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Executive Dominance, Party Control and State Legislatures in Nigeria: Evidence from Three States in the North-west Geo-political Zone of Nigeria


Yahaya T. Baba (PhD)

Department of Political Science

Faculty of Social Sciences

Usmanu Danfodiyo University

PMB 2346, Sokoto-Nigeria





This paper examined the phenomenon of executive dominance, party control and subordinate nature of legislatures at state level in Nigeria. The paper argues that legislatures in Africa generally are faced with the crisis of executive belligerence, which itself is a hangover of the military rule and one party state in the 60s, 70s and the early 80s. This culture manifested in Nigeria after the country’s return to democracy in 1999. The first few years of Nigeria’s democratic experiment was thus marked with fierce executive-legislature conflict, though with the central legislature emerging relatively strong. At state level, however the culture of executive dominance appears to be more endemic and destructive to democracy. The paper revealed that state legislatures in Nigeria are more or less one party dominated, influenced largely by the incumbent governors to avoid confrontation and scrutiny. Three state legislatures in the North-west geo-political zone are selected for the study. In-depth interviews and desk review are the major sources of data for this study. The paper found that the executive governors are overwhelmingly powerful and dominant at state level because of their unlimited access to state resources, which gives them control over party structures. The control over candidates’ selection by governors makes legislators at state level stooges of the former, which relegates the institution to mere rubber stamp of the executive. It is also found that control over legislative bureaucracy in the past and to some extent even now makes the legislature dependent on the executive. This undermines the capacity and autonomy of state legislatures to hold the executive accountable and to a large extent to function as co-equal of the executive arm of government. Thus unless parties are funded independent of holders of executive power and moneybags, governors will continue to control the proceedings in state legislatures.

Introduction and General Background
The endemic culture of executive dominance in Africa’s one party states and military regimes has made legislatures weak and vulnerable. This scenario continued even after return to multi-party democracy in various African states. Suffice to say that the pace of democratization across the political landscape of Africa only produces strong chief executives that undermine the autonomy of legislative institutions. The latter are merely seen as appendages of the former. This power interplay, which is skewed against the legislature hinder the institutionalization of democracy in Africa. In terms of raw power, most African legislatures like legislatures worldwide, remain weak in relation to the executive…… they are at best emerging institutions in terms of their capacity to foster horizontal and vertical accountability (Barkan, 2009). Similarly, the organization and conduct of political parties in Africa also influence executive-legislature relations, apparently in favour of the executive in most emerging African democracies. In Nigeria, for instance, the strong attachment of political parties to executive arm of government is obvious. This is largely on the account that the executive remain the major source of funding for political parties. Accordingly, agenda control, rollcall behaviour of members and their re-election bids are influenced largely by the executive through the instrumentalities of political parties. Party structures (both within and outside the legislature) thus limits the powers and functionality of legislatures in Nigeria.
For instance, from 1999 to date, the Nigeria’s National Assembly has been struggling to curtail unnecessary interferences from both the executive and the political parties albeit with little success. The legislature’s refusal to amend the constitution in 2006 to elongate the tenure of the then president and the election of the Speaker of House of Representatives in 2011 against the interest of the executive and the position of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are few achievements by the Nigeria’s National Assembly to engender legislative assertiveness. Despite these and other similar developments, the National Assembly can not be described as a strong institution of democratization in Nigeria. This is largely on the account that the Nigerian political system is characterized by clientelism, factionalism, polarization and inertia and indeed structured around distributional contention and capture of rents rather than mechanisms of representation and accountability of which the legislature serves as a central arena (Lewis, 2009).
Given these obvious institutional limitations of the central legislature in Nigeria and the derailing quality of democracy in the country, the National Assembly receives the attention of not a few scholars. However, little is known of state legislatures in Nigeria, as have been the case with most state legislatures in Africa, particularly the power relations with the executive and party structures at state level. Events have shown that the state governors in Nigeria exercise control over state legislatures much as the presidency does on the National Assembly. The influence and control of the state legislatures by governors appears to be more obvious and destructive to legislative autonomy than what obtains at the centre. The vulnerability, weakness and limited capacity of state legislatures has made public accountability, transparency and probity dismal and limited at state level. This has led to personalization of public funds by state governors with which they fund the activities of political parties and sponsor candidates for elections at all levels, particularly into the state legislature. The influence and powers of state governors over political parties and elections generally, has led to the emergence of predominantly one-party legislatures across Nigeria. This is also in addition to the fact that most state legislatures rely on executive bureaucracy for staffing. Worst still, the funding of state legislatures has always been at the pleasure of the state governors.
Nonetheless, cracks within political parties at state level and disagreement within the ranks of the legislature had at different times interrogated the powers of state governors in different states of Nigeria. Some of these examples include Lagos, Ekiti, Anambra, Plateau, Sokoto, Oyo, Osun, Bayelsa and Kano states. Except for the governors of Oyo, Ekiti and Bayelsa states whom were impeached by the state Assemblies, with the support and interference of the central executive (presidency), other governors survived the impeachment threats and in some instances engineered the impeachment of the leadership of the legislature. This paper therefore, interrogates the powers of state governors in Nigeria vis-à-vis political parties as it affects the organization, conduct, autonomy and functionality of state legislatures in Nigeria. The paper argues that the political, legal and socio-economic order within which state legislatures operate is responsible for their subordination to the executive. Three states in the North-west geo-political zone of Nigeria are selected for the study. The paper will rely on desk review and key informant interviews to examine the factors responsible for the sustained subordination of legislatures to executive governors in some states of Nigeria. This will, however, be preceded by theoretical discourse of the interlocking relationships among the executive, parties and legislative institutions in a democracy.
Executive, Political Parties and Legislatures: Some Theoretical Insights

The functioning of a democracy is to very large extent hinged on the existence and development of some major political institutions. Democracy as a form of governance is thus organised within some institutional frameworks. For instance, participation, accountability, equality and justice, being the hallmarks of democracy are guaranteed only with the existence of certain institutional arrangements. These arrangements, though in differing contexts, facilitates active involvement of the people in governance, fair play and accountability of stewardship in public spheres. Vibrant institutions thus make democracy. Numerous institutions count in this respect. Institutions such as electoral bodies, political parties, executive arm of government, parliaments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the media are particularly central in the regulation and functioning of a democracy at a macro level. Our focus in this paper however is on three dominant political institutions: executive; parties; and legislatures. Theoretically there have been discourses on these concepts as to how they relate to the functioning of one form of democratic government or the other. The emphasis in this paper is rather on the interconnectedness of these institutions; particularly the power relations at institutional level as it affect the capacity and autonomy of one another and their co-existence in the discharge of their statutorily and conventionally assigned functions.

Broadly speaking, theoretical discourses on executive, parties and legislatures, particularly the relationship between executive and legislatures are centred on the separation and balance of power between the two major arms of government. In this regard, party platforms are often used by either of the arms (executive or legislature) to be assertive and/or balance its power to the disadvantage of the other. For instance, early democratic theorists cautioned that accumulation of executive, legislative and judicial powers in one hand (whether of individual or institution, majority or minority) will lead to tyranny regardless of how government is constituted and dissolved. In this regard, Montesquieu (1689-1755) wrote on the need to build internal restraints in liberal form of government in ways which powers of government would be separated and balanced. In his famous essay ‘The Spirit of the Laws’ (1750) he argued on the need to institute mechanisms for checks and balances among the three major arms of government – notably the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The publication of Montesquieu had considerable influence on framers of American constitution. The theoretical position of Montesquie (1750) is more associated with presidential democracy than parliamentary or other systems of government. Thus the modelling of Nigeria’s democracy along the American Presidential system is borne out of the concerns to check and balance the powers of elected officials. The 1999 Constitution thus delineate the boundaries of the three arms of government in terms of the power structure and relationships among them both at national and state levels.
Similarly, James Madison’s question of how to achieve compromise between the power of the majorities and the power of minorities, between the political equality of all adult citizens on the one side, and the desire to limit their sovereignty on the other seems interesting in understanding power differentials between and among citizens and institutions alike. To Madison, it is necessary to limit the sovereignty of individuals and groups in order to avoid tyranny. He defined tyranny in the Federalist Paper, No.47 as the accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands whether of one, a few or many.
Accordingly, Madison developed two working hypotheses, which depicts a political order that could either entrench or distort the practice of democracy as a system of government. The first hypothesis is stated thus: if unrestrained by external checks, any given individual or groups of individuals will tyrannize over other. He defined external checks as the application of reward and penalties, or the expectation that they will be applied, by same source other than the given individual himself; Hypothesis II suggests thus: the accumulation of all powers: legislative; executive; and judiciary in the same hands implies the elimination of external checks (empirical generalization). From these assumptions, two other proposition are also developed: (i) if unrestrained by external checks, a minority of individuals will tyrannize over a majority of individuals (ii) if unrestrained by external checks a majority of individuals will tyrannize over a minority of individuals. Hamilton captured this situation more succinctly when he argued that “give all powers to the many they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few they will oppress the many. Madison’s arguments published in the Federalist (1788) to a large extent influenced the ratification of the American constitution which adopted a republican government (Dahl, 1956).
In the context of emerging democracies, however that had backgrounds of one party states and/or military dictatorship, the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances contradicts the culture of executive dominance in the political system. Thus regardless of the constitutional provisions that separate and balance powers of the major arms of government, subordination of one arm of government by another is seen as a normal and realistic trend that is part of the political process and development. In Nigeria, for instance, this trend predominate the country’s political landscape since 1999. At national level there were major episodes of contentious politics between the executive and the legislature. At the state level, however it was a scenario of executive dominance with pockets of resistance from some Houses of Assembly.
In the power interplay between the executive and legislative institutions across democracies, party platforms are usually at the fore front. The institutions of political parties within and outside legislatures are often the instruments of contestations between the executive and the legislatures. Internally, members of legislatures may act unanimously against the executive across party lines in a bid to be assertive, but only at the risk of party sanctions depending on the position of their parties.
Party affiliation of legislative members is central to the organisation of a legislative institution. Thus, to understand the level of institutionalisation of legislative assemblies in a democracy, the role(s) of some political institutions, particularly political parties, must be underscored. This is against the backdrop of their position in the recruitment of legislative members and perhaps, the tremendous influence parties have on their members in the legislature. Partisanship is thus a fundamental organizing principle in the legislature (Cox and McCabe’s 1991,. 1993; Keewet and McCubbins 1991; and Rhode 1991).

Lyne M. Mona (2002) for instance, posits that party affiliation of legislators is important to understanding policy effectiveness and regime stability. In other words, the pattern of conflict and cooperation between the executive and legislature on policy issues defines the stable nature of a democratic regime. It is also argued that the characteristics of presidential regimes (constituting of executive through direct elections, fixed term for executive, accumulation of executive powers to a single party or individual and the entry of amateur politicians) are particularly responsible for their instability and policy ineffectiveness. In advanced democracies, conflict between executive and legislature mainly focuses on policy issues, which are later resolved through consultations, dialogue and out of fear of regime breakdown. In emerging democracies, particularly in Africa, conflicts between the two arms of government are usually on power contestations. For example, the legislature cannot sanction the president for corruption allegations or offences or the President can spend public funds without the approval of the legislature or even the legislature must pass a bill as it is presented to it by the executive. These are some of the issues that characterized the nature of executive legislature conflicts in Nigeria.

Shugart Mainwaring (1997) on the other hand, contends that the executive-legislature conflicts in presidential regimes are to be explained within the context of legislative support to executive, especially the support of majority parties, which are to a large extent disciplined. Thus, Presidents with both strong and weak legislative powers who lack disciplined party support are likely to have difficulty in the pursuit of their policy agenda. It is further argued that coalition dynamics in presidential regimes is partly responsible for the executive-legislature face-off, especially on policy issues, which often makes the polity unstable. This is as a result of the dual democratic legitimacy character of a presidential regime. Thus, Presidents have their own independent popular mandate and are likely to be reluctant to cede the degree of power necessary to an opposition party in order to entice it into legislative coalition. The opposition parties, at the same time lack incentives to join the cabinet of a president of another party.1 This scenario most often results in policy gridlock and probable general instability. This submission sums up one of the dimensions of executive-legislature relationship in Nigeria. The National Assembly in Nigeria since 1999 has been dominated by the PDP, yet the legislature has been in fierce conflict with the executive whose president is also on the platform of PDP. There were even unsuccessful attempts to impeach the president by majority of the PDP members in the National assembly.
In another context, it is argued that party membership distribution in the legislature to some extent affects the productivity of the institution, especially in the area of policy making. Accordingly, the traditional wisdom is that party control of Congress and the presidency is important in the production of legislation. Unified control of the institutions by one party, it is said, results in more policy innovation. In Nigeria, however, this seems contradictory at the national level. Because at different times the PDP dominated National assembly fiercely disagrees with the president, whoi is also elected on the platform of the PDP. However, it appears to be the case at state levels, where unified control of State Assemblies and Governorship leads not to policy innovations but rubber stamp state legislatures.
Krutz (2000) thus examined how fragmented legislatures on party affiliation can cope with uncertainties of law making and policy issues at the legislative chambers. He described Omnibus bills as massive bills with component measures from desperate substantive policy areas. It is argued that these desperate policy areas, if considered separately, are likely to face serious opposition from certain sections of the legislature or at the desk of the President. This explains the rationale behind packaging a massive bill with a consideration of both policy measures that appear attractive and controversial to the members of the legislature and the chief executive alike.
In this way of thinking, political parties ensure order to an otherwise dispersed policy process.2 It is also argued that more bills fail in divided government than in unified government, a result that holds under multivariate regression analysis. Empirical evidence shows that divided government negatively and significantly affects legislative production.3 Thus, no matter the level of institutionalisation of the legislature, its fragmentation along party lines can significantly affect its productivity and efficiency.
The nature of conflicts between the executive and legislature is sometimes related to the orientation of legislative members themselves i.e. whether or not members are committed to party platforms or not. Richard (1979) conducted a study on the impact of party platforms on legislative performance. He compared the state legislatures of Illinois and Wisconsin in the United States, examining the extent to which these fulfil legislatively their platform commitments. He differentiated between ‘issue oriented’ and ‘moralistic parties’ on one hand and ‘job oriented’ and ‘individualistic parties’ on the other. He argues that issue oriented and moralistic parties are likely to do well in the fulfilment of legislative platform agenda than the job oriented and individualistic parties. He described the Wisconsin parties as the issue oriented and moralistic, while the Illinois parties as the job- oriented and individualistic parties.
‘Job- oriented parties’ in Illinois, are described as parties that are characterised by an orientation towards winning office for tangible reward, while a concern with issues is notably lacking.4 On the other hand, ‘issue oriented and moralistic parties’ in Wisconsin usually have extensive state-making activity (especially by the Chicago Democratic organisation) and a closed primary does seem to translate into external party organisational control of state legislators by the Democrats if not Republicans.5 Richard, (1979) described the process of fulfilling party pledges as “Party Responsibility. In Nigeria, legislatures at both national and state level are ‘job oriented and individualistic parties’. This explains why legislatures in Nigeria are vulnerable to financial shocks. Thus bribes, gratifications and providing cover for the corruption of the executive for kickbacks are some of the ways in which the executive control legislature in Nigeria. This is even worse at state level where governors give directives to state Assemblies on virtually all issues of public concern. This scenario has made state governors godfathers of state legislators. In some instances, members of the state assemblies who are elected on different party platform with the governor are compelled by the dominance of the governor to decamp to the platform of the governor for incentives and personal favours.
Similarly, Timothy (2000) examined the dynamics of congressional loyalty from 1947 to 1997. The rate of party defection among members of the U.S Congress within the stipulated period was also investigated. It is argued that one interesting thing about congressional loyalty in the U.S is that Congress members enjoy relatively free hand to cast roll call votes than their counterparts in the parliamentary system. This is because members of parliament only vote against their party preferences at the risk of severe party sanctions; and in the extreme, the possibility of government dissolution.
Despite the liberty being enjoyed by members of the American Congress in roll-call behaviour, political parties in the U.S. institute measures of influencing the roll-call behaviour of their members. This is achieved by maintaining cohesion in two ways: they institutionalise an incentive structure that encourages members to support the party line (Aldrich, 1995; Cox, and McCubbins, 1984; and Rodhe, 1979). The derivable benefits may be plum committee assignments, leadership positions and collective reputation to assist them in their respective re-election bid. The party leadership has the means of keeping divisible issues out of the agenda. This, however, does not suggest absolute control of members by their political parties.6 Other factors such as ideological inclination of members and campaign statements also influence roll call behaviour of legislators. In Nigeria, party incentives and sanctions paly central role in influencing the roll call behaviour of its members. For instance, most of the legislators that opposed the third term bid of the executive under President Obasanjo where apparently denied return ticket of the party or rigged out of office at the polls. At state level, this is even more obvious as governors determine who run for legislative positions in the ruling party. Given this trend, there have scenario of party switching in by legislators before or during elections.
Mershon and Shvetsova (2008) studied Parliamentary Cycles and Party Switching in Legislatures. It is observed that the choice of party by legislators is a strategic one and it is recurring throughout legislative cycle. The authors argued that individual legislators are prone to switching parties as they trail specific goals at different stages of parliamentary cycle. Using Russia and Italy, they argued that legislators switch to other parties basically for office benefits, policy advantage and vote seeking at distinctive moments of parliamentary cycles. This study, however, challenges the conventional wisdom that parties exist as fixed units from one election to the next. This is because recurring switching of party platforms, especially by legislators suggest that parties are, at least not fixed units, since members of political parties change party platforms in the pursuit of certain goals.
Studies on this phenomenon are documented in both emerging and advanced democracies (See Heller & Mershon 2004; Laver & Benoit 2003). For individual countries including Australia (Miskin, 2003), Brazil (Desposato, 2006), the European Parliament (McElroy, 2003) Hungary (Agh, 1999), India (Miskin, 2003) and United States during periods of realignment (Canon & Sousa 1992; Nokken & Poole 2004; cf. Mershon and Shvetsova 2008:100). Parliamentary cycle in this context is defined as the different legislative and electoral stages towards the end of a given term. Mershon and Shvetsova (2008) further identified the different stages of parliamentary cycles:

… stage A (for affiliation) marks the transition from popular vote to taking up legislative seats in the first legislative session; stage B (for benefits) when executive portfolios and committee seats, committee chairs and other legislative posts are allocated; stage C (for policy control) when legislative agenda focuses most heavily on policy domains relevant to the broad range of issues and decisions , which bring to a peak the salience of policy aims of legislators; stage E (for elections) at this stage the electoral motivations of the legislators influences their decision to switch party affiliations. It closes the parliamentary cycle; stage D (for Dormant) this mostly refer to all periods other than stages A,B, C and E- a residual set of intervals between the active stages (Mershon and Shvetsova (2008:101-3).

These stages are crucial in explaining the motives behind the switching party platforms by legislators. At every stage, legislators take decision on whether or not to switch party, on the basis of the anticipated results. In Nigeria, party switching among legislators are mainly for the stages of B and E. Personal benefits and the desire to win elections motivates members to switch party platforms. This is more common at state level in order to attract personal benefits form governors and ultimately be selected by the governor to run for elections.
Similarly, legislative members with portfolios in the legislatures appear to be more supportive of the executive than the rank and file. Wright Fiona (2000) thus examined why standing committee chairs in the U.S. House, as a group, are dramatically more supportive of their party, its leaders and their agenda than they were in the 1950s and 1960s. He generated data on the roll-call behaviour of the U.S. House members before and after the Democratic Reform of the early 1970s. The study centred on Caucus Re-election requirement and the transformation of House Committee Chairs as the major reason for the increased loyalty to party, its leadership and agenda by the Committee Chairs. The study examined the extent to which Committee Chairs were more or less loyal than rank and file members on critical party votes between 1959 and 1994. This period was selected to understand the initial low level of loyalty among the Chairs which fuelled the ultimately successful Reform efforts of the Democratic Study Group (Richard Bolling 1966, 1968; Burton Sheppard 1985), and to conclude a substantial number of post-reform Congress with which to assess fully the long-term impact of the new rule.
It can be noted, therefore, that the introduction of Caucus re-election requirement has threatened to some extent the conventional formula of the distribution of positions of power within the legislature. Indeed, the seniority requirement which has been advocated by proponents of legislative institutionalisation like Squire and Polsby is negated by the Caucus re-election requirement of the Democratic Reform of 1970s. The rationale behind the introduction of Caucus re-election is basically to enhance loyalty to party, its leadership and agenda, especially in the roll-call behaviour of legislators on critical and controversial policy issues in which parties have taken position. Thus the fear of loosing prestigious position of committee leadership influences committee chairs to be supportive of party agenda. In Nigeria, the support of party agenda is by extension support for the executive. This is because at both the national and state level, parties are control largely by President and governors. It should also be noted that committee leadership in Nigerian legislature is not only prestigious but also lucrative. Chairmen of legislative committees control funds of ministries, departments and agencies and to some extent are involved in various corrupt deals organizations under their supervision.
Theoretically, therefore, executive, parties and legislatures have strong connections in the organization and conduct of a democratic form of government. To say the least, party platforms are the major source of political power. Thus politicians seeking for office in both the legislature and executive are conditioned, at least in the context of Nigeria’s constitutional framework to channel their quest for office through a chosen party platform. At the period of elections therefore, political parties are the most influential institution of democracy and governance. However, both the executive and legislature assume different levels of power and influence after elections. Thus power contestations shift from interparty to inter-branches of government, especially in emerging democracies where institutionalization of democracy is yet to be achieved. Thus even when the constitution refer to the executive and legislature as co-equal branches of government with their powers separated and balanced, the hangover of executive dominance from the military rule one party states guides the executive in their relations with the legislature. Attempt to assert their position as an autonomous institution often degenerates into conflicts, policy gridlock, party switching, political victimization of various sorts and above all subordination of the legislature by the executive through the instrumentalities of political parties. Party incentives and sanctions for or against loyal and disloyal party members appears to be central to the control of the legislature by the executive in emerging democracies. The rampant nature of corruption which gives the executive unlimited access to state resources also limit the powers and influence of legislatures and increase thus far the powers of the executive over parties and legislatures.

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