Nigeria: Bill On Presidential Address Not Frivolous


10 January 2010

By Abdulrahman Muhammad Dan-Asabe, Ph.D.

Ningbo, P. R. China

It is public knowledge that incompetent, visionless, corrupt and arrogant leadership have been the serious problems that have plagued Nigeria and prevented the country from achieving its rightful place amongst the comity of nations.

One of the ways to address and minimize the impact of the above lethargic attitude of leaders is by constantly calling them to order and holding them accountable for their actions/inactions while in or out of the office. This is why every well-meaning Nigerian should reject and condemn the recent claims by the Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, that a proposed bill that will mandate the president to address a joint session of the National Assembly periodically is “frivolous,” and that “there is nothing (for Mr. President) to come and address the legislature for” (Daily Trust: Wednesday, 18 November 2009).

No, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, this bill is not a frivolous one and there is plenty for Mr. President to come and address the legislature for.

At minimum, the president’s appearance and presentation to the peoples’ representatives, the MPs, will bring transparency and possibly spark-off debate on policies of the government among the people. The debate, if properly conducted and followed, could provide valuable inputs for future policy formulation. Mr. President’s presentations will also show Nigerians the direction (or otherwise) and intentions of the government. And faced with the realities on ground and the prospect of being assessed on subsequent appearances, it would be difficult and politically unwise for the president to attempt the type of deception and/or vagueness that are associated with election campaign promises. Furthermore, the presentations at these appearances coupled with the practical results achieved by the leader will enable Nigerians determine whether or not such a leader deserves a second term in the office.

Rigorous demand for accountability of this nature is also capable of sanitizing politics in Nigeria. It could put off all pathologically lazy and criminally minded moneybags that now think that leadership of Nigeria is a simple task of chairing the distribution of the nation’s commonwealth to the three tiers of the governments, using any formula they fancy, and pocketing the rest.

That the MPs already have constitutional provisions giving them powers to summon the president through oversight of MDAs, is being economical with the truth, and Mr. Aondoakaa knows better than anyone that those behind this new bill are not unaware of the said constitutional provisions. The fact is these existing powers have never been excised in the past and it is unlike they will ever be exercised by the MPs. The reason the present constitutional power of MPs to summon the president may never be exercised is the requirement for consensus amongst the MPs before the president can be summoned. Petty bickering in the legislature due to immaturity and selfishness will always ensure no consensus to summon the president, irrespective of the issue at stake. The opposition party’s efforts at such a move will always be blocked by the president’s party. This is aside the all-powerful ethno-religious tool that is always available for use by political leaders to divide-and-rule Nigeria. Therefore, the existing powers are, for all practical purposes, as good as not existing.

This bill if passed however makes it automatic and compulsory for Mr. President to appear before the MPs to answer questions/queries on national matters. It also eliminates possible political witch-hunting of an individual or groups for being behind summoning the president for questioning.

The Attorney General’s rhetoric on the lack of provision for sanctions in the bill should the president fail to comply with the law when passed is purely legalistic, and does not in any way diminish the importance of the proposed bill. After all, the nation has witnessed many budget failures in the current and the immediate past administration with no consequence to anyone, let alone the president. Are there no constitutional provisions, including possible impeachment, for addressing such momentous failures? Has the president ever been called in by MPs to explain budget failures? Suffice it that with this proposed bill passed, Nigerians will know if their leader respects the laws of the land, has vision, direction and cares about their yearnings. These are critically important.

We must not forget too easily. The current Yar’Adua’s administration has been roundly criticized for being too slow and too unconcerned about serious national matters because Nigerians don’t know anything about the administration’s direction and/or intentions. While other world leaders are seen seriously engaging their people immediately after taking office through televised addresses to their parliaments, answering questions and addressing press conferences on almost daily basis, it took almost two years after moving into Aso Rock Villa for Yar’Adua to address Nigeria. This is not acceptable. Had this proposed bill that mandates the president to address a joint session of the National Assembly periodically been passed into law earlier, it is difficult to see how a sitting president could have ignored the nation for nearly two years.

Abdulrahman Muhammad Dan-Asabe, Ph.D. muhdan@yahoo.com

 

 

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