In a presidential system of government like ours, where the doctrine of separation of powers is deeply enshrined in our constitution, each of the three organs of government enjoys its independence.
Indeed, the framers of the 1979 constitution – which was recommended by the Constituent Assembly and later adopted as the 1999 constitution – deliberately set out to ensure that both the doctrine of separation of powers and principles of checks and balances are adhered to so as to safeguard our democracy from tyranny and dictatorship.
This is why the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary are all run and inhibited by different individuals in a manner stipulated by law. As a student of constitutional law and politics, I have, over time, come to understand and agree with the fact that, of the three arms, the legislature enjoys enormous powers more than any other.
Perusing through pages of the 1999 constitution, one easily notices that our nation’s grand nom is replete with so many powers to the legislature; while lawmaking is the primary responsibility of the parliament, there are also other powers, functions and responsibilities that are constitutionally discharged by the MPs.
These include but are not limited to confirmation of nominated ministers, ambassadors and heads of parastatals, powers to investigate any matter, especially those under the exclusive legislative list, summon any person, quasi-judicial powers to investigate and indict, expose corruption, powers over the budget and appropriation or power to approve expenditure of government, confirmation of appointment of Judges, including Justices of the Supreme Court, powers to impeach the president, and so on and so forth.
The reason why the constitution accords the lawmakers such powers and responsibilities is borne of the fact that they are directly elected by the people. In other words, they represent the sovereignty of the people because in a democracy, sovereignty rests with the people.
More than the two other organs of government, the legislators are the direct and number one custodian of the social contract and the parliament is the heart, nerve and hub of democracy without which there can be no democracy.
More specifically, in Nigeria, where we have a bicameral legislature, while the Senate represents equality of states, the House of Representatives, on the other hand, represents equality of the people. This is why there is hardly any ethnic group in Nigeria that does not have representation in the Green Chamber.
This explains why the House is popularly referred to as the people’s chamber or House of the Nigerian people.
Historically, this very important Chamber has consistently been led by progressive young leaders and this tradition was upheld on June 9, 2015, when Barrister Yakubu Dogara was elected Speaker.
Since his historic election, Rt. Hon. Dogara has not left anyone in doubt as to his philosophy, principles and leadership style. The Speaker strongly believes in dialogue, negotiation and consensus building, which are the cardinal pillars of his leadership.
Sadly, the Green Chamber has been tainted with incidents where a person or group of persons who are in the top hierarchy or in some cases, members of the legislature, abuse their offices but the last 10 months have revealed the innate sterling leadership qualities of Dogara and his impeccable character.
His quality of being peaceful and one who strongly believes in building bridges of friendship and love across the divides has in no small way, helped in putting the House of Representatives back on track post-election.
Today, the rancour and bitterness that trailed the election on June 9 last year have been effectively confined to the dustbin of history as a result of Dogara’s maturity, humility and politics of compromise, which saw the emergence of his opponents as leaders and chairmen of committees in the House. No wonder he has continued to enjoy enormous support and loyalty from his colleagues, who acknowledge his transparency and open-door policy.
As one who opens new frontiers, the relationship between the House and the Executive is more than cordial under Dogara’s leadership, as both the Speaker and his colleagues are at peace with the governing party – which he belongs to – and the government; working together to deliver good to the people. It is his belief that the Executive and the Legislature must not fight or be engaged in a supremacy battle before they can work to move the nation forward.
At every opportunity, he emphasises that the primary interest of leaders at all levels should be the people and not their ego or power tussle. At every forum, Dogara has clearly made it clear that the bickering that characterised the relationship between the two arms of government in the past should never be allowed to rear its head again under the change administration of the APC because this government, which came on the promises of change, cannot afford to fail the people.
However, in some quarters, many pundits have been asking questions; why is the parliament not slugging it out with the executive? Why is it that the legislature seems to not be utilising its powers to the fullest? Why is it that the House of Representatives does not adopt a confrontational approach in relating with the Executive? Why are they not fighting the Executive?
Speaker Dogara had cause to provide answers to these questions when he visited Olowo of Owo, Oba Dr. David Victor Folagbade Olateru- Olagbegi in Ondo State recently.
The Speaker underpinned the fact that the House under his leadership does not see their role or relationship as a confrontational one but that of support for whatever the Executive is doing to lessen the burden of the Nigerian people and improve their living condition.
“We don’t adopt a very confrontational posture just for the sake of proving that we have separate powers as allocated to us by the constitution, we cooperate more to ensure that good is delivered to the people,” he stated.
But this stand should not in any way be misconstrued to say that the parliament should be subservient to the Executive or will be its stooge or that it will close its eyes to any infraction by either the president or any of his agents.
He maintained that it is only when democracy is threatened that “we raise our voices”, adding, “I remember we have been doing that in this government. How we handled the crisis in Kogi State House of Assembly. It was actually an APC leader who led investigation into the matter and we condemned the impunity even as members of the ruling party. This is the change we are talking about.”
It is Dogara’s philosophy that as leaders, their primary responsibility is to work out solutions in the midst of crisis and not add to it or engage in petty squabbles, or issues that constitute distractions.
Another clear example is the way and manner he handled the crisis that trailed the 2016 budget as passed by the National Assembly. When concerns were raised by Nigerians and the Executive on some provisions of the document, the Speaker adhered to the voices of the people and announced that the House has resolved to re-examine the document.
It is his belief that although the power of appropriation as clearly stated in the constitution is vested in the National Assembly, such powers should always be exercised with caution so that public interest is not endangered.
He kept to his words, knowing well that working together, the three arms of government can deliver greater good for the greater number of Nigerians and lift them out of abject poverty since the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people. This is also in line with his philosophy of non-confrontational approach to Executive-Legislature relationship.
This is the change that Nigerians have been yearning for, the change they voted for and the change they need desperately in these difficult times.
Turaki Hassan is the Special Adviser, Media & Public Affairs to Speaker Yakubu Dogara.