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Political philosophers and political scientists through the years have been explicit about the need for legislative control of administrative action if representative government is to function properly. This is directly captured by John F. Bibby.
According to Prof. Oyelowo Oyemo, the establishment of representative legislatures at the federal and state levels of government by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, after a period of military rule devoid of any representative or accountable governance, essentially epitomized a fresh attempt at constitutionalism in Nigeria.
Upon the enthronement of democratic rule in Nigeria and its gradual advancement, democratic values such as separation of power in the function of the various arms of government became the focal gravamen and compass for measurement of government actions and inactions.
Angelina Cheibub Figueiredo stated that presidential system supposedly has a built in mechanism to ensure horizontal accountability. According to the statement, it was stated that the independent origin and survival of the executive and the legislature are expected to produce countervailing ambitions that motivate mutual checks and minimize the risk of tyranny of the majority.
Bo Li in his book entitled “What is constitutionalism” stated “tyrants will not be benevolent rulers simply because the constitution tells them to. In order to guard against violations against the letter and spirit of the constitution, there needs to be a set of institutional arrangement”.
The oversight function of the legislature in Nigeria finds legislative importance in chapter 5, part 1 that is, sections 80(i) (4) and 88 (i) (2)(b).
Section 88 (i) is reproduced here:
“Subject to the provisions of this constitution, each house of the National Assembly shall have power…. To direct or cause to be directed an investigation into:
Any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws; and the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged or intended to be charged, with the duty of responsibility for (1) executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly and (11) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly”.
It also goes further to state that this ‘power’ is conferred to enable the National Assembly expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the executive or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement and administration of funds appropriated by it.
Against this background, it is quite puzzling that controversy rears its head over the issue of legislative oversight, checks and balances etc.
This power, no doubt is derived from the practice in the united state. It is not also without a limitation as was rightly captured by Chief Justice Warren this way.
“The power of congress to conduct investigation is inherent in the legislative process. The power is broad; it encompasses inquires concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes. It includes surveys of defect in our social, economic or political system for the purpose of enabling congress to remedy them. It comprehends probes into department of the Federal Government to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste.
But broad as this power of inquiry, it is not unlimited. There is no general authority to expose the private affairs of individuals without justification in terms of the functions of the congress… nor is the congress a law enforcement or trial agency. There are functions of the executive and judicial departments of government. No enquiry is an end in itself; it must be related to, and in furtherance of the legislative task of the congress. Investigation conducted solely for the personal aggrandizement of the investigators or to “punish” those investigated is indefensible …”
It is abundantly clear from the explanation of the Learned Justice that the primary objective of legislative power is generally speaking to lie down, be they decision rules or conduct rules (see GUARDIAN NEWSPAPERS LTD V. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION (1999) 9 NWLR (Pt. 618) 187 at PP 249-250 (sc) and to carry out oversight and investigative function. It must however be recognized that the legislative’s power to investigate is not absolute as it has some legal impediments. This was made known by the court in TONY MOMOH V. SENATE OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY (1982) NCLR, 105 In that case the Court of Appeal clearly held that section 82 of the 1979 constitution (akin to section 88 of the 1999 constitution) is not designed to enable the legislature usurp the general investigating functions of the executive nor the adjudicative functions of the judiciary. Any invitations by the legislature to any person outside the purpose defined by section 82(2) that is now 88(2) of the 1999 constitution is invalid.
The prosecution of the persons guilty of corrupt practices or gross inadequacies or misconduct in the discharge of the public office is left to the executive. This only reinstates the doctrine of separation of power between the various arms of government.
This was held in OBAYUWANA V. ALLI & ORS (1983) 12 SC147 at 191-192, EL-RUFAI V. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (2003)12 WRN I (SC). Thus, at the risk of repetition, the power of investigation by the legislature cannot be invoked to apply to issues that are outside the purview of the legislature in the exercise of the power to make law.
In Nigeria since 1999, this investigative power has attracted some level of abuse. These law-makers especially at the National level see this function as a way of enriching themselves and/or becoming politically relevant or vocal. To showcase their grammatical or advocacy prowess. Hence members of the National Assembly lobby, sometimes, ungodly or unduly to become chairmen of “juicy” committees of the House or Senate. The moment they get this chairmanship positions, their next port of call is “oversight function”; committee’s public sitting. And since Nigerians are looking for dramas to watch due to the much respected culture of corruption in this country, everyone seems to be giving a standing ovation to the legislators who conduct these proceedings.
Most of the committees leave the obvious to pursue shadows just to intimidate their prey to bow to pressure and then look for a way out through unholy “settlement” just as we discussed last week on impeachment in this country.
If you are on a committee to expose corruption and inefficiency in the interest of the entire country, you would do so dispassionately and without exposing your personal emotion towards the investigated. However, an investigator commences his sitting by insulting or abusing the investigated, calling him or her names or try to bamboozle the public even before facts begin to unravel themselves, then, it will seem to the people that the investigation was long concluded before the actual investigation. It will also create an impression that skeletons are many in the cupboard of the investigator.
There might be none but the impression of the masses will definitely suggest there are.
In recent times, we have seen many such investigations and in the end, nothing really comes out for the benefit of the people. The whole investigation sometime becomes a conduit pipe for financial waste at the detriment of the people. Behind the scene too many waters pass under the Bridge and the investigators go home smiling and congratulating themselves for fooling unsuspecting Nigerian on AIT or N.T.A.
Some committee members now parade around facilities in the various departments and parastatals under their committee only to attract patronage, recognition and to acquire meal or flight tickets to choice countries of the world for personal or family pleasure. Get scholarships and job opportunities for their family members and cronies.
These are not the real intent of the law or constitution for legislative oversight function. Far from it. It is not for political sentiment and/or personal vendetta against executive or administrative office holders. It is to expose corruption and enhance efficiency so as to deliver democracy to the door steps of the masses.
All the banters, points counter points we now see or read today about legislative oversight functions should be well-intended and again, those to be investigated cannot just fight back and intimidate the investigator to continue the spree of executive or administrative looting. Or cry wolf when non-exist. Unless we see our appointments to public offices as a call to duly for the people as against an opportunity for self or personal aggrandizement, the power will continue to be a mirage or a window-dressing.
Nobody should attempt at fooling Nigerians please.

Barr. Gideon Kpoobari Girigiri

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