Elder statesman and Second Republic Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, has upbraided the National Assembly over its rubberstamp posture towards President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mohammed wondered why the National Assembly did not drag President Buhari to the Supreme Court over his refusal to offer explanations about the appalling security situation in the country.
Mohammed’s position was reinforced by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), which predicted that hard days await Nigerians due to the National Assembly selling out on their constitutional mandate of making Buhari accountable to the people over the existential threats they face daily.
Mohammed spoke with The Guardian in the wake of the abduction of about 600 schoolchildren from their dormitory at the Government Secondary School (GSSS), Kankara, Katsina State, by Boko Haram insurgents. The Kano-born politician claimed that Buhari’s refusal to appear before the National Assembly clearly underlined the president’s contempt for both the Assembly and Nigerians.
According to him: “Under the letter and spirit of our Constitution, one of the main responsibilities of the National Assembly is to hold the executive branch accountable, to make sure that whatever they do is within the Constitution and the law and they also hold the power of the purse by making sure that all monies spent must be properly appropriated first.
“But they should have started by taking their responsibilities seriously by making sure that people appointed into certain offices of the two chambers are people of sound character with good background and people who have something to offer.
“From the word go, it was clear the executive arm was determined to put their “yes men” as political officers in the National Assembly. As the saying goes, if you sow the wind you reap the whirlwind and I was not surprised that from 2015 to date, there is nothing to show in terms of concrete achievements. And, of course, there was no effort to hold the executive arm accountable.
“And there was no serious effort to go into the background of quite a number of the appointments made. As the Senate and the House of Representatives became rubber-stamp legislature and they feel that their job is to paint the president in good light, even though he is an indolent, lazy person, and these are the consequences.
“But then the question to ask is, when they invited Buhari to the House to offer explanation or, at least deliver a speech, to give his own side of the story on the dismal security situation in the country and he refused, and then asking his attorney-general to issue a statement, I would have thought that the National Assembly should rather sue the president and let the Supreme Court give interpretation.
“Or on the contrary, they should now commence proceedings to impeach the president, but they didn’t do that. But they simply did a performance, so that people will say they have done well. As far as I am concerned, they have not done anything.
“And to show Buhari’s disgust and contempt for the National Assembly, he decided, a day after he refused to attend the House of Representatives’ summons, to go to his village to rest, as if he had been doing something. I don’t believe anybody who had been lazy and indolent have any right to rest. If you are a president, whether you are in the village, Abuja or abroad, you are still the president. You don’t exhibit your irresponsibility by going to rest.”
“And by some mystical design, upon his arrival in Katsina and his village in Daura he was confronted with another national tragedy: the abduction of students in Kankara, close to his local government. So, you can see that he has his priority, which is not the security of lives and properties of Nigerians. His priority is to show that he is popular in a state where he was stoned, with the youth tearing away his pictures and abusing him.”
Mohammed said what NASS should have done was to reject his statement through his attorney-general questioning the legality of his invitation and then ask the Supreme Court to give interpretation of their powers to invite the president to appear before them. Mohammed said there was need to give interpretation on an issue of law and morality that confronted the president, so Nigerians could understand what is at stake, adding; ”What we have now is that Nigerians are in limbo.”
ALSO, HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, argued that the National Assembly’s inability to hold the president accountable remains a gross violation of the constitutional principles of separation of powers aimed at the enthronement of a one-party state.
“The leadership of the National Assembly is so subservient to the whims and caprices of the president to the extent that both the Senate President and the House Speaker have put mechanisms in place to silence the voices of the opposition.
“Also, there’s a deliberate scheme put in place by the All progressive Congress (APC) to try as much as they can to bribe and coerce members of the National Assembly from the other parties to cross carpet into the APC, just in a calculated attempt to achieve sinister political motives and plots which are anti-people and anti-democracy.
“The weakening of the strength and vibrancy of the leadership of the legislative chambers is a deliberate plan to destroy everything we ever built as institutions to sustain constitutional democracy and this will ultimately lead to the emergence of a strong man presiding over weak and compromised institutions, meaning that totalitarianism will arise.
“The rubberstamp tendency of the Senate President, Mr. Ahmed Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, is an egregious example of total disrespect to the Constitutional provisions of the separation of powers as provided for in Sections 4, 5 and 6 clearly delineating the distinctive roles and positions of the executive, legislature and judiciary arms of government.”
HURIWA also accused the leadership of NASS of short-changing the Nigerian people and suppressing their wishes by succumbing to every whim and caprice of Buhari, citing the instances of foisting foreign loans on the country without due legislative diligence.
ALSO, highlighting the implication of lame-duck status of the National Assembly on democracy, CDD’s Executive Director, Idayat Hassan, noted: “Firstly, we must come to terms with the fact that it is not a coincidence that the National Assembly has been very weak in playing its role of oversighting institutions in the executive. Since the advent of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, the NASS has operated on a very weak moral foundation.
“This has resulted in citizens questioning its legitimacy, as a result of the perception that the NASS is one of the drainpipes guzzling scarce resources, which should have gone into making life better for the people of this country.
“The result is that the shaky legitimacy with which the NASS has operated has rendered it impotent in carrying out its oversight functions, thereby eroding its capacity to check the excesses of the executive arm. And there are many areas in which the NASS could have risen in defence of the national interest, but in most of these cases, it has shirked its responsibility and allowed the executive have a free rein.
“Let’s take the example of the alarming rise in Nigeria’s national debt. If we had a proactive and patriotic National Assembly, Nigeria would not be mired in another swamp of debt. And the question is, what do we have to show for the massive debts the country has been saddled with? For all the trillions of naira in debt, where is the first class infrastructure? Where are the roads? Where are the hospitals?
Idayat noted that if NASS were alive to its responsibilities, it would have leveraged its powers to hold the executive accountable, and if the citizens perceived that NASS has the requisite integrity, the people will back the assembly, adding that it would then be difficult for the executive arm to overlook what the representatives say.
“In the end, it is democracy and good governance that suffer,” she said. “So, to the question about its effect on democracy, it is clear that a docile, supine and lame-duck NASS is an albatross on the entire democratic system. Unfortunately, this has been the tragedy of representation in Nigeria since 1999.”