Nigeria is set to witness a radical turn at the National Assembly to be brought about by a combination of dynamics, says Mallam Auwal Ibrahim Musa aka Rafsanjani, a leading activist of the Nigerian civil society. At the moment, the National Assembly is broadly perceived as a rubber stamp of the Executive arm of the Nigerian government. Beyond that, it also has the image of an anemic institution lacking in the research capability, concepts, models, policies and the overarching sense of urgency for overcoming the stagnation in Nigeria.
But asked why the civil society he leads – Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC) – wrote a memo to the National Assembly recently on self-repositioning in spite of the image, Auwal Musa told Intervention he could observe certain dynamics with the potential to make for change in the National Assembly. His outline of the dynamics goes as follows:
There is basis for fear that this could be a rubber stamp legislature. In fact, it can be said that the principal officers have found themselves in a difficult situation with respect to carrying out their work. This is related to the poor understanding of Executive-Legislature relationship by the Executive to mean no interrogation, no refusal, no verification and no exposure of wrongdoing. If this is the mentality of the Executive as far as what good working relationship means, then the Legislature will find it difficult because the Executive basically appointed the principal officers. I mean the president, the party and the governors were working together, coordinated in doing this, with conditions and even threats. I am sure you heard Adams Oshiomhole threatening members to leave the party if they won’t toe the line. But the candidates for position of principal officers were still reaching out to members in spite of that atmosphere because it is only the members who can elect. Others can only mobilise, intimidate or persuade and, in some cases, threaten.
What I am saying, however, is that the NASS will overcome this. Give a year’s time and see what would most likely happen. One thing is that most members of the NASS were allegedly extorted by the party. Many had to pay to be able to contest on the platform. So, time will come soon when their allegiance cannot be taken for granted. My point is that, given the number of members from the opposition parties, they will begin to be critical of whatever is wrong, be it whoever is guilty – president, party or even their principal officers.
What will aggravate this is the impending balkanisation of the ruling party. In two years’ time, they will begin to lose control. About 50% of the NASS, especially from the North got elected on a platter of gold, riding on Buhari’s mystique and the money they paid. But, Buhari cannot contest again. And more or newer platforms will emerge. In that situation, members of the NASS will rise to begin to do the needful.
I also have in mind the rising public outcry. Already, the insinuation you were referring to is very strong. People believe that the Legislature is tightly controlled by the Executive and cannot take on any fundamental issues. So, public outcry for an independent NASS is there and could have the effect of waking the NASS from being an organ or annex of the Executive to an arm of government that is interested in doing its work.
Lastly, these guys are not going to follow Tinubu. I personally don’t have anything against him but people are already wondering openly how one person could be the source of power behind the Vice-President, the Senate-President, the Speaker, many governors, several members of the NASS and many ministers.
Now, when you put all these together, you can see that it is a matter of time before the NASS bounces back.
You as a civil society person have worked on the NASS for the past 20 years and you could guess what sort of NASS was coming immediately after the elections. In spite of that, your organisation – Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC) – wrote a memo to the NASS at its take-off point last June. What can you say is the strategic logic?
The truth of the matter is that we want the NASS to focus on fundamentals of legislative governance. One major problem on the ground is people don’t see the NASS as a serious place. Many people see it as just a place where retired corrupt people go, as a place peopled by extortionists and as parasites on the society, taking more than their due share. This image is terrible. It needs to be changed and CISLAC is happy to work with the NASS to create a better image because the work of the NASS is central to democracy. From unveiling corruption to upholding accountability, to instilling culture of openness in governance to being a space where anyone can go and say his or her own. The NASS can do all these through many of its instruments such as Public Hearing, the power of oversight, the power of credible investigation. It can call whoever deserves to be called be it the Police, the military, the DSS and ministers. So, we need a credible NASS and they can only be credible if they have moral authority to interrogate wrongdoing and corruption.
The second thing is we think the NASS should prioritise by now. If that happens, then certain areas such as the Petroleum Industry Bill would be concluded; tax reform will feature and the country can deal with the situation whereby those who should pay refuse to pay taxes as shown by investigations that Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, (NEITI) has conducted; then parastatals and extra-ministerial departments will stop collecting their budgets if they can’t submit audited accounts and even the management of assets will receive better attention. Right now, the EFCC, the ICPC, the Police, Drugs Law Enforcement and several agencies are all recovering assets in different ways. We need a legal framework for this. There is the need to prioritise a review of anti-corruption laws for maximum accountability as much as we need to restore electoral integrity in Nigeria through prioritising electoral reform. That will include reforming the parties because right now, the party mentality in the country is horrible.
Few people would argue against what you are saying but one would think the more important reason for the lack of popular confidence in the NASS is the doubt in the capacity of the NASS even without external control to respond to the crisis in Nigeria today. People don’t see that sense of urgency in terms of the models of crisis management that can respond to the crisis. It is not clear from the way they carry on that they even understand the nature of the crisis.
That is certainly part of the problem. Anybody can come to the NASS as it is today and many people have come like that. That is, they had no preparations other than that people voted for them. Many are there like that, many who used Buhari’s cover. They do not only come like that, they can even become the Chairperson of a committee that you and I would consider strategic. The problem would have been mitigated if the Executive has a sound team on the key deliverables such as education, health and agriculture. The Executive is still more established than the Legislature. The NASS can do better oversight, enrich the process through the public hearing mechanism in particular. So, if you have a serious minded Executive, then the work of the NASS becomes less difficult.
Are you saying we do not have a serious Executive right now?
That is not what I am saying but where is the team they have on some of the most worrisome areas of stagnation you mentioned earlier?
The civil society has just issued a statement as a constituency talking about the state of the nation
(Cuts in). No. the civil society issued a statement on the shrinking of civil space, the increasing intolerance, the blackmail, lack of co-operation which is being unleashed by desperate government officials opposed to minimum, decent standards we have known in this country even under military rule. The increasing hostility of government to serious minded civil society in Nigeria is what we were drawing attention to because it is not even good for the government and it is not good for democracy.
To what extent would you argue that even the civil society was speaking to the anomie and discord across the country now?
The civil society responded to that situation you are talking about. A civil society without North and South or religious divide is the real civil society speaking to real issues of crisis, collapsing economy, increasing corruption, division, insecurity, identity flames and instability. This is the kind of things we talked about as opposed to surrogate NGOs describing fraudulent elections as valid, insisting that this person or that person should not be tried for corruption because he or she is from this religion or ethnic group and so on and so forth. So, you never see the government getting angry with such NGOs which always call themselves coalition for this or that. Government is always at home with them. And it says a lot.