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Na’Abba’s disclosure versus public perception of ninth National Assembly

By John Akubo, Abuja
14 October 2019   |   3:43 am
The recent disclosure of the former Speaker, Ghali Umah Na'abba, that the current Senate President Ahmed Lawan actually championed the botched impeachment of former President Olusegun Obasanjo might have set the stage for further debate on the perception that the 9th National Assembly is a rubber stamp of the executive after all.

Former Speaker, Ghali Umah Na’abba. Photo; SILVERBIRD

The recent disclosure of the former Speaker, Ghali Umah Na’abba, that the current Senate President Ahmed Lawan actually championed the botched impeachment of former President Olusegun Obasanjo might have set the stage for further debate on the perception that the 9th National Assembly is a rubber stamp of the executive after all. Na’Abba was a speaker in the 5th House of Representatives between April 1999 and April 2003.

While unveiling the 9th House of Representative Legislative Agenda on Friday, Na’Abba said Lawan was a very active and radical member of the house who actually moved the motion for Obasanjo’s impeachment.

While commending Lawan’s newfound zeal to be on the same page with the executive this time around, which seems to be a contradiction from that former radical posture, he said, “I am delighted about the attitude the senate president has adopted this time around of working in a more cooperative manner with the executive in order to carry this country to the next level.

“When the House of Representatives in 1999 determined that the president must be impeached, it was Lawan himself that introduced the amendment to a motion to include that the president is impeached. This is a special time to disclose the secret. Today, the senate president, with the benefit of hindsight, has now decided that we cannot achieve much without cooperating with other arms of government.

“Mr. President, we all admire you the way you are steering this senate. It is our hope that your colleagues will support you in this endeavour.”

He said democracy in Nigeria has been a work in progress, adding that people have assumed where they left off and there must be progress.

In August 2002, the House, under the leadership of Na’Abba, gave President Olusegun Obasanjo an ultimatum to either resign or face impeachment action. As speaker then, Na’Abba refused to withdraw the resolution, as he was the leader of the impeachment movement. However, alleged loads of ‘Ghana must go’ bags of monetary inducements truncated the move.

Lawan’s zeal to be on the same page with the executive has given cause to some stakeholders to believe that the 9th Assembly might be a rubber stamp after all. With his disclosure, Na’Abba might just have added credence to the fears of some Nigerians who think the romance between the National Assembly and the executive is too close for comfort as they are expected to play the role of watchdog through checks and balances.

At this auspicious time of budget defence, with many perceived lacuna in the budget, especially the increase in VAT from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent. Nigerians want Lawan to prove them wrong. Some senators have vowed to mobilise against the VAT increase bill in the National Assembly.

President Muhammadu Buhari had, during the presentation of the 2020 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly last Tuesday, hinted that a bill would soon be sent to the National Assembly to actualise the tax increase. For instance, the Senate Minority Leader, Eyinaya Abaribe, had described the budget as one of taxation. The senate leader who is a stalwart of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could not hold back as he listed about 15 lows of the budget.

Many Nigerians believe that because of the quest to return to the January to December budget cycle, the executive would impress it on the Senate hurry in the 2020 budget scrutiny in such a way that most aspects of the document would be muddled up. Analysts have criticised the budget, calling it an unreliable or unworkable document. Many Nigerians are waiting to see how Lawan would defend a budget that is not designed to succeed.

Lawan in his speech when Buhari presented the budget reiterated the fact that the lawmakers were on the same page with the executive. This, many stakeholders say, is not in tandem with the spirit and intent of the formulators of the constitution that thought it wise for the three tiers of government to be separate with different functions for checks and balances.

Many Nigerians queried the allusion of the Senate President to being on the same page with the executive to mean that he is a rubber stamp. Their concern is that the spirit that brought the separation of powers never intended them to be on the same page, as they could carry out their mandates and meet at some middle ground but never on the same page. They further say should the legislature and executive be on the same page, why were they separated in the first instance?

However, the Senate Committee Chairman on Information, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, while clarifying the allegation that the senate is hands-in-glove with the executive during a recent press briefing, said, “Separation of power does not mean a conflict of powers. I can explain to let you know it simply means a division of powers or labour.”

He used the analogy of reporters covering the senate while another person sits as sub-editor at the newsroom, “You are doing your own part; he is doing his own part; there is no conflict. He expects you to report critically all the time, to get screaming headlines; that is what he expects, it doesn’t mean you must comply with that.

“So, for me, separation of power is not a conflict of power, but the division of labour. Certainly, the makers of this constitution did not intend for the executive and the legislature to be in perpetual conflict. If that is the case, they would never achieve anything and the masses would bear the brunt. That they expected you in your separate flank to be autonomous and independent does not mean that what you are doing there should bring you in conflict with what the other tier of government is doing.

“No, you can be thinking in the same way; the welfare of the masses is our paramount interest. Both tiers are thinking of how they can improve the lives of ordinary Nigerians. If it is good for the masses, the economic development of Nigeria, like the idea of making the budget cycle to start and end in December as it was previously. It should be a case that the executive should look at it the same way. The convergence of positive interests we have for our nation is the best for us.

“If the judiciary should be an active arm in this matter they too will say it should be in that way. So the separation of powers is a division of labour. Sometimes the executive originates bills. Should we not see eye-to-eye with them and throw away their bills, even if it is for the good of the country? Sometimes, we also originate bills and pass them here. The presidency also has the power to sign them or to reject them. Should it be that he rejects the bills simply because we want to say we are separate from them? They expect us to collaborate in lawmaking. We make our bills and they sign them if they are good. If the president also brings his bills, please pass them while the judiciary correctly interprets them.”

Again in another briefing, Adeyeye was interrogated on why the senate always defended the executive over delays in budget presentation. He said the matter of budget involves both executive and legislature, adding, “Get the difference. Budget is a matter that involves all the three tiers of government, even the judiciary because they have to make their own input into the budget.

“To that extent, they involve us even at the level of preparation, to let us know they are working on it. That does not mean we would not be concerned about the arrangement in the executive.”