CONSTITUENCY PROJECT: NIGERIA’S VERSION OF REINVENTING THE PRINCIPLES OF SEPARATION OF POWERS AND CHECKS & BALANCES.
In secondary level government, we were taught the principle of separation of powers which states that governance powers and responsibilities are grouped into three arms namely the legislature that makes the law, the judiciary that interprets the law to ensure that it is within the framework of the constitution and the executive that applies the law. To further strengthen the process and ensure that none of the arms is cocooned and does as it wishes within its ambit, the principle of checks and balances was introduced as a moderation mechanism among the three.
Therefore, while the legislators can make laws, the judiciary can declare the law as beyond the limit of powers allowed them by the constitution. At the same time, the judges are appointed by the President (executive) but the legislature must approve. The executive prepares the budget but the legislature must also approve same before execution. In fact, according to the Encylopedia Britannica, checks and balances….modify the separation of powers.
It must be mentioned that this principle, which was mainly developed by the west, is centuries old. As far back as 1748, French Enlightenment political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu, in his The Spirit of the Laws, described the various forms of distribution of political power among a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary. This principle has been fine-tuned over the years based on experiences of the developers of the modern form of democracy which we are supposedly practicing.
Our interest in this article is an “amendment” to this centuries old principle by Nigeria’s legislative arm, which came into force after Nigeria returned to elective democracy in 1999. It is the logic of Constituency Project introduced by the legislatures which essentially means that, to be accountable to the constituents that elected one into the parliament law maker not “executor”, the legislators need to have specific projects attracted and executed by them. In other words, unlike what obtains in the west, they believe that it is not enough to make laws and influence bills that will benefit those that elected them as “law makers”, the primary premise of their election on the basis of the principle of separation of powers. They must also enter into the fray as “law executors”.
NIGERIA NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
Logically, this means that the legislators believe that the executive is either not competent enough to know what’s best for their constituencies or not good enough to be left to execute them or even both. It also means that the interest of the legislators is less on executives planned and implemented projects within their constituencies but more on those he made out time from his legislative functions to conceptualize, attract and execute.
That sounds quite patriotic when considered in isolation.
To ensure that they get their way beyond requesting accommodation of their demands, so many tactics are employed against members of the executive that object to such demands, the most popular of which are pruning down budget proposals by the affected executives, delaying assent to the budgets and, of course, constant committee summons of such recalcitrant executives.
Note here that we are not talking peanuts. According to Premium Times of April 22, 2018, annually, the 360 members of the lower chamber have N60 billion to initiate, implement or complete projects in their constituencies while the 109 members in the senate have N40 billion to do same. This amount averages about N213 million naira or USD592 thousand for each of them, an amount that is nearly USD200 thousand more than the annual salary of the United States President. Of course, this has nothing to do with their salaries and allowances. It is just a project executory allowance due to them to spend on whichever projects they consider pertinent to the needs of their constituents. This amount of N100 billion is higher than the 2019 budgets of each of Nasarawa and Yobe states.
This now brings up a number of what ifs. The executives, just like the judiciary is made up of constituents representing various communities and interests in Nigeria, even if they are appointed. The executives are also chosen in such a way that will ensure fair representation across the spectrum of the nation’s demographic makeup. Following from same logic, the interests they are representing also have some expectations of them. Can it now be argued that the Presidency, ministers, commissioners and so on down the line, in order to have extra proofs of committed representation, can also demand that some specific bills that will favour their people’s interest must be passed by the legislature? Where the possibility of the bills being defeated by votes in parliament exists, they demand for parliamentary voting slots to boost the number of yes votes in the parliament. Of course, they can also demand that cases involving their people be interpreted in ways that will be skewed in favour of the people they are accountable to. Their own lien will probably be to choke the constituency of any legislature who stands against such executive demand of projects, or influence the punishment of any judicial officer within their ambit that fails to support the course of his people.
Who said that the judiciary cannot devise their own mode of demanding and extracting fairer benefits to the people they come from their constituency? Indeed, they have quite a lot! From the scenario painted above, it is a now a case of reverse checks and balances which, ultimately, is gravitating towards anarchy.
In the west, lawmakers’ campaign manifesto is about the voting record on issues that concern the people they represent as lawmakers. It is not about how many projects they extracted budget to carry out on their own. In our own case however, we have reinvented the wheel by jettisoning the age old principles of separation of powers and checks and balances simply at the whims and caprices of those who make the law, by those who make the law and for those who make the law. Unfortunately, those who are supposed to curtail the excesses in the spirit of checks and balances seem either unable or unwilling to do so.
We just do hope that this our version of the principles of separation of powers will not end up leading us to government of reverse effect – one that adopts the principle of concentration of powers without checks and balances.
This is just the flipside view of Nigeria’s democratization journey so far.