To promote accountability in governance, the Constitution empowers the legislature to constantly carry out oversight functions on the executive. Legislative oversight encourages checks and balances, enthrones fiscal discipline, good governance and transparency in public offices. Legislative oversight takes place when the National Assembly or a State House of Assembly continually review the effectiveness of the executive arm in carrying out the constitutional mandates through supervision, watchfulness, or review of executive actions and activities. This legislative process affords the electorates the opportunity to see what public office holders are actually doing, whether they are really serving their collective interest or not. (Legislative oversight)



In spite of the importance of legislative oversight in contemporary democratic governance, it has been controversial in all ramifications in Nigeria’s political scene as it has often led to the legislature encroaching on the powers of other organs of government and has remained the major source of executive and legislative conflict in Nigeria. (Legislative oversight)

On March 14, 2012, a public hearing was conducted by the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and Institutions during which specific charges of corruption were made by the Director-General, Ms. Aruma Oteh. In the course of the hearing, the Chairman took Ms. Aruma Oteh by surprise by accusing her of “spending money as if it is going out fashion since assuming office one year ago” and went on to list particulars of how she spent the money. Taken by surprise, Ms. Oteh could not put up a defense on the spot but managed to say the Chairman was guilty of corrupt practices and did not give her fair hearing. (Legislative oversight)

The fundamental issue here is that Mr. Hembe’s Committee of the legislature breached the doctrine of separation of powers by conducting judicial proceedings which are clearly within the powers of the Court. In so doing, the Committee violated the principle of fair hearing by obtaining information from the SEC without giving that body or Ms. Oteh the opportunity of commenting on it before using it to arrive at his judgment. He did not let Ms. Oteh know in advance the charge or charges she was coming to meet during his Committee’s investigation thereby making Mr. Hembe the accuser, the prosecutor, and the judge during the probe. The obviously flawed approach adopted by the House of Representatives’ Committee in its conduct of the quasi-judicial proceedings makes it clear why, under the doctrine of separation of powers, judicial functions are assigned to the judiciary under the constitution[2]. (Legislative oversight)


Another area where the legislature tries to encroach on the powers of the executive is the issue of budget. The controversy that surrounded the 2016 budget is instructive on this. The controversy took another turn with the National Assembly returning to the president a budget with omission of certain projects and inclusion of others not proposed by the executive for assent. Having in mind the provisions of section 81 (1) of the 1999 constitution, this was an usurpation of the executive powers to prepare and lay before the National Assembly estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for a new financial year. The role of the National Assembly as can be inferred from the provisions of section 81(1) is limited to the passing of Appropriation Bill on the basis of estimates duly prepared and laid before it by the President. The legislature ought not to presume and proceed to estimate and allocate monies the president does not ask for but to vet and approve estimates of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies as presented by the executive. Where the National Assembly thinks there is a need to add a project to the budget, the expectation is that it should lobby the executive to make such an addition and not to unilaterally make such inclusion without putting the executive on notice. (Legislative oversight)

It seems therefore that the legislature was attempting to take over the responsibility of the executive arm of government by making omissions and additions to the budget sent to it by the executive. This is made obvious in the fact that it did not immediately provide details of the omissions and additions it made to the budget until the executive beckoned on it to provide the details. This attempt to usurp the power of the executive is fraught with grave dangers for the realization of democracy and good governance anchored on accountability and service delivery. For instance, if the President as the head of the executive arm has no prior information as to what the legislature allocates for a ministry as an executive agency, he may not be able to properly direct and coordinate program implementation. Secondly, if the legislature allocates fund to projects not captured in the manifesto of the President, the legislature could find it difficult to hold the President to account for performance, while the electorates who voted on the basis of the President’s manifesto are shortchanged[3]. (Legislative oversight)


These and many other examples are why Justice Oluwadare Aguda (Rtd.) once argued that oversight functions (and the principle of checks and balances) as is carried out by the legislature is often unconstitutional and violates the doctrine of separation of powers which is basic to democratic government. He observed that the legislature in Nigeria is systematically usurping the functions of both the executive and the judiciary, warning that this could hamper political stability and socio-economic development. (Legislative oversight)


[1] Justice O.O., Aguda National Assembly’s Oversight Functions, and Fair Hearing newjurist.com/national-assemblys-oversight-functions-and-fair-hearing.html#.VyTgoTNw2AQ. Accessed on 22nd April 2019.

[2] ibid

[3] S.U Akpan Legislature’s Job not to Prepare Budget Estimates for Executive, thenationonlineng.net/dialectics-sarah-palin-donald-trump/. Accessed on 22nd April 2019

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