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Senate: Digging in to contain executive sloppiness, rascality

By Leo Sobechi
13 November 2016   |   4:03 am
It seems the executive versus legislative rumpus that begun shortly after the All Progressives Congress (APC), mounted the saddle of national leadership, is assuming a new dimension.
President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President, Bukola Saraki at the grand Durbar held to mark the 10th coronation anniversary of Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President, Bukola Saraki at the grand Durbar held to mark the 10th coronation anniversary of Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III.

• Implications Of Approaching Legislative Activism

It seems the executive versus legislative rumpus that begun shortly after the All Progressives Congress (APC), mounted the saddle of national leadership, is assuming a new dimension. And in the ensuing supremacy battle, Nigerians will get to know how far the saying that a house divided among itself cannot stand holds true.

The country’s upper legislative chamber, the Senate, recently drew a red line for the electoral umpire- the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – over the latter’s sloppy approach towards the conduct of elections.

It would be a novelty, but the Senate may have made its threat to shelve sittings to drive home its pain and frustration at how most federal institutions carry on as laws unto themselves lately, without consequences. Many have even expressed fears that there is a subtle plot to experiment with the suspension of the legislature to minimize cost of running government.

President Muhammadu Buhari was also allegedly associated with the search for emergency powers to tackle the economic recession. Although nothing has been heard about the emergency powers to confront the harsh economic realities in the country, the Senate’s rejection of Mr. President’s Mid Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), on the grounds of ‘emptiness’ coveys the idea of an approaching bigger supremacy battles ahead.

By rejecting the MTEF in the language of disappointment also gives the impression that the Senate considers the Presidency incapable of managing Nigeria’s economy successfully. And placed side by side with the trouble within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), it is becoming obvious that the absentee- leadership style of the President has left a big vacuum for his aides to call the shorts, thereby causing hiccups through imperfect documentation.

The report sheet from the Senate summarised in the rejection first, of the $29.96b proposition for lacking in details, and the MTEF, as well as the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP); does not give any assurance to Nigerians that the ship of State is on steady course.

It all boils down to the cheerleaders and political godfathers who believed that after using the image and public standing of Buhari as mascot to win the 2015 presidential election, they could stand beside him to drive the promised change. The crises surrounding the 2016 and 2017 appropriation, particularly the language of pain by the senate, all point to the growing frustration and disillusionment within the ruling party.

What this presages is that the beagle for a fight over the 2017 budget has sounded in the Senate. If the Senate found the MTEF objectionable, what it means is that the 2017 estimate must have begun on a very false template.

Recall also that the Senate had within the same week turned down the president’s request for an approval to borrow $29.96n, approximately $30b. The MTEF and the accompanying FSP represent the fiscal considerations of the executive for the period spanning 2017 through 2019.

While describing the fiscal document as a package of nothing undeserving of Senate consideration, the Red Chamber also picked holes on the utterances of the President’s aides, stressing that they have begun to lay similar landmines that culminated in the padding allegations that defined the 2016 budget.

Setting the groundwork for the impending melee was the senate leader, Senator Ali Ndume. After chiding the Budget and National Planning minister, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, Ndume said it was “wrong for the presidency to give Nigerians the impression that the National Assembly was responsible for the avoidable delays in the presentation of the 2017 budget, especially when it was obvious that the MTEF submitted to the National Assembly was empty.”

Going by the Senate leader’s disclosures, it is either the Presidency has as yet not got its acts together about governance, or is manifesting incompetence in developing a workable economic plan for the country. Hidden within Ndume’s narrative is some nagging political irritation that dogs the executive and legislature relations since June 9, 2015.

Ndume said: “I requested that a comprehensive report on the implementation of 2016 budget as of third quarter; fiscal rates taxes, charges etc; used to derive the projected revenue be presented. Finally, there should be a report on the structure, composition of the debt, funding sources; how the borrowed funds are to be spent, as well as, repayment plan and schedule. I don’t know whether the Senate President has the attached document that you did not circulate to us. But as far as I’m concerned there is no attachment here. We cannot afford to start the 2017 budget process with this blame game. This Senate is Nigerian Senate. We have the opposition that is co-operating with us and we have the majority in this Senate.”

The Senate leader said the executive should stop creating the impression that the senators “are working against the government…we know what we are doing, and we should do it right. When they bring nothing and we ask for something so that we will do it properly, they run to the newspaper to start blaming the National Assembly.”

The President of Senate, Bukola Saraki, who understands the interplay of politics and governance in the relationship between the Senate and the Presidency had reminded the senators to be “mindful of issues that could breed controversy ahead of the presentation of the 2017 budget.”

Corruption Perception, 2019 Politics
IT is an open secret that the federal executive views the present National Assembly, particularly the Senate, as the fortress of corrupt persons. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo helped to drive home that point. Then, NASS, particularly the Senate, sees the executive arm as being peopled by low-level players that are incapable of delivering good governance to Nigerians. In the cross fertilization of negative notions, the executive believes that it could hide its incompetence by blackmailing the legislature, even as the legislature grapples under the burden of the corruption perception amidst rigours of sloppy leadership of the executive.

Embedded therefore in the rejection of both the MTEF and $30b external loan request is therefore, the Senate’s attempt to advertise the Federal Government’s perceived incompetence and poor organizational system. But over and above those institutional competitions is the Senate’s apprehension that a significant percentage of the external debt could be deployed to prosecute the 2019 general election.

The Presidency has not come out to denounce the overt plans by some of the President’s handlers to conscript him for the 2019 Presidency. National chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and Hadjia Fatima Mohammed, recently declared that Buhari must be persuaded to contest the 2019 presidential election, stressing that four years are not enough for him to make the desired fundamental changes in the country.

While Oyegun contended that the President was the only politician that could garner 12 million votes without campaigns, he forgot that it takes more than 12 million votes to win a presidential election in Nigeria. Again, the national chairman forgot the interplay of political forces that catapulted Buhari into office as president. Oyegun lost sight of the creeping general perception of incompetence being weaved around the President.

But above all, having seen how the APC depended on the liquidity of some of the notable new PDP members to prosecute the election, some political haymakers in the presidency cooked up the idea of such a gargantuan external loan to ensure a deep war chest to ensure electoral victory of the presidency.

Yet, unknown to the presidency’s handlers is that the legislature remains the mainstay of the forces that helped it trounce PDP in 2015. If in the past 17 months the Presidency did not find it administratively convenient or politically expedient to collaborate with the lawmakers and make change happen to Buhari’s credit, NASS seems prepared to ensure that Buhari does not cover lost grounds by rolling out projects or stacking up funds to make other politicians irrelevant to the new scheme.

Part of the negative impact of the early campaign for the 2019 presidential election is that most of the President’s proposals would suffer critical analyses and possible delays. And in the midst of the politics, the senators would never lose any opportunity to put the Presidency’s governance flip-flops in great relief for public appreciation. Those tactics came into play with the Senate’s rejection of the executive borrowing plans and MTEF.
Curtailing INEC’s Inconclusive Tendencie

BUT, despite the intrigues over the MTEF and external borrowing request, the Senate decided to come hard on the INEC. After noting the inability of the electoral umpire to sustain the improvements recorded in the nation’s electoral system, the upper legislative chamber bared its fangs.

What most people failed to discover in the Senate charge on INEC was the ongoing plans by the legislature to carve a populist identity and exonerate itself from the seeming indifference of the executive. Moreover, it is generally perceived that the present INEC leadership is lenient towards the presidency, especially given its performance in Kogi and lately, in Edo States.

Additionally, knowing that zones where re-run elections were stalled happened to be PDP catchment areas and the need to sustain a common front, the senators decided to come out forcefully to tie INEC conduct of election in those districts to its continued sitting.

What the threat meant is that in the event of INEC failing to conduct the re-run elections, the Senate would exploit that opportunity to avoid receiving the 2017 appropriation bill from the executive.

Interestingly, the warning of impending boycott of sitting followed the motion moved by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in which he alleged flagrant breach of constitution, as well as, the Electoral Act 2010 and disobedience to court orders on the part of INEC by its failure to conduct the re-run elections.

By virtue of his position as the highest ranking office holder in PDP, Ekweremadu’s motion carried the weight of a hidden threat suggesting that if the elections are not conducted the opposition may decide to filibuster executive bills.

And, invoking the powers of the Senate to protect its integrity, the deputy president of the Senate noted that INEC was treating its resolution of September 27, 2016 with disdain. It was appalling, he said, that the electoral umpire has continued to breach sections 14(2c) of the 1999 constitution, which stipulated that all parts of the country should partake in the governance of Nigeria.

But the Senate’s order to INEC was noted as so little so late, since a lot of observers believe that INEC’s decision to withhold action on the outstanding elections was to ensure that critical issues requiring the votes of the senators did not suffer the negative input from the opposition.

The emergence economic powers that seem to have been shelved and the PIB are some of the divisive issues that pit the north and south in the senate.

That could be why the Senate leader noted that Rivers State was denied involvement in various important decisions affecting them, including the debate on Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

Either in response to the Senate’s ultimatum or in apparent reiteration of its decision to tie the conduct of election to peace and security, INEC came out to announce its preparedness to hold the re-run elections. Although INEC blamed the two rival leading political parties, APC and PDP, for creating tension and violence, the popular belief is that the electoral body was tending towards the ruling party, which appears to be on the defensive in the Rivers State re-run elections.

Most Nigerians blamed INEC for the novelty of insisting on guarantee of security, despite the presence of joint military, paramilitary and police personnel during the outstanding elections in predominantly opposition strong holds.

However, INEC through its Deputy Director on Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Nick Dazang, stated it has always been ready to dispense with the remaining elections in Rivers. He regretted that the commission’s plans to organise the re-run election remained on front burner, regretting the spate of wanton violent violence that supervened before its July 27 date.
CCB Castration Or Circumcision

THE amendment of the CCB/CCT laws by the National Assembly was made to adorn the toga of jibiti. The executive arm of the Federal Government had sustained the trial of the President of Senate, Dr. Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for some discrepancies in his asset declaration forms when he was governor of Kwara State some 13 years ago. Saraki has tried to point out overt imperfections in the processes leading to his trial, as well as, the composition of the CCT.

But the Federal Government had remained adamant to the silent issues of fairness and objectivity raised by the President of Senate over the body, thereby subtly lending credence to the allegation that the President of Senate was being pummeled for contesting and winning the election for the Senate top job.

It was against that background that the decision by the NASS to review the CCB/CCT laws reverberated in the polity, with the Federal Government raising dust that the senate ambushed the law so as to provide escape route for one of its own.

Even commonsense suggest that a trial panel should not comprise an even number of judges. Some commentators had noted that it does not make sense that the Code of Conduct Tribunal should be composed of just two officers to adjudicate over a matter before it.

In an interview with The Guardian, immediate past chairman of Nigeria Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu; noted that in such instance, what anybody needed to cobble the trial was to programme one of the judges.

But whatever merits the CCB/CCT amendment contained were lost in the unending supremacy contest between the presidency and the legislature. It seems the recriminations are sure to continue as the NASS prepares to review other laws with overlapping intendments, including the INEC, Electoral Act and local government autonomy.