Nigerians are expecting much from the in-coming Ninth Legislative Session of the National Assembly. And for good reasons. The outgoing Session, like the ones before it, has less than flattering image. The problem is, in the main, self-inflicted due to these lawmakers proclivity to take their power base- the people for granted. They caved in to the temptation to live large, trampled on all known rules of decency and decorum while at the same time pretending to be distinguished and honourable.
The public perception of the members of the National Assembly dimmed when most discerning Nigerians began to see them as parasites feasting on the polity unrestrained. In their acquisitive tendencies, they began to carry on with the impression that the rest of the society owe them a living. The members’ insatiable appetite for the good life, far and above what is legitimately accruable to them, became a source of concern to most Nigerians who began to question what they assign to themselves as official benefits. The humongous salaries and allowances the legislators allocate to and pay themselves became a scandal when they were exposed by one of the members. There were debates about the continued retention of the law-making body on a full time basis with unyielding calls for a part-time legislature to minimise the cost of maintaining its members in office.
The debate heightened with the controversy that surrounded the emergence of the present leadership of the law-making body. In particular, Nigerians could not understand the basis for the schism that was visible in the Assembly especially within the ranks of the members of the ruling party. Time that would have been spent making laws for the good governance of the country was spent in needless altercations. Interests other than that of the public took centre stage as the new government grappled with the demands of governance. While this bickering persisted, Nigerians were left wondering what went wrong.
It is from this perspective that this newspaper sees it fit and proper to remind the incoming Session that, in case they don’t know, Nigerians have suffered enough and are in no mood for any shenanigans on the part of an over-pampered political elite. Nigerians demand that the Assembly, soon after inauguration, must appreciate the urgency of the moment and hit the ground running by making laws that will impact positively on the lives of the people.
We demand that the Ninth Session enshrine transparency in their processes. The people have the right to know how much it costs them to keep their law-makers in office. The National Assembly budget, like that of other arms of government, must be open and accountability guaranteed. Information regarding the personal benefits of lawmakers must be available at all times. The Assembly must do away with constituency allowance. Its place in the whole setup has become genuinely questionable as it is seen as a cesspool of sleaze. Much as the lawmakers have a duty to carry out their oversight functions, that constitutional provision must not continue to be abused. Most people see what ought to be a formal legislative function turn to mendicancy at worst and extortion at best.
Nigerians, in our view, expect the incoming lawmakers to eschew selfishness in their assessment of what is in the nation’s interest. The out-going legislature was blamed for the slow pace of government activity as the members were accused of politicising routine practices that would have enhanced good governance. Much as it may not be the whole truth, it is important that they be seen to be doing the will of the people which ought to be the guiding principle in all they set out to do.
It is fair for this newspaper to assume that the lawmakers know their place in the democratic scheme of things. It is also assumed that they realise that as guardians of the oppressed they are also expected to protect the collective interest of those who elected them and who they claim to represent. Most of these expectations from the Nigerian public are not far-fetched if only the members will embark on some introspection and be honest to themselves about the principles that influenced their decision to seek the mandate of their various constituencies.
In our opinion, lawmakers are considered to be influential and powerful people who are knowledgeable enough to exercise restraint in the use of the power they have. Elsewhere, they are adjudged to be disciplined and have self-control in the face of obvious possibilities. Therefore, the task before the incoming lawmakers is to deploy these assumed qualities in the performance of their duties geared towards enhancing and ensuring good governance. Adherence to the tenets of legislatives flair or lack of it can rub off on their image either way, for good or for bad.