‘National Assembly Has Credibility Problem’ - Samson Osagie, minority whip of the House of Representatives, is a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria from Edo State. He speaks with Tajudeen Suleiman, associate editor
What can you say about the oversight responsibilities of the National Assembly?
It is an important responsibility of the National Assembly to make laws, and after making the laws, it has responsibility to make sure that the law is complied with. So it is the oversight responsibility that is used to ensure that the executive complies with the laws made. It is a very important responsibility that the legislature will never joke with. And in furtherance of those responsibilities is the power, under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution, to carry out investigations into the activities of ministries, agencies and departments of government with regard to the discharge of their core mandates for which appropriations have been adequately made by the legislature. And the purpose is simple – to expose corruption and inefficiency in order to strengthen the agencies of government for service delivery purpose.
From your experience, has the legislature carried out this function in the way it is expected?
Definitely I will say yes. The House of Representatives has not shied away from its responsibilities, even if it has been viewed by the executive as very antagonistic. The legislature is the arm of government that has been the whipping boy of our presidential (system). The House of Reps, through its oversight responsibilities, has been able to unearth corruption in many sectors. Through our oversight responsibilities, Nigerians have come to know about so many things that have gone wrong in the system. Is it the petroleum sector, capital market or pension? The House has been able to expose a lot of things. The challenges that you see, I mean some of our colleagues getting into troubled waters, are a result of fight-back. You know corruption is endemic in our system and it pervades all ministries, agencies and departments that we (have) oversight, and these people will definitely have problem with the legislature, and they normally fight back. But that notwithstanding, if you choose to leave the messenger and look at the messages that have come from the oversight, you will come to realise that it is in indeed a very potent weapon for putting the executive in proper check.
But after exposing these things what happens next? Nigerians are worried that reports of probes by the National Assembly are not implemented.
The doctrine of separation of powers expects all organs of government to carry out their responsibilities in a way that complements each other and impact on the overall dividends of good governance. Now we live in a political environment where the executive is hardly cooperative with the legislature in the conduct of its oversight responsibilities. What the people tend not to understand is that once the legislature exposes inefficiency and corruption within an executive organ of government, it is the function of the executive arm of government to use the recommendations of the legislature to put things in proper shape. But because the executive is usually averse to listening to the legislature, let alone implement its recommendations, they will not act on it. The only option left for the legislature is to use those refusals as basis to accuse the executive of misconduct in the act of governance, and you know what that means. Our democracy is growing, and if the legislature chooses on a daily basis to accuse the executive of gross misconduct, we’re going to create instability and unnecessarily heating up the polity. So we have resorted to settling the issues arising from all these through dialogue. So if you ask what next? You should ask the executive because they have the responsibilities to implement.
Has the executive implemented any of your resolutions since the inauguration of the current assembly?
I can’t make reference to anyone off-hand, but I guess that some of our resolutions may have led to a shift in position by the executive in some areas. Some have not been implemented at all. It is unlikely that the executive would like to implement decisions of the legislature because as far as they are concerned, National Assembly resolutions are “mere opinions.” They see the legislature as a meddlesome interloper.
What can you say to the allegation that the legislators are motivated by desire to line their pockets in the conduct of legislative business, and that it may be the reason the executive has not shown interest in implementing the recommendations coming from the legislature?
I wouldn’t blame anybody who makes such allegation because events have thrown up such credibility issues against the National Assembly. But if you notice the tenure of debates on the floor of the House, you will see the genuine expression of concern by the legislators about institutional lapses. And so if in the course of carrying out its responsibilities, some members are compromised, it does not mean that the entire legislature or the legislative process has been compromised. It is not an excuse to ignore recommendations and resolutions of the National Assembly.