Endless senate, executive face-off puts pressure on Nigeria’s democracy
The frosty relationship between the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led executive and legislative arm controlled mainly by the party since inauguration in June 2015, is beginning to take adverse effects on the smooth running of government and the integrity of the nation’s democracy.
The Senate recently stood down the confirmation of nominees for positions of Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC), after expressing misgivings about President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to remove Ibrahim Magu as acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), despite his repeated rejection by the lawmakers.
The Senators also accused members of the executive of disrespecting the National Assembly (NASS). The Senate therefore resolved to suspend the confirmation in protest. It would be recalled that before this decision to suspend confirmation of the REC nominees, the Senate leadership has denied the allegation of its threat to shutdown the government of Buhari.
To many Nigerians, this development was not a surprise, considering that the relationship between the APC-dominated Senate and the Presidency has been neither here nor there since the controversial emergence of Dr. Bukola Saraki, as the president of the Senate, a development many political observers and party members had predicted would remain Buhari government’s albatross.
Almost two years into Buhari’s government, it is obvious that unlike the leadership of the House of Representatives, the Senate has become a hard nut to crack for the executive. The more the two arms of government try to come together and work for the interest of the country, the more apart they fall.
This, observers noted is due to political differences, suspicions, distrust and intrigues between them, which have made their collaborations a difficult task and mere formalities. Unfortunately, the national leadership of the ruling APC, which is almost comatose, aloof and rudderless, is not seen to be helping the matters.
Not even the party leaders or the governors have shown character or commitment solving the crisis, for no other reason than being sidelined by the presidency that is allegedly hijacked by a cabal.
While it was being alleged in some quarters that the assertive posture of the Senate, headed by Saraki, was due to the lackluster attitude demonstrated by the President Buhari over how the leadership of the National Assembly emerged in 2015, others contend that the Eighth National Assembly, particularly the Senate is gradually stepping beyond its boundary and may likely hold the country to ransom if not checked.
In what looked like an afterthought, Buhari recently set up a committee chaired by the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to resolve the rift. Other members of the committee are all ministers who were at one time federal legislators, as well as the Senior Special Assistants to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang (Senate) and Samaila Kawu (House of Representatives).
Questions begging for answer are; why is the President setting up the committee now, after many months of indecision? Why not involve the party leadership and major stakeholders? Will the Senate, especially the APC members, who have been opposed to Buhari even more than their PDP counterpart, soft pedal? Who are Buhari’s men in the Senate and what were they doing before now? Is the presidency ready to play ball with the Senate? Was Senate’s decision, a move to shut Buhari’s government down or assert its independence, considering that it denied recently alleged threat to shut the government down?
Speaking to The Guardian, human rights lawyer and public affairs analyst, Mr. John Afama said that Buhari created this logjam for his government, by refusing to do the needful when it mattered most.
“When party leaders like Bola Tinubu, Bisi Akande and others insisted that Saraki should not be allowed to emerge Senate President, Buhari was nonchalant. He sat on the fence. Buhari government cannot achieve anything meaningful if Saraki remains the Senate president, with his hatchet man, Dino Melaye.
“Saraki has turned the Senate to law court where Nigerians are summoned whenever they criticise or go against Saraki’s wish. In case we have forgotten. When former EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde tried to investigate Saraki’s wife, Senate summoned him. When Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) wanted to start Saraki’s trial Senate summoned its chairman. The Senate even tried to amend the CCB Act to whittle down its powers. When Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF) Babachir Lawal said that Senators would no longer execute constituent projects, Senate summoned him.
“The Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hamid Ali (rtd.) has been in office without uniform, but Senate never bothered or summoned him. Immediately, he insisted that right duties must be paid on vehicle imported for Senate president’s use, the Senate did not only summon him, it insisted Ali must appear in uniform. Why are the Senators behaving like a bull in china’s shop? Is it just because of Saraki or because of the scandals hanging on their necks? I am not against asking any public office holder to account for his stewardship, but the Senate is neither a law court nor anti-graft agency. It has overstepped its constitutional limits by its recent action,” Afama said.
But to Senator Ayo Arise the issue is not about Saraki, but preservation of the institution called Senate. He said in an interview The Guardian that there was need for higher arbiter perhaps the Supreme Court to settle the matter.
His words: “Two wrongs cannot make a right. The Senate cannot afford to take a position that will give the impression that the executive is being blackmailed. It will take away the sympathy Nigerians have for the upper chamber. It is in the best interest of the two arms of government to sit down and iron out their differences. What I expected is that in the worse case scenario is that Magu should be redeployed back to the police and President Buhari should nominate another person.
“Either the executive or the Senate should approach the Supreme Court for interpretation of the constitution on Magu’s position. That is the best way to settle the matter and even forestall this kind of scenario in future.”
Similarly, the Buhari Media Support Group (BMSG) has applauded Mr. President for his decision to constitute a high-powered committee headed by the Osibanjo towards finding a lasting solution to the issue.
The chairman of the group, Muhammad Labbo said that as a father of the nation, the President has made a bold move to ensure that the disagreements between both arms of government do not distract his administration from the laudable policies it has enunciated for the continuous delivery of democracy dividends to the Nigerian people.
“The Senate should reciprocate the good gesture of President Buhari by ensuring that it keyed into his vision to serve Nigerians selflessly and win the war against corruption. The Senate is hereby reminded that the expectations of Nigerians from them are high, especially as the country is currently facing challenges in different areas. We are appealing to the Senate to quickly deliberate and pass the 2017 appropriation bill into law to enable the executive embark on its implementation for the overall benefit of all Nigerians,” Labbo said.
The national chairman, African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Nwosu said the current disagreement between the executive and the Senate was a well known phenomenon in any democracy across the universe but what is making Nigeria’s own peculiar and dangerous is the egoistic and individualistic tendencies characterizing the face off.
To him what we should first examine is the cause of their disagreement. Said he, “Both arms of government are not fighting over economic issues or developmental matters that has to do with the lives and living of the electorate; what they are locking horns over is the issue of confirmation of the interim chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the issue of the Comptroller General of Custom, Rtd. Col. Hamid Ali over his refusal to wear custom’s uniforms, which he heads and other trivial matters.
“These are trivial issues based on ego and selfish interest. I believe there are millions of qualified Nigerians who could do better than Magu and I do not see why someone would refuse to put on the uniform of an organisation he heads if for nothing else but for the sake of the country.”
Nwosu also flayed the executive for always speaking in discordant tunes on sensitive issues of governance, which according to him is one of the factors irking lawmakers.
He however disagreed with those calling on Nigerians to protest against lawmakers. He said such a call was the propaganda of the executive because itself has been playing pranks if the whole situation were to be placed under a critical searchlight.”
But the Senior Pastor, Foundation of Truth Assembly (FOTA), Rev. Abayomi Kasali said the excesses of the legislators is becoming unbearable and Nigerians should get set to march to the National Assembly and shut it down.
He said the National Assembly has so far conducted itself below expectations and has demonstrated enough rascality for the electorate to demand their compulsory resignation.
Kasali said it is obvious that the legislators are parading themselves as if they were above the laws and those who elected. He also accused them of doing everything possible to oppose the ongoing efforts of Buhari to fight corruption.
“It is baffling the manner the National Assembly has been trying to hold the nation to ransom. If you conduct opinion poll today, Nigerians have totally lost confidence and faith in the legislature. Nobody takes them serious anymore. I wonder why Magu should be a threat to the lawmakers, when we all know that the major setback for this country is corruption.
“Until we stand up and confront them, demand for cut in their bogus remunerations, this country will never move forward,” he stated. A former minority leader of the Senate, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora however disagreed with the notion that the legislature should be scrapped as some Nigerians are already insinuating.
Although, he warned against the danger inherent in the ongoing face-off and its consequences on democratic rule, he however asserted that the major problem in the Nigeria situation was the misconception of the separation of powers as opposed to interdependency between the executive and the legislature that he has always advocated.
He said too much emphasis is being placed on separation of powers, which is now causing crisis of interest between the two arms of government, adding: “There should be communication, collaboration, coordination and cooperation between the two arms.”
Mamora argued that one of the major lapses in the Senate, is the factor of inexperience “there should be regular interactions between both arms to avoid this type of situation and I will also urge the National Assembly to use more of its committee in most cases on sensitive issues. I don’t think it is right for the Senate to continue to invite people indiscriminately to appear before it otherwise it will make mockery of the institution.
“The executive on its part should mind its utterances; but the call that the legislative arm should be sacked was a wrong approach because it is that arm of government that defines democracy.”
A member of Adamawa State House of Assembly representing Jada/ Mbulo constituency, Alhaji Alhassan Umar, has said that the Senate president is not only a threat to the future of APC but also has formed a strong opposition within the party, claiming that his actions are posing danger to Nigerian democracy.
Umar who spoke to journalists in Yola, the Adamawa State capital said: “The Senate President has formulated multiple plans to frustrate the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari, at the detriment of Nigerians.
“The unnecessary crisis over the confirmation of Magu, as chairman of EFCC and refusal to confirm the list of the Residents Electoral Commissioners was a grand design by Saraki to frustrate the war against corruption and derail democracy.”
Other issues that have placed the executive and the legislative arms on the parallel line in the recent past include the recent rejection of the Federal Government’s proposal to obtain $30 billion loan by the National Assembly, a position that was strongly defended by Saraki; the legislative dismissal of the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Sustainability Paper sent to it by President Buhari, document the lawmakers described empty and not worthy considering.
The lawmakers’ rejection of Buhari’s lists of non-carrier ambassadorial nominees was another strong indication of the crisis. From findings, The Guardian learnt the ambassadorial nominees list infuriated many of the lawmakers and governors because they were not consulted and carried along by the presidency before nominating people from their states and constituencies.
It is also learnt that some state governors in collaboration with the federal lawmakers representing their states are not comfortable over the way Mr. President sidelined them before making critical appointment from their states.
Some months ago, there was a deadlock in a meeting between the presidency, headed by the Osinbajo and the leadership of the National Assembly (Saraki and Dogara) with some representatives of the governors, an indication that the lawmakers and governors may have decided to assert themselves against the excesses of the executive.
An inside source from the party disclosed that the governors and the lawmakers entertained fears over the manner some cliques in the presidency are pushing their way too far in crucial decisions.
Such fear bothered on the fact that the alleged group in the presidency has indirectly hijacked decisions making process and by so doing goaded the President against the collective interest of the party, contrary to what the APC promised Nigerians.