OrderPaperToday – Last week’s shameful show of power between federal lawmakers and the Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Productivity, Mr. Festus Keyamo brings to the fore a debate on the limits of legislative oversight.
It also rekindles the controversy over what many consider the overbearing intervention of legislators on government’s social welfare initiatives, recruitment into Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) ostensibly on behalf of their constituents.
The drama started when Mr. Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), was asked to explain certain implementation activities of the Special Public Works Programme particularly on the modalities of choosing the selection committee of the programme and key parameters for recruiting the beneficiaries.
The programme is planned to have 774,000 people who would be recruited by the Federal Government under the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), a parastatal under Mr. Keyamo’s ministry.
Instead of providing answers to the posers by the joint committee comprising senators and members of the House of Representatives, Keyamo accused the lawmakers of trying to hijack the programmes for themselves.
He further alleged that he had been approached to secure some slots for the lawmakers. He even threatened to resign from office rather than allow the lawmakers have their way.
Eventually, the minister was walked out of the hearing after which the federal lawmakers resolved on the suspension of the programme.
But Keyamo would have none of that as he later issued a statement wherein he instructed the selection committee to begin work, a move which prompted the spokesmen of both chambers to issue a joint press statement reiterating the earlier position to suspend the programme while summoning the substantive Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Sen. Chris Ngige to appear before the National Assembly for “a proper briefing”.
Keyamo in his defence stated that the federal lawmakers jumped the gun by issuing a suspension which is not within their constitutional rights which he said, is limited to investigation. He cited section 88 of the 1999 constitution to back his position.
Throwback to the tiff over social investment programme…
This is not the first time an altercation has occurred between both the National Assembly and officials of the executive arm of government. Prior to the Keyamo incident, the leadership of both chambers during the period of the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, had a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq.
Both the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, in April, faulted the Federal Government’s implementation of the Social Investment Programme because a lot of Nigerians were not adequately represented or captured.
At the time, lawmakers were not part of the process but were individually carrying out social interventions for their constituents to mitigate the effect of the pandemic.
Lawan in his submission at the time said: “We feel that we need to work together with you to ensure that there is effectiveness, there is efficiency that those who are supposed to benefit, benefit directly.
“We believe that when we work together, the Executive side of government and the National Assembly as representatives of the people, we will be able to reach much more of these people who are in serious distress even before the coronavirus. Now with coronavirus, they need our attention more than ever before. The time has come that we review the ways and manner we use to deliver the services under the SIP to Nigerians.”
Similarly, Gbajabiamila equally questioned the Minister on the mode of implementation of the programme. He said: “The questions are going to be asked, how do you come about your list, how comprehensive is your distribution list? What are the parameters? What is the geographical spread? So these are tough questions that are going to be asked but I want you to look at them as frank questions that we need to ask.
“If you really want to define the meaning of representation, if that was being practiced in the real meaning of representation, then we shouldn’t be here. All the questions we want to ask, we should already have the answers. We should be providing those answers to the Nigerian people we represent.”
Maryam Uwais, the presidential aide on social programme in a counter-reaction insisted that according to global standards, politicians should not be part of picking beneficiaries of social protection programmes alleging that they use it as a reward of loyalty.
“I have consistently reminded both NASS committee chairmen on poverty alleviation that there is no social protection programme in the world in which politicians are responsible for selecting the beneficiaries of cash transfers. All successful social protection programmes extract their beneficiaries from an objective community platform, if only to ensure that the poorest of the poor are supported out of poverty in an inclusive community driven and timely manner.”
“Since poverty knows no ethnicity, religion or political affiliation, the process must be insulated from influences that are likely to deviate from achieving the desired objective of alleviating abject poverty, rather than be used for patronage or as compensation for loyalty.”
Repeated NASS demand for slots…
Lawmakers have particularly and consistently been accused of hijacking slots for such job recruitment or other government social initiatives with Lawan being under public eyes in recent times.
In 2019, a report by Daily Trust stated that he secured 26 job slots for his constituents at the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) which resulted to a fight among senators about the sharing formula. No official response was given on the matter.
Again on the 27th of June, 2020, Sahara Reporters in a publication alleged that Lawan got some slots under the N-POWER scheme, a claim denied by the latter.
Due to these repeated accusations and counter-accusations, some questions have remained unanswered.
Should lawmakers be provided slots for jobs and social schemes being representatives of the people? If yes, how can one determine if the slots are used as a reward of loyalty to those who helped them secure their seats and not the constituents themselves? What happens to those who did not vote for them, are they left out?
For instance, the last recruitment by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was widely perceived as fair and transparent because it was presumably merit-based.
In Keyamo’s case, should the resolution of the federal parliament to stall the programme be binding on the executive? Should federal lawmakers be consulted during the implementation of government policies, or are they allowed to be given slots for their constituents?
In answering these questions, OrderPaperNG spoke to a constitutional lawyer and a public affairs analyst.
‘NASS directive to suspend programme is advisory, not binding’
Legal Practitioner, Inibehe Effiong in his submission stated that the resolution from the members of the federal chambers stalling the programme is only advisory and should not be binding on the executive.
He explained: “The resolution of the National Assembly is advisory. It is not binding on the executive. The two main powers of the National Assembly is restricted to lawmaking and oversight- those are the two main functions.
“Except by legislation, the National Assembly cannot compel the executive. The only way they can compel the executive is by legislation- by passing a law. For instance, they can introduce a bill and pass it, if the President refuses to sign, they can override that bill by passing a second time. That is the only way they can exercise compulsory powers over the executive.
“To the extent that their decision is pursuant to a motion is moved on the floor of the house and resolution accordingly passed, that resolution is advisory. To that extent Keyamo is correct but at the same time, beyond the prism of law, it is expected the resolution of the National Assembly is expected to be taken seriously because they are taken to be the representative of the people.
“Although, the Executive has the discretion on whether to comply with their resolution or not. Ultimately, what they can do within the purview of sections 88 and 89 of the constitution, is basically to investigate, expose corruption, inefficiency… in respect to their legislative powers.”
Effiong further argued that lawmakers are not required to be consulted during the implementation of government policies as obtained in the principle of separation of powers.
“They (lawmakers) are not required to be consulted. They can only exercise the function of oversight. The executive does not have to consult the National Assembly. The separation of power under the constitution, parliament only comes in for checks and balances which is exercised through oversight by way of investigation. To say before executive policies and programmes can be implemented, that the National Assembly has to be consulted is wrong.
“That would mean, that before motions or bills can be introduced on the floor of the national assembly, then they must consult with the executive. That totally negative the foundation of constitutional democracy in terms of separation of powers. I do not agree with the position that the Minister, Keyamo or the Executive should have consulted the National Assembly. It is not backed by law.”
Asked if lawmakers can get in their constituents to be part of such programmes, he said: “That is a controversial issue. The bottom line is the process of selection. It appears the National Assembly members are interested in having the input on the membership of the recruitment committee or beneficiaries. If the Minister decides to allot slots to members of the National Assembly, that will also raise issues of favouritism and corruption.
“Ultimately, there is no guarantee that even the minister himself is going to act without being influenced. It is just politics that is playing on between the Minster and the National Assembly. They know what they are fighting over and what they are fighting over may not necessarily represent the collective interest of Nigerians.”
‘NASS not wrong to question Keyamo on modalities of recruitment’
Contributing to this, Executive Director OJA Development Consult and Public Affairs Analyst, Jide Ojo, opined that the federal lawmakers were right to raise questions as regards the implementation of the social programme noting that the drama that ensued between both parties was mismanaged.
He said: “It is not unusual for there to be a spat between the legislative and executive arm of government. I think with due respect to the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, he was just trying to grandstand. You cannot say you are only answerable to the President. As a minister of the federal republic whose screening and approval was done by the Senate, you are also answerable to the parliament.
“Even though there might have been a behind the scene pressure from the same parliament to get some slots for their constituents, it is not unusual for people to want to do something that they can say it is democracy dividends for their people.
“I don’t think the national assembly was wrong to ask those questions. It does not call for this kind of hot exchanges. Lobbying is normal in our society but where I am not against lobbying, people you are lobbying for should be qualified. That is why we have the Federal Character Commission. I think it was mismanagement of the situation that caused the altercation. At the end of the day, who suffers? It is the people. It is better they iron things out and let the recruitment exercise be carried out.
“For me, lawmakers are not totally out of order to request slots for their constituents but such nominee should have the required criteria to benefit from such porgramme or employment.
“I am not saying lawmakers should be part of the recruitment process and turn it to political patronage I am not in support of that but what they are asking for, concerning Keyamo’s case is not outrageous. Lawmakers want to win reelection and they want to give people something to show beyond lawmaking because people do not see law because it is abstract. That is why you will see at every opportunity…
“You cannot rule out the fact that some of these politicians have lobbied Uwais Maryam to get some of their constituents to be part of the NPOWER programme. I am not sure they are out of order. They can go to court they say they don’t have the power to give approval. I think the 9th assembly has displayed a lot of maturity and have worked cordially with the executive.
“Because it is the federal government’s fund they are going to use. If you look at the numbers, the money runs into billions definitely there is nothing wrong if they are carried along in terms of getting their endorsement, approval and support. Politicians are also human beings, you cannot say they cannot be involved.
“What I will say is don’t sacrifice merit for political expedience. Even if they want to lobby to have some of their constituents, in as much as they are qualified, I do not see that as corruption.”