Autonomy of the legislature is long overdue

By Sunday Iduh

Independence of the parliament’ has major focus on the importance of separation of the legislature, executive and judiciary. This is to limit the arbitrary excesses of executive powers to protect our democratic systems.

One must understand the importance of good governance and the key political theories surrounding the separation of powers, the independence of the executive, legislature and judiciary in our democratic experience, principles; and parliament’s fundamental role of holding the executive to account.

Modern democratic systems of government are based on several essential elements like representative government, rule of the majority, free and fair elections; citizen’s participation, protection of human rights and minorities, rule of law and the separation of powers – a system whereby checks and balances are in place to ensure that power is not vested in any single person, institution or branch of government.

To guarantee this balance, it is essential that the legislature remains independent and does not become a tool or appendage controlled by the government as it is the case with most state assemblies in Nigeria presently. Through proper separation of powers which most state assemblies are currently agitating for, abuses of power, such as tyranny or oppression experienced under a dictatorship or undemocratically elected government are prevented from occurring.

The three branches of government – the legislature, executive and judiciary, act as separate checks and balances on one another to prevent one branch of government over-reaching its power or infringing on the rights of citizens.

In the Westminster system, these checks and balances exist between the executive and legislature. For instance, Ministers are subject to the scrutiny of Members of Parliament and the opposition and the executive is not always able to control both Houses of parliament.

To protect and preserve the democratic system, the three branches of government must remain separate and truly independent and be respected for their independent status. Any incursion of power by one body over another diminishes the fabric of democracy. An independent legislature is considered a necessity for the protection of democracy, just as an independent judiciary is needed to apply a check upon the powers of the executive and the legislature.

What is remarkable is that the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, which has existed for hundreds of years, has remained so resilient in the face of a rapidly changing world. This system of government has survived revolutions, gunpowder plot, executive dismissal and a host of other threats, yet the essential elements that have ensured its continuation have remained steadfast and strong. The separation of powers, which has been maintained between the legislature, executive and judiciary, has undoubtedly played a significant role in preserving the Westminster democracies.

In order to preserve our democracy, the legislature must be given full autonomy. The Governors’ forum should not constitute a nuisance to this important element of true democracy. I dare not say that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum is anti-development.

The autonomy that state assemblies are craving for is long overdue. As the popular saying goes ‘you cannot give a goat to someone and still hold onto the rope.


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