The fracas in the House of Representatives the other day has once again portrayed the honourable members as anything but an honourable lot. Indeed, the lower chamber of the National Assembly is fast gaining notoriety as one in which members believe in the superiority of brawn over reason, where recourse to fisticuffs at its plenary and in the full glare of the public at the slightest provocation is becoming the norm.
This is reprehensible and unacceptable. It happened under the leadership of Patricia Etteh, leading to the death of a member and also under Speaker Dimeji Bankole leading to the suspension of some of its members. When a faction of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), paid a visit to both the House and the Senate and the visit to the House of Representatives led to physical brawl, Nigerians are justified to wonder what manner of persons are in the lower chamber. If the visit did not provoke a fight or squabble in the Senate, how come it did in the House of Representatives?
What Nigerians expect from legislators who purport to represent them are legislations that will directly impact on their lives and conditions. Since the beginning of the current democratic experience, life for the ordinary citizens has been generally difficult, compounded by ravaging poverty and increasing despondency. Nigerians are in dire need of life-changing policies.
They look endlessly to their representatives not just to legislate happiness, prosperity and life more abundant into Nigeria but also to reflect their mood and circumstances in carriage and comportment. If they would be true representatives of the people, sobriety would be palpable in their conduct to reflect the mood of a people in despair, bogged down by poverty, unemployment, diseases and a decrepit state of infrastructure.
While the people wished for representatives that trade ideas, what they have are lawmakers skilful in trading punches. Regrettably, on all occasions the House was embroiled in commotion, it was over trivial issues that contribute nothing to nation building. Yet, it costs a fortune to maintain the House, to keep it running in the belief that it would stand up to the task of reversing the fortune of the citizenry, that it would as a matter of duty, aggregate the interest of the constituents and articulate it in a dignified manner and, above all, curb the excesses of the executive arm in a manner devoid of rancour, acrimony and petty rivalry.
But it has itself turned out to be a burden, overbearing and suffocating in its excesses to the point that it is now seen rightly or wrongly as a drain on the nation’s resources. In a nutshell, the House needs to do more to show that it represents the best of democratic tradition, ethos and Nigeria’s values. In the hallowed chambers of the House, there is no alternative to free flow of ideas and if there were, violence cannot be one of them. The House of Representatives has been desecrated for too long and Nigerians have had enough.
For those who masterminded the recent fight, the simple question they should ask themselves is whether, the Kawu Baraje-led group had the permission of the leadership of the House to visit, and if it did, whether it was within the prerogative of the leadership to receive the group? The answer to this lies in Section 14(1) of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act 1990 which clothes the Speaker with the power to allow a stranger to enter or remain within the chamber of the House.
According to the section, “No stranger in respect of a legislative House shall be entitled to enter or remain within the chamber or precincts of the Legislative House without the authority of the President or Speaker, as the case may be, of the House.” It is, therefore, obvious that the power of the Speaker to admit the splinter group is protected by law and cannot even be questioned by a court of law as explicitly stated by Section 30 of the Act let alone by a member of the House. Assuming for a while that this power was abused, it still would not justify resort to unparliamentary behaviour, which fisticuff portends, as there are better ways of addressing this.
The leadership of the House must find a way of putting an end to this malaise. A replication of it in the Rivers State House of Assembly nearly claimed another life but left some casualties who escaped with grievous bodily harm. The House leadership should invoke its powers under Section 32 of the Act which directs that information be given by the Speaker to the Attorney General of the Federation for the prosecution of an erring member.
The immunity a member enjoys from civil or criminal proceedings is limited only to “words spoken before that House or a committee thereof or in respect of words written in a report to the House or to any committee thereof or in any petition, bill, resolution, motion or question brought or introduced by him there.” It does not protect “any person who makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint or inflicts or threatens to inflict any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against a member of a legislative House, in order to compel such member to declare himself in favour of or against any proposition or matter pending, or expected to be brought before that Legislative House, or on account of such member having declared himself in favour or against any proposition or matter brought before that Legislative House” which the Act penalises with two years imprisonment.
It remains for the Speaker to have the will to take advantage of these provisions to rein in unruly members. At the minimum, he should be able to move for the suspension of an unruly member for contempt as provided by Section 21 of the Act. That is the only way to put an end to this recurring shame of a nation.
Source: The Guardian
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