As the country reels from the mounting fears over the possible outbreak of open inter-ethnic hostilities, and the escalation of the incidence of sabre rattling by aggrieved parties, one institution whose active and affirmative intervention is conspicuously missing is the National Assembly.
At a time not a few Nigerians and foreigners as well, believe the country had sunk to an unprecedented level of tenuousness of the unity of its constituent parts, and is faced with the most significant existential threat since the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70), the least that can be expected from any national institution is to stand up to be counted. For an institution as the National Assembly which by the provisions of the Constitution is vested with the responsibility of facilitating good governance across the country, hardly is its intervention more critical at any other time than now. Except the institution and its operatives can claim to be engaged in behind the scene moves to resolve the raging crises, the public domain is yet to record any far reaching dedicated institutional measures by it in that regard.
It is needless to note that even as the reader may be digesting this piece, the country is still neck deep in the drama of a tactical withdrawal from a full blown civil war, that would have pitched the Fulani herdsmen in Ondo State against that state’s indigenes, with each side rallying into battle with its network of sympathisers. In the light of the acuity, of the issue the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), led by its chairman Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State had to wade in and deploy its weight as well as goodwill to facilitate a truce on terms and conditions which include the joint fight against criminality in the state by both the state government and the legitimate herdsmen. The immediate problem traces its root to the recent one week ultimatum by the Ekiti State government to all herdsmen who were illegally occupying the forest reserves of the state, to vacate such locations on or before January 25 2021. The order had attracted a tendentious repudiation by the Presidency as well as wide division in the country with support and opposition for the governor in powerful circles across the country.
Meanwhile throughout the entire course of this turbulence which shook the nation to its very foundations, expectations had mounted for the country’s central legislature – the National Assembly to wade into the situation and do the needful. That is even if such was to serve as a salutary show of concern. However, except for individual comments by a handful of legislators, hardly was any major institutional activity recorded from the institution. Granted that the institution was on recess and the legislators were still enjoying their extended end of year vacation, an extrapolation of their indifference would led to the consideration that even if the development had run out of control and led to a full blown state of hostilities, they would have been recorded by posterity as mere spectators to the outrage. Needless to observe that in more refined climes, developments that are of lesser significance have led parliaments to cut short vacations in order to convene on emergency basis, and address designated contingencies which threaten the corporate existence of their nations. And come to think of it what else would have threatened the corporate existence of this country than a war between ethnic nationalities like the Yorubas versus the Fulani as the Ondo matter was building up to be, before it was nipped in the bud?
One of the major lessons from the Ondo State crisis is that the unity of this country is still a work-in-progress and one at a very rudimentary stage, over which Nigerians need to go back to the drawing board. And it is for such a dispensation that in several of its sections the Constitution vested on the National Assembly – along with the state assemblies the powers and responsibility to continuously reinvent the country towards the ideal of “one indivisible an indissoluble sovereign nation under God…”.Even as the same Constitution admits, Nigeria is not yet one “indivisble and indissoluble sovereign country” as the people within its territory had only resolved to work towards the ideal and hence adopted the Constitution for that purpose.
In a related context, the ideals of indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria itself depends on the sharing of common values, with two of the most critical outlined in the first chapter of the Constitution. The first of such is the supremacy of its provisions which shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the federation. Secondly is that no process of governance outside its provisions shall be lawful throughout the federation. To clarify the critical path to the attainment of indivisibility and indissolubility of the country, the Constitution outlined the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Against the backdrop of such elaboration by the Constitution of the way to go for the country, it is incontestable that the country had derailed and lost its way long ago. The consequences of such national derailment are the incidences of insurgency, killer-herdsmen menace, high profile crimes and other manifestations of outrage against the soul of the nation.
The foregoing notwithstanding, apparently of more invidious import is the lack of affirmative disposition of the National Assembly to these challenges and Ondo State issue in particular. In no section of its provisions that the Constitution envisaged that the National Assembly shall adopt a lame duck disposition wards any national contingency. On the contrary there are dozens of powers in the Constitution waiting to be invoked by the institution to cage much of the outrages in the country including the errant tendencies of even any President.
In that context, much of the queries Nigerians have for failings of the Presidency through acts of omission and commission may actually be wallowing in the terrain of misplaced grudges against President Muhamadu Buhari, instead of the proper destination – the National Assembly. The failings of the National Assembly to define constitutional boundaries and mitigate whatever excesses of the serving President provides unearned alibi to indulge in the series of unconstitutional measures which Nigerians have had to witness and loathe.
Meanwhile, with respect to the National Assembly, not a few Nigerians have unflattering words for the current Ninth Assembly, which has allowed itself to be widely viewed in the public domain as a mere appendage to the Presidency. The back stage role the institution has so far played in the recent turbulence has not helped its case against the widely held perception that it is failing Nigerians at a most critical period in the history of the country. Irreverent as it may sound, by the reckoning of many Nigerians, the National Assembly is actually sleeping on duty.
There is even a trending brainwave that given the circumstance of the emergence of the presiding officers namely Ahmed Lawan as President of the Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker of the House of Representatives, whereby they were foisted on the institution through the enterprise of former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Adams Oshiomole, his exit may have left them owing their survival only to a rabid loyalty to President Muhamadu Buhari.
Changing that narrative is the task before the institution and its leadership, henceforth.