Friends and former students of the Faculty of Law at Nasarawa State University converged on Abuja recently to honour Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN).
Having drank from Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN)’s, rich fountain of knowledge, his former protégés and friends came together to wish him well for allowing them to tap from his deep knowledge of the law.
It was the maiden Annual Birthday Lecture Series in honour of Azinge who turned 61 recently. Surrounded by friends and well-wishers, the celebrant said he was not comfortable with the usual classy birthday celebrations that had come to define status symbol in the country.
Giving reasons why Azinge acceded to the request by his friends and former students to organise the event in his honour, he said: “For me, it will be a pretty birthday present if at the end of this event; people are able to go away with something. It means that it is a far cry from the usual entertainment and grandiose and opulence demonstrated because somebody is celebrating a birthday. “So, we are adding value and quality to birthday celebrations. That obviously is what I thought we can take away from this event.
“I have grown up even in my marital life travelling out of station when my birthday is about two days’ time; and I would only await my wife to call me whenever I may be to say, ‘happy birthday’, but growing older I have seen the essence and meaning of becoming closer to where we are going. So, we will now start reconstructing our lives and trying to give meaning to our lives.
“In essence, it is a beautiful opportunity to review and rebuild our legacies in whatever that may be. If tomorrow I am no longer around and I remember that the Speaker of Kwara State House of Assembly and the Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University both had to fly to Abuja to honour us, I think I can go home and sleep well,” Azinge said.
Earlier, the Chairman of the occasion Augustine Alegeh (SAN) who is the immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), described Azinge as a “wonderful” person.
He noted that the celebrant’s intellectual and managerial capacity is unequal, saying, “Azinge is a wonderful person and an outstanding academic of international repute.”
Speaking on the topic, “The Legislature in an Emerging Democracy: Challenges and Prospects”, the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmed, who was the first speaker at the occasion, said most of the States Houses of Assembly had compromised their legislative duties of oversight function by becoming appendages to the Executive arm of government.
He explained that most of the state governors in the country had emasculated the legislative arm of government; with the masses been at the receiving end.
The speaker equally averred that both the Judiciary and the Executive arms of government often “conspire” against the Legislature through granting of injunctions by the former with the intent to stifle the constitutional roles of the lawmakers, thereby subjecting the Legislature to public opprobrium.
“In Nigeria, the legislature, for the right and wrong reasons, is gleefully subjected to ridicule and condemnation on a daily basis, to the delight and amusement of the executive arm. For the wrong reasons because the public is less familiar with, and appears uninterested in, the legislative process and functioning. For the right reasons because some but not all legislators truly earn the opprobrium visited on them.
“The difference is that while some members of the executive are isolated for condemnation and insult when they misbehave, the misdemeanour of a single legislator is always visited on the entire federal legislature which comprises of 474 very different and diverse individuals.
“In this Essay, we are set to evoke our thoughts on an arm of government that is vilified by the public, merely tolerated by the executive, often critiqued by the judicature but yet very important to the very operation and survival of democracy. At the end, a single recommendation, signifying a birthday gift, will be put forward.
“To sum up the thoughts expressed above, one cannot but offer a word of practical advice to move our democracy forward one more step.
“It is here recommended that for separation of powers and its positive effects on good governance to take root in Nigeria, the practice of neutralising powers of the legislature must stop. But because there are more than enough Supreme Court decisions supporting, undemocratically, neutralisation of the power of the legislature.
“We must devise a way of preventing this neutralisation from continuing. “And this is the only one recommendation that one will offer at the end of this lecture.
The only way is to recommend a legislation to the effect that no interim orders from a court shall be issued to prevent any legislature from exercising its constitutional powers. “To many Nigerian lawyers, this suggestion is a sacrilege.
But so was the disapproval of Nigerians to the attempt to re-legislate chamber-based immunity that was ultimately contained in the amended draft constitution during the 7th Legislature. But to lawyers and democrats in developed nations around the world, this recommended legislation to ban interim orders against the legislature that is the democratic norm. Indeed as one is not certain that when passed, the courts would still not strike down such law as being unconstitutional.
Therefore, the full proof is to appeal to Nigerians and insert such pro-democracy legislation in the ongoing exercise of constitutional amendment. And that is our recommendation,” Ali submitted.
When it was the turn of the second Speaker, Prof. Lanre Fagbohun who is the Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University, he did not mince words in disagreeing with the position of the Kwara State House of Assembly Speaker that the Legislature is the most “vilified arm” of government in the country.
The Vice Chancellor opined that Nigerians would continue to criticize and blame the lawmakers for the country’s numerous woes because the Legislature had abdicated its constitutional powers of oversight functions in pursuit of personal aggrandizement through “self-serving legislations”.
Prof. Fagbohun noted that life transforming bills such as the Petroleum Industry Bill and many others which would have added value to the lives of the people were abandoned in the National Assembly, while the federal lawmakers went about with the “obnoxious” amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act with a view to stifling government’s anti-corruption efforts, which the current Senate President, Bukola Saraki is being prosecuted.
Speaking on the topic: “Complexity of Facts, Technicalities of Law: The Conundrum of Leadership in Nigeria,”Fagbohun said Nigeria’s developmental efforts would not achieve any goal if the country was not restructured.
“If we do not restructure our justice system and the entire governance structure of Nigeria, it will be very difficult for us to get our leaders to be able to perform their functions. Some of our leaders are very desirous of doing their work, but the structure that we have is not helping matters.
“I would like to say that the system requires legal constitutionalism and political constitutionalism. The two of them, we don’t have. Political constitutionalism is when the legislators make the kind of law that they need to make consistently.
“But the legislature abandoned the sort of laws that they are supposed to be making, but they are running after the Code of Conduct Bureau Act. All the laws that can make a difference in the life of this country, we are not chasing after them, but all the laws that can benefit individuals; protect individuals; those are the kind of laws that the legislature is running after. And that is why you can see that there is a gap between the legislature and the people. That is why the people will continue to vilify the legislature.
“Legal constitutionalism is when the courts are functioning the way they ought to function. The two of them are not functioning the way they ought to function in Nigeria, and that is why you see that there is so much gap between the society viz-a-viz the way the perceive the Legislature and the way they perceive of the judicial system.
“What I am now advocating is that if we want the people to have a trust in the system, and we want the institutions to be able to work, then we need to strengthen public interest litigation. Let people be able to call the judiciary to order by suing them, let people be able to call the legislature to order by seeking remedies to correct ills in the society. It is when people are able to do this that the system will start doing well, because when you don’t know who is watching you, but you realize that everybody is watching you, you will be on your toes,” Fagbohun noted.
Source: The Authority Newspaper
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