Speaker Yakubu Dogora

Speaker Yakubu Dogora

Democracy Under Trial In Africa- Dogara



I have known of few greater honour than the invitation extended to me to deliver the keynote address at this summit of leaders of thought, politicians, social scientists and defenders of open society.

Speaker Yakubu Dogora

Speaker Yakubu Dogora

Permit me to profusely thank the Save Democracy Group, Africa and other stakeholders for convening this all important summit as a wake up call for leaders to put on their thinking caps as we further the resolve to re-examine and reshape the tools of democracy for purposes of transforming Society. Many thanks to them for their inclusive approach in bringing different political groups on board.

2. This timely summit is coming at a time science has outpaced humanity’s conscience prompting not a few to posit that we live in a crazy world. There is growing disillusionment among the populace leading to distrust of authority and leaders. Only recently, an opinion writer was advocating for a benign dictatorship in place of democracy in Nigeria.

The good news is that this is not the first time society would jolt humanity. History is replete with instances where society almost ground to a halt forcing men and women to reach beyond themselves to transform society instead of letting society transform them. An irrefutable lesson of history is that solutions to current problems are never hidden in the future, they are always with us. Therefore we have a choice in the words of the late Dr Myles Monroe (one of the greatest teachers I have ever known), “either to make things happen or let things happen”.

Luckily our world is changing in such ways that we cannot afford to go to sleep. I dare you to go to sleep. If you do, the least is that you will wake up after your daughter has been married to another woman or your son to a man. This is the reality stirring us in the face for which we must take a stand beginning from this summit.

3. The theme of this Summit, “2015 GENERAL ELECTIONS: CONSOLIDATING THE GAINS AND BUILDING POSITIVE POLITICAL CULTURE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA” is no doubt very significant in the political climate of Nigeria today. The theme is appropriate given the anxious and momentous moments Nigeria passed through prior to, during and after the general elections held in March and April 2015. Not only did the election usher in sixteen years of uninterrupted democratic civilian rule, but the outcome confounded prophets of doom and their near apocalyptic prophesies of Nigeria’s experiment in constitutional democracy. It also seamlessly cradled the transition and change of baton from one political party to another.

4. This keynote address will dwell more on the “The Legislature and the Stability of Nigerian Democracy”. We will also discuss the theme of the Summit from the eyes of a legislator. Of course when we talk of democracy we are referring to constitutional democracy. That is to say, democracy based on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There are classical definitions of democracy, starting with the popular definition by Abraham Lincoln, as “government of the people by the people for the people”, to those of the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill , who said  that “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

He was dead right as all alternatives to democracy have proven too expensive. This is the case with all the failed prophecies of avowed enemies of open society such as Plato, Hegel and Marx who failed to realise the dualism of facts and decision. They had hoped that ” from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs” will bring heaven on earth but in the words of the Austrian- British Philosopher, Karl Popper, (undoubtedly, the greatest philosopher of science of the 20th century) that brand of social engineering only succeeded, “in making it (the earth) a hell – that hell which man alone prepares for his fellow man”. As a proof, the socialists ended up building more prisons than schools, hospitals and social welfare facilities.

5. Invariably, whatever definition you chose, popular participation by the people in their government is at the heart of any democratic government. In a representative democracy, otherwise known as popular Government, the legislature is the most immediate Institution. Although the President and the Vice President in the Nigerian system are popularly elected but they are elected to faithfully execute laws enacted by Parliament and where the Rule of law and due process holds sway, any attempt by the head of the Executive to operate outside the laws, is not only ultra varies but null and void. Also in the conduct of its affairs, the Legislature is more open and accessible to the people. It is truly a representative and democratic institution.

6. In Nigeria, the democratically elected Legislature is often at the receiving end of trigger happy soldiers, whenever they intervene to usher in military rule. Although most military regimes maintain some form of legislature, for example, the Supreme Military Council was the apex law making body for the Military regimes in Nigeria, it is nevertheless, often composed by the same persons running the executive. The normal democratically elected legislative structures are completely dismantled during military regimes. This has stunted the growth and efficacy of the legislative institution particularly in Nigeria. The Executive in the military era, actually resembles the Executive under a Presidential system of government but for the popular election of the Head of State. This is because the entire executive authority of the federation is vested in only one man, the President, who is enjoined to exercise that authority either by himself directly or through the Vice President, or Ministers appointed by him or officers in the public service of the Federation. See sections 5 and 148 of the Constitution. And by virtue of Section 130(2) of the Constitution, The President is not only the Head of State, but also the Chief Executive of the Federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation. All I am trying to demonstrate is that the executive branch is well established structurally and does not suffer the type of disruption encountered by the legislature under military rule. The Judiciary and its personnel and structures also remain virtually unchanged during military rule as we have experienced.

7. The role and achievements of the legislative branch since the return of civil democratic rule in 1999, should therefore be viewed within this context.

8. The legislature in Nigeria has played a very positive role towards electoral reforms and the quest for credible elections. It has used its legislative authority to stabilize the polity. It has always provided the required legal framework for the conduct of elections in Nigeria. It passed the 2002, 2006, 2010 Electoral Acts to aid conduct of elections. The Legislature led the charge in the amendment of the Constitution to usher in the Independence of INEC. Section 81(3) of the Constitution was amended to place INEC on the first line charge, thereby granting it relative financial autonomy. Appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners which hitherto was the exclusive preserve of the President now must receive the consent of the Senate.

9. A notable constitutional amendment was also made to insulate INEC from the control of the President of the federation in running its affairs. Like any other independent body created under the Constitution, INEC had the power to issue rules “to regulate its own procedure or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions.” It required presidential approval to achieve that. The need for presidential approval was done away with by the constitutional amendment, which gave INEC absolute powers to regulate itself for the purpose of carrying out its functions.

10. Another notable amendment to the Constitution addressed the power of INEC to postpone elections. INEC had to postpone the 2011 elections at the last minute, mostly due to organizational problems. The Constitution set a definite period of time within which elections must be held and from which derogation was prohibited. It mandated that such elections should take place “not earlier than sixty days and no later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.” The National Assembly in conjunction with State Houses of Assembly quickly amended the constitution to expand the period in which elections must be held thereby saving the nation from avoidable quagmire. The Constitution now requires that such elections be held “not earlier than one hundred and fifty days and not later than one hundred and thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.”

11. Unfortunately, the amendments carried out on the legal framework of both Electoral Act and the Constitution Proposed for conduct of the 2015 General Elections were passed too late in the day for it to be assented to and used for the elections and it contained many innovative provisions that would have even made the 2015 elections even better. The lesson here is that any amendment of the legal framework for elections whether the Electoral Act or the Constitution must be done early enough before election approaches so that all stakeholders can plan their programmes, policies and strategies well ahead of time.

12. It is generally acknowledged that the Card Reader Introduced by INEC by Regulations made pursuant to the 2010 Electoral Act made a big difference in the credibility of the elections. Technology seem to have made the difference. Time has come however to improve on its performance and provide for it in the Electoral Act proper. While the progress recorded can hardly be disputed, we must exercise caution so that we are not blinded from recognizing the gaps and inadequacies that may undermine the continued viability of our electoral process and democracy.

The fine tuning of the technology deployed in elections, especially the use of biometrics in continuous voter registration and the need to re-examine the issue of electronic voting in Nigeria, are matters to take note of. Is the time ripe for electronic voting?. I think that INEC and various stakeholders should brainstorm and experiment on the possibility of introducing electronic voting, for at least, some elections in Nigeria. If this option is recommended, the Electoral Act would have to be amended as the current Act specifically prohibits introduction of electronic voting in Nigeria.

13. The Legislature in Nigeria is a stabilizing force in our polity and has often intervened at critical moments in our national life through legislations and Resolutions to steer the ship of state aright. Examples abound.

i. When Nigeria returned to Democracy in 1999, it become necessary to introduce a permanent legal framework to deal with the Niger Delta crises. Even though derivation principle had been raised to at least 13% in the Constitution, it was thought necessary to establish a specific Commission charged with the responsibility of developing the Niger Delta. The Legislature in a non partisan and patriotic manner rose to the occasion and established the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. It insisted on increased funding for the Commission, and had a major disagreement with the President on the funding mechanism for the Commission. For the first time in Nigeria’s legislative history, the two Chambers of the National Assembly in a rare show of unanimity mustered the necessary 2/3 votes in both Chambers to override the President’s veto of the Bill.

ii. The struggle for democracy and independence of the Legislature preoccupied the National Assembly of 1999 to 2003. The Na’abba House was particularly engaged in this fierce battle to establish our democracy on firmer grounds. The President allegedly sponsored many attempts to remove independent minded Speakers and Presidents of the Senate during this period of democratic consolidation. You will all recall the famous incident where some members of the House led by Hon Jagaba Adams Jagaba, laid N4 Million Naira in bags inside the hallowed Chambers of the House of Representatives, as money given to them to remove the Speaker, Rt. Hon Ghali Umar Na’abba, by the Executive. Eventually, some legislators paid the price by being denied party tickets or in some instances, the Executive worked against their re-election.

iii. The role of the legislature in stabilizing Nigeria’s democracy manifested in the Declaration and approval of State of Emergency requests of the Executive. During General Obasanjo’s presidency, state of emergency proclamations were approved in a bi-partisan manner for Plateau and Ekiti States. During the Presidency of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, State of Emergency proclamations for Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States were approved by over 2/3 votes, in a patriotic show of support for the war against terrorism. This was renewed twice.

iv. The war on Corruption has been waged legislatively by the National Assembly by the enactment of both the EFCC and ICPC Acts, enactment and amendments of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act. The legislature has been consistent in the use of the oversight mechanism of the National Assembly to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste in the administration of laws passed by the National Assembly.

v. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the Legislature in Nigeria and its biggest contribution to democratic consolidation in Nigeria is the rejection of the Third Term bid of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Both Chambers of the National Assembly in a historic vote rejected the proposed amendment of the Constitution to extend presidential tenure from 8 to 12 years. Perhaps that singular decision ensured that our democracy survived.

vi. The National Assembly played one of its greatest stabilizing role in Nigeria’s democracy during the period of National Emergency occasioned by the ill health of late former President Musa Yar’adua, GCFR. The legal lock- jam occasioned by the non transmission of presidential authority to the then  Vice President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, to assume duties as acting President created a vacuum without a constitutional provision or precedent to fall back on. The National Assembly rose to the occasion once again and by concurrent Resolutions of both Houses, empowered the Vice President to assume duties as acting President. This has gone down as the famous ‘Doctrine of Necessity’. This diffused a very volatile situation and saved the nation from endless crises. The Constitution was eventually amended to plug the loophole identified in Presidential or gubernatorial succession.

viii. The Constitution amendment efforts of the Legislature in Nigeria has gone a long way to consolidate the gains of democracy in Nigeria. Whenever it becomes necessary to act in the national interest to solve a major constitutional problem, both National and State Houses of Assembly exhibit patriotism and great synergy to amend the Constitution. The Electoral reforms is a case in point. The botched 4th Alteration Bill which was not assented to by President Goodluck Jonathan contained many provisions that were designed to protect and deepen our democratic practice. The 8th National Assembly will sooner than later revisit these issues as the machinery to do so is already in place.

ix. The National Assembly has contributed a great deal to our democracy through enactment of landmark legislations. A few examples are

• The Pension Reform Acts, by which the reform of the formerly chaotic pension environment was sanitized.
• The Privatization and Commercialization Act, which laid the foundation for massive Privatization of government enterprises
• The Nigerian Communications Act, 2003 that set up the National Communication Commission and revolutionized telecommunications in Nigeria.
• The re-enactment of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Act, 2007, granted the Bank sufficient powers and autonomy to undertake it’s highly successful banking consolidation measures that led to the emergence of mega banks and the regulatory measures carried out to save the banking industry, when necessary.
• The Power Sector Reform Act, 2005 was enacted to lay the foundation for reforms in the power sector culminating in the recent unbundling of NEPA and Privatization of power assets.
• The Nigerian Civil Aviation Act, 2006 also provided the necessary legislative impetus for aviation reforms that has been carried out in the sector.
• The Federal Inland Revenue Establishment Act, 2007 is another important piece of Legislation that has helped to raise revenue for Nigeria through a well structured Revenue Service that emerged after the Act was passed.
• The Public Procurement Act, 2007 has provided the basis for an organized and systematic method of procurement activities in Nigeria. It remains for the Executive to desist from observing the law in breach as is the case now.
• The Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 was passed to guide fiscal relations in Nigeria.
• The passage of the Freedom of Information Act was a watershed legislation designed to open up the democratic space and ensure better citizen access to governmental information
• The National Assembly has been in the forefront of the fight against terrorism by the passage of many resolutions and the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 and Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2013.

• The passage of the Nigerian Local Content Monitoring Board legislation marked a major turning point in the protection of Nigerian workers and businesses in the Oil and Gas sector. No longer are Nigerian Companies discriminated against or not patronized by NNPC or the Major Oil Companies.
• The Evidence Act, 2011 and the Criminal Justice Act, 2015 are landmark legislations passed by the National Assembly and designed to modernize and revamp the justice sector to ensure improved justice delivery.
• The Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act was enacted on the 26th of May, 2004 to provide for compulsory, free, Universal Basic Education and other related matters.
• Other significant actions of the National Assembly towards consolidating democracy in Nigeria include the enactment of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (Establishment, etc.) Act 2005. This stemmed out of the recognition that decades of poor maintenance and underinvestment had left the country with an outrageous infrastructure deficit.

• We can’t exhaust the very many legislations passed by the National Assembly in aid of our democracy and development. I urge you to consult our statute books.

x. At the height of the national crises over the fuel subsidy strike which completely paralyzed the nation in January, 2012, the National Assembly acting as the watchdog for good governance intervened to resolve the crises. The House of Representatives sat in an emergency session on a Sunday and passed the necessary resolutions that helped resolved the crises. It set up an Adhoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, which unearthed far reaching cases of corruption, graft and looting of government funds through the subsidy regime. Unfortunately the Committee itself was embroiled  in a major corruption episode which was very unhelpful.

xi. The Rivers State crises leading to concurrent Resolution of both Chambers of the National Assembly in 2014, to take over the functions of the State House of Assembly because of its inability to continue to transact business, must be mentioned here, in my view, as one of the shining moments of our democratic experience and practice. This resolution effectively saved a situation where a 5 man membership of the Rivers State House of Assembly would have effectively become the majority in a 30 member House. It may also have stopped the impeachment of the then Governor by only 5 members thereby further plunging the State in another round of avoidable violence.

14. Perhaps the National Assembly has contributed more to our democracy through its power to conduct investigations and Oversight than has been credited to it. It has carried out countless investigations and exposed corruption, and mismanagement of government resources on a massive scale. Landmark investigations have taken place in many sectors of the economy including the Power Sector, Fuel Subsidy , Customs Service, Capital Market, Petroleum Sector, Transport Sector, Pension Sector among others. The power of oversight of the executive arm is anchored on Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution. Cynical commentators have always said that nothing comes out of National Assembly investigations. They claim that it is a waste of time. This position underplays the very fact that it is only mainly through these investigations that the citizen is made aware of what goes on in government. The power to bring out information in the public domain is a major service in our democratic system of government. Not even the media are in a position to compel disclosure of information the way the National Assembly can. It was Woodrow Wilson, (1885) who said: “The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function. Unless Congress have and uses every means of acquainting itself with the acts and dispositions of the administrative agents of the government, the country must be helpless to learn of how it is being served, and unless Congress both scrutinise these things and sift them by every form of discussion, the country must remain in embarrassing, crippling ignorance of the very affairs which it is most important it should understand and direct”.

It is important to understand that the National Assembly is not an executing agency. When it conducts investigations, it passes its reports in the form of Resolutions to the Executive arm to implement, except where the findings require legislation or amendment of existing laws. If the Executive fails to execute, it is within the domain of the civil society and stakeholders to mount pressure on them to act.

15. The power of Appropriation granted the National Assembly in the Constitution is a major tool used by the National Assembly over the years to reshape government priority agenda and serve the people better. It has used its budgetary powers to ensure that government projects are sited in all the federal constituencies of Nigeria. However, the problem of low budget implementation continues.  The National Assembly is always on collision course with the Executive on this issue, not for its personal aggrandizement, but to ensure that our people have the physical dividends of democracy and assurance that government cares for them.

16. We cannot actually have a vibrant, independent and highly motivated legislature ready to fearlessly take on the Executive for good governance and accountability, on behalf the Nigerian people, without proper funding. A well funded Legislature is cheaper in the long run. This is because one properly conducted investigation with a National Assembly that is financially self sufficient to withstand financial inducement could make savings that may be more that the yearly budget of the entire National Assembly. Happily, since the 2010 Constitution amendment that brought the National Assembly on the first line charge, incidents of the executive arm-twisting the legislature financially to get its way has become minimal. People may sound surprised when we say that the National Assembly is underfunded. The cost of taking legislation back to our people either through the media or through physical conduct of some hearings in our constituencies is so huge. We cannot afford to run our House proceedings live on TV and Radio. We cannot afford to conduct our investigative hearings live or even to air it fully after the event. We must recognize that public access to legislative activities is at the heart of our democratic experiment and practice! It is time for a public debate on the cost of running the Legislature in Nigeria. I am not unaware of the dwindling resources available to the current government to carry out its pro- people and pro- poor policies. We as an arm of government will make the necessary financial sacrifices as may be required but I am only pleading for greater public understanding of the demands on the legislature to deliver on good governance.

17. It is not all roses however. The National Assembly has had more than its fair share of scandals and bad conduct. We have had allegations like the Sen Wabara and Prof Osuji case, the Farouk Lawan case, among others. There are allegations of some of our Committees demanding financial gratification from MDAs, and stakeholders they are oversighting. There are allegations of abuse of power by National Assembly Committees, and accusations of intimidation and extortion. To these allegations, I can only assure that whenever any of these instances are brought to our attention, we will act swiftly to investigate and punish where a prima face case is established. We have also established a very far reaching Code of a Conduct regime with a credible Committee with zero tolerance for malfeasance from members of the House. Like Caesar’s wife we must strive to be above board at all times. On the downside for the Legislature in Nigeria, is the failures of the National Assembly to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill, (PIB), by both the 6th and 7th Assemblies. We hope, however, to get it right this time. In this regard, I will restate the call we made earlier for Mr President to send the draft bill on the reorganization of the Petroleum sector as a matter of priority to the National Assembly. We believe that  an early submission will lead to an early passage.

18. To dwell once more on the theme of this Summit, I wish to emphasize that the outcome of the 2015 elections has deepened Nigeria’s electoral democracy. The essence of democracy is that the people should exercise their sovereign power to govern themselves, through their elected representatives. This makes periodic elections involving free competition and choice among political parties and candidates central to the idea of modern representative democracy. Democracy and elections is a rule-based game mediated by an electoral umpire, which not only ensures a level playing field among competing parties and candidates, but offering the electorate choice in the contest of ideas. In the end, the integrity and credibility of the electoral process is determined by the extent to which the outcome of electoral contest reflects the will of the people or the electorate.

19. The reform of the party system as the institutional foundation of our democracy is an urgent matter. The lack of internal democracy in our political parties, and the flawed method of recruiting candidates for office, in some instances, present a clear and present danger to our democracy.

20. I will conclude by saying that the place of the Legislature in stabilizing our democracy and as a bulwark for the defence of the interests of our people is very secure and will continue to grow as our democracy matures.

21. Finally, I wish you all very successful deliberations as I pray God to bless you all and bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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