Constituency projects, budget padding unconstitutional – Enekwechi

In this interview with OKEY CHRIS in Awka, a legal practitioner, George Enekwechi, addresses some topical issues laced around the controversial constituency projects, budget padding, among others
Could we know your thoughts on lawmaking, good governance and professionals involved in it?
Lawmaking is a legislative act empowering the legislators such as Senators, members of Federal House of Representatives, state Houses of Assembly as well as councilors, to make laws for a nation, state or local government area for good governance
In order words, lawmaking is an act of putting into law any proposal or bill either by the executive or members of legislature or private member’s bill once it has gone through the processes laid down for such enactment and is assented to in case of the National Assembly by the President or in the case of the state House of Assembly by the Governor.

Peace, order and good governance
It is not meant for any particular profession but for all citizens of a state. That is why the markers of law say that the house of assembly of a state shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of a state or any part thereof with respect to specified areas. So, once you are a member of any legislative house, you are qualified to participate. The issue of qualifications is well spelt out in the Constitution or state legislative Electoral Act, which qualifies a person to contest. You are qualified to make laws once you contested for it and won during an election.

Are there other functions of lawmakers than law making?
Other function of the legislators apart from making laws for peace and order of a state is oversight function. Oversight function is aimed at exposing corruption with regards to areas a particular legislative house makes laws. These are basic areas where they can veer off with actual legislations. They can do oversight functions to gather more information on other areas where they can legislate in order to support good governance.

Oversight function
It also enables them to find out where or what the money budgeted for in a year was used for. The idea is for the legislature to find out whether the money was utilised or diverted because it was approved for implementation by legislative act. And where the executive exhibits the habits of not implementing such budgetary provisions, the lawmakers equally have the right to stop passing appropriation in that area. The legislature is not bound to approve the budget as proposed by the executive. It is their duty to vet it to know if it is realistic or not.

Does it mean that empowerment in any kind is not a function of a legislator or legislators?
It is not really their function but they can do that to show gratitude to their constituents. That is, like, I am giving you this to show you gratitude for having elected me to represent you. But it must be in line with their earnings not the ways they now do it. It is not right the way they insert it into the budget in the name of constituency project. The Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria does not make provision for constituency projects. It is only the executive that can execute projects not legislators. The duties of legislators are to make laws not to execute projects. Once you are involved in execution of projects you are no more into legislating.

What do you mean that our constitution does not provide for constituency project?
The current constitution of Nigeria does not support such practices. But the legislators use intimidations and blackmails to compel the state and national government executives to allow them to be implementing constituency projects. They are not supposed to be executing any laws.
Legislators use Intimidations and Blackmails
Their duties are to make laws while the executives are to execute them or carry out the laws. They can laisse with the state executive to make sure they (the executive) articulate the needs of their people into the budget in any particular year. And once that is put into the budget, it remains for the executive to implement such budgets. The legislators can only monitor the execution of such project to ensure that the money appropriated for it is well applied in its implementation so as to avoid corruption.

Does the constitution also provide for Town Hall meetings often held by some lawmakers?
Town hall meeting has no constitutional backing. But a legislator can host such to elicit feelings of his constituents on what had been legislated upon or about to be legislated or to pass other information to them. It is ought to be interactive so that members of the constituent can also express their views concerning the legislator, the state or executive, judiciary and other legislative business of their interest.
It is lack of accountability when a lawmaker fails to organise such kind of forum or to interact with his constituents, and also, lack of enlightenment on the side of electorate (constituents), who failed to demand it from their representative (s).

Back to lawmaking function of lawmakers, is there constitutional provision mandating a lawmaker should sponsor a bill, motion or not throughout their legislative years?
The law does not stipulate that a legislator must present a bill or a motion. What it says is that you must participate in the legislative activities. He must carry out duties of legislature. But he must not present his own bill or motion. But presenting them is part of legislative activities. Once a legislature is presenting different bills dealing on important aspect of governance, it shows he is active and good representation. But there is nothing making it mandatory for him to do it.

Does the constitution provide sanctions on any lawmaker absenting himself or herself from sitting or legislative functions?
The constitution provides that a legislator must appear or involve himself in legislative activities for a specific number of days. On failing to attain that, the Speaker or Senate President has the power to declare his seat vacant for failing to appear for the number of sittings prescribed.

Does a leader of a legislative house also has power to suspend a legislator?
I have not come across such constitutional provisions. But a legislative body can make it a part of its rules. But any law that contravenes the law of the land (the Constitutional of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) can be repealed by a member who felt aggrieved because he was suspended, and win. This is because they were elected by their people to represent them, not by the leader or member of that legislative house. The power to elect or recall a legislator belongs to its constituent.

Is it right or constitutional for a lawmaker to get a bill or motion and co-opt or include names of colleagues as co-sponsors?
Is right, of course. Nobody can stop them from been co-sponsors of a bill or motion. The main thing is that there are people proposing the bill or motion. Ten or twenty of them can propose a bill or motion.

Are there any constitutional provision preventing principal officers like the Senate President, the Speaker or Majority leaders of a legislative body from sponsoring bills or motions?
There are no legal impediments restricting any legislature from presenting or proposing bills or motions. But in many cases, leaders of legislative body present such bills from their parties or executive as theirs. There is nothing wrong if a leader of a legislature is presenting a bill or motion. They can also do it with other persons (colleagues).

Does the Nigeria’s Constitution stipulate maximum years a lawmaker must serve or zone a lawmaker must come from within a constituency?
The constitution does not provide years lawmaker should serve their constituent. They can go there as many times as possible provided they were elected by their constituents. It is only the executive like the governor and the president the constitution restricts from staying in power or re-contesting for the same position after spending four years tenure of eight years, or two- term in office.
There is also no law stipulating that a lawmaker must come or be zoned to a particular area within a constituency. But the constitution says it should be done in such a way that favours both sides of the constituency. The essence of zoning is to bring about understanding, equity and fairness to all concerned. There is nothing illegal about it.

Are there other areas of legislation you would love to address?
It is the area whereby a legislator passes a motion urging the executive to carry out one particular project or another. And if the executive says it will not do that, the lawmakers would threaten them. It is wrong. Motions are persuasive acts of the states or national assembly on the executive to execute a particular project or state their views on particular issue of important. They cannot use it to threaten or compel any member of executive to carry out anything. It is mainly persuasive not binding. But for good liaising or good relationship, the executive may be persuaded to carry out such function. They should not misunderstand the limits of their legislative powers.

But the same constitution empowered them to screen and approve appointment of the same cabinet member?
Confirming their appointment is one thing. Removing them is another thing. There is always a provision for removal of such officers. They can only get that by following those processes of removing them. For instance, there is provision for them to approve commissioners or ministers but not for them to remove them. They can only pass a motion or resolution urging the execute to implement a particular budget already passed into law. And if the executive refuses to do so, they have the right to reject such project if it appropriate in the next budget. The executive cannot implement any budget not passed by the assembly.

Do lawmakers also have right to order a member of executive like commissioners or ministers to appear before them on any account?
A commissioner or minister is not accountable to the legislators. They are accountable to the governor or president and the state or country they are serving. So, the legislators can only mandate a commissioner or minister to appear before them on a matter they are legislating on which borders on area the commissioner or minister is in charge of, or in what they (the lawmakers) discovered in course of their oversight function.

Recently, the federal government accused the national assembly of padding the 2018 budget. What is budget padding?
Padding a budget is wrong. It is a system whereby lawmakers smuggle or insert figure into a budget. It is like directing the executive to construct road from Awka to Isiagu when the executive budgeted for a road to be constructed from Awka to Mgbakwu. The national assembly cannot lie under their legislative power to propose or add a budget inside what the executive has proposed.

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