Oke Epia is the Founder of OrderPaper, Nigeria’s foremost independent parliamentary monitoring organisation and policy think tank that bridges the gap between people and parliament.
An assessment of the Buhari presidency and the national assembly must necessarily be viewed from two lenses. One is the character and personality of the president himself. The other is the bifurcated fractious power play co-located within the presidency itself and the outlying centrifugal forces battling for levels of control in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2015 is perhaps the most significant manifestation of these two countervailing influences. A coalition of forces within the politically inchoate ruling party aligned with opposition elements and rode on the aloofness of the president to successfully outwit dominant factions of the establishment to seize control of the legislature.
Blood had been drawn, and for four years (2015 – 2019), the sword would not be sheathed in the battle between the Buhari presidency and the Saraki leadership of the national assembly. That is why Nigeria witnessed the arraignment and trial of Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu in the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a public humiliation that not only signposted the deadly in-fighting within the ruling establishment but very much distracted the administration from governance.
This underpinning context not only defined the frosty relationship between both arms of government but fundamentally undermined service delivery by the legislature and, by extension, the Buhari administration. Thus, the high expectations placed on the administration by civil society and citizens became forlorn sooner than later – a clear case of what we ordered being different from what we got.
This is why the legislative agenda of the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively and most of the outputs of the legislature, in general, were hardly in tandem with the governance aspirations and political configuration of the Buhari presidency. That is why for four years, the annual budget could not be passed and assented in good time – with the concomitant consequence of riddled implementation, and the inevitable spin-offs of cascading fiscal crisis, resort to borrowing, decaying public infrastructure and social amenities, and declining trust and confidence in the government.
That is why for four years, Nigeria’s petroleum sector missed the badly needed reforms promised in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). And in the period, oil industry corruption festered and investors continued to stay away from fields both new and old due to regulatory confusion, and host communities continued to bite the dust with no hope for tomorrow.
That is why for four years, the administration dithered to enact required reforms to the electoral jurisdiction and managed to deny Nigeria the benefit of electronic transmission of results that could have been test-run in 2019 and improved upon in 2023. For half of the eight-year Buhari presidency, it was thus convenient (of course, on its own terms) to stall or simply roll back much of the core promises it rode on to power – fight corruption, reverse economic misfortunes, and tackle insecurity.
Critical bills could not get traction; legislative resolutions were ignored; hearings and investigations were clobbered by officials who shunned summons; and most importantly, oversight was hamstrung as almost every move by the national assembly was interpreted as an attempt to undermine the president and party. The enactment of the Not Too Young to Run Bill passed by the 8th National Assembly is however a notable exception in the poor run it had.
The next four years (2019 – 2023) were not any better – in terms of legislative service delivery that substantially enhanced the lives and living conditions of citizens. Although the dominant wing of the political establishment succeeded in flipping the tide by installing its anointed candidates as leaders at the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly in June 2019, the trumpeted harmonious relationship between the presidency and the legislature has offered little to cheer.
Short of being a side-kick of the presidency, the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila-led House of Representatives can however look back and take some credit in terms of some achievements that eluded the Saraki era. The outgoing 9th assembly stabilised the annual budgetary circle (by ensuring the Appropriations Bill is ready for assent before the end of December); it passed the PIB; and passed the Electoral Amendment Act (after unrelenting pressure from civil society and citizens).
In spite of these achievements, it is important to point out that the Buhari presidency and the national assembly did not sufficiently align in terms of governance objectives. For instance, only 1.5% of the over 1,009 bills processed between June 2019 and May 2022 in the Senate focused on anti-corruption. For the House of Representatives, it is 1.4% of the 1,979 bills processed in the same period.
While it is notable that the Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Act (2022) and the Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Act (2022) were successfully enacted, the National Assembly failed to pass the highly critical Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) Amendment Bill that has immense potentials to prevent rather than combat corruption in public finance.
This assessment will not be complete without saying that the 9th National Assembly failed spectacularly in the performance of oversight functions. This is why the economy is in a worse state than the Buhari administration met it – unemployment is towering at about 40%; inflation is headlined at 22%; Nigeria’s debt stands at N80 trillion; and there is still confusion in the unsustainable and highly corrupt subsidy regime – and the list goes on. That is why insecurity is still a defining characteristic of the administration eight years after being in office.
That is why corruption in public finance is still much of a concern. That is why over 15 million children are still out of school. That is why Nigeria’s best and brightest are on the ‘japa’ train daily. Remember the failed but scandalous NDDC probe where the ‘honourable’ minister was dramatically and repeatedly told to ‘off the mic’? Remember how an ad-hoc committee in the House of Representatives claimed that “Nigeria spent an estimated sum of $47.387 million in arms importation by 2019,” and yet the Nigerian military was battling to contain internal insecurity?
With so many lapses in the service delivery scorecard of the outgoing assembly, the incoming 10th assembly has its job cut out for it already. It would be refreshing to see the overriding focus and power play over the leadership of the incoming federal legislature shift to productive conversations around their governance agenda.