BY ANTHONY KILA
Dear Senator Godswill Akapabio,
Now we have the 10th National Assembly and it also turns out that the boy that was Senior Prefect at a Federal Government College is now as a man the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Akpabio, the Senior Prefect is now the Senate President, of course before that, and on the way to this new position, you have been commissioner, governor, senator, and then minister, still not a bad trajectory in a country of millions of people most of whom can only dream of holding any one of the many positions you have covered in a relative short space of time.
It is worth noting here that your political trajectory and success has been technically in the name, on behalf of and thanks to the vote of those dreaming millions.
Today’s epistle is about those millions.
You are getting this missive in conformity to not only the wide spread and accepted belief that you are the most senior legislator in the land but also because it is accepted that you speak for all other legislators.
In a very personal and maybe eccentric way, I have always looked up to the Speaker of the House of Representative as the speaker of legislators, as the former speaker can attest, but I think it will be appropriate to give the new speaker some time to sort out his shall we say – domestic and family protocols.
Dear Senate President, though some were hoping and working against it, your election did not come as a surprise to observant observers.
Yes, everything is possible in politics but many factors were going for you.
Not least the clear and easy to read position taken by your party’s de facto leader and newly elected president but very importantly the position taken by many of your fellow legislators and governors.
Back to the millions for whom we write, to make two crucial points.
One is that the new president, unlike his predecessor, is and is going to be a political leader.
It seems safe to affirm that unlike the lanky light skinned one that just left, this new short dark president will not hide his head in the sand of technicalities or act aloof on political matters, rather, he will play ball and he will even play hard when and where necessary. The consequences of these differences are far reaching
Another point to bring to the fore is that of a matured and pragmatic understanding of how the legislature works or ought to work in a presidential system.
There seems to be a general misconception and over idealisation of the concept of “separation of powers”, popularised by the French born philosopher Charles Louis de Secondat known more by his title of Baron de Montesquieu, and even just as Montesquieu. This general misconception and over idealisation have led and are leading too many people to talk of and worry about a docile legislative arm of government, the trending expression is rubber stamp legislature.
This to me is a misplaced and unnecessary concern for two reasons.
One, in a presidential system the concept of separation of powers is to be considered an ideal type concept not a normal and readily observable process in practice.
Many people think that the duty of the legislature is to literally keep watch over and counter the executive in everything the latter does. Such thinking is naive.
It is like that of an undergraduate student of economics that takes literally the concept of a perfect market.
The matured and pragmatic way to conceive and observe the dynamics and kinematics of the executive and legislative arms of governments is to remember that the legislators and members of the executive are men and women that are members of the same partisan political club (party) bonded by a shared world view (ideology), interests, ambition or common enemy that have together, in secret and in isolation and with great personal risk, faced the battle of wrestling or retaining power.
Based on this, it becomes easy to understand why one cannot and should not expect one of these to watch over and to constantly oppose what the other does. That is the role of the opposition. But there are many instances wherein legislators from the same party counter the executive, a reader might observe, yes and that takes us to the second point.
“A good executive leader will have a capable parliamentary liaison team and mechanism that will ensure smooth sailing of policies”
A second point to note is that the legislative arm of government, through its majority, in reality and at its best will cogently counter the executive only in situations of extreme violation of common and shared codes and values like the constitution or agreed trajectory.
It tends to be on issues that can subvert the republic or crucial parts of the democratic institution.
Think of the 3rd term agenda, think of matters of war. In real terms, the real debates are generally about how much, when and where. Generally, we see real confrontations and rebellion in the legislative chambers only where the executive is no more popular, no more respected or incapable of caucusing for its position.
A good executive leader will have a capable parliamentary liaison team and mechanism that will ensure smooth sailing of policies.
What then is the real role of the legislators for the millions in the name and with whose votes they were elected?
The short answer is representation. Let us be clear, representation by legislators cannot be general, it has to be representation of differences and peculiarities.
It is not said enough, so let us say here that a legislator is not elected to be a part of the whole in view of becoming a sum part of the whole but specifically to represent a distinct part on behalf of which it will then negotiate with the rest of, not the whole country.
What should legislators be negotiating?
My answer is peculiar and legitimate constituency interests. The duty of legislators elected in urban and cosmopolitan Lagos is to ensure policies and laws that benefit the urban and cosmopolitan population and interests while the legislators from Zamfara should be pushing for other kinds or laws.
It seems to be accepted practice for Nigerian assemblies to grade themselves by the number of laws they pass.
A case of quantitative index. It is time we move from quantity to quality.
Dear Senate President and through you all other legislators, it is time we raise the bar to checking the quality of law passed and assessing the role of each legislator.
Never mind a record of the bills they individually sponsor, I propose that each legislator is mandated to produce a report that shows how each deliberation in the 10th assembly directly affects his or her own constituency, let the report show the consultations the legislator has made and what his or her constituency are expecting from the assembly regarding each deliberation.
There is no other way to put it but to bluntly say that legislators are there to legislate not share gifts if we truly want to deepen our democracy in a federal sense and make citizens out of our people, the 10th assembly has a golden opportunity of making history and you, Mr. Senate President, the opportunity of building a legacy.
•Kila is Institute Director at CIAPS. www.ciaps.org.