The conventional kinds of literature on government have taught us that there are three arms of government, to wit: executive, legislature, and judiciary. The legislature makes the laws, the executive executes the laws (and policies) and the judiciary interprets the law. 

They work independently and interdependently such that while the roles are distinct and separable, the need for cohesion and rhythm in the social engineering network necessitates some overlap in their responsibilities and workings.

The time-honoured doctrine of checks and balances is a necessary ingredient of the democratic formula to ensure that one arm does not override the others and is not free of control to run amock and manifest the cliche of the absolute corruption that absolute power portends.

However, because we run a skewed formula, the basic operational ingredients are missing and the framework is a bent chassis. The executive runs the show at all levels. The president is untouchable because his excellency's office controls the machinery of military and social security and the finances of the state with which he could whip all and everybody in line with his wishes and the wishes of those who control him.

Governors are the ogres that dictate the affairs of the country with their unholy association called the Governors' Forum. They decide which laws to obey including the constitution and dole out state monies like philanthropists. The local government chairmen follow the same pattern.

The legislature has become a literary and debating society where law-making is secondary. They demand gratification to pass appropriation and other executive bills, connive with the executive to pad budgets, and 'off the mic' on oversight functions. 

The judiciary is no longer the bastion of the poor. There is a class relationship with the court; the handling of money (Judiciary budget) and the fact that its leadership is chosen by the executive have compromised the judiciary. Independence is utopian.

Together, the three arms are beyond the reach and control of the masses. They have formed a conspiracy against the people. In spite of the economic decline, public officeholders continue to earn astronomically and the cry for openness and reduction of the emoluments of National Assembly members and elected executives has fallen on deaf ears. What with unaccounted security votes and jumbo 'retirement' payoff and revolving benefits. 

Back to the basics! In a parliamentary system, there are more than three arms of government. The British monarch and the French president do not fit into the working definition of 'executive'. The King/Queen is not a part of the 'government' and does not execute the law. The prime minister (Head of government) and cabinet are officers of the British monarch hence, (s)he cannot be equated in their service. In fact, the monarch is above legislative laws and the courts are his/hers. Likewise, the French president does not partake in the daily chores of governance. They are both called 'Ceremonial heads-of-state'. They are regulators and vacuum-filler even when the powers are not wielded.

In Italy, governments last as much as they do well. In an instant, it lasted seven months and another had to be chosen. There is no vacuum when the cabinet loses in parliament because the cabinet surrogates governance for the head-of-state.

The import of this prognosis is to impress the need for a formal fourth arm in a presidential or mixed system that can intercede for the people against their government. An African idea in this regard, the Ombudsman, is discarded perhaps because of its source. Africa, a continent of experimental, awkward, and oppressive governments and underdevelopment requires the concept in whatever form that is suitable.

Flashback to the third and fourth editions of this serial. If the suggestion of having representatives of labour unions, professional bodies, and social organisations/interests in parliament is acceptable, the presidents and secretaries of those organisations should be constituted into an Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman receives complaints from the people against the government. For instance, the idea of bumper and jumbo remuneration and payoffs after four years of service, and insensitivity to insecurity are issues beyond the legislative and executive arms dominated by a clique called political party.

Further, the concept of the independence of the judiciary will remain a mirage for as long as its head is chosen by the executive.

The Ombudsman will hear annual reports from the government and will be empowered to sack officers and the entire government including the legislature.

One of the original sins is the remuneration of public officers and the distribution of resources among the arms and tiers of government. Leaving it in the hands of the legislature and the executive organ called Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission was a sin for which we have paid almost our existence as a nation. It was a case of employees determining their remuneration. And we have been bled white to the extent that the government has announced that the 2023 budget will be on debt and is not meant for capital projects. By implication, we will borrow to pay our rulers even when there is no more work.

Matters Arising: 
1. How is it to be constituted? Once the first government forms, the Ombudsman is easy to form because its members are ex-officio. As an institution, it will have its own building and support staff. Its members hold office at the pleasure and prerogative of their institutions without prejudice to the right of the council in matters of discipline.

2. Who heads it? The members will choose amongst themselves or choose an external person.

3. What is the appellation of its head? The head may be called the president, in which case, the head of government will be called the prime minister. Otherwise, it should adopt the African original conceptual christening of the 'Ombudsman', and the institution itself is called the Ombudsman Council consisting of Ombudsmen. Of course, it will have its executive and other committees.

4. What is the remuneration? A fixed total package of 0.5 million Naira per month is suggested for members, without prejudice to their perquisites from their respective organisations.

5. How does it operate? It holds meetings to attend to public complaints and members' observations, relates those to the appropriate heads of arms (President or prime minister, president or senate, chief justice, and governors) only, receives annual reports from the arms of government, makes recommendations and passes vote-of-no-confidence on officials and or government. It will conduct plebiscites and referendums on vital matters of the state. It appoints the chairman of the Election Commission which will also conduct referendums when necessary.

6. How will it not perpetuate its membership? Members are ex-officio. Nonetheless, the constitutional amendment that will usher it must regulate how officers of those institutions will be elected and their terms. Those who cannot meet the requirements will not be represented.

Overall, it must be reiterated that we operate a formula that cannot work. A system that has collapsed in our faces while we want to continue as if we are deaf and dumb. The National Assembly naturally failed to allow a constitutional amendment because it could be swept off (and actually should be swept off). It is left for the people to decide whether to continue in the dark labyrinth.

2023 is the continuation of a disaster that is no longer a theory. But where there is a will, there is a way!

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

S. O. K. Shillings Esq.

Post a Comment