THIS DAY, JUNE 7, 2002


It is my pleasure to address this highly esteemed Conference of Speakers. I have always looked forward with profound enthusiasm to moments like this when I have to address my friends and legislator colleagues. This is because of my firm belief that the legislature, not the judiciary or the Executive, is the cornerstone of democracy.

The peculiar nature of the legislature in a democracy is such that it is the hub around which every activity of government revolves. In democratic Nigeria today, there are 36 gubernatorial constituencies; three senatorial constituencies per state and one from the Federal Capital Territory, making a total of 109; 360 Federal House of Representatives constituencies with each state producing varying numbers according to population density; 774 local government constituencies; and different number of wards per local government for a total of 8, 752 ward constituencies. All these combine to add up to a single but big constituency of the whole nation.

I have taken time to enumerate this for us to have a clear view of the strategic role we are expected to play in a democracy, whether at the local government level, the state or federal level. As lawmakers, we are both strategic and peculiar; most times we are expected to perform the dual role of lawmaking and of leadership. For indeed, we are not only lawmakers; we are also leaders. Therefore, as leaders, we must exercise a high degree of tolerance and circumspection in all that we do. Again, as law-makers, we must be guided by the basic principle that in a democracy like ours, there must be separation of powers.

But let me quickly stress that such separation of powers does not mean confrontation with the Executive, the Judiciary or among the various levels of government. It however does not preclude occasional or even regular disagreements among these various arms or level of government. I must make bold to state that my worries are not the fact that we disagree very often; my worry is the management of these disagreement.

May I recall that such center points of our disagreement in recent times include:

These to my mind are all political issues that are resolvable through the instrumentation of the law and judicial adjudication. But that had not been the case. It is important to note that the few cases that went to the Supreme Court to a large extent doused tension in the seemingly overheated polity.

For example the judgments on the tenure of local government councils. This is a commendable constitutional channel for strengthening democratic governance and institutionalizing the ideals of checks and balances Regrettably, on account of the tendencies of the domineering political class to create political dynasty and empire to serve personal and clique interests, the judicial process oftentimes is assaulted, compromised and abused.

Let me reiterate that the Senate in practical terms is not just another law making body. In addition to its legislative competence the Constitution provides the Senate with ample powers and authority to promote good governance and indeed give direction and leadership in the affairs of the nation. That explains why key appointments, policy formulations and implementations initiated by the executives must be with the prior approvals or confirmation by the Senate. And when such duties call, the Senate as a body is expected to rise over and above primordial considerations and collectively act in the overriding national interest, i.e. national peace, national stability, national unity, national security, public order, international obligations and the need to achieve sustainable democracy.

My dear colleagues, we must legislate and lead with the consciousness that a lot depend on us to sustain our young democracy. May I say here that it is this need to sustain our democracy that is the major challenge of the legislature. Clearly and manifestly so, democracy has come under threat.

Such threats have manifested in various forms of face-offs between the National Assembly and State Assemblies, between the State Assembly and the State Executive, between the National Assembly and the Federal Executive and sometimes between the National Assembly and the State Executive.

At other times, the threats have manifested in serial killings, skirmishes and civil unrest in the North, East, South-South and South West. We can no longer shut our mind to the reality that these crises, which have consistently shaken the foundation of our democratic structures, do not pose a threat to democracy.

But today, I am afraid there is an even bigger threat to democracy. It is the tension created by the controversy surrounding local government administration in our country bordering on the creation, tenure, control, finance (joint account) and accountability. Like I earlier noted, the Senate in the discharge of its constitutional functions is not just another law making chamber. The senate is inherently empowered to play pivotal role in the management of those political tendencies that have the potentials of degenerating to national crisis. That remains one of the hallmarks of participatory democracy. It allows the exploitation of inbuilt mechanism to isolate and resolve those sore points that may not readily and beneficially be resolved by rigid recourse to the letters of the law without even headed appreciation of the spirit and intendment of the law. Essentially, that has informed most of the decisions of the Senate under my leadership in the handling of national issues.

For example, the senate has always said and still maintains that new local governments must be created on the basis of viability and not necessarily to score political points. Already, we are faced with the problem of some existing local governments not being able to pay salaries.

We in the Senate believe we should not compound this problem by further splitting such local governments and therefore weakening their financial base and capacity to provide basic services to the people. Whatever we have done, whatever action we have taken as far as the creation of local governments is concerned is guided by our unwavering desire and determination to sustain our young democracy. In deed, we welcome the creation of local governments but they must be guided by due process as much as they must be based on the logic of viability.

As representatives of the people, we must be cognizant of the social contract that binds us to them. We must therefore legislate essentially for the purpose of achieving good governance, fairness, equity in the distribution of national wealth and respect for our individual rights. This is the challenge before us how to assuage the fears of the people, restore their confidence in the political process and promote good democratic governance. According to Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, former Secretary – General of the Organization of African Unity;

..democratic governance refers to a political and social – economic framework in which every individual and every community becomes an equal member of society, and is provided with a space of engagement in shaping the destiny of society. It incorporates relations, norms, values, procedures, institutions, duties and obligations. It is a totality that encompasses the political, social and economic domains in a mutually reinforcing and symbiotic manner.”

This is the fundamental essence of democracy- ensuring that people live in the atmosphere of guaranteed peace, security, stability and provision of basic infrastructure that supports sustainable development. And since peace and stability of the polity are critical to the ideals of good governance, the Senate in a proactive manner considered it necessary and indeed expedient to legislate that local council elections and all elections for that matter should hold in 2003. The Senate’s calculations was informed by overriding national interest to avoid the present quagmire of dissolution of the councils, inability to conduct elections to fill the gap, the setting up transitional committees to run the affairs of the councils and the registration of new political parties. Today, the Senate stands vindicated because some of these crises arising from the aforementioned could have been avoided.

Personally, I am eternally guided by the sublime virtues of consultations, consensus, compromise, equity and fairness in my approach to national issues and internal affairs of the Senate. I am devoted to national peace, national unity, national justice and equity. They represent the nexus of my political philosophy. It is even an obsession for me; a passion to legislate for the overall peace of the nation.

I urge you all to be vigilant and committed to the preservation of our nascent democracy and the challenge of sustainable nation building. If we remain guided by these ideals we will collectively be able to firm up the structures of our young democracy.

My colleagues, I implore you today to be guided by these ideals in your daily duty of legislation. I must note that the moral content of law or any political decision for that matter in the context that we have today, contemplates such virtues as fairness, how far it will promote peace, equality and justice.

Accordingly, I implore you to have at the back of your mind these imperatives as the only route to good governance. This is my message to you. It is my plaintive appeal to all legislators so that we can collectively safeguard our democracy.

As legislators and as leaders, we owe it a duty to our constituencies to promote the rule of law over and above arbitrary tendencies. We should also showcase transparency in the conduct of our constitutional, statutory and personal affairs. This is the challenge of our generation. This is the challenge of our dispensation. Though, it is daunting but I know you will arise and surmount it.

Once again, I thank you for the privilege offered me to address this highly esteemed Assembly. This indeed is an evidence of a collective aspiration to move our nation forward.

Thank you.

Senator (Dr) Anyim Pius Anyim GCON