Legislative Oversight Failure, Catalyst for Corruption


Abdull-Azeez Ahmed Kadir



Globally it has become a norm to practice democracy. Any form of government that is not democratic is seen as an anomaly. Nations where other system of government such as monarchy is practiced, it is given a semblance of democracy.


Democracy gives room to the minority to have their say and the majority to have their way. The symbolic arm of government that determines the effectiveness or otherwise of it, is the legislature. The legislature symbolizes true democracy.


The legislature is the body empowered to make, amend or repel laws for a nation or a unit if a nation. In most democratic countries, it usually consists of two chambers; one or both elected by popular suffrage.


Aside making, amending or repealing laws, one basic function of that arm of government that can make or mar democracy is the oversight function of that hallow chamber. Oversight is defined as either supervision or the failure to notice something or an instance of this.


To show how crucial this function is, it can halt or serve as a catalyst for corruption in any nation. In Nigeria where most part of the independent year was spent under the military rule or quasi democracy, the principle of separation of power was non existent not to talk about oversight function of the legislature.


Infact, while the other two arms – executive and judiciary in whatever form existed, the legislature was absent. Nigeria’s disproportionate corruption is linked in some quarters to this factor. Some argued that in the event that Nigeria had experienced the years in democracy as against militocracy or quasi democracy, the country would today not appear at the bottom scale of global corruption perception index.


For the first time in Nigeria’s history, she has enjoyed ten years of uninterrupted democratic government. And, any time these governments come under the binocular of critics, the legislature has always been the yardstick used to measure the effectiveness or otherwise of it.


Since democracy was restored in Nigeria, new catch phrases have sneaked into its lexicon. Nascent, dividend, learning process are few of such. Most of the short comings and failures especially by the legislature are swept under the carpet of these catch-phrases or words. These excuses are often dismissed by the wave of the hands by pundits.


Of recent the legislature at the federal level especially the lower chamber on the Independent Power Project (IPP) and the upper chamber on the Federal Capital Territory opened a Pandora box by probing into even other sectors. While many hailed this move, others dismissed it as the usual Nigeria chasing-shadow-tactics.


But the question on many lips is where was the legislature as regards oversight functions while these atrocities were been committed? Could all they had uncovered happened if they had taken their oversight functions seriously instead of turning deaf ears to or looking the other way while all these illicit acts were being perpetrated.  Would it not be indicting self for such monumental fraud in the system?


Then came the self confessed monumental failure of the 2008 budget. The legislature kept blaming certain ministries like that of works for returning hundreds of millions of naira to the treasury when most federal roads are un-motor-able and the ministry is indebted to many contractors, both local and foreign. And the question is where was the legislature all through the year when the budget was not been implemented as passed? Were the ministries to have shared the money without returning it to the treasury a la Grange and Iyabo, chances are that the legislature would not have raised an eye lid. But thanks to rule of law.


No doubt the legislature in Nigeria has suffered credible leadership stability. No thanks to the vindictive and manipulative executive that wants her “will be done” by all cost. But no better thanks to all edged Ghana-must-go loving legislative members who for their acts turned the legislature to the rubber stamp of the executive. Thankfully all these were before the advent of the present administration which has being preaching rule of law.  


The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in chapter five section 80{E} is explicit on the authority of the legislature as regards “powers and control over funds”


The ‘power to conduct investigation’ comes in the later part of that constitution.


But why should the legislature fail in oversight function is a question begging for answers. However some authorities have advanced many reasons for this. In a more advance democracies a Member of Parliament spend almost a life time in the legislature thereby knowing the knitty gritty and becoming an authority in law making and oversight function. Most are tutored and undergo rigorous training in that art. The patriotic zeal to serve the nation with little emphasis on financial gain, and the check-mechanism to curb perfidy on the part of public office holders.


The reward-punishment caveat encapsulated into the system to checkmate the excess of such office holders and the sheer ambition of building an unsoiled legacy go along way in fostering a serious and tenacious legislature and members of parliament in most vibrant democratic societies.


These are some of the factors lacking in the Nigerian system coupled with inordinate crave for materialism as against service to humanity. These shortcomings have not only inhibited the effective performance of the legislature but serve as catalyst for corruption.


A situation where legislators are sitting contractors does not only worsen the situation but result in conflict of interest between public interest and private concern. Where ministries, parastatals and other organizations that are supposed to be under the ‘supervision’ of the legislature ends up sponsoring, paying for the over sea trips and other emoluments of the legislature, oversight functions automatically takes the passenger’s seat if not out rightly thrown out of the fast moving vehicle of national development.


The legislature has been and would remain the heart of democracy at least for a long time to come. As it is with the biological being, all parts function to make the whole healthy. Impairment in any may affect the whole, but impairment on the heart means the destruction of the whole.


The legislature as the heart needs to gets her acts together, draws a line between public interest and private concern, embark on more training and avoid cursory zeal in the nitty-gritty of legislative art. Build an untainted legacy of public service with patriotic enthusiasm with emphasis on material enrichment.


Until this and many more positive steps are taken by the legislature to strengthen legislative oversight functions, its failure would not only be a catalyst for corruption but spell doom for effective democratic practice and an harbinger of quasi-democracy; a fad that no nation can afford even within a twinkle of an eye