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Perspectives on emerging legislature-executive synergy

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President Muhammadu Buhari

For the first time since 1999, the Senate showed an uncommon dedication to their duty with the swift screening and confirmation of the ministerial nominees forwarded to it by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The exercise took the upper legislative chamber just five days to complete, the same number of days it took the 8th Senate to execute the same national assignment in 2015. Comparatively, however, the 9th Senate was a lot faster in getting the job done.

In 2015, then-Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had received the first list of 21 nominees from the President on September 30, 2015; he announced it on October 6, 2015, and slated the screening of the nominees to start on Tuesday, October 13. But before the exercise could commence, the President sent the second list of 16 nominees on October 12.

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In the case of the 9th Senate, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, got the list on Monday, July 22, 2019; he announced it on Tuesday, July 23 and slated the commencement of screening for Wednesday, July 24. And by Tuesday, July 30, they had concluded the exercise with all the 43 nominees cleared and confirmed.

From every indication, the 9th Senate attached a sense of urgency to the task, as evidenced in the postponement of their eight-week annual recess, which would have commenced on Thursday, July 25.

“We have postponed the recess until the end of next week. We are suspending a lot of our rules. Plenary normally does not hold on Fridays; plenary will hold on Friday this week and Monday next week in order to hasten the process. We want to do a thorough job and we want Nigerians to know that we are doing a thorough job. It is going to be a lot of sacrifice on our path.

“We are going to work in unusual hours. Normally we sit from 10.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m; that will not apply during this confirmation hearing. We are going to sit till very late, virtually every day. On Friday, we will sit until we are tired. We will go on a brief recess and might proceed until 10 p.m,” Senate’s spokesperson, Adedayo Adeyeye, had said.

Beyond this show of patriotism in the speedy screening and clearance of ministerial nominees is the pervading air of likely synergy between the 9th National Assembly and the executive arm. And against the backdrop of the frosty relationship that existed between the executive and the legislature in the last dispensation, following the failure of the choices of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to emerge as the leadership of the House of Representatives and Senate, Nigerians see the seeming collaboration between the two arms presently as a good omen. Many political observers who spoke with The Guardian believe that it will impact positively on the polity if sustained.

Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria and chieftain of the APC, Osita Okechukwu, said the existing relationship between the two arms would ensure the acceleration of all on-going infrastructure projects in the country, hence the need to sustain it.

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“The sure banker is the acceleration of Buhari’s massive and ambitious development of critical infrastructure. I envisage more commitment in sourcing funds for completion of 5,000 kilometers of federal roads, 5,000 kilometers of Standard Gauge rail lines, additional 5,000 megawatts of electricity and an agrarian revolution.

“Methinks, the cordial bi-partisan relationship in the NASS will naturally enhance cordial executive cum legislative relationship, which surely will lead to the attraction of more Foreign Direct Investment, more loans, and grants for social and physical infrastructural development,” he said.

National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, is of the view that the ruling party is fully in control of both the executive and the legislature, President Buhari will no longer have room for excuses.

His words: “The atmosphere looks very conducive for good governance. The ruling party is now in absolute control of the National Assembly. Their choices for principal officers of both chambers are in charge. The Senate and House of Representatives committees for the key sectors of the economy are all in the hands of APC faithful as chairmen. And the President is comfortable with the situation as anybody in his position will be. Now, all of those excuses that were given in his first term will no longer be tenable this time.”

Recalling how the cat and mouse relationship between the two arms under last dispensation impacted negatively on the polity, Okorie said: “You will notice that in the previous dispensation, so many bills passed by the two chambers of the NASS were returned unaccented to, because there was no synergy that allowed the two arms of government to look at those bills at the level of drafting and the processes of passage. So, at the time they were presented, the executive arm through the Ministry of Justice, identified loopholes and then sent them back to be corrected and this hampered governance.

“In fact, the other aspect that was very devastating to the growth of the economy was the issue of budget. Budgets were passed very late and even when they were passed the implementation was practically shoddy and fell short of the expectations such that Nigerians experienced less than 50 percent performance of the budget sometimes, especially with regard to the capital budget.

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“So, we expect this time that the executive will step up its own activities. We expect that by the end of October, the budget for 2020 must have been laid before the NASS. And the NASS has shown that it can act expeditiously, especially considering the speed with which the ministerial nominees were screened and cleared. The legislators also showed that they could inconvenience themselves in terms of some of these numerous vacations they normally take. They have shown that for overriding national need, they can inconvenience themselves to attend to matters of national importance. So, we expect that once the budget is laid, they will work extra time to make sure it is passed. We don’t expect the forward and backward tossing of the budget to repeat itself. We don’t expect to see padding of budget or accusation of padding of budget.

“So, if this synergy, collaboration, and cooperation happen in terms of budget consideration and passage, I don’t see how the government will not surpass its first term performance, because I do not see how the government will not step up its action. I also don’t see how our economy will not improve tremendously and in the end, it will all be in the interest of the Nigerian people.

“So, the President has no excuse anymore. For the legislature, the issue of failing in oversight function can no longer be an excuse because APC faithful are in charge of the committees. So, if they are accused of being a rubber stamp and rubber stamp means collaboration, cooperation, and synergy with the executive, that type of rubber stamp is acceptable to me.”

Interestingly, shortly before adjourning the ninth assembly for a two-month recess, the Senate President announced that the NASS was working towards the return of the Nigerian budget cycle to January to December. He, therefore, said the lawmakers expect that the 2020 Appropriation Bill would be presented to the NASS on their return from the recess in September to enable them to work on it. With this disposition, the NASS has actually passed the ball to Buhari’s court.

The import of this development, Okorie said, is that Buhari is now compelled to deliver on his electoral promises. He noted: “He now has his ministers cleared for him. He told the whole nation even before the list came out that his nominees are his own making. He compared what we were going to see with what happened in 2015 and said that he would appoint only people he knows personally as minsters. So, he is now 100 percent responsible for the ministers he has nominated and the NASS has granted him his wish. I expect him not to hesitate to drop any minister that is not up to speed with the expectations of Nigerians. He should not allow a minister or a particular ministry to draw him back. He assured us that he would no longer be called ‘Baba go slow’. I want to take him on his word that he will no longer be referred to as ‘Baba go slow’. So, let’s hope for the better.”

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Former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, on his part, said the disposition of the NASS to the Presidency was good but warned that it would only benefit the system if some amendments are effected in the 1999 constitution.

Ogunlewe argued that the yearly allocation of funds for capital projects in the budget should pave way for a four-year national plan if the country hopes to build critical infrastructure.

He said: “Honestly I’m impressed with their disposition to the Presidency. But it is not going to be fruitful if we don’t see significant changes in the Constitution. The constitution as it is now will never carry us anywhere. In so many other countries, you don’t do annual budgets for capital projects. That provision in Section 180 of our constitution that there must be an annual budget is not good for the country. We have 17,000 abandoned projects all over the federation because of the power of the NASS to tamper with the content of the budget. So, there should be national planning where you identify projects that must be completed in four years and then make sure that you budget for them. But this arbitrary inclusion of projects in the budget by members of the NASS always distorts the programme and policy of the government.

“So, this dichotomy of the executive and legislature doesn’t work. You have to carry them along even when you prepare the budget. There is what is called a national caucus of every political party. The Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and other principal officers of the NASS will be there. Once they agree on the projects to be executed per zone, there is no way the NASS will include additional projects in the budget. So, the president and the cabal in the presidency should open up and allow the president to have access to people. The president is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is the one to make sure they all sit down and agree on what must be in the budget.”

Stressing the need for a four-year plan for capital projects instead of the yearly budget, Ogunlewe who represented Lagos East in the Senate between 1999 and 2003, gave few illustrations.

“The Sagamu-Ikorodu road will cost about N26 billion to reconstruct. And they budget only N1 billion every year. So it will take 26 years to complete it and everybody will be abusing the Minister of Works. Maiduguri-Kano highway is 600 kilometers and the total value of that contract is N345 billion. If you begin to put N40 billion every year, how many years will you need to complete it? There is no minister that can perform there unless there is a constitutional amendment; it’s not possible. No matter what you do in the ministry when you get to the NASS, the contractors will also infiltrate them and induce them to vote money for their contracts. And that is distortion already. That was why in four years they couldn’t complete even one road project.

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“There is what is called national planning; that is what we were used to. It is the Ministry of National Planning that should determine the projects to be executed. And it is supposed to be a party matter. Once the party approves it, no member of the party in the NASS should have the authority to change it. So, the President should seize the opportunity of the existing rapport between the NASS and the Presidency to initiate a four-year plan for capital projects. It is not supposed to be annual; you don’t allocate money every year for capital projects. Under a yearly allocation, there is no project that you can complete in this country in less than 15 – 20 years. I have been there before. So, they must change it. If it is not done, there is no hope for the country. Forget it!”

Nevertheless, the former Works Minister warned that there could be a point of departure between the two arms as this dispensation progress, especially when money would be involved.

“There must be collaboration but there must be a point of departure when it comes to money. A lot of them need money to survive and the executive will not want them to survive. So, it is a problem.

“So, the synergy will last as long as there are cooperation and concession. When it comes to money matters for the survival of members of the NASS, they don’t compromise it. They can compromise every other thing but when it comes to money matters, they don’t compromise. So, no matter what you do, they will gang up against because they are gunning for another election and the executive will not give them money for the election. And our election is too expensive. So, how do you cope if you don’t have the money? So, that can be a point of departure,” he noted.

Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organisation, Ohabuenyi Ibuchukwu Ezike, also expressed a similar view, saying it was not yet uhuru for the Presidency and the legislature with regard to their relationship despite the swift clearance of ministerial nominees.

“It is not mature for us to begin to discuss the cordiality between the executive and the legislature. The only thing anybody can say is that unlike in 2015 when the APC was not privy to the election of the leadership of the NASS and the emergence of the principal officers, the party and the Presidency were on top of the situation this time. But you never can tell when a conflict of interests will begin to arise because there must be disagreements.

The president has not presented the budget to this NASS; we have not seen whether the NASS members will protect their constituency projects or not. The NASS will also conduct its oversight functions on the MDAs. These are the areas where disagreements likely occur when there is a conflict of interest. As at today, there is no conflict of interest yet,” he noted.

But even at that, all eyes are on Buhari and his team to see how they harness the prevailing atmosphere and even strengthen it further in the interest of the nation.


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