The concept of rubber stamp in legislative-executive relationship is a negative one. I want to think that a lawmaker, who thinks that a state House of Assembly can be a rubber stamp for development, is just being sarcastic by trying to justify why they (lawmakers) will always endorse executive actions. But the entire idea of the separation of powers is to ensure that no one arm of government exercises power to the detriment of the society because like Lord Acton said, power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely.Where an executive arm of government is left uncontrollably in the exercise of state functions, then you are likely to have a government that is run on anarchy and totalitarianism; that is not good for a democratic society. While I am not an advocate of constant legislative-executive friction, it is not all disagreements between the legislature and executive arms of government that amount to unnecessary frictions or can be regarded as frictions.
Those disagreements are necessary in order to get the best out in a particular governance policy directive or issue. So, it is not possible for the two arms not to collaborate. The responsibility of the legislature is to constantly be a watchdog on behalf of the citizens so that the executive does not, in the exercise of its executive powers, overstep its bounds as to injure the people it is supposed to govern.
So, when you talk about the legislature being a rubber stamp, it is that legislature which does not scrutinise executive actions; it simply gives its imprimatur to whatever executive action that comes its way. While it is possible to accept all executive actions as they are by the very nature of our politics in Nigeria for instance, it is not right that all executive actions will go unqueried. That would amount to sacrificing the constitutional responsibility of the legislature under the guise of supporting the executive for development.
In the sixth National Assembly, we proposed legislative independence for state Houses of Assembly, but it was rejected. We did not get the two-thirds of the states to support it. But during the immediate past National Assembly, it was accepted.
So, the legislature at the state level is not independent because they are tied to the apron strings of the executive and because their funding comes directly through approvals like ministries, from the chief executive officer of the state (governor). That is why the National Assembly, in its amendment, is proposing legislative independence such that the legislature is expected to have direct allocation from what goes to the states. • Samson Osagie (Ex-Minority Whip, Federal House of Representatives)
If the truth must be said, it is true to a large extent that most of the Houses of Assembly are rubber stamps to the executive. We have seen it and that posture is not good. That is where we are in Nigeria today. Sometimes, when you look at these state Assemblies, you believe that the legislators are just wasting time and functionally, they are not doing what the constitution expects from them.
But in Kwara, we do not have a single opposition member, so there could be a reason for complacency. But we have not been a rubber stamp to the executive arm of government though we are cooperative for the overall development of our state.
About a year ago, the executive wanted to go to the Capital Market to borrow about N7bn, but we stopped it. Now, they have gone back to restructure the state’s tax collecting system which is good for us. I will not say the governor, but a cabal within the executive was issuing licences to filling stations indiscriminately; we stopped that as well. That is leading us to re-jig the whole town planning laws of the state.
Another typical example is the 2017 budget. The executive wanted N33m for the Agric sector, but we raised it to N6.7bn. Kwara State is one of the few places that members are now bringing private member bills. But in some other states, the House will just wait for the executive to bring bills. In Nigeria, it appears we do not know what we want. When we have a robust National Assembly, Nigerians are complaining. If state Assemblies should mirror what the National Assembly is doing, that is when we will have more dividends of democracy.
Presently, governors are not only chief executives, they are kings in Nigeria. Governors have subsumed the whole powers of government to themselves. In many states, checks and balances appear to be non-existent, but in the National Assembly where it exists, some Nigerians are complaining. There is information that other West African countries are looking up to Nigeria for a good model of democracy.
Because some people don’t like those at the helms of affairs in the National Assembly, they keep criticising them for upholding the tenets of checks and balances. They will come and go, but the National Assembly will remain. So, states should borrow a leaf from what the National Assembly is doing. State Houses of Assembly should be independent. The amendment we are trying to do on giving financial autonomy to the legislature is part of it, but not all. • Dr. Ali Ahmad (Speaker, Kwara State House of Assembly)
In a sense, a parliament is indeed the stabilising rod of democracy – that is the traditional function of the parliament. At no time should the parliament be subjected to indignity while performing its duties. The whole of this rubber stamp being associated with the parliament is a product of 15 years of gravitating regime of imposition and reckless impunity. In a generic way, the parliament, in the true sense, is not a rubber stamp.
But what we have in Nigeria today could best be described as a rubber stamp. Jonathan Swift once wrote a satire in the 18th century in which he described the parliament as a great a rubber stamp that it could no longer have the power to impose itself as a major pillar of democracy anywhere on earth.
Here we are in Nigeria, back to the 18th century, which is a confirmation that the very pillars and foundations of democracy have been eroded.
This came as a result of executive recklessness and the impunity of the Peoples Democratic Party which tried to entrench a one-party state. For example in 2004, the then governor of Cross River State said the PDP was a conclave and that a one party state was the best form of government. It is PDP’s 15 years of impunity and the creation of a (near) one-party state that has made the parliament to become a rubber stamp. • Mr. Cletus Obun (A former member of the Cross River State House of Assembly)
The reality of our democracy is that it is difficult for the state Houses of Assembly to defy the state governors. Our governors are very powerful and they control a lot of resources and wield a lot of power.
This is largely because most governors know where each lawmaker comes from, and in some cases, he knows their families and can relate to them one on one. Most times, they are even members of the same political party and political family.
This is not so at the federal level. Members of the National Assembly come from all over Nigeria and more often than not, the President does not know most of them. He has to rely on governors who know most of the lawmakers from their states. You see, it is difficult but not impossible for the state Houses of Assembly to stand their ground and initiate laws that will improve the lives of their people.
However, for now, most of our state Houses of Assembly do the bidding of their governors. If you call that rubber stamp, I will not disagree with you. • Abdullahi Jalo (Ex-Deputy National Publicity Secretary, PDP)
Most of the state Houses of Assembly today can best be described as rubber stamps. It is painful and pitiable. They are mere rubber stamps in the hands of the governors of their states. They cannot take their own decisions. They only deliberate and pass executive bills; oversight functions are almost non-existent. They are elected by their people to represent them to make laws that will better society, but what do we have? Nothing.
The Rivers State House of Assembly falls into this category. The current 8th Assembly is a disaster. The budget purportedly passed by the Assembly has not been seen by anybody. Two years after inauguration, members of the Assembly have yet to execute a single constituency project because they have been starved of funds. Mr. Chris Okah (A Port Harcourt-based public commentator)
• Compiled by:
Success Nwogu, Mudiaga Affe, Alexander Okere and