THE constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended has assigned three principal functions to the legislature. It is created as an arm of government with sufficient provisions and safeguards for it to perform its assigned responsibilities. The functions of the legislature are directly derived from the constitution just as those of the executive and judicial arms of government both of which constitute the other arms of government. The three core functions are summarised as follows: lawmaking, oversight and representation. Before delving into the details of each of the three functions, it is important to highlight that the laws made by the legislature are implemented or executed by the executive arm of government. This means that the legislature cannot execute laws that it has made while the judiciary on the other hand interprets and often adjudicate on matters of contention between other arms and levels of government.
It is the responsibility of the legislature to ensure that the laws it makes are faithfully implemented by the executive. This is ensured through the conduct of regular oversight on both the executive and judicial arms of government. It should be noted therefore that the power to make laws is sufficiently guarded by the powers to oversight the relevant organs of government on the implementation of these laws. Aside from the law making and oversight functions, the legislature plays the critical role of representation of constituents in the day to day decision making process in a democracy. The President and his team in the executive arm, being far away from the grass root in a system such as ours is due to size and plurality, but the legislature is constituted by people from defined constituencies that are close to the people and act as the eyes and ears of these grassroots in the delicate craft of democratic governance.
The legislators therefore play crucial role of representing the various segments of the society at the various levels of government so that they are heard and their interests that in some cases very peculiar are often brought to the table for discussion and attention. For the purposes of clarity, it is important to briefly look at these functions one after the other. The National Assembly is at the center and State Houses of Assembly at the regional (state) level of the federation. This clarification has become necessary in view of the fact that the role of the legislature under a parliamentary system is somehow different because for the parliamentary system there is fusion of power as compared to separation of powers under our presidential system of democracy and the legislature is strictly a legislature and not part of the executive or vice versa. Under a parliamentary system, the legislature makes laws and execute these laws, this is not the case in our clime. In our case the legislature make the laws while the executive arm of government is charged with the responsibility of executing these laws. There is separation of powers and every arm is expected to perform its functions without any hindrances and is encouraged to jealously guard its functions from any possible encroachment from any other.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) has expressly provided that it is only the National Assembly that is vested with the legislative powers of the Federation. Section 4 (1) states as follows: ‘The legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. It goes further in Section 4 (2) to state inter alia: The National Assembly shall have powers to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.
The Exclusive Legislative List refers to the items specified by the Constitution on which only the National Assembly has the sole powers to legislate upon to the exclusion of the State Houses of Assembly. They include, for instance, such matters as Defense, Customs and Excise Duties, External Affairs, Nuclear Energy, Meteorology, Railways, Maritime Shipping and Navigation etc. The items on the Exclusive List are 68 in number. I must hasten to add that at the 8th Assembly, we are making efforts through the Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the Constitution which I chair in the House of Representatives to devolve some of these powers to the other legislature at the state government so as to make room for a more equitable federation due to their nearness to the grass roots. The Constitution also provides under Section 4 (4a) a Concurrent List which contains items on which both the National Assembly and State Legislatures can legislate upon. They are thirty in number and include matters like Education, Health, Electric Power, Archives and Public Records, Taxation etc. The parliament make laws, amend or repeal existing ones. Any of these activities is carried out to either strengthen existing legislations, correct lapses in governance or prevent leakages in government department and agencies as the case may be.
The 8th National Assembly, upon inauguration in June 2015 and till date, has processed several pieces of legislations aimed at improving good governance. The National Assembly as one of the pillars of democracy has since remained undaunted in its drive to provide people oriented legislations in the face little systemic limitations, poor understanding and low appreciation of the tedious and cumbersome process and procedure of lawmaking. This we will not relent on.
The legislature as an evolving arm within our national democratic framework is improving by the life of every assembly on the quality and quantity of laws that are made. Our lawmaking process is being sanitized and improved upon as our constituents are gradually coming to terms with what the mandate of the legislature is and how best we can serve our people and our nation. I am happy to report that in the last legislative year, despite the minor problems that we faced as an institution, several quality bills have been passed, some have since been signed into law by the President while others are awaiting the President’s accent. Surely the legislature is fast responding to the demands of time and the citizenry.
- Honourable Yusuff is Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives and First Deputy Speaker, ECOWAS Parliament.