TRENDING: Is Tinubu’s cap a signature capture of the national assembly?

Abdullahi A BalogunJuly 3, 20246 min

A growing number of legislators in the national assembly are being spotted wearing President Tinubu’s cap, raising cogent questions on legislative independence, democratic wellbeing, and government accountability 

Sen. Godswill Akpabio, President Tinubu and Rep. Benjamin Kalu

In Nigeria’s 10th National Assembly, a peculiar trend has emerged: lawmakers donning President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s signature cap. The distinctive design long associated with the president has found its way onto the heads of numerous lawmakers in parliament, including Senate President Godswill Akpabio thereby sparking discussions about the balance between showing support for the president and maintaining the legislature’s crucial independence and oversight role.

Tinubu’s cap goes way back…

President Tinubu’s cap, a constant in his political wardrobe since the 1980s, has evolved from a personal trademark to a symbol of political filial allegiance. Its adoption by members of the National Assembly raises questions about the boundaries between fashion, political identity, and institutional independence.

Beyond a headwear..

Tinubu’s trending cap extends beyond headwear. During the presentation of the 2024 appropriation bill to a joint session of the National Assembly in November 2023, lawmakers were observed singing, “on your mandate we shall stand,” a mantra closely associated with Tinubu’s political philosophy. This display of solidarity, while perhaps intended as a show of unity, has intensified concerns about the legislature’s ability to maintain its role as a check on executive power.

Nothing to worry about?

Senator Ali Ndume, the Senate Chief Whip, dismissed these concerns, stating, “it is not a crime. Honestly, it is not a big deal. In this country, we pick on trivial things.” However, Ndume‘s characterization of the issue as ‘trivial’ overlooks the potential long-term implications for Nigeria’s democratic institutions.

Rep. Dzua Iyortyom and Rep. Odianosen Okojie

Separation or subservience of powers?

The principle of separation of powers, a cornerstone of democratic governance, relies on each branch of government maintaining a degree of independence. The legislature’s primary functions include lawmaking, representation, and oversight of the executive branch. When lawmakers openly display such open allegiance to the president, it raises valid questions about their ability to scrutinize executive actions objectively.

It can be argued that this visual and vocal alignment with the president could lead to a rubber-stamp legislature, one that prioritizes the executive’s agenda over rigorous debate and independent policy-making. On the other hand, supporters of the trend might argue that shared political ideology doesn’t necessarily diminish effective oversight. They could even point to examples where politically aligned legislatures have still managed to hold executives accountable. However, the level of its current displays in Nigeria pushes the boundaries of this argument.

The president’s appointments and the FLEX connection

The situation becomes more complex when considering the backgrounds of key figures in Tinubu’s administration. As noted in OrderPaper’s latest Quarterly Policy Review(QPR), titled FLEX, the president has appointed individuals with significant legislative background to crucial positions. Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume, a three-term former senator, bring intimate knowledge of legislative processes to the executive branch.

Secretary to the Government of the federation, George Akume

While this background and experience could streamline cooperation between the branches of government, it also raises concerns about the potential for undue influence. The FLEX report predicts that the Tinubu administration may exert “the highest influence on the National Assembly in the history of the country’s presidential democracy.” This prediction, if realized, could fundamentally alter the balance of power in the current dispensation and set a worrisome precedence in Nigeria’s democratic governance.

Call to vigilance…

Moving forward, it will be essential for civil society, the media, and the public to closely monitor the performance of the National Assembly. Key indicators will include the robustness of legislative debates, the willingness to challenge executive policies and the overall quality of oversight activities.

Ultimately, while fashion choices and shows of solidarity may seem trivial on the surface, they can be indicative of deeper political currents. The true test will be in the actions of the legislature. Can they wear the president’s cap while still fulfilling their constitutional duty to provide checks and balances? The answer to this question will have profound implications for the future of Nigerian democracy.

FLEX and Tinubu's cap

All eyes on the NASS…

As the 10th assembly progresses, all eyes will be on these cap-wearing lawmakers. Their ability to balance political allegiance with institutional independence will be a crucial factor in shaping Nigeria’s democratic trajectory in the years to come. After all, lawmakers must be able to critically evaluate and, when necessary, oppose executive actions without fear of reprisal or accusations of disloyalty. Whether they adorn President Tinubu’s cap or not.

Abdullahi A Balogun

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