In a scathing critique of Nigeria’s 9th National Assembly, critics argue that it has become the worst in the country’s democratic history, failing to fulfill its fundamental responsibilities and surrendering its independence and authority to the presidency. The assembly’s alleged ineffectiveness has compounded Nigeria’s socioeconomic challenges, with escalating debt and the government’s inability to curb corruption, insecurity, and poverty. These concerns have sparked a widespread discourse on the existence of a rubber stamp legislature, not only in Nigeria but also in other countries.
The concept of a rubber stamp legislature refers to an ineffective governing body that approves decisions, laws, and actions without thorough consideration or scrutiny. Such a parliament is perceived as lacking in influence, scrutiny, and strength of willpower, thereby failing to represent the wishes and interests of the people. It poses a threat to democracy and can result in the mismanagement of public resources.
While the phenomenon of a rubber stamp legislature is not unique to Nigeria, the country’s particular case can be attributed to a weak constitution that limits the authority, relevance, and assertiveness of the legislative branch. The existing laws often do not provide clear consequences for executive breaches or rascality, leading to an inability to effectively check the executive’s actions.
The Nigerian constitution requires Senate confirmation for certain presidential nominees and scrutiny of borrowing plans, but it fails to outline the implications of bypassing these procedures. Similarly, the constitution does not address scenarios where the executive spends without approved budgets. Oversight functions, including summoning entities for questioning and issuing warrants of arrest, face obstacles when the executive refuses to comply. Moreover, the constitution does not address situations where the executive withholds operational funds from the legislature or withdraws security personnel from their service.
Critics argue that dismissing the legislature as a rubber stamp solely based on its lack of conflicts with the executive is a disservice to public morality. They emphasize that a vibrant parliament does not necessarily require constant friction and confrontation with the executive. Instead, a sensitive legislature in developing countries often opts for collaboration within the confines of its limited influence, recognizing that unproductive struggles can harm the citizenry they are elected to protect.
While acknowledging the limitations imposed by the current constitution, supporters of the legislature’s collaboration with the executive believe that a magnanimous president is essential for optimal legislative operations. They cite instances where resolutions made by the Senate, such as the non-confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC chairman or the requirement for the customs comptroller-general to wear official uniforms, were disregarded by the executive without consequences. These instances further underscore the perceived subservience of the legislature to the presidency.
In light of these circumstances, the president of the 10th Senate, Godswill Akpabio, has advocated for a harmonious relationship between the legislature and the executive, prioritizing sustainable good governance. His approach has gained support within the Senate, and members elected him based on this promise. However, critics argue that the current disposition of collaboration may be driven by the assembly’s perceived powerlessness rather than a proactive strategic choice.
Ultimately, critics contend that Nigeria’s legislature cannot meet the expectations of the people until the 1999 constitution is either completely replaced or comprehensively amended. The existing laws are deemed faulty and undemocratic, rendering the legislature powerless and ineffective unless supported by a president willing to grant it more authority.
Akpabio was emphatic that “the antecedents of Mr President and his actions in office these past two weeks give not just a pointer but bear witness to an executive government that knows the challenges of the country and is in a hurry to resolve same” adding that “we should, therefore, anticipate an executive that is proactive, progressive and practical”.
And on the senate’s obligations, he declared that “our laws must, therefore, align with the vision of Mr. President to protect and provide for our people at the innermost core of their essence while our actions must also guarantee the best and most efficient use of our national commonwealth”.
The senate president further stressed that “we must, therefore, as a Senate, rise to partner with His Excellency the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and provide the required legislative framework and legal environment for him to anchor the policies and programmes that he espouses for the country”.
Then on what this senate represents, Godswill Akpabio concluded by charging his colleagues to see “every reason to support good policies and programmes of the Federal Government, and I call on you to put this national interest first at all times. Our Senate, the 10th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, will be a Senate for all Nigeria”.
Empirically, Akpabio has placed his cards on the table. And he is dispassionate about it. The 10th Senate has to complement a president “who is committed to a strong economy, national security, inclusion and the rule of law”.
So if this strategic framework reflects a rubber stamp senate, then good governance is no longer about “a strong economy, national security, inclusion and the rule of law”.
Besides, it bears repeating that a rubber stamp legislature is inevitable in Nigeria, except one is living in self-denial. The executive arm, principally the presidency, can always “depart from the democratic spirit of the Constitution” or take “autocratic steps” and get away with them because there are no mechanisms to practically resist such tendencies or even bring perpetrators to book. Yes, the executive has enormous protections to act in manners that suggest that “our Constitution is too easily subverted in an undemocratic way” and also that the Parliament’s ability to hold the government accountable is completely eroded.
Therefore, until we strengthen the constitution towards a deepened democracy, every enlightened Nigerian adult today is culpable in the making of a rubber stamp 10th senate. One does not need to be politically active to champion nation-building. Succinctly, it is the height of hypocrisy to subjectively judge the Akpabio-led Senate when you have no history of lending a voice through your elected representative for a strong constitution that guarantees equalization of powers among the arms of government; except also, you detest “a strong economy, national security, inclusion and the rule of law”.
Egbo is a parliamentary affairs analyst