The National Assembly is saddled with critical responsibilities including scrutiny of the annual budget; but what impact is such an appropriation likely to deliver if the parliament jettisons proper scrutiny of the same without due diligence. In this piece, we examine the history and effects of the ‘take a bow and go’ phenomenon
The practice of ‘take a bow and go’ in Nigeria’s National Assembly is fast becoming a common sight in the Senate; especially during Budget Defence, as well as the screening of nominees sent in for parliament’s approval by the President.
A trip into history reveals that the practice found its way into the vocabulary of the Nigerian National Assembly; sometime in 2003, when then-President Olusegun Obasanjo sent a list of ministerial nominees to the 5th Senate for confirmation. The President of the Senate at that time, Senator Evan Enwerem (now late), is said to have asked the late Chief Ojo Maduekwe to take a bow and go, following his impressive remarks and submissions about his credentials and profile by two other two ministerial nominees from his home state, Abia.
Since then, the controversial ‘take a bow and go’ convention has become a regular occurrence during budget defence sessions and screening of ministerial nominees in the Senate.
While some senators describe it as a novel tradition and convention, the practice remains mired in controversy. However, the general opinion about the convention is that the Senate’s use of ‘take a bow and go’ only makes a mockery of the fundamental aim and objectives of the screening process and budget defence sessions.
Many argue that the practice is at variance with one of the cardinal responsibilities of the Senate, as it appears to have relinquished its oversight function to other arms of government and agencies. For those in this school of thought, such a convention is a pointer to the fact that checks and balances in the emerging political dispensation seem to hang in the balance.
At the ongoing 2023 budget defence sessions in the Ninth Senate, the ‘take a bow and go’ convention is back on the table during budget considerations. For the second year running, the Senate Committee on Interior has adopted the convention in its consideration of the 2023 budget estimates for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), as well as for some other agencies under the committee’s oversight.
Chairman of the Committee, Senator Kashim Shettima (APC, Borno Central), had in 2019 cited COVID-19 and the nationwide lockdown as reasons for the inability of the committee to discuss the budget proposal.
With the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) scheduled to appear before the Committee on Thursday to defend their 2023 budget estimates, Senator Shettima again stepped down consideration of the 2023 budget proposals of the agencies. Currently, the Vice Presidential Candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) for the 2023 general elections, Shettima is apparently torn between his parliamentary duties and the ongoing campaigns.
He says, “In this nation, this is the upper parliament of the Federation of Nigeria.” He and his colleagues are “accomplished gentlemen and ladies who would not like to play to the gallery,” he adds. In an apparent reference to the security situation in the country, he said, “Times like this call for retrospection, a lot of maturity and a lot of sober reflection.
In light of the above, we are in agreement that they should lay down their budget, take a bow and step aside so that if we have questions to ask them, we will invite the heads of those organisations subsequently for closed-door sessions.”
With this, the consideration of the 2023 and the assessment of the 2022 performance of the agencies was stepped down contrary to the conventional practice of rigorous scrutiny by the legislature before approval. A development reported in some quarters as a strong indication that the Ninth Senate was in a rush to meet the self-imposed November 30, 2022, deadline for the laying of committee reports on the N20.5trillion 2023 budget proposals.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano North), had informed journalists on Friday, 4th November 2022, that a strict adherence to the set timetable is expected from all the committees entertaining budget defence from Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government (MDAs). He emphasised that “Laying/Presentation of the report by Appropriations Committee to the Senate in plenary, is fixed for Wednesday, 30th November 2022.”
It has been argued that the most alarming factor which set the stage for this appalling situation is the Senate’s failure to adopt strategic insights in acceptable practice for budget considerations. Apart from this ‘‘doctrine’’ looking old-fashioned and lacking in precise judgement, it is not in tandem with global best practices.