of Nigeria’s Legislature.
The MODES Of Relationship between the Legislature and the Executive:
Their relationship is both complex and interlocking. This is more so when both the Executive and the Legislature are dominated by members of the same party.
There are three levels of this relationship:
1) the party manifesto and it’s programmes;
2) this level derives from having been given the mandate to govern through elections;
3) the Constitution on which members of both arms of government have sworn to uphold, protect and advance its objectives and raison d’etre.Therefore, both arms are to forge and foster proper and positive relationship.Although each arm is constitutionally separate, autonomous and independent of each other, yet they are functionally dependent on each other, and responsibly interlocked in the protection and advancement of the interests, well being , of the people, as well as the defence and security of the country. In this , they have a conjoint responsibility, and are therefore to cooperate for the smooth functioning of democracy.
Having said this, we would like to state that there are four possible identifiable modes of relationship between the Legislature and the Executive. They are :
1) subservience or pliance which implies complete dependence of the Legislature on the Executive. Here, the Executive assumes the role of “patron”. However , this role is neither assumed nor anticipated by Nigeria’s Constitutional democracy. Such a role could turn the Legislature into a caricature of democratic statecraft, without the Legislature adding any value to democracy. I am afraid, this may be the case with this 9th Assembly and the states.
2) the second mode is that of hostility, and gridlock, whereby the relationship between the two arms translates into that of separateness, mutual suspicions, and combatants.The constitution could not anticipate this mode as governance could grind to a halt. This could also create constitutional and political paralysis , breakdown of law and order and anarchy. What nears this mode is the 8th Assembly, although it did not reach the breakdown of law and order and anarchy.
3) there is also the third , which is the mode of splendid, or luxurious isolationism. This not too different from number two above in terms of its effects. This mode constantly evokes the threat of use of impeachment by the Legislature against the Executive.Impeachment should be an act of last resort.Since there are periodic elections at which both the Executive and the Legislature are elected, for fixed terms,the electorates have the ultimate legitimacy to sack the elected. However, impeachment is the exercise of that power by the Legislature, on behalf of the electorate, and this is only in very grave circumstances in which the Executive is adjudged to have breached the Constitution or the mandate of the electorate. We could see the mixture of all of the above modes under the Obasanjo government. Constitutional democracy does not assume and expect this kind of relationship.
4) the fourth mode is what one may call, CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN THE Legislature and the Executive.The constitution and the people’s will or mandate, expect and assume that both arms of government should conduct their constitutional affairs in a manner that supports the raison d’etre of constitutional democracy . Both arms have to develope this relationship. It is a fundamental measure of the political process to forge the growth and development of this mode of relationship. This culture should be cultivated, not only at the national level, but at the states and local governments levels as well. Where both arms do not acknowledge and respect each other, constitutional democracy in Nigeria would be difficult to sustain and consolidate.
Nigeria is over 21 years old in this uninterrupted democratic and constitutional experience and should not be seen to be still learning the ropes. It is hoped that both arms should learn and mature very quickly with a view to fortifying the future and to instal a constitutional democracy that will serve the interests of the people.
Chief Barr Joshua D Ephraim writes from Abuja