How Senate, IGP feud aggravates executive, legislature relations
The origin of the frosty relationship between the Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki-led National Assembly and the executive arm of government is best traced to the disquiet that characterised the sharing of political offices after the victory of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 election.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wing of the APC, which eventually took over the leadership of the National Assembly, did so against the interest of the ruling party, which already had anointed candidates for all leadership positions in legislative arm.
The Saraki-led PDP wing had felt seriously cheated by all other wings such as the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) all of which had already shared and benefited from the political offices available.
And since then, the PDP wing of the ruling party has continued to struggle to retain its leadership of the National Assembly despite continuous opposition and offensive from the ‘original’ APC, which controlled the entire executive arm and the security agencies.
The first of such offensives was the arraignment of Saraki in August 2015, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for allegedly falsifying his asset declaration form among other charges. The case is still pending.
These are the basic contentious issues that degenerated into what has become serious problems for both arms of government to the extent that even ministers, heads of government departments and agencies including security agencies now find it easier to disregard resolutions of the National Assembly than to uphold them.
Examples of such Senate versus Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) issues are the ones it had with the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd); Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu; Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola and many others.
Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, who is now having his own issues with the Senate, may not have originally set out to disregard the upper chamber’s resolutions but he may have succumbed to bandwagon effect.
The IGP face-off with the Senate began when he refused to honour the invitation of the Senate to appear before a committee that was investigating some serious allegations made against him by Senator Isah Missau, an APC member from Bauchi State. The IGP simply went to court to declare the invitation illegal.
But the court ruled otherwise. Even though he later came, ego had been bruised.
In the current case, the Senate had for three times invited him over its investigation into alleged mishandling of Senator Dino Melaye as well as the increasing killing and insecurity across the country.
The IGP refused to honor those invitations even after the National Assembly leadership had met President Muhammadu Buhari and got assurances to the contrary.
The question arising from all these is how can government make progress, in the face of these crises between the Muhammadu Buhari-led executive and the National Assembly?
Government exists not for its own sake but for the welfare and security of the people. This constitutional provision justified why the sole mandate of the National Assembly is to legislate for peace, order and good governance of the country.
It has also been clearly pointed out in the constitution that although each of the three arms are independent of each other, there are issues that may require understanding and cooperation to resolve particularly the legislature and the executive.
And because the executive must implement the law made by the legislature, it is always in the best interest of good governance that the two arms consult very well before laws are made.
However, the present face off between the executive and the National Assembly particularly the Senate may have produced adverse effects on such collaborative relationship necessary for such good governance oriented legislation.
A classical example of such legislation requiring the understanding and cooperation of both arms is the Appropriation Bill.
A member of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Rafiu Ibrahim, hit the nail on the head when he told The Guardian that the manner in which some officials of government in the executive arm treat the National Assembly is completely unhelpful to the drive to deliver good governance for the people.
He cited example of the delay being experienced in the processing of the 2018 Budget, adding that the uncooperative attitude of the executive is the principal factor.
Ibrahim said: “Look we have been complaining about the failure of many heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in turning up to defend their budgetary allocations.
“This attitude can only arise from the fact that there is no respect from the executive arm for the legislature.
If they continue to treat invitations from the National Assembly with disdain, particularly on a crucial matter such as the budget, what magic do they think we can perform to pass the budget early?”
Another lawmaker noted that the functions of the National Assembly are clearly spelt out in the constitution particularly regarding legislations, confirmation of appointments, ratification of treaties, budgeting and approval of loans, grants as well as other public expenditures.
It revolves around making laws for order, good governance of Nigeria.
The lawmaker representing Abia South on the platform of the PDP, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe warned that if the scenario where executive continues to dishonour legislative summon is left unchecked, the current trend could eventually truncate the practice of democracy in the country stressing, “The nation’s democracy is dying gradually.”
According to Abaribe, “Democracy dies in two ways. It either dies abruptly or in bits and what is happening today in Nigeria is that democracy is dying in bits.
It dies when people abuse governmental powers and all that we have seen today with the conduct of the chief law officer of the federation is nothing, but an abuse of power.”
Saraki equally expressed his position on the frosty relationship between the two arms of government and its consequences on the nation describing as disheartening, the uncooperative attitude of the executive arm of government on the preparation of national budgets.
Saraki, in a speech he presented at a retreat for the Senate Press Corps in Jos, last month, linked the lingering insecurity in the country to what it called failure of the executive arm of government to engage and collaborate with the National Assembly.
He stated: “Just few days ago, the issue of providing funding for the purchase of security equipment came up. In a good environment, such an issue needed to have been discussed with lawmakers. Already, some senators are angry. They complained that the executive did not consult them before such a decision was taken. These are the issues we are talking about.”
He added that there is no way the security architecture of this country can work without a strong synergy between the executive and the legislature, saying, “When you see certain agencies who by their actions and utterances frustrate the relationship between the two arms, you begin to wonder.
“What do we need to do? Do the police need more funding or more powers? Does it need new legislations to strengthen its activities? These are the issues where the executive and the legislature must work together.
“In a situation where a particular arm of government stands up and calls people from another arm of government thieves, looters and other names, how can we work together? How? It is not possible. It is not realistic. If we collaborate, the country will be better for it.
“Imagine the Federal Government wants to raise a N4.6 trillion bond from the capital market. The leadership of the National Assembly first heard about it through a letter written by the President. This is what happens.
“I needed to be here to speak on these issues. It is not just about today. Posterity will be here to judge us that what I am saying is true. If we do not change the way we behave, we will remain like this for many years to come.
“If you want to strengthen democracy, the priority of everybody is to strengthen the legislature. If you do not defend the legislature, there is no way our democracy will be strengthened because government is not built on individuals. It is built on institutions.
“That is why in developed countries, governments can change, but it does not affect the stability of their democracy because their institutions are strong. We decided to run a presidential system of government. By its nature of checks and balances, there is bound to be frictions. The question now, how healthy is that friction?”
On the crisis affecting the 2018 Appropriation Bill, the Senate President lamented that even President Buhari believed that the National Assembly was delaying the budget until he listened to the lawmakers a few weeks ago.
“If you take the 2018 budget for example, even before they had bothered to find out where the cause of the delay is coming from, people were already attacking and blaming the legislature.
“When I led the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives to see Mr. President, he came to the meeting being briefed as if the delay was that of the National Assembly. He was humble enough at the end of the discussion to render an apology.”
According to Saraki, the relationship between the legislature and the executive, which ought to be based on the policy of engagement and collaboration, is being frustrated by the actions of some officials in the executive arm.
Saraki argued that tinkering with the budget by the National Assembly is not an affront but a constitutional duty.
While lamenting the challenging political environment, the Senate President also disclosed that out of the 240 nominations from the presidency, the Senate had confirmed 227 and rejected only 13 nominations, yet, the executive felt otherwise rather than appreciating the painstaking role of the legislature.
Against the backdrop of public perception, Saraki averred that the legislature would not be deterred but must continue to ensure that the right thing was done. He further emphasised that democracy does not thrive around individuals but strong institutions.
Citing the issue of confirmation, he said, “When nominations come from the presidency, we confirm based on objective principles, not personal bias.”