Political will, not emergency laws!
The details of President Muhammadu Buhari’s bill, seeking emergency powers to fix the economy, are still unfolding. By the time the National Assembly resumes in a matter of days from recess, if the Presidency still summons courage to table the bill or bills, more will be heard of the details. Some Nigerians are, however, wondering why in more than 16 years of democratic rule, with the full complement of a legislature, we do not have sufficient provisions, in terms of laws and conventions, to deal with economic issues, without asking for fresh emergency laws.
For others, it is the very notion of emergency that evokes revulsion. Some people still remember how previous emergency powers were misapplied in the history of the country to take undue advantage of political situations. It happened in the Western Region of the First Republic. Even in this dispensation, it happened, when former president Obasanjo used the imperial powers of the presidency to instigate impeachments in Ekiti and Plateau states, which then created the environment for emergency rule in the two states, after governors Ayodele Fayose and Joshua Dariye had been sent home. That was in 2006. Emergency power could be misused to deal ruthlessly with persons that are not of the same political mindset with a president.
Without proper explanation of terms and context, wary Nigerians were riled to infer that emergency legislation in the hands of Buhari, who had severally lamented his inability to function maximally in a democratic setting, could inadvertently enthrone militocracy. Militocracy is a coinage that blends military rule with democracy. Democracy and military rule are two diametrically opposed systems of government, but in Africa, many democratic governments are undercover for dictatorships.
So, when a government source leaked the story in August that the President will ask for extra powers for one year to allow him take ‘emergency” decisions to fix the economy, it didn’t sit well with the people. And perhaps, that is where the problem lies, in the inability of this government to create appropriate environment to engage the people. It was the same way the All Progressives Congress (APC) went to town during the 2015 campaigns with multiple sources disseminating outlandish promises. At the end of the day, after they had formed government and it was time to give account after 100 days in office, an inventory of the campaign promises that were voluntarily made to prospective voters, prior to elections, had become too gargantuan to accommodate. The party in government had to issue a disclaimer, and to literally deny that the campaign promises were from ‘authentic party source.’ They said some overzealous party members were responsible for those unfulfillable campaign promises. It is appalling that more that one year after; government sources are still dishing out policy information at random like this one on emergency powers.
On the perilous economic situation that now demands emergency powers, it should have been said that government requires amendment to extant laws to deal with fresh challenges; or new laws that could inject fresh air, since we are now in the Buhari dispensation. We are told that the emergency bill would demand of the NASS to amend the procurement law to speed up the process and raise mobilisation fees to contractors to 50 percent from the current 15 percent. The proposed law, according to reports, would seek to empower the executive to vire allocation from one project to another without the approval of the Legislature. The new bill, if agreed to by the National Assembly, will seek to enable ease of business in organisations like the Corporate Affairs Commission, and others that are yet to embrace change. In some of these organisations, which are supposed to show to the world and foreign investors that things have changed for better, it is indeed, business as usual. It still takes many months to incorporate a business or transact some other activities, because the civil servants do not yet understand a policy that transfers all monies to the Treasury Single Account (TSA), without leaving a little for ‘incidentals.’ There is, therefore, no motivation. So we are told.
So, ordinarily, seeking to amend old laws or introduce new ones to make the country run faster shouldn’t be a problem. The trouble is that trust is still an ingredient that is missing in this government. Which is why the debate on the emergency bills is not allowed to feed on the substance of the matter.
The procurement law that is in use today was the process of a painstaking debate and research, after it was discovered that public procurement had become the major drainpipe through which public service operators, politicians and civil servants siphon huge sums from government. After 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government headed by Obasanjo was encouraged by friends of Nigeria in the international community, as well as appealed to by the huge figures of lost opportunities since 1960, to institute reforms that would permit transparency and accountability in the public space. A number of moves were initiated in that regard; foremost of which was the Due Process mechanism that was driven by former minister of education and later solid minerals, Oby Ezekwesili. The idea was to introduce best practices in the public space, so that resources are made to work for the people, instead of for a few persons.
What later became the Public Procurement Law in 2007 commenced way back in 2001 or thereabout, as a Price Intelligence mechanism for public expenditure, so that whatever is paid for is done transparently and at the least cost. Quality was not to be undermined, because the law was designed to be an entire process. But unfortunately, between 2007 and now, the law has been thoroughly abused and undermined, even worse than what was done before the legislation came about.
If today, there are lapses in the procurement law, or any of the transparency laws, which could be further, tightened or expanded to curb corruption and facilitate ease of procurement, the Buhari government will be encouraged by Nigerians to send bills to amend the law.
Procurement experts are, however, of the view that the law as it were, is complete and needs no amendment; and that the president does not need extra powers. They say the Section 34(3) that the executive seeks to override will encourage corruption. They added that the 50 percent advance payment being suggested would increase the menace of abandoned projects. The 15 percent that is in the current law was arrived at based on the financial capability of contractors. Those who are knowledgeable about public procurement are asking for the constitution of the National Council for Public Procurement and the appointment of a Director General, as stipulated in the law.
Buhari should beware that he alone does not constitute the executive. He does not disburse monies and interface with contractors. He should not delude himself that additional laws are the only things he needs to fix the economy. He should not assume that the bureaucrats and politicians working with him do not have their future game plans and how to set aside funds to prolong their stay in government.
It is for this reason, among several others, that some Nigerians are worried that Buhari’s anti-corruption fight is taking too much for granted. Nigeria is yet to commence the crucial journey of conscientisation, to bring everybody onboard the transformation train. The suspicion is that some politicians whom Buhari will depend on to operate his emergency laws are thinking of how to survive the regime’s stringent and tightfisted rule. Buhari may not know the details.
My thoughts therefore are that; we do not lack laws to move Nigeria forward. What we do not have is political will, but Buhari can kick-start it by demonstrating political will to address the challenges of modern Nigeria. This old template that was handed him by former President Jonathan is not working and does not look like something that will work. It is the same artificial system that never worked since 1967. Buhari should take the bull by the horns and commence the journey towards restructuring the country. Piecemeal emergency laws will not do.