The legislative powers of the federation are vested in the National Assembly which consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. These legislative powers include the power to make laws and the power to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws and the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, Ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for executing and administering laws enacted by the National Assembly and disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly for the purpose of enabling it to correct any defects in existing laws and expose corruption, inefficiency or waste. In order to carry out its investigation properly, the National Assembly has the power to summon any person or issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person in Nigeria to give evidence on oath and examine all persons as witnesses whose evidence may be material or relevant to the subject matter. The overarching principle of these powers to the National Assembly is to ensure the peace, order and good government of the federation or any part thereof.
We are not short of laws in this country, we are simply shy of implementing our laws to our collective peril. A critical appraisal of the constitutional powers of the National Assembly reveals that the faithful exercise of its legislative powers would have reduced corruption to the barest minimum. The framers of the constitution were wise when it conferred the oversight function on the legislature even when the power to execute the laws lies with the President. We have only one President but we have about 469 members of the National Assembly. No President can visit all the constituencies in Nigeria during his tenure but every project is located within a constituency which is within the sight of at least 2 members of the National Assembly.
The NDDC saga has exposed the weaknesses of our institutions, particularly, the legislature in the war against corruption. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established in year 2000 to respond to the yearnings of the people of Niger Delta, who, though, produce about 80% of the total revenue for the whole Nigeria, were wallowing in abject poverty. President Umaru Yar’Adua established the Ministry of Niger Delta, to complement the services of the NDDC to the people of Niger Delta. The headship of the Ministry and NDDC have always rotated among indigenes of the Niger Delta. The belated revelations in the National Assembly have revealed can of worms that may be difficult to erase in our quest to rid our country of corruption. About 1.3 trillion naira has been allocated to NDDC to date. This investigation has already introduced novel acts and grammar in our political and lexical life. The Speaker of the House of Representatives revealed that the investigation witnessed the first “fainting”(whether real or fake) in the National Assembly and whenever anyone wants to expose anything that somebody is not comfortable with, one can simply hush the person with the assertion, “it’s okay, it’s okay, off your mic.”
First and foremost, everybody in Nigeria agrees that NDDC is corrupt. The President said that there is nothing to show for the huge amount of money allocated to the NDDC. The Minister of Niger Delta set up forensic audit to investigate the activities of the commis- sion after obtaining supervisory permission over the commission from the President. The Senate concluded that the present NDDC interim management committee misappropriated about N4.2b, which they recommended should be refunded to the government. Even the headquarters of NDDC has not been completed for almost 20 years. However, the Minister of Niger Delta, Chief Godswill Akpabio accused some members of the National Assembly of cornering most of the contracts of the NDDC. He specifically alleged that both Chairmen of the National Assembly on NDDC usually tamper with the budget of the Commission after the budget has been passed by the National Assembly for their own selfish ends and subsequently bully the Commission to dance to their tunes or risk their budget thrown out altogether.
The NDDC Act anticipated the possibility of some cleptomaniacs descending on the purse of the commission and built an impregnable wall of defence around the finances of the commission. If these provisions were obeyed to the later, NDDC will not be where it is today. Section 18(2) provides that the Board shall cause to be kept proper accounts of the Commission in respect of each year and proper records in relation thereto and shall cause the accounts to be audited not later than 6 months after the end of each year by auditors appointed from the list and in accordance with the guidelines supplied by the Auditor-General for the Federation. Section 19 mandates that the Commission shall, at the end of every quarter in each year, submit to the President, report on the activities and administration of the Commission. Section 20(1) (2) compels the Board to prepare and submit to the President, not later than 30th June in each year, a report in such form as the President may direct on the activities of the Commission during the immediately preceding year, and shall include in the report a copy of the audited accounts of the Commission for that year and the auditor’s report thereon, which the President shall, upon receipt of the report, cause a copy of the report and the audited accounts of the Commission and the auditor’s report thereon to be submitted to each House of the National Assembly. To drive home the necessity of supervision on the activities of the commission, the Act in Section 21 established a Monitoring Committee which shall consist of such number of persons as the President may deem fit to appoint, from the public or civil service of the Federation, to monitor the management of the funds of the Commission and the implementation of the projects of the Commission and have access to the books of account and other records of the Commission at all times, and submit periodical reports to the President.
By the combined effects of the provisions of the Constitution and the Act, what is happening in NDDC today is failure of leadership and supervision at all levels and not failure of law. It is surprising that nobody has mentioned the Auditor-General of the Federation and his failure to present a yearly audited account and report on NDDC to the President and the National Assembly, which would have made all these so called investigations unnecessary. The National Assembly for the first time in 20 years instituted a comprehensive investigation into the activities of the commission, whereas the Act establishing the Commission envisaged that the National Assembly should be doing this yearly. The Minister asked for permission from the President to supervise the Ministry, whereas the President, by the Act, ought to have established an independent monitoring committee that should be monitoring the funds and projects of the commission constantly and everyday. The Minister ordered a forensic audit of the commission whereas the law requires it to be done yearly by the Auditor-General. Although both executive and legislative arms of government in this saga have sinned and come short the glory of discharging the law, the National Assembly should be held ultimately responsible because it has the constitutional power to appropriate funds to the Commission, investigate the activities and audited accounts of the commission anytime it pleases, but at least yearly, in order to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste. This was not done, either because the National Assembly was complicit or complacent in the corruption, inefficiency and waste of the NDDC.
The Minister accused the National Assembly of complicity. He said about 60% of the contracts went to the National Assembly members. He exposed some names, after the Speaker threatened to prosecute and sue him for perjury and defamation. The National Assembly and the former acting MD of NDDC, Mrs Joy Nunieh accused Akpabio and the Interim Management Committee of corruption. The truth is that you cannot claim you are not a thief just because you are saying the other person is also a thief. The only reasonable assumption today is that both are thieves until the otherwise is proved. If the National Assembly wants to end this mudslinging against it today, let them take their oversight functions seriously and expose the thieves. If they do not expose the thieves then let them accept that they are either complicit or complacent.
Whereas many Nigerians believe that the National Assembly is complicit, most, if not all Nigerians, including the Legislators themselves, believe that the National Assembly is complacent. Senator Lanre Tejuosho was on point when he attributed the rising cases of corruption in the country to poor oversight by lawmakers. He said, “for me, the problem is not introducing bills but the oversight function of the lawmakers. There are so many wrongs today that could have been corrected if Senators had done their oversight functions properly. So I believe, rather than passing new bills, we should concentrate on how to perfect the oversight functions. If a bill should be uppermost on my mind today, it is a bill that will ensure that any agency or parastatals that fails in its responsibilities of implementing their budget or projects are exposed and probed. Also, the Senators in charge of those agencies must be penalised”.