Considering a National Legislative Agenda for 2019

Quite a few Nigerians have commented on the structural issues plaguing governance and nation building in Nigeria over the years and since independence. Our country has particularly been hindered by the “big man” syndrome since the first coup of 1966. Given the lop-sidedness of our constitution evidenced by the excessive concentration of power in the federal government and executive arm of government, it is hardly surprising that we have become beholden to the messianic politician who promises to fix our problems out of the goodness of their heart. Whilst the constitution enslaves us to this messianic executive, the reform our governance needs requires near equal cooperation from the legislative arm of government to succeed.

Candidates for executive office know the power they’ll have prior to getting to office and can promise to deliver heaven on earth on that basis when they get into office. Not so much Members of the federal legislature. The Members of the National Assembly make promises to their constituencies only and this can lead to conflicting agendas between constituencies even from the same State. Further, any one of these Members can be elected to principal offices in the NASS. The problem given our current state of affairs is that NASS principal officers do not have a national agenda. The welfare of their fellow Members is their principal task if they intend to retain their office. It is this lack of a national legislative agenda that informs some of the clamour for political parties to be ideologically based. The idea being that whichever party holds the majority in the NASS will be pushing to implement their party’s ideology on how a society should be run. Essentially, this is why it matters not who from the Democratic, Republican in US or Conservative, Labour parties in the UK is elected into principal offices – the policies they’ll pursue in government will align with their party’s ideology.

We’re all witnesses to the ineffectiveness of our current NASS and their failure to propose any meaningful agenda that advances our country and unlocks the legal bottlenecks that continue to be a headwind to our nation’s development. Whilst the executive arm controls the majority of the resources of government and is not unreasonable to expect it to be the arm that proposes most bills, this shouldn’t really be an impediment to the NASS itself taking the initiative in certain instances and set the ball rolling on reforming some of our laws. For example, the NASS can reform the Land Use Act without waiting for the executive to propose a bill on it. A lot of resourceful material has been written on the headwind that it is the Land Use Act for NASS to push a reform bill through.

Our current bunch of political parties are evolving slower than ideal and we can’t force them to clarify their political ideology(s) or announce where they’re positioned on the political spectrum. What should be easier to do is to require every party to have a national legislative agenda that is published in the same manner as the manifesto used by the executive to campaign for office. So when a presidential aspirant promises state police in their manifesto, the public can search the party’s legislative agenda to see if it has a working blueprint or legal framework that will establish a State Police Act that backs up the manifesto of the presidential aspirant. Besides the collective marching order that a party’s national legislative agenda will give its elected legislators, it can also help Nigerians avoid getting drawn into or distracted by the usual manoeuvring and infighting that seems to plague political parties once elections are over. Nigerians will be able to expect delivery of an agenda irrespective of who becomes Speaker or Senate President.

Our dysfunctional constitution compels us to focus on presidential aspirants during the general election, but we need to pay at least equal attention to the legislative arm of government and at all levels too.