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Electorate, economy at the receiving end of executive squabbles

The no love relationship between the current Executive and the 8thNational Assembly kicked off on June 9th, 2015 immediately after the leadership was announced.

Not so ‘anointed’ after all are both the senate president, Bukola Saraki and Speaker, Yakubu Dogara; and expecting coziness between the two arms, of course, is like expecting the bull not to charge at you because you are a vegetarian!

The storm that began to gather came to ahead when the 2016 budget was in the works. Nigerians will never forget the claims and counterclaims of budget padding which more than threw a spanner in the works. Then there was the case of false declaration of assets preferred against the No. 3 citizen in the land.

Giving an overview of our democracy, especially on the show of executive and legislative recklessness daily unfolding in our polity, Barrister of the Supreme Court and clergyman, Barrister G.P. James of Citadel Chambers, Ajao Estate, Lagos, told The Daily Times that the influence of the legislature on the presidency has varied from one period to another.

 

“What the electorate should know is that the framers of the Nigerian Constitution had built into it, a system in which three powerful branches of government using a series of checks and balances could limit one another’s powers.

“In appreciating the growing feud between the Presidency and NASS therefore, one needs to go back to 2005 when the second NASS threatened to impeach then President Obasanjo. The same scenario seems to be playing out between Mr. President and the legislature now.

“On February 12, 2016 for instance, about 29 senators plotted President Buhari’s impeachment over Saraki’s CCT arraignment; most of the warring law makers were of the ruling APC. One drawback in the drama though is that the electorate is polarised with the result that the business of governance is relegated. Not many can place a finger on the whole episode being a grand design to distract attention.

The latest friction is coming from an ambassadorial nominee list which the senators seriously frown at.”

War on corruption

The cardinal objective of the ruling APC central government – the war on corruption, was thought to have started well, but not anymore.

For the moment, the senators appear to have suspended their consideration of the list of ambassadorial nominees; the coming days approximate to what ace broadcaster, Jones Usen picture as ‘a case of stranded passengers at the water front waiting for a ferry to arrive before the high tide.’

The senate at a sessionGood Governance Advocate and National Affairs Commentator, Nelson Ekujimi, speaking recently on Kubanji Direct, a radio news commentary programme, said observers started noticing this trend initially when NASS had to elect their leaders. “Thereafter, the electorate was treated to the drama of the budget padding; and while that spectacle was going on, we also had the issue of the CCT trial of the senate President: how this plays out in the coming weeks remains to be seen.

Nigerians are witnessing a cold war between the executive and the legislature. In a responsible and practical democratic setting, one would expect those two arms of government to work on the synergy to deliver on the dividends of democracy to the ordinary man on the streets, based on electoral promises made.

“But unfortunately, we are witnessing a drama where some people in the National Assembly, because over the years they have been used to the system of impunity, still want the system to continue along the same line.

“Giving some of the reasons for their grievances with the executive, you want to ask: what is the purpose of electing these people into NASS, is it to work out dividends of democracy for the generality of the Nigerian people – or to carter for their own personal comfort and welfare?

“So far, we have seen a legislature that has decided to put the interest of the Nigerian people under the table while their area of priority is their primary welfare. We have seen this in the issue of the jeeps they bought for themselves; we have even seen it in the constitutional amendment, where they were advocating life pension for the leadership as well as the members.”

Are they not supposed to be independent of the executive?

“Well, yes, but what they went to that retreat to review was the Nigerian Constitution; I am not aware that the emolument or the welfare of what they should earn for life should be part of the constitutional review. One would have expected that, in the present economic hard times we are going through, a more responsible legislative house would have been interested in how to ameliorate the inhuman condition of the Nigerian people.”

Constitutional attorney, Attorney-at-law and Public Affairs Analyst, Jimmy Abia in his contribution on the radio programme declared that the two arms of government have not lived up to their bidding; some of these things could have been better handled, he said.

“I would have expected the leadership of NASS to make it clear that, we cannot allow certain things that used to happen in the past to continue; the kind of profligacy and wanton spending of public funds can no longer be accommodated. Even in the case of the 2016 budget, I expected that they should have come out clean rather than indulge in the unwholesome budget padding exercise.

“We are aware that these two arms of government are meant to checkmate one another, but they are not meant to be embroiled in a cat and dog tango; they are meant to work harmoniously in the interest of the Nigerian people. I expected that both sides would live up to the bidding and keep the interest of Nigerians at heart in all their doings.”

Could it be said that the executive does not believe that the legislative arm is independent? That would explain the animosity rocking both arms, and by extension, heating up the polity unnecessarily.

“That may not be entirely correct, because the issues the legislature is having with the executive has to do with conducts that should be in tandem with the constitutional provisions.

“Don’t forget that the three arms of government are creations of the constitution which spelt out their functions and responsibilities. I don’t see the executive imposing its decisions on how the house should be run, but rather, what we have seen is that the attempt by the executive to make sure that the tenet of democracy which is about transparency and accountability are being met with stiff resistance by NASS. You will recollect that up till now, the executive has had a running battle with the legislature over the issue of the Treasury Single Account, and we all know that the purpose of the TSA is for you to be able to properly manage public resources; but the legislature have been too used to that character of not being responsible or accountable to anybody, not even to themselves.”

Did we really expect a smooth sail between the executive and the legislature when the direct war on corruption kicked off?

Barrister Abia came up with a counter question to address the issue:

“Let us look closely at governance in this country: where does corruption not exist? We have about N4 billion budgeted for vehicles in the presidency, while we had less than that amount budgeted for vehicles in the entire NASS. While not justifying what NASS has done, I am saying both are wrong. What I expect is for Nigerians to call both arms of government to order. Remind them that they made promises to Nigerians; you must at this point begin to work towards fulfilling those promises.”

Barrister Abia agrees with this submission; “People must keep to the rules of engagement and everybody has to call themselves to order. If we throw the blame on the legislature alone we would be creating a behemoth in the executive that the legislature can no longer be able to check.”

That Ambassadorial nominees list

Barrister Jimmy Abia again pointed out that if NASS has a problem with the list, it is within their powers to withhold it, but if it is because they want to get back at the executive for whatever reason, it is obvious they have got it all wrong and this is an opportunity to make the legislature and any other arm of government or agency to realise that the Nigerian people are very vigilant and are taking appropriate note of what they are doing. Checks and balances gone sour

One Adeniyi Kunu, in his contribution, reminded the electorate that the Nigerian legislative arm, from inception, had been used to being lobbied; unfortunately in this dispensation it’s no longer business as usual. Is that clearly not the reason for the loggerheads?

“No doubt it is part of the problem but not the only problem,” Abia said, and explained further: “Let us call white as white and black as black: what was sent initially from the executive also had issues of corruption and that was why NASS raised the issue.

“The fact that the legislature is there to check the executive does not remove corruption from the system. If corruption was sent to NASS and NASS blew it up, then it still remains corruption. You have to be responsible; there was corruption coming from both arms of government.

“It would be recalled that the first time the senate president was arraigned at the CCT, over 90 senators showed up: even when it was trimmed down to almost no senator, bad blood had already developed.

“One worrisome aspect of the irresponsibility being displayed by the senators is, at the expense of taking sides with one of their colleagues, the senators threw rule of law, due process and propriety to the wind.

“You remember the case of senator Abiodun Olujimi, when she said they must all rise up in support of somebody who is standing trial and who has not even been convicted. She had said, ‘if your neighbour’s house is on fire, you will have to join him in putting out the fire’.

“That implies that these senators have been so used to the culture of impunity and lawlessness that any attempt to make them change from those ways must meet with stiff resistance.”

Today, Nigerians are counting the cost of executive squabbles on the electorate. When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers; when they jaw-jaw, it’s the same grass that suffers. So we must at all times admonish the two arms of government to realise that the interest of the Nigerian people must be paramount in any decision they are taking; in the course of their relationship, people in positions of authority must not because of personal interest jettison the collective interest.

 

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