Tension as executive, legislative feud threatens democracy
The resolution of the National Assembly last Tuesday to evoke its powers against President Muhammadu Buhari should he continue to fail in key governance issues like security, economy and anti-corruption war, only signified the extent of damage done to the relationship between the executive and the legislative arms of government.
The hide and seek game that characterized the relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly in the early days of the administration has now metamorphosed into open warfare in which only the fittest will survive. And beyond the issue of governance, political survival has become a major subject of consideration too.
To most political watchers, Tuesday’s resolution is the beginning of the end for the relationship as it brought to light the fact that the National Assembly has reached a point of no retreat, no surrender. Never in the history of Nigeria’s democracy has the two chambers gone into such co-operation and collaboration against the executive like they are doing at the moment.
It was the first time the National Assembly would sit in a joint session on matters besides receiving the budget or a foreign dignitary since the return to democratic rule in 1999.All issues that had pitched the legislature against the Presidency including those of budget implementation, appointments, extra budgetary expenditure as well as disregard to parliamentary resolutions got to a climax in that joint session.
Lawmakers who have also become very uncomfortable with their state governors over some political issues are also not at peace with the President who they believed has taken side with the governors.Some lawmakers from states like Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara, Bauchi are not on the same page with the Presidency.
Ironically, the resolutions passed during the joint session were done in such a manner that not even the few lawmakers who claimed to be working in support of President Buhari’s political interests could muster the strength and coordination to raise a voice against the 12-point resolution reached against the President.At exactly 3.10pm when the chairman of the joint session, Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki read the resolutions, there was no single voice of dissent in the chamber.
Although a few individual members in the Buhari Parliamentary Support Group later issued personal statement against impeachment threat to the President, it became obvious that the Pro-Buhari group was absent as an entity. Senate majority leader, Ahmed Lawan who is the highest National Assembly member in the group stayed in the joint session till the end. The same was applicable to most members of the group.
The resolution was essentially a no confidence vote against the President’s performance particularly his handling of cases of insecurity, corruption, and governance.It was learnt that the lawmakers agreed among themselves that on the issue of insecurity, the President has achieved very little because of the deadly operation of killer herdsmen across the country. Hence, the charge to the President that “The security agencies must be given marching orders to curtail the sustained killings of Nigerians across the country and protect life and properties of Nigerians as this is the primary duty of any responsible government”
The issue of increasing persecution and harassment of political opponents was also said to have attracted attention at the close door meeting at the end of which a position was taken that “The systematic harassment and humiliation by the Executive of perceived political opponents, people with contrary opinions including Legislature and Judiciary by the police and other security agencies must stop.”
The fear of losing this democracy to the many breaches of key democratic pillars and ingredients was equally a dominant issue. It was resolved eventually that “There must be strict adherence to the Rule of Law and protection for all citizens by the President and his appointees.”And to demonstrate that it was ready for a fight, the National Assembly made it clear that “The President must be held accountable for the actions of his appointees and must be ready to sanction those that carry out any act which will ridicule or endanger our country and democracy.”
On the fight against corruption, the joint session resolved that government should show sincerity in the fight against corruption by not being selective and also prosecute current appointees that have cases pending against them.The need to protect democratic institutions as a way of promoting democracy was a key topic during the discussion. Accordingly, lawmakers were in agreement that “the sanctity of the National Assembly should be protected and preserved by the Federal Government of Nigeria by not interfering in its business and prosecuting those who invaded the Senate to seize the mace.”
The joint session demonstrated its concern about threat to survival of democracy in Nigeria to the extent that it resolved, “National Assembly should liaise with international communities through the IPU, APU, ECOWAS, CPA, Pan African Parliament, EU, UN, US congress and UK Parliament to secure our democracy.”Other aspects of the resolution include the fact that “Democratic elections must be competitive and inclusive by removing the present reign of fear and intimidation particularly as we approach the forthcoming 2019 elections.
“The National Assembly will work closely with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Trade Unions and NGOs to further deepen and protect our democracy.”The joint session also reviewed the growing frustration in the country as a result of negative trends in the economy that required proper and urgent attention.It therefore declared “The President must take immediate steps to contain the growing level of unemployment and poverty in Nigeria especially now that we have advantage of the oil price haven risen to $80 per barrel.”
Allegations of plots by the executive arm of government to remove the presiding officers of the National Assembly also attracted attention during the session. And to send the signal that the officers are still very popular and acceptable among lawmakers, the meeting resolved, “Both chambers of the National Assembly hereby pass a vote of confidence on the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the entire leadership of the National Assembly.”
However, the legislators resolved to “reaffirm our earlier resolution of vote of no confidence on the Inspector General of Police who does nothing other than preside over the killing of innocent Nigerians and consistent framing up of perceived political opponents of the President and outright disregard for constitutional authority, both executive and legislative.”
Perhaps the aspect of the resolution that conveyed the feeling of the National Assembly at the moment is one in which it said it will not hesitate to evoke its powers if nothing is done to address the resolutions.Indeed, it was later revealed by a member of the Buhari Parliamentary Support Group that lawmakers had actually begun to mobilize others towards the impeachment of the President.
A House of Representatives member, Mohammed Gadaji (Jigawa, APC) told reporters that top on the agenda at the meeting was the perfection of impeachment moves against the president. He, however, noted that while he supported all other resolutions, he would mobilise his colleagues to abort any planned impeachment ‘spearheaded by PDP members in the lower legislative chamber.’His position resonated with lawmakers under the aegis of Parliamentary Support Group (PSG), which also issued a statement to condemn the planned impeachment.
The issues preceding the historic joint session are clear enough as they focused on the alleged persecution and harassment of presiding officers of the National Assembly. Many of the instances are still fresh in the minds of legislators.Just last Sunday, the Police paraded some suspects in the Offa robbery saga and invited Saraki to defend himself against allegation that he sponsored the suspects.
But Saraki who denied any link with the bandits insisting that the police was simply bent on implicating him, declared that there is no way he could have been associated with armed robbery against his people. He said, “When the Offa robbery incident happened, I was the first top public official to pay a visit to the place and right there in the palace of the traditional ruler, I put a call through to this same Mr. Ibrahim Idris, the IGP, requesting him to make certain specific security arrangements as demanded by the people.”
Insisting that the indictment by the Police was part of the plot to implicate him in any criminal charge so as to embarrass him, Saraki said that “This plot is concocted to embarrass me and, in the mind of the IGP, it is his own response to the action taken by the Senate against him after his refusal to honour the invitation by the National Assembly, headed by me, for him to come and offer explanations on the rampant killings and violence across the country.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, according to reports, is also being targeted for prosecution over the allegations of padding of the 2016 Budget.
A Federal High Court in Lagos had directed the President to order the security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him (Buhari) reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly. It also ordered Buhari to prosecute the indicted lawmakers.
The Presidency which has already indicated interested in prosecuting affected lawmakers consisting mainly of Principal Officers, said the court judgment on budget padding aligned with the administration’s posture against corruption.Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media Affairs, Malam Garba Shehu had
said some lawmakers were already being prosecuted in connection with constituency projects.He said, “The court judgment is in order. We have no problem with it. The court has the constitutional responsibility to remind the government of its responsibilities.
There are many cases in court as we speak especially with constituency projects. There are parliamentarians being prosecuted.”
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