BEING THE TEXT OF A SPEECH BY DR. ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, CON, IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN SENATE ON ‘EXECUTIVE – LEGISLATIVE RELATIONSHIP’ PRESENTED TO A RETREAT ORGANISED BY THE BAYELSA STATE GOVERNMENT FOR MEMBERS OF THE STATE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL AND OTHER TOP GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONARIES AT THE IBOM-ICON HOTELS & GOLF RESORT, UYO, AKWA IBOM ON 18TH MARCH, 2021.
“The Senate (Legislature) was an independent entity and operated as a co-equal Branch; our democracy depended on the separation and balance between the two (executive and legislature)” – Tom Daschle, former US Senate Majority Leader (1)
1. I am indeed delighted to be here with top officials of the government of Bayelsa State to share my view and experience on one of the key issues that continue to underline the progress of our democracy. Your decision to choose the topic ‘The Relationship Between the Executive and the Legislature’ attests to the state government’s firm intellectual thrust. After all, it is a topic that seeks to address one of the sources of tension in governments at the different levels in our country, and your decision to discuss it shows your readiness to understand and manage the situation in the best interests of the people of your state.
2. Let me, therefore, commend the Governor of Bayelsa State, Sen. Douye Diri, the Deputy Governor, Sen. Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, and the entire team who organised this retreat for a good job and very insightful approach to governance. It depicts the depth of thinking that goes into governance in Bayelsa State. Does this surprise me? My answer is NO. Bayelsa is unique as it is governed by two experienced ex-legislators, both distinguished Senators. And expectedly, people will look out for the relationship between the executive and legislature in Bayelsa State where the Governor and his deputy came directly from the Nigerian Senate into the Government House.
3. I wish to discuss today’s topic from three different but interlinked perspectives: one historical, one constitutional, and the third, personal experience. Remember that I have served in both arms of government at the Federal and State levels. First, as Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria. Then, as a two-term Governor who also had to interact regularly with state legislators, and later as a two-term senator, the last four years of which I spent as President of the Nigerian Senate.
4. Democratic government as we know it today evolved in response to absolute monarchs who had all the powers of state and governance invested in them by right of birth. The refrain then was that ‘the king is the state’ and ‘the king can do no wrong. The absolute monarch was, therefore, the source of all law, and when holding court, he interpreted the law, executed the law, and was above the law. This was the rule of one man, not the rule of law. There were no checks and balances. As far back as the 14th century, first efforts were made to keep the king’s powers in check, by creating a chamber of powerful lords, the first instance of what has since become the Westminster Parliament – and executive powers started to be separated from the legislative branch of government.
5. The concept of ‘trias politico’ or “the tripartite separation of powers” was coined in the 18th century by Montesquieu, the famous French political philosopher. In his book, Espirit de Lois (Spirit of Laws), Montesquieu divided government into three branches – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. He was convinced this division would promote liberty and curb the dictatorial tendencies of monarchs and other forms of government where powers were fused or concentrated in the hands of one person or a group of persons. The idea was as simple as it was powerful: Each branch has the power to limit or check the other two, which creates a balance between the three separate branches of the state. This principle induces one branch to prevent either of the other branches from supremacy and thus lays the foundations of political liberty. It should be noted that Montesquieu’s principle drew heavily on the notion of separation of powers drawn up by John Locke in his Two Treatises on Government. Both men inspired the Constitution of the United States of America and created the very basis of democratic accountability.
6. The “separation of powers” therefore firstly means the division of government into three distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. Secondly, each of the three shall have a different source of legitimation. Thirdly, any person belonging to one branch may not at the same time belong to one of the others. This is the much-quoted system of checks and balances at the core of democratic governance. “Checks”, because there is accountability, ”balances” because none of the three can impose their will on the others.
7. All three branches centre on the law, albeit in different ways. The legislature makes the law. The executive implements or executes the law and the judiciary interprets the law as well as adjudicates over disputes arising from the application of the law.
8. Before the Second Republic, when our country adopted the US model of the presidential system of government, what we had in the First Republic was the British parliamentary model where there was still some form of fusion of powers. The Prime Minister who was head of government and his cabinet members, all of whom constituted the executive arm, also had to be members of the parliament. The same system is applied in the regional governments. In other words, cabinet members held the powers of the executive but emerged from the legislature, to which they nevertheless remained bound. Our 1979 constitution changed all that. Following the American model, thenceforth, no person could serve in the legislature and the executive at the same time. That sacred principle was upheld in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that currently applies in Nigeria. That is why Governor Diri had to resign as Senator to enable him to be inaugurated as a State Governor.
9. The thinking here is that the President or the Governor, even if they are only voted in by a majority, shall govern in the interest of the entire electorate. That is their legitimation. By contrast, the members of the legislature are legitimated differently. They are elected by constituencies and shall represent these. Not individually, but only collectively do they represent the national interest. The President forms a cabinet consisting of ministers whom he appoints by virtue of his position, and who have not been elected. Keeping them in check is therefore the purview of the elected representatives of the people, the legislature.
10. The “Separation of Powers” is enshrined In the 1999 constitution: Section 4 and Chapter V establish and set out the powers of the legislature. By contrast, Section 5 and Chapter VI establish and elaborate on the powers of the executive. Finally, Section 6 and chapter VII establish and list the powers of the judiciary.
11. The legislature in the form of the National Assembly is empowered to make laws (S. 58 and S.100). It also has the power of the purse, meaning it must approve the government budget (S. 59 and S. 120). This is only logical when seen in terms of its legitimation. Government budgets spend the tax revenues accruing to the government. The people of Nigeria therefore indirectly through their elected representatives control how the tax money – as ‘their’ money, is spent. It follows that the legislature also has the power to appropriate funds for the executive (S. 81 sub-section 1, Section 83 sub-section (1), and S. 121). It has the power to prescribe salaries and allowances of the chief executive (S. 84 and S. 124).
12. The legislature’s other powers include the authority to investigate any issue on which it has the power to make laws (S. 88 and S. 128) or any person or agency that executes duties concerning issues on which NASS has made laws or anybody or agency handling money on which the legislature has made laws. It also has the power to summon evidence (S. 89 and S. 129) and the power to remove from office a chief executive who has committed grave infractions (S. 143 for National Assembly and S. 188 for State House of Assembly). It also has the prerogative to approve appointees of the executive (S. 147 sub-section 2 and S. 192 sub-Section 2) – this is the basis of the ‘screening’ process. Moreover, since it is the source of all law, only the legislature can amend the constitution and both the National and State Houses of Assembly have to co-operate to make this happen (Section 9, subsections 1 – 4 of the constitution). This is why we say the collective Houses ‘constitute’ the basis of democratic rule. No legislature – no democracy. That is why the US Congress is described as “the citadel of democracy”. The same tag is appropriate for our legislature in Nigeria.
13. I think it goes without saying that given the reach of these powers, the legislature will now and again, possibly invariably, come into conflict with the activities of the executive. This conceptual conflict should not take us by surprise since the doctrine is designed to use the different arms of government to check one another. So, it can be said that our constitution and system of government are built in such conflict. This is why those who occupy leadership positions in both the executive and legislative arms must possess the necessary maturity, wisdom, and diplomacy to successfully navigate the system which has been set up to pitch one against the other.
14. The executive executes or implements laws. The executive formulates the policies and programmes through which the country or state is governed or administered. It makes budget proposals on how it intends to utilise the nation’s funds accruing to the federation or state. Its appointees, who are not elected, head the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of Government.
15. Our Constitution has allotted state powers to government by enumeration. In other words, it created a system of tiers of government and arms of government. By the tiers of government, powers are enumerated between the states and the Federal government. By the arms of government, power is separated, enumerated, and implied by norms amongst the three arms of governments.
16. Some of the powers shared by the three arms of government may appear contradictory in terms. These are essentially powers designed to curtail the excesses of the expression of the original powers granted. So, while the constitution grants the legislative powers to the National Assembly part of that power is withheld by way of veto and allotted to the executive to moderate an autocratic exercise of the legislative power. In the same vein, the power of the executive to declare policy direction and executive policy is by the same token, abridged by the legislative power to approve and determine the budget.
17. Another interesting power that is shared remarkably by both the executive and the legislature would be the power of appointment of certain executive branch members. Here, the president is empowered to appoint (nominate) certain public officers subject to the confirmation (consent) of the senate. This is one contentious area that need not be contentious. The question is, does the language of the provision empowering the president alone to select the person to be nominated? Many presidents have regarded this power as exclusive to them only to learn that it was politically necessary to share that task with others. Senators perform a prominent role in the appointment of heads of Federal courts and Supreme Court justices.
18. Beyond the enumerated powers, many powers are implied reasonably to the powers of the various arms of government. The watchword is “reasonably”. This is very important because there have been attempts at extrapolating these powers to a species of power popularly referred to as inherent powers. This is becoming a real danger to our democracy and the expression of state powers.
19. It has become more common to hear people refer to the inherent powers of the President or Governor, inherent powers of the legislature, etc. You may wonder why that is an important issue. The idea of inherent powers runs contrary to the intendment of enumerated powers. The powers are enumerated to avoid a resort to inherent powers. Everything not enumerated and cannot be implied from the enumerated powers must be considered abandoned. This is a very old legal principle. Inherent powers are exercised without accountability as they are not made within the ambit of enumerated powers. There is no greater danger to liberty and freedoms than the exercise of inherent powers.
20. It would then seem to appear that the realm of the rift between the legislature and the executive can then be located in this zone – implied powers and inherent powers. This is a deliberate thing the constitution has employed to assure the vital safeguard of checks and balances. The idea of the constitution is that no one individual has been found immune from the allure of power as to be so self-restrained that freedom is then secured. All have been found wanting and have fallen to the corrupting influence of power that except there be restraint by way of checks and balances, liberty will be imperiled.
21. As a result of our history in Nigeria, the least experienced, the youngest of the three arms of government is the legislature. This is the result of the intermittent existence of the legislature because, during military rule in the country, the first thing the military did on seizing power was to suspend the constitution and therefore disband the law-making institution. This is the very essence of the term ‘seizing power. The military council typically combined both executive and legislative powers. In the 60 years of post-Independence Nigeria, the military-ruled for 32 years, five months, without there being a legislature. The legislature has only existed in total for 27 years, seven months, and indeed it has only existed at one stretch for 22 years. So it is very much still in its youth – there has been a lot of ‘learning-by doing’.
22. It is obvious from the above that for there to be development, for government to run smoothly, the executive and legislature must interact productively. And this can only happen when they are led by those who have the capacity and are determined to make progress, those who have self-confidence and are ready to make compromises and co-operate in the interest of the people. This is the kernel of patriotism, as the very word ‘republic’ derives from the Latin “res publica”, which in English means “the matter of the public”, in other words, “the common good”. In a republic, the people’s elected representatives are elected to be patriotic in precisely this sense, in upholding the common good. The interaction between executive and legislature must therefore be productive for the common good, and not be one-sided between the chief executive and the legislators against the people or the state. The collaboration should be the type that in America saw Ronald Reagan, a Republican President, interact with a Democratic Party-controlled Senate led by Tip O’Neal patriotically – to save the social security programme and deliver comprehensive tax reform. Likewise, the Clinton administration and the Republican-controlled Congress worked together to pass welfare reform and balanced the budget for three consecutive years. (4) Also, the National Assembly worked in co-operation with the Obasanjo-led Executive to achieve the debt forgiveness policy which gave a new lease to the national economy then.
23. Why do we always have tension between these two arms? One, the tendency of the chief executives (Presidents and Governors) to want to dabble into who constitutes the leadership of the legislature. However, all that needs to be said here is, he who is being overseen cannot and must not dictate who is overseeing and performing the oversight. That would make nonsense of the constitution with its insistence on control of executive over-reach. While the executive might want a compliant, submissive, and ‘loyal’ legislature, that wish runs against the grain of constitutional democracy.
24. The interplay of these tendencies is more noticeable at the State level because there is much greater affinity and proximity between those who occupy these offices. It would be very surprising that a State Governor would not have known almost every member of the State House of Assembly before being elected, whether or not they are from the same party. This in itself breeds a certain level of familiarity which may be double-edged. It may result in mutual respect, or it may result in mutual distrust. Nonetheless, Governors have commonly sought to exert control over state legislatures. In this regard, it is apt to recall the struggle by state legislatures to secure financial autonomy. In 2010, following much agitation, the National Assembly In the constitutional amendment process, passed the resolution granting financial autonomy to state legislators. It remained only for 24 out of 36 State Houses of Assembly to pass the resolution. But only 23 Houses passed it. So it failed. Happily, at its reintroduction in the 2016 amendment process, it was passed by both the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly and assented to by the President in May 2018. Even then, many states are still trying to work out the modalities of giving effect to this law.
25. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the concept of checks and balances in-built into the constitution inevitably leads to conflict, tension, and disagreement. That is all good and proper, as it is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy. The watchdog at the entry is trained to be hostile to those it sees as intruders and outsiders looking inside the house to identify the excesses or faults. It stands to reason that a lack of adequate interaction between the leadership of both the executive and legislature before policies and programmes are announced publicly also creates tension. This is part of the problems that the National Assembly has had with the consecutive Presidents in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999 as it smacks of the executive treating the legislature as a rubber-stamp agency, not as the representatives of the people’s interests. Equally, there have been allegations that legislators also abuse their offices by engaging in blackmail, arm-twisting, and making reckless and frivolous demands from heads of MDAs and even, the chief executives, particularly in the performance of their oversight functions.
26. Another sore point in the relationship between the executive and the legislature is the belief by some members of the executive that any appointee forwarded to the legislature for screening must be passed. It is an assumption that flies in the face of the very reason why the legislature is there – to oversee. You all remember our experience with the Ibrahim Magu case in which a critical agency of the executive disqualified the appointee and the Senate was blamed for not passing a man the Department of State Security, (DSS), an agency under the control of the executive, found unfit. Recent events have now shown that the man lacks the capacity and competence for the job. You also witnessed the mischievous interpretation that some very top officials of the administration gave to the provision of the law when they claimed that the appointment of Magu ought not to have come before the Senate. That was a mere attempt to bend the law to suit personal whims. However, what could be done to alleviate such conflict would be to make certain that the interaction is on a level playing field. By this, I mean the fact that the legislature, as we have seen, lacks the same level of experience, expertise, and continuity as that of the executive. This needs to be changed as it creates an uneven balance in the separation of powers. Indeed, given that the legislature has little institutional memory, as each session of the legislature has new players, we need more flanking institutions to support it in this regard.
27. The above conflicts have also manifested in the constant impeachment of Senate Presidents and Speakers at the Federal and State legislature. In the first eight years of the return of democracy, the Senate had no less than five Senate Presidents and the House had three speakers. In this regard, the executive personified the oft-quoted ‘banana peels’, on which Senate Presidents and Speakers invariably slipped. Till today, speakers in state assemblies are still being frequently removed from office at the behest of the executive, which rests on a misunderstanding of their role. You are all familiar, I am sure, with my experience in the Senate and how several attempts were aimed at my displacement as the President of the 8th Senate. The numerous court battles based on patently false and untenable allegations were designed to weaken me and bring a manifestly robust Senate to its knees. When the legal route failed, strong-arm tactics were adopted. First, they forcefully seized the symbol of the Senate’s authority, the mace. Then, the National Assembly was invaded by heavily armed DSS operatives.
28. Sadly, that must count as one of the darkest moments in our democratic curve. It is an experience that should never be visited in our nation again. As I have said earlier, the leadership of both arms must display maturity, wisdom, and diplomacy in governance.
29. Having discussed the fraught issues, what are my suggestions on the way forward? The executive at all levels should stop interfering with who leads the legislature. Since we modeled our constitution on that of the United States, let me reference events in that country once more. President Joe Biden had no say in how Nancy Pelosi became Speaker nor did he influence Chuck Schumer’s emergence as Senate majority leader. And though she was a thorn in his side, Donald Trump did not seek to oust Nancy Pelosi. Imposing a speaker on the legislature does not make for efficiency of the Assembly, it goes against the very principles of democracy. Small wonder that it has often created more problems for the Governor.
30. Further, the President and Governors should learn to interact constructively with the legislature by presenting their case, and doing so in good time. Without buy-in to policies, programmes, and proposed executive bills you will have pre-programmed conflict. I am not canvassing for inducement of legislators but for prior briefing and in-depth discussion between the leadership of both arms of government to find common ground for the common good. This can remove the tension and disagreement that underscore the debate on the issue during plenary. As mentioned, the times that the US had different parties controlling the executive and legislature, bi-partisan interaction helped the administrations of the day to record successes in the passage of enduring policies and programmes. In the Second Republic, the NPN used the weekly caucus meeting between the executive, legislative arms of government, and the ruling party to ensure synergy. My late father, Dr. Olusola Abubakar Saraki, was then the Senate Leader and it was his responsibility to ensure that whatever was agreed in that caucus meeting prevailed in the Senate. This is a beautiful tradition we have discarded to our detriment. Blind partisanship is anathema to democratic consensus. Let me also note that the budget process should always be a collective effort from the beginning to the end.
31. We also need to develop and preserve institutional memories by allowing our efficient legislators to serve for many more terms and providing the tools and resources to support them in their duties. I am not sure there is anywhere in Nigeria today where you have a state legislator with 20 years experience, let alone serve in assembly committees and has accumulated knowledge down through the years. This is not good in terms of growing the knowledge base and competence of legislators. We all believe that elders have wisdom, and yet we prevent there being elders in our legislature. In Kwara State, between 2007 and 2019, we tried to ensure that at least one-third of our legislators both in the state and National Assembly got re-elected.
32. There is also the need for legislative institutions to invest heavily in the capacity development of their members. One of our development partners, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, has made it its duty to provide special courses familiarizing new members of state legislatures, for example, on all the ins and outs of the workings of the respective Houses of Assembly. Other foreign missions in the country assist with visits to counterpart assemblies abroad. We can and we must consciously make sure we all move forward on that learning curve. For the member of a legislature, winning an election is only a first step. Immediately afterward is when the learning begins. At the same time, there must be a robust bureaucracy in place of civil servants firmly and unwaveringly committed to supporting the workings of the respective House of Assembly. Such civil servants will be impervious to political squabbling and take their cue solely from the sanctity of the rule of law. That again is something that must be trained and engrained.
33. The legislature also needs to do an introspective re-examination. In a speech to the Senate four years ago, I addressed this issue. In the speech I stated that: “For too long Nigerians have challenged the lawmakers to justify your presence as an arm of government. Many have wondered what exactly you do that entitled you to certain privileges. I believe that the best answer you can provide to all these is to continue to seek ways that would enable ordinary citizen to feel the impact of the legislature in their lives. I dream of a day when the poor woman sitting in her house in rural Awka would be able to see the benefit of your work on her life. I dream of a day when a child going to school in Gusau would feel the benefit of the laws that you make. I dream of a day when a young lady in Oporoma or Ogbia would be able to say how the State Assembly has helped her small business. I dream of a day when a farmer in Kolu-Ama would see how those of us legislators gathered in this hall have helped to improve his life.” Needless to say, I have not stopped dreaming that dream. My dear legislators in Bayelsa State, every one of you should ask himself or herself what action or bill have you initiated which can directly impact or improve the lives of your people. You must not stop asking yourself this question.
34. I am confident that if the legislature toes the path of making itself continually relevant to the improvement in the standard of living of the people, the people will support it against any aggressive and antagonistic executive. This is because as elected representatives whose mandates derive directly from the constituents of our people; the lawmakers are close to them, they hear their cries and feel their pains. The legislators know the daily struggles of the people’s lives. And they understand that the only way they can justify their presence in government at this time is to rise above their worries, their fears, and their frustration and provide real leadership that brings the people relief and make their lives better.
35. Let me state that the challenge above in paragraphs 34 and 36 was originally given to the 8th Senate in 2015. I adapted it for our discussion today. It is for these reasons that during the four years that I was President of the Eighth Senate from 2015 to 2019, my primary objective was to make the parliament relevant to the daily lives of ordinary Nigerians, to let ordinary Nigerians feel that the legislature has a role to play in their lives and in making their lives easier and better. With my colleagues, we focused on making people feel the impact of the legislature as an institution that will always intervene when issues concerning their daily existence arose. My goal was to take the legislature into the homes, offices, workshops, the private and public spaces of the people so that they could better value, understand, appreciate and utilize it. Only then, after all, will they feel represented –“of the people, by the people, for the people”.
36. Whenever I have had the opportunity to talk about what we did in the Eight Senate, many people expect me to talk about the unprecedented high number of bills we passed and such other record-breaking achievements of the Eight Senate. To me, those were issues of bricks and mortar that I will rather allow the historians to delve into. Instead, what I am most proud of are the soft issues of daily existence that we dealt with, the real-life engagements we had with people, and the interventions that brought people from far and wide closer to the National Assembly Complex.
37. For example, when electricity and data consumers complained about the planned hike in power and data prices, we got the regulatory agencies, NERC and NCC to stop what would have been additional burden on the people. In fact, in the case of electricity, we found out that the DISCOs were adding an automatic N700 monthly charge to consumers’ bills and also doing bulk metering. We ensured these not consumer-friendly measures stopped. That served to get electricity and telecoms consumers to appreciate the parliament.
38. The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions treated 192 cases (no Senate before us handled up to 20). These were petitions filed by ordinary Nigerians who had cases of unlawful termination of appointment, refusal to pay retirement benefits, suspension from work without following due process etc, against government agencies but could not afford to go to court or they believe the court cases will delay for a long time. We resolved these issues and restored the rights and benefits of those who, in our view, deserved restitution. The beneficiaries of that service would know what a parliament does.
39. We introduced OpenNass campaign in which we had a website providing information on the initiative, highlighting the role of the legislature in deepening governance and democracy. We thereafter held three OpenNASS events with citizens having the opportunity to engage with senators. Participants described each of the session as interactive, successful and satisfying. We also had a programme called Public Senate in which some selected youths across the country had the opportunity to spend a day with the Senate President in the office. As Senate President, I held reading sessions in my office for children during Children’s Day.
40. We opened Senate plenary and committee meetings to the public through live tweets and using Tweeter, YouTube and Facebook. We had a daily viewership of 20,000 on YouTube and interaction with millions on the Nigerian Senate Twitter handles. We also aired our plenary proceedings live on NTA every Wednesday.
41. Whenever the situation demanded, we left the imposing edifice of the National Assembly to reach out to the person on the street. We showed that parliament belongs to the people and that there should be no barrier between a lawmaker and those they represent. Thus, in 2015, we visited IDP camp in Maiduguri where we spoke with the people, carried their babies, comforted them, letting them know that their wellbeing was a priority for the Senate. It was the first visit by any delegation from the National Assembly since Boko Haram started ten years earlier and it drew tears from the eyes of then-Governor Kassim Shettima. Today, the North East Development Commission is a reality. In 2017, during Ramadan, we were in IDP camp in Kuchingoro. On May 27, 2018, Children’s Day, we were in IDP camp in Abagena, Benue State to celebrate with the children. We intervened in the medical treatment of Ali Ahmadu, the ten-year-old victim of Boko Haram who was later sent to Dubai to treat his spinal cord injury. He visited my office in a wheelchair before the surgery and walked, dressed in a suit to come and greet me after his return.
42. We took parliamentary proceedings to the states to engage with the people to find solutions to certain problems through our Roundtable Dialogues. We held one on Drug Abuse in Kano. Another one on illegal migration held in Benin and the third one on education and youth unemployment inside the National Assembly. The fourth one on security was held in the NAF Suites and Events Centre in Kado, Abuja. The 8th Senate initiated the idea of having a public hearing on budget in which stakeholders from across the country were invited to make input into the budget preparation process.
43. We deliberately worked hard to ensure the passage of the constitutional amendment bill which lowered the age qualifications for the various elective positions in other to yield to the yearnings of the youths. The bill we passed is popularly known as the Not-Too-Young-to- Run Bill. This is a legacy we left for the youths to benefit from in expediting their entry into the commanding heights of governance.
44. If you also look at some of the laws we passed in the 8th Senate, they were targeted at positively affecting the lives of different strata of the Nigerian society and in particular, young people. When we amended the UBEC Act to ensure that the free education programme covered the entire secondary school years instead of just basic education, we were reaching out to parents and their wards. We also ensured the amendment included reducing counterpart funds to be paid by states from 50 percent to 10 percent so that state governments could easily access the funds for infrastructure development in schools.
45. We passed the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions (Prohibition) Bill to protect young women and ensure a safer learning environment in our higher institutions for female students. We also debated a motion on the Monica Osagie incident in OAU, Ile Ife, and insisted there must be a thorough investigation and appropriate sanction.
46. When we passed the Disability Bill and included a provision that makes it mandatory for public buildings, roads, and sidewalks to provide for facilities that guarantee the right of People Living With Disability to have easy access, we were making the Parliament relevant to that constituency. We also passed the Senior Citizen Centre Bill 2016 which was to set up care facilities across the country for the aged. That was to make parliament useful to our old people. Remember, the legislature is there to secure the common good.
47. The National Assembly under my leadership was the first to implement the provision of the law on Basic Healthcare Provision Fund when we included in the 2018 budget One Percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to be devoted to primary health care. It was part of our agenda to “Make Nigeria Stronger” by helping to maintain a healthy citizenry. The then Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole described that move as a “Game Changer”. From Bill Gates, to Bono, the musician, to DG of WHO, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, it was commendation galore for the 8th National Assembly on that singular action.
48. I can go on and on to mention so many issues that the 8th State attended to. Many of our progressive bills were deliberately denied presidential assent. That is why I earlier stated that it saddens me to look back and see how the power-mongers around the presidency set this country back by ensuring that the bills that could have helped the socio-economic development of the country remain in limbo, out of a misunderstanding, might I say, of the rationale for the separation of powers. The various branches of government are separated precisely to promulgate our common purpose as a nation. We thank God that history has continued to vindicate us.
49. In closing, what I want the members of the House of Assembly in Bayelsa State to take away from today are as follows: One, your leadership should quickly sit down and draw a well-thought-out Legislative Agenda which becomes the compass, guiding your activities throughout your tenure. The proposed Agenda must be thoroughly debated and approved on the floor. Two, It is also good for you to emphasise the role of the legislature as ombudsman. Define clearly and let the people know how they can send petitions to the House through the Committee on Ethics, Privileges, and Public Petitions when they have grievances against government agencies and how you will ensure that justice is done in all cases. Three, there must be a set of codes and guidelines on how you conduct your oversight on the MDAs such that this noble exercise does not become self-serving but remains a sacrosanct public service and fulfillment of legislative roles. Four, individual honourable members should have certain bills or initiatives which they are pursuing the benefit of their constituents. Imagine if we have 24 such bills and initiatives effectively in place that are bringing succor to the people of this great state at the end of the tenure of this Assembly, how memorable your tenure will be! Five, the Assembly should also have a well-spelled out process for budget consideration and passage as well as for screening appointees sent to you by the executive. All these will help you because it is said that “what gets measured gets done”.
50. Also, the executive should also deliberately create avenues for interaction between legislators and members of the executive. An avenue like this retreat is a great one and I recommend that other states should borrow from the Bayelsa State example. Frequent policy sessions and inter-arm debate over programmes before they are made public can help create synergy and good working relationships. I would even go so far as to suggest that such interactive sessions be institutionalized with mentoring where relevant past members of the legislature who can then pass on their knowledge and insights into processes and policymaking are invited. After all, policymaking is one thing – having everyone know what is involved is another. A strong governor is a governor who works with a strong state House of Assembly – that is his feedback loop, so he knows that he is taking his people with him. I am sure that with hindsight he will then understand that when he is opposed to a motion it is to the good of his state. I implore my brother, Governor Diri to deliberately continue to work for a harmonious relationship and make Bayelsa State a model where both arms of government work together for the people. Mr. Governor, because of your unique antecedent, people will look out for what happens here between both arms of government. I am very sure there will always be a good story to tell.
51. It is therefore only logical that I would like to close by appealing to the legislators and the Governor of Bayelsa State to interact productively in the interests of your people and for your people. Not in a conspiracy against the people.
- God bless Nigeria. God bless Bayelsa State.