Ekweremadu Decries External Encroachments on the Legislature

ACCRA- The Speaker of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS Parliament, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has pressed for the independence of the legislature, describing the seat of presiding officers of most African parliaments as “precarious and endangered”.

He made the call on Monday evening at the opening of the 15th Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers Conference holding in Accra, Ghana. The conference is themed “Raising the Confidence of the Citizenry in the Legislature: the role of the Speakers and Presiding Officers”

Senator Ekweremadu who also doubles as the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate observed that although the onus naturally lies on the Presiding Officers to provide the requisite leadership to engender more vibrant and effective legislatures on the continent, the seats of the Presiding Officers are often precarious and endangered.

He said: “The Speakers and Presiding Officers are expected to provide leadership that enables the legislature to check executive excesses, ensure effective and equitable appropriation of resources, promote probity and effective governance as well as ensure that only the best hands are confirmed for appointment into vital public offices.

“Ironically, the same presiding officers have powerful external forces and influences to contend with in the running of the legislature. These include executive excesses and interference, meddlesomeness by overbearing party leaderships, and internal parliamentary politics that sometimes result in parliamentary ‘coups’”.

Senator Ekweremadu described the legislature as the people’s arm of government and therefore called on the people of the continent to always stand with the legislature in defence constitutionalism, good governance, and independence of the legislature.

He stressed: “Given its spiral effects, it does appear to me that the greatest threat to the legislature in Africa, and by direct extension, the confidence of the citizenry in the legislature is undue external interferences in the internal affairs of our parliaments.

“Citizens lose confidence in their parliament when the parliamentary leadership is imposed. Their logic is straight because he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Imposed leaderships are sure preludes to rubber-stamp and muffled parliaments.

“Therefore, by all democratic and legitimate means possible, we must collectively work to entrench the independence of the legislature”.

The Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament also emphasised the need for reputation management by parliament and going the extra mile to impact positively on the lives of the people.

“We must not only live above board, we should also lead the charge to defend the integrity of our parliaments”, he said.

He added: “As events in many African nations show, there are often externally contrived scandals to besmear and intimidate the parliament to submission, especially whenever it disagrees with the executive and other powerful political forces on fundamental constitutional or policy matters”.

Senator Ekweremadu regretted that “lawmakers in most African democracies are caught in a situation that can be likened to judging the goalkeeper by the number of goals he or she scores rather than the number of shots he prevents from going into the net as they are often expected to provide health facilities, roads, pipe born water, and perform other core executive functions”.

He, however, contended that “lawmakers can certainly use their constitutional powers as custodians of the strings of the purse to ensure that projects that address the needs of their immediate constituencies are accommodated in the Appropriation Act”.

The Speaker also called on African legislatures to brace up to co-drive the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals as “they hold immense promises for mankind”.

Meanwhile, declaring the conference open, the President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana who was a three-term member of the Ghana National Parliament admitted that African parliamentarians were under pressure due to poor greater public enlightenment on the roles of the legislature and parliamentarians.

He decried situations where constituents not only expect their representatives to shoulder clear executive responsibilities, but even expect them to fund marriages and funerals.

President Dramani, however, cautioned candidates to parliamentary seats to be moderate in their campaign promises.

The Deputy Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, Hon. Yusuf Lasun, is also attending the conference.

Uche Anichukwu
Special Adviser (Media) to Deputy President of the Senate