John Grisham is the prolific author of seventeen novels.
‘The Last Juror’ ironically is his first.
I was privileged to have read it not long ago.
In the beginning chapter, this maverick story teller narrated a story of how a once upon a time iconic newspaper house was mismanaged.
Hear him: “After decades of patient mismanagement and loving neglect, The Ford County Times went bankrupt in 1970. The owner and publisher, Miss Emma Gaudle, was ninety-three years old and strapped to a bed in a nursing home in Tupelo. The editor, her son Wilson Gaudle, was in his seventies and had a plate in his head from the First War. A perfect circle of dark grafted skin covered the plate at the top of his long, sloping forehead, and throughout his adult life he had endured the nickname of Spot. Spot did this. Spot did that. Here, Spot. There, Spot”, (The Last Juror by John Grisham).
This brief but iconoclastic and meticulously graphic description of the crass mismanagement of the once influential newspaper, depicts perfectly the story of Nigeria as a political entity which had great prospects at independence but which went on to be terribly mismanaged by the politicians in both khaki military uniforms and civilians. Sadly too, like the near- moribund media institution illustrated in the aforementioned novel whereby both the publisher and editor are old, Nigeria’s President and his unelected cabal are men in their early 80’s or 90’s in real life.
It is for the fact that Nigeria is like a house that is about to collapse which calls for introspection on the part of the citizens on how to salvage this collapsing political entity that it is significant that citizens should endeavor to set agenda for those who exercise democratic mandate in both the legislative and executive arm of government just as there is an ever increasing demands for citizens to be vigilant and defend the independence of the judicial arm of government.
This citizen – led charter of demands are critical because a reputable thinker was quoted as affirming that “what is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”.
Therefore, as President Muhammadu Buhari has just been inaugurated for a second and final constitutionally allowed tenure and he has reportedly made proclamation which has called for the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly, it is incumbent on us all as citizens to build effective agenda for the sustenance of constitutional democracy because as the saying goes “eternal vigilance is the prize of liberty”.
Omolori made the confirmation while briefing selected journalists in his office on Thursday.
He said the letter by implication takes effect from 12 midnight on Saturday 8th of June.
President Mohammadu Buhari had last week forwarded the letter to the Clerk in fulfilment of provision of Section 63 (4) of the Nigerian constitution.
Omolori’s confirmation of the proclamation letter however comes as lawmakers in both chambers held valedictory sessions to mark the end of the 8th Assembly.
The Clerk is expected to officiate the proclamation and inauguration of the 9th Assembly on Tuesday 11th of June, 2019.
Instructively, four years ago, Dr. Bukola Saraki who has just read his valedictory speech as the senate president and chairman of the just ended eight national assembly, read a short speech itemizing what the legislature would strive to achieve.
He told Nigerians thus: “I am most honored and privileged to be elected to serve as President of the Senate. I accept with humility and respect the honour you have conferred upon me today”.
“We have today demonstrated that even though we may belong to different parties, we are ultimately united by our common desire to entrench democracy and allow its principle guide our conducts”.
“The change that our people voted for is a change from a life of poverty, misery to a life of prosperity, happiness, security and comfort, accountability and respect for democracy.”
“This is a change that all of us in the National Assembly must strive to justify. Nigerians want to see a proactive National Assembly”.
“My dear distinguished colleagues, we are entering at a time when a lot is being expected of us. Nigerians expect that the new senate must make laws that will reform the oil sector, the security systems, diversify our economy, create jobs and make doing business in Nigeria more competitive”.
“In the coming days, we shall be converging to hammer out an agenda that will help us focus and deliver on the minimum expectations. I have inherited from my predecessor a great landmark”.
“May the future generation of citizens look upon the 8th National Assembly as a true assembly of our people’s representatives who did their best in the service of our nation”.
“I congratulate ourselves for this great day and the beginning of a new chapter in the history of our great Nation.”
Reading through the brief speech of senator Saraki which he read before they started sittings, one can vividly see that part of the agenda was to establish and tenaciously defend the independence of the legislature.
The protection of the independence of the legislature was critical because of the character of the person elected in 2015 as president in the person of Muhammadu Buhari, who was once a military dictator.
Buhari has in a recent interview with Nigerian Television Authority accepted that he played some roles in virtually all the military overthrows of democracy beginning with the immediate aftermath of the post-independence political crisis that engulfed the first republic.
Also, section 4 of the constitution gives the National Assembly the legislative powers of the federation.
That section 4 says in greater details as follows:
“4. (1) The legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.
(2) The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.
(3) The power of the National Assembly to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List shall, save as otherwise provided in this Constitution, be to the exclusion of the Houses of Assembly of States.
(4) In addition and without prejudice to the powers conferred by subsection (2) of this section, the National Assembly shall have power to make laws with respect to the following matters, that is to say:-
(a) any matter in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto; and
(b) any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
(5) If any Law enacted by the House of Assembly of a State is inconsistent with any law validly made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly shall prevail, and that other Law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
(6) The legislative powers of a State of the Federation shall be vested in the House of Assembly of the State.
(7) The House of Assembly of a State shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State or any part thereof with respect to the following matters, that is to say:-
(a) any matter not included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.
(b) any matter included in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto; and
(c) any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
(8) Save as otherwise provided by this Constitution, the exercise of legislative powers by the National Assembly or by a House of Assembly shall be subject to the jurisdiction of courts of law and of judicial tribunals established by law, and accordingly, the National Assembly or a House of Assembly shall not enact any law, that ousts or purports to oust the jurisdiction of a court of law or of a judicial tribunal established by law.
(9) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the National Assembly or a House of Assembly shall not, in relation to any criminal offence whatsoever, have power to make any law which shall have retrospective effect.”
The leadership of the immediate past national assembly fought many political battles with the executive arm of government which fundamentally began when president Buhari rejected the emergence of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as senate president and speaker against his presidential will.
The relations between the National Assembly and the executive then became frosty and topsy turvy.
Cabinet level officials of the presidency and such officials of the executive arm of government such as the then inspector general of police Ibrahim Kpodum Idriss and the then director General of the state security service ( DSS) Alhaji Lawal Daura Openly challenged the authority of the National Assembly.
The then Inspector General and many of Buhari’s ministers refused to attend mandatory meetings called by the National Assembly.
Constitutionally, In section 81, the National Assembly is legally empowered to pass the budgets and there are plethora of other provisions that empowers the National Assembly to provide oversight functions on all arms of government regarding expenditure patterns.
But the executive and the legislature at the center in the last four years waged internecine political battles of supremacy.
At a point, the acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu was unsuccessful in three confirmations but the President Refused to remove Ibrahim Magu Despite the inability to pass the hearing in the legislature.
The department of state services (DSS) led by the then Director General LAWAL DAURA invaded the National Assembly with 100 hooded armed operatives.
However, despite the challenges, both chambers made shocking findings of financial infractions against certain agencies.
The House of Representatives, probed alleged non-remittance of stamp duty charges and other revenue estimated at over N20 trillion into the Federation Account by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and reportedly indicted the Central bank.
The House also did set up an Ad-hoc Committee to undertake the investigation and reported back to it within four weeks for further legislative actions.
This followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by chairman of the House Committee on Sports Development, Mr Goni Bukar Lawan, at one of the plenary sessions.
Lawan, in his lead debate, recalled that a few years ago, banks were mandated to collect stamp duties from account holders, stating that although the deductible amount per bank account seems small, cumulatively it amounts to several trillions of naira.
The lawmaker noted that it was alarming that public institutions including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria interbank settlement system (NIBSS), Nigeria Postal Services (NIPOST), among others have overtime failed to remit stamp duty taxes into the federation account running into trillions.
According to him, “NIPOST entered into an agreement in 2014 to collect stamp duties and armed with the masters’ service agreement with NIPOST, the school banking honors (SBH) approached the Central Bank of Nigeria for authoriasation to engage deposit money banks (DMBs) and other qualified stamp duties collection agents and the CBN gave required approval. ”
The House of Representatives through an ad-hoc committee investigated the non- remittance of trillions of Naira by the Federal, States and Local Governments into the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) since 2010 till date.
The National Assembly made shocking revelations of theft of billions of naira in the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation in which the president made himself a minister of petroleum and presided over the ministry even after a federal High Court invalidated his self – made appointment. Also tons of billions of public fund were paid illegally for petrol subsidy without legislative approvals.
The Ninth session of the National Assembly will early next week start sitting since the presidency has already done the needful by calling for the convocation of the National Assembly. But there is strong sign that there is a strong move to impose handpicked stooges of the President as leaders of both houses of the national assembly. This writer confronted Senator Ahmed Lawan who is speculated to be the stooge of Buhari as Senate President in the coming Senate but he denied it and told me that he will never become a rubber stamp Senate President. Only time shall tell should he emerge as successor to Bukola Saraki adjudged as the most vibrant Senate President in the political annals of Nigeria.
The simple agendum for the National Assembly is to ensure that fundamental human rights are not suppressed.
The National Assembly is expected to resist all attempts to make them a rubber stamp legislature.
Freedom of press; freedom of movement, right to life, transparency and accountability have all faced one challenge or the other with the independence of the judiciary already attacked viciously by Buhari with the illegal imposition of acting head of the court system after the kangaroo trial resulting in the forced retirement of CJN Walter Onnoghen.
The coming National Assembly must protect these ideals that are bulwarks of constitutional democracy.
There is the need for law reforms to bring some extant laws up to speed with global best practices.
The anti-terror law. The cybercrime prevention Act must be updated to meet up with contemporary developments in the globe.
Insecurity has become absolutely troubling just as law enforcement institutions suffer from crass indiscipline, lack of professionalism and improper supervision resulting in several cases of extralegal killings by security forces of citizens. The legislature must tackle through quality legislative oversight the twin evils of unemployment and mass poverty ravaging the nation.
These are areas of legislative overhaul by the coming National Assembly which must safeguard legislative independence.
*** Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association.