The Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr Ali Ahmad, says for the nation’s hard-won democracy to move forward, the practice of neutralising constitutional powers of the legislature must stop.
The Speaker gave the suggestion while delivering a lecture at the maiden annual lecture series in honour of Professor Epiphany Azinge, SAN.
Dr Ahmad, whose lecture was entitled “The Legislature in Emerging Democracies: Challenges and Prospects “, expressed displeasure that Nigerian courts hysterically issued interim injunctions against the legislature.
“Undoubtedly, the courts have unfettered right to declare null and void the result of any investigation or any proceedings or any manner of voting or result thereof, what courts in developed democracies do not do is attempt to stop the action of a whole arm of government, in this case the legislature, from exercising its constitutional powers.”
He wondered why, since independence, no Nigerian court had ever issued an injunctive order against the executive arm from performing its constitutional duty. In contrast, he said no interim order had ever issued against the US Congress, much less the British Parliament.
He advised our courts to imbibe the democratic culture of separation of powers and realise that the military era was gone for ever. He cited numerous examples whereby the courts, undemocratically, issued injunctive orders preventing the National Assembly from summoning allegedly corrupt officials or from voting to change its leaders, or from investigating former EFCC officials accused of withholding recovered loots from the Federation Account.
He explained that to put an end to this, “the only way is to recommend a legislation to the effect that no interim orders from a court shall issue to prevent any legislature from exercising its constitutional power.”
The former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice explained that though “ to many Nigerian lawyers , the suggestion is a sacrilege, but to lawyers and democrats in developed nations around the world, this recommended legislation to ban interim orders against the legislature is the democratic norm.”
The former Attorney General of Kwara State, who described the legislature as the cynosure of democracy, said in Nigeria, it had been gleefully subjected to ridicule and condemnation on a daily basis, to the delight and amusement of the executive arm of government, noting that irrespective of the system of government, a weak legislature would expose democratic discontent “ especially when it lacks the institutional capacity to be influential in oversight and in protecting collective liberty and freedom.
The Associate Professor of Law while expressing delight that the use of an autonomous legislature in Kenya, some degree in South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria, had exposed corruption within the executive, compelling in some occasions, the executive termination of such fraudulent or unpopular activities, said this has helped the executive to deliver on good governance.
Another speaker, Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun, who is also the Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University, said the nation’s democracy would be strengthened when the legislative arm exhibited vigorous activism in terms of checking the executive, contributing to the processes of policy making and indeed as a monitor of the policy implementation.
The Chairman of the occasion and former President of the NBA, Mr Austin Alege, also identified poor public perception, lack of capacity and experience as big challenges confronting the legislature. Another speaker, Chief Awomolo, SAN, agreed that if the courts could unilaterally ban issue of interim injunction against the EFCC, they should do the same for an arm of government that is the most visible institution of our democracy.