By: Abubakar Jimoh
Efforts to ensure enabling environment for sustainable human development and good governance across African states has brought to the fore, a two-day Seminar themed “African State Legislatures: Sub-national Politics and national Power” organized by Landmark University Omu-Aran in collaboration with National Endowment for Democracy and University of America in Omu-Aran, Kwara.
A keynote address delivered by the Speaker of Kwara State House of Assembly, Hon. Razak Atunwa represented by his Deputy, Prof. Mohammed Gana Yisa offers some insight into those factors backpedalling the achievement of sustainable democracy and good governance across African countries, when he noted: “The Legislature is the core of democracy and the process of its composition is the foundation of any democratic government in the World.
“In some African countries, the Legislature remains young with stunt growth and fragility due to the devastating consequences of wars, conflict and dictatorship. Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, Somalia readily come to mind to mention a few in this regard. Religion fundamentalism, corruption, election malpractices, poor leadership, rising level of poverty, youth underdevelopment and its restiveness and weak level loyalty to the nation states amongst others have had effects in weakening African democracy, its legislative business and growth.”
He said “the picture painted by this scenario is that the growth of African Democracy and Legislatures of nation States is rather slow especially when one reflects that Africa is the cradle of civilization with its offshoot in Egypt. Therefore, our democracy/legislature should have moved far higher on the rungs of the ladder of political maturity than where we are today”.
In order to achieve a sustainable democracy in Africa regions, Hon Atunwa recommended among other things, functional education policies that target youth reorientation for education of youth restiveness which is fast truncating democracies in Africa; war against corruption in the front burner of national politics in Africa States; continuous capacity building for conflict management taking into account the social, cultural and historical conditions of each country; workable financial autonomy of State Assemblies to fast rack maturity of legislatures and independence of democratic institutions; greater respect for constitutional rights to guarantee harmonious working relationship of all arms and tiers of government; accountable and transparent electoral commissions to gain confidence and trust of the electorate and drastic effort to reduce apathy and absenteeism in elections to enhance our nascent democracy; enhanced quality of legislation through Constitutional review of Section 65 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999; enhanced female participation in politics in tandem with the spirit of Beijin Declaration on Affirmative Action; full-time versus part-time legislature bearing in mind the cost of governance and the craze for political offices in Africa; high rate of turnover of legislators with its attendance effect on the quality of legislations; and capacity building for legislators through constant exposures to training and retraining programmes.
In his observations, Dean of College of Business and Social Sciences at Landmark University, Prof Sunday Otokiti lamented that Nigeria is dominated by culture of fake democracy. He said the State Legislatures have remained submissive to their Executive for the fact they (the legislators) were attained political power through undemocratic means like massive rigging, bribery, forgery and other illegalities. Prof. Otokiti recounted the lack of independence and functionality, and unwarranted jumbo pay accredited to the Legislatures.
While deliberating on the framework and overview of seminar goals in a paper titled “State Legislatures and African Democratic Development”, Prof. Carl LeVan of American University, USA, highlighted that political institution figure prominently in research on governance in Africa, including analyses exploring the effects of effect of electoral systems, the source of voting bahaviour, legislative capacity and constitutional constraints on executive authority.
He said “surveys and innovative field research offer new insights into policy preferences, political competitiveness, party hegemony and host of other issues, signaling a shift from studies focused on the causes of democratizing reforms that began sweeping Africa over two decades ago. Despite the centrality of political institutions in these studies, state legislatures and similar subnational institutions receive little attention.”
Prof. LeVan encouraged the participants to explore different metrics for assessing subnational legislative capacity through critical observation at autonomy within the party structure; projected career paths of the legislators; internal revenue effort the state executives; judicial enforcement in dispute resolution between the state and federal authorities; and institutional congruence.
Also, Dr. Joseph Fashagba of Department of Political Science, Landmark University, argued in support of Prof. LeVan, when he lamented that in most African countries today, the power of State Legislatures has been undermined by executive as a result of increasingly dependent of the Legislatures on the Executives. This according to him has jeopardized the spirit of democracy and good governance in State Houses of Assembly.
In a paper titled “Executive Dominance, Party Control and State Legislatures in Nigeria: Evidence from Three States in the North-west Geo-political Zone of Nigeria”, Prof. Yahaya T. Baba of Department of Political Science, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, examined the phenomenon of executive dominance, party control and subordinate nature of legislatures at state level in Nigeria.
He argued that “the endemic culture of executive dominance in Africa’s one party states and military regimes has made legislatures weak and vulnerable. This scenario continued even after return to multi-party democracy in various African states. Suffice to say that the pace of democratization across the political landscape of Africa only produces strong chief executives that undermine the autonomy of legislative institutions. The latter are merely seen as appendages of the former. This power interplay, which is skewed against the legislature hinder the institutionalization of democracy in Africa. In terms of raw power, most African legislatures like legislatures worldwide remain weak in relation to the executive.
“Similarly, the organization and conduct of political parties in Africa also influence executive-legislature relations, apparently in favour of the executive in most emerging African democracies. In Nigeria, for instance, the strong attachment of political parties to executive arm of government is obvious. This is largely on the account that the executive remain the major source of funding for political parties. Accordingly, agenda control, roll-call behaviour of members and their re-election bids are influenced largely by the executive through the instrumentalities of political parties. Party structures (both within and outside the legislature) thus limits the powers and functionality of legislatures in Nigeria.”
In the analysis of Prof. Baba, “given these obvious institutional limitations of the central legislature in Nigeria and the derailing quality of democracy in the country, the National Assembly receives the attention of not a few scholars. However, little is known of state legislatures in Nigeria, as have been the case with most state legislatures in Africa, particularly the power relations with the executive and party structures at state level. Events have shown that the state governors in Nigeria exercise control over state legislatures much as the presidency does on the National Assembly. The influence and control of the state legislatures by governors appears to be more obvious and destructive to legislative autonomy than what obtains at the centre.
“The vulnerability, weakness and limited capacity of state legislatures have made public accountability, transparency and probity dismal and limited at state level. This has led to personalization of public funds by state governors with which they fund the activities of political parties and sponsor candidates for elections at all levels, particularly into the state legislature. The influence and powers of state governors over political parties and elections generally, has led to the emergence of predominantly one-party legislatures across Nigeria. This is also in addition to the fact that most state legislatures rely on executive bureaucracy for staffing. Worst still, the funding of state legislatures has always been at the pleasure of the state governors.
“Nonetheless, cracks within political parties at state level and disagreement within the ranks of the legislature had at different times interrogated the powers of state governors in different states of Nigeria. Some of these examples include Lagos, Ekiti, Anambra, Plateau, Sokoto, Oyo, Osun, Bayelsa and Kano states. Except for the governors of Oyo, Ekiti and Bayelsa states whom were impeached by the state Assemblies, with the support and interference of the central executive (presidency), other governors survived the impeachment threats and in some instances engineered the impeachment of the leadership of the legislature.”
He further interrogated the powers of state governors in Nigeria vis-à-vis political parties as it affects the organization, conduct, autonomy and functionality of state legislatures in Nigeria; and argued that the political, legal and socio-economic order within which state legislatures operate is responsible for their subordination to the executive.