It is general knowledge that the legislative arm of government exists for two reasons: drafting laws that will guide the society and aid the development of the country, and performing oversight functions over the executive. It is thus expected that those who sit in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly are men and women of integrity who would abide by first, existing laws, and secondly, by the laws that they would create.
However, in Nigeria, we cannot entirely claim that this is so. We have cases of when lawmakers blatantly go against laws they passed into existence, such as Senator Ahmed Yerima’s marriage to a minor in 2010 which was unlawful going by the Child Rights Act; and when lawmakers are involved in criminal court cases, such as the case of Morris Ibekwe of the then House of Representatives who was charged to court in 2003 for advance fee fraud, popularly known as 419.
Currently, there are five members of the National Assembly, one senator and four honourables who are in court for various criminal offences, most of which involve fraud. While I do not mean to jump ahead of the courts which are of competent jurisdiction and pass guilty verdicts on these legislators, I also believe that it is quite embarrassing to have people who are expected to be exemplary to the society in terms of integrity in court for breaking the law, which they might have even partaken in formulating.
Even though integrity is quite lacking in the country judging from the high levels of corruption, one would expect that the arm of government that would lead the fight against corruption by drafting laws to checkmate it are involved in the very offence. It then begins to bring into question whether the legislature is up to the task of clearing the Augean stables of corruption.
I believe that if we are going to raise the standards of politics and governance in Nigeria, we have to start with demanding higher levels of integrity and moral uprightness from our politicians, particularly our legislators. The roles they play are much too important to have a legislative arm that is filled with bad eggs. This is because a lack of integrity would not empower to be able to effectively to perform their functions of oversight on the executive. A good example is the case of Hon. Farouk Lawan whose involvement in a bribery case has all but rubbished the report of his ad hoc committee investigating the fuel subsidy regime which exposed the monumental fraud within and reach damning conclusions on the executive.
Not only that, in coming elections, we must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the words and charisma of candidates. We must insist on proper and thorough background checks on those running for office, particularly legislative offices. We might not be seeking angels to run, but we should also not accept men with questionable characters and stained pasts to sit in places designed for men of integrity in order to pass laws that they themselves are not willing to live by.
It is about time that we add morality to a candidate’s ability to do the job.