Reckless use of executive powers
You may not necessarily pity our country but I am sure you would be tempted to curse the generals who replaced our parliamentary system with the rogue system called executive presidential system. The parliamentary system is a self-policing system; the executive presidential system is a rogue system.
Such a system in the hands of unreconstructed Africans, nay Nigerians, is unmanageable in any civilised manner. Take a look at what our state governors do in the full-blown exercise of their executive power. Our constitution expects a government that is legally and constitutionally constituted to have the three arms, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, working together – and not necessarily in harmony or in peace, although that would be desirable.
Two of our states are trapped in the naked exercise of executive power. Rivers and Kogi states have no working legislatures. Rivers presents a rather peculiar case. The vicious contest for supremacy between PDP and APC in the general elections last year ensured that every legislative election conducted by INEC was inconclusive. The Rivers people are unable to resolve the impasse. I do not think the stalemate matters that much to governor Wike. He is blissfully in full control of the state – wielding his full executive powers. Still, the non-functioning state legislature takes something away from the legitimacy of his government.
The case of Kogi is ridiculous in the extreme and throws up the real flaws in our flawed leadership recruitment process. Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the state governor, was the beneficiary of Abubakar Audu’s demise. Death prevented Audu from returning to power in the state and thus he left the field open to the party stakeholders to decide on his replacement. Bello, one of those who contested against Audu in the primaries, is a young billionaire with a very deep pocket. In him the stakeholders, who decide the fate of those who hanker after political power, found their man. He was easily the richest and the highest bidder among the lot. He is not cursed with what Ndigbo call Araldite hands. The stakeholders like that; they smiled and they said, this is our man in whom we are well pleased. And so, the crown went to him in controversial circumstances subsequently given legitimate judicial stamp of approval.
Bello exercised his executive power primitively at two levels on his assumption of office. Firstly, he vandalised the entire township beautification projects in Lokoja, the state capital. He promised he would replace them. He has not. After all, the only reason, if you call it sane, is that he was exercising his executive powers. In doing so, he is not accountable to anyone. As he understands it, the exercise of executive power says do what you like, as you like.
We need not moan about his vandalisation of the beautification projects. He must have thought his predecessors who put them up had no sense of beautify. The people of Kogi State did not elect an artistic director. We should not expect Bello to appreciate what makes a township modern and beautiful. We saw them as beauty spots; he saw them as rotten pimples on the face of the state capital. He lanced them. To be sure, the beautification projects did not hurt Bello in any way. The only reason why he destroyed them was to make it clear to everyone he has the executive powers to do so.
Bello is a classical case of our flawed leadership recruitment process. He has deep pockets and he was willing to pay the price demanded individually and collectively by the party moguls to get the anointing as the state governor. As usual, the party stakeholders did not demand evidence of his experience in the management of human and financial resources because it did not matter. They did not demand to see a demonstrable sense of vision on his part because it is blasé. He is a billionaire; nothing else matters.
This inevitably brings us to his reckless use of executive powers. He has crippled it and prevented it from functioning and performing its constitutional duty. The election of the honourable members had no problems. There are 25 members in the state legislature. Bello decided to tell the house who and who they should elect their speaker and other principal officers of the legislature. He made no efforts to persuade the honourable members. He preferred to use his executive powers to ram his demands down their throat. The choice of the house as speaker was not his choice. The man’s colleagues refused to replace him with Bello’s choice. The governor saw red.
Twenty out of the 25 members stuck to their choice. Five members moved to Bello and had the foolish audacity to claim they had impeached the twenty members. It might not be the most absurd use of executive powers but it does show what short distance we have covered in nearly 20 years of our return to democracy. Sure, there had been similar cases in some other states – Rivers and Plateau states being good example – as part of the early teething problems of grappling with how not to behave like a military governor. I thought we had left that madness about who is boss far, far behind as we take one ungainly step after another towards best practices in democracy and the executive presidential system.
Bello has gone further than any other state governor to show he has the executive power and he is ready and willing to use it to ensure his will is done in the state. The House of Representatives was forced to intervene and take over the running of the state legislature. Bello had a good answer to that. Under the pretext that he wanted to rebuild the state house of assembly, he took off the roof of the building. You could not have a cruder and more reckless use executive power than that. His people must find his capacity for vandalisation unsettling. Thus fully exposed to the elements, the 20 members are effectively in disarray. The other beloved five members sit in government house; there they pass whatever bills are given to them by Bello.
Are these men acting legitimately? The constitution recognises only the official state house of assembly for the conduct of the business of the legislature. Would laws made outside the house qualify as laws legitimately made for the good governance of Kogi State? And for that matter, am I raising this question in vain? I fear so. My question would not lead to the interrogation of the reckless exercise of executive power in our executive presidential system. Nor would it help us interrogate our leadership recruitment process. Whoever the system throws up is the right person; God sent, no less. We mock ourselves. And we mock our system of government.
State governors are not really beholden to anyone or a group of persons. They have no higher power. The legislature is handicapped to call a governor to order because it is just not right for non-executives to call an executive to order. A partial explanation for the freedom they exercise in letting their hands fish freely in the state treasury.
Despite the checks and balances inherent in the executive presidential system, our governors still go rogue, exercising powers not given to them by the constitution. We do not seem unduly worried about this. I have put my worry beads in my pocket.