by Oke Epia
In as much as destructive criticism is unhelpful and unpatriotic, the same can be said of the conduct of a legislature that defaults on its constitutional mandate, thereby derailing the trust citizens have vested on it.
I NEED to draw attention to some salient realities before making my submissions. First, there is an air of disenchantment with government and by extension, widespread contempt for top government functionaries. Several explanations account for this ominous development, chief of which is the dismal performance of the social contract between government and the governed. Secondly and arising from the above, the form of criticisms that attends public policies and government pronouncements has assumed mostly negative dimensions such that even the noblest intentions of leaders are greeted with incredulity and derision in some cases. For the record, citizens are guaranteed the right to freedom of expression in a democracy. Therefore, constructive criticism as different from its destructive variant is sine qua non for the sustenance of the democratic project.
Political history teaches that the modern-day legislature typifies the evolutionary maturity of the Grecian template of democracy. What this means is that the National Assembly of a nation embodies the essence and ethos of democracy. This is why the assemblage of 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives elected by the mass generality of Nigerians is a sacred trust that cannot be taken for granted. It is therefore incumbent on citizens to guard and nurture the legislature to blossom into an epitome of participatory governance. It becomes quite unhelpful for the legislature to be subjected to endless barrage of unhealthy criticisms and jaundiced cynicism as this may amount to nibbling at the very essence of our renascent democracy and ridiculing that collective resolve to substitute the village square mob rule with a supra-representative architecture.
However, in as much as destructive criticism is unhelpful and unpatriotic, the same can be said of the conduct of a legislature that defaults on its constitutional mandate, thereby derailing the trust citizens have vested on it. The House of Representatives under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal is unequivocally committed to upholding this trust. Robustly supported by the Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Speaker Tambuwal and the rest of the leadership team is resolved to continually champion the common man’s cause no matter the amount of buffeting from reactionary forces and arm chair critics who prefer a weak legislature to a vibrant one. Notwithstanding a few imperfections, the House of Representatives has tried to stay true to its pro-people legislative agenda unveiled at the beginning of this seventh session. And such tenacity of purpose has yielded positive empirical results that even objective-minded critics can attest to. Some examples will now be offered to buttress this point.
The issue of implementing the 2012 Appropriation Act generated a stormy debate in the polity following its spotlighting by the House of Representatives shortly before proceeding on its annual vacation in July. While different interpretations, insinuations, and variants of percentages (as per level of implementation of the budget) have arisen from the decision of the House to bring the nagging issue to the fore, what has become a clear fall-out is that the Executive arm of government has paid greater attention to the appropriation law than before. We have seen ministers make presentations on budget performance of their ministries; funds unduly withheld have been reportedly released for projects and procurement that met due process criteria; and very recently, President Goodluck Jonathan caused his ministers to sign a performance contract to ostensibly monitor deliverables (signposted of course in the appropriation act) of his transformation agenda. While Nigerians expect these actions to translate to better conditions of life and standard of living, credit must go to the House of Representatives for moving boldly to challenge lethargy in the system and promote a culture of budget implementation that has eluded the country for much of this Fourth Republic.
Take another example. The rot in the oil downstream sector manifested in the shameful subsidy scam has been considerably unravelled to the extent that government has commenced prosecution of those indicted in the law courts. This did not just happen. It took the intervention of the House of Representatives beginning with its historic January 8 extra-ordinary plenary session to arrive at this junction. In spite of the controversy that engulfed the ad-hoc committee on management of government subsidy, the report of that panel laid the foundation for the rash of committees set up by the executive arm to save face. Today, some names and faces have emerged in the sham scheme perpetrated by a cabal. Today, Nigerians know better than to accept that the subsidy scheme was a favour from government when it was actually a bogus bogey contrived to patronize political pay-masters and their hirelings. Today, citizens can stand shoulder tall and demand transparency and accountability in a sector characterised by the abracadabra of the more you look the less you see. The gains are legion but they are all an offshoot of the bold move taken by the House Speaker, Tambuwal.
Nigerians may have forgotten but it bears recalling here that one of the first probes undertaken by the House eventually saved the country billions of naira. The Single Windows contract, which basically stripped a statutory government agency of its powers and closed a revenue-generating avenue in favour of private pockets was successfully unravelled by the Hon. Leo Ogor committee and government was forced to reverse an ignoble step. For its worth, the probe of the capital market crash successfully revealed to Nigerians the discordance, incompetence, and mismanagement hitherto prevalent in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that could have led to further derailment of the financial sector. And as a result, government has made moves to stem the tide. This is of course without prejudice to the controversy that trailed the initial panel, which commenced the probe.
But in proclaiming its landmark legislative agenda, the House did not say the discharge of its functions will be tamper-proof. But the corrective measures taken to restore confidence after an occasional slip have been quite effective as manifested in the cohesion and relative stability that have continued to grace the seventh session of the House of Representatives. As the Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Ihedioha put it in a recent public lecture he delivered at the University of Lagos, it will be helpful for Nigerians to discard the skepticism and cynicism in which they hold the National Assembly “not because scandals will not erupt once in a while, but the House of Representatives as an institution has mechanisms in place to deal with such matters as they arise.
“This is why the House has not found it difficult to do the needful when any member is speculated or believed to have overreached himself in the discharge of any responsibility assigned to him or her. The House of Representatives is a pre-eminent democratic national institution, which must not be allowed to be rubbished on account of the actions or inactions of its members. Ultimately, history will forgive us for taking wrong steps (if any) but will not forgive us for not taking any at all when it mattered.”
The leadership and crisis management quality displayed by the Tambuwal-Ihedioha team has been hailed as a critical element in the distinctive performance of the current House of Representatives. A leadership that was popularly elected by Honourable members across partisan divide and continues to receive unwavering support and massive commitment from membership of the House cannot afford to let Nigerians down. A House of articulate, cerebral and urbane members like Hon. Dakuku Peterside (PDP, Rivers State); Hon. Bamidele Opeyemi (ACN, Ekiti State); Hon. Aliyu Gebi (CPC, Bauchi State); Hon. Victor Ogene (APGA, Anambra State); Hon. Nkoyo Toyo (PDP, Cross River State); and Hon. Beni Lar (PDP, Plateau State), among many other individuals of exemplary character, can certainly not be in the mood to let Nigerians down.
A House, which “seeks to build a new image for the legislature; a strong, vibrant, effective Legislature, able to assert itself as an important partner with other arms of government in the delivery of good governance, according respect to the Rule of Law and Due Process,” as affirmed in the legislative agenda is what Nigeria deserves and it behoves on Nigerians to assist in this quest by doing away with cynicism and unhelpful criticisms.
* Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.