The purpose of a legislature is to make, alter, amend and repeal laws. Members of the legislature are empowered to enact laws by virtue of legislative jurisdiction, which is the authority vested in them by the national or state Constitution. the powers of the congress are enumerated in Article 1of the US Constitution. I’m addition to their law making duties, members of the congress also have the power to appropriate funds for government functions, institute taxes, regulate commerce, declare war, raise and support the military, approve presidential appointments, and impeach executive officers. Like the national model, each state legislature derives its power from the Constitution. We shall critically examine some of the key functions of the legislature below.
Impeachment proceeding is perhaps the most sensitive and highly dreaded judicial function performed by the legislature. Under 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly or the state House of Assembly is required to conduct investigations into allegations of “gross misconduct” against the President or the Governor. Where the report of the investigation avails the President or the Governor, every matter regarding Impeachment proceedings is foreclosed. However, where the report of investigation certifies the allegation as alleged, the legislature is required to remove the President or Governor by two-third majority.
It is important to note that many legislators have converted this important function as a veritable means to intimidate and extort money from the executive aim of the government. A clear example was the Anambra State saga, where members of the House of Assembly, mostly PDP (People’s Democratic Party) members assembled in the night and impeached Governor Peter Obi who was enacted on the platform of APGA. The action was challenged and the court returned Obi to power.
It is important to note that the impeachment clause has become a constant reminder that no individual or group has unlimited powers and their positions could be threatened if they fail to abide by their oaths of office. Ede (2002) noted that whenever the chief executive feels he does not have a full grip of the legislature, any sneeze from the House sends cold shivers down his spine. Despite the turbulence in the political system, the rigorous process provided in the constitution has so for prevented the legislators from taking the law into their hands. The Impeachment provision has been invoked more in changing the leadership of the legislature in this country, while caution has been exercised in penalizing the executive for their misconduct or abuse of office. During the second Republic, many speakers and other principal officers of the House were impeached based on accusation ranging from becoming willing tools in the hands of the financial impropriety.
The Impeachment Process
Section 143 of the 1999 constitution stipulates the process of impeaching the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Impeachment proceeding is perhaps the most sensitive judicial function performed by the legislature. The Constitution provides that not less than one- third of the members of the National Assembly can initiate Impeachment proceedings against the President, by signing a notice to that effect and giving same to the President of Senate, with detailed particulars showing that the president or his Vice is guilty of grave violation of the constitution or of other gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office. Such notice must be served on the president as well as each member of the National Assembly. Subsequently, each House of the National Assembly has to, within fourteen days of such notice, resolve, supported by two-third majority votes of all its members, whether or not the allegation is worthy of investigation.
After this preliminary stage, full investigation will follow if the motion is passed by the House within seven days, and each investigation is conducted by a 7 member committee of proven integrity from outside the public service, the legislative House and the political parties. The appointment must be made by Chief justice of the Federation at the request of the president of Senate. The individual sought to be removed is, however, allowed by the constitution to defend himself and to appoint his own defence counsel. The committee is required to complete their work and submit a report within three months.
If the committee finds the President guilty as charged, the two House would need to pass a resolution supported by two- third majority votes of all members. If this is done, the president stands removed from office. But if, however, the committee submits a report in favour of the president, the action against him will be dropped. The same process is also true for the Impeachment of the Vice President.
Under Oversight functions, activities of the executive arm of government are kept under constant surveillance and scrutiny by the legislature. The legislature checks, raise queries and where necessary censors executive activities which are less deserving. In fact, oversight is the means by which the National Assembly monitors the activities of the ministeries, department and parastatals to ensure that the laws are being executed faithfully. It begins with the annual budget hearing known as budget defence. During this period, each ministry or department is required to appear before the appropriate committee of the House to defend their budget proposals. During each appearances, some amendments may be effected on the original proposal. The relevant House committee may add, remove or even reject the entire proposal.
At the implementation stage, the National Assembly committee in charge of the ministry or department would continue to monitor the process made in it’s implementation in relation to the funds made available to them. This is a form of performance appraisal. During question time, Ministers and Heads of Departments are summoned to the floor of the House to answer questions concerning their actions and inactions.
A wide range of subjects exist on what the legislature shares certain executive functions. Most executive functions regarding decisions on appointments and some other crucial matters of the state are inchoate without the legislature’s approval. For instance, previous democratic experiments in Nigeria have shown that appointments into important executive, judicial and ambassadorial offices have remained tentative and provisional until the approval of the Senate is sought and obtained.