ANALYSIS: As Reps, Lukman lock horns over rubber stamp tag

Elizabeth AtimeJuly 8, 20249 min

The debate about whether the National Assembly has traded its power of oversight with a rubber stamp tag continues to rage

                                        Salihu Lukman, former vice chairman APC (north-west)

A former vice chairman (north-west) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Salihu Lukman, recently stoked the hornet’s nest when he accused the 10th National Assembly (NASS) of functioning entirely at the mercy of President Bola Tinubu, thereby rendering  members toothless as though they were not an independent arm of government.

The vocal APC chieftain also lashed out at the lawmakers for failing to lend their voices when it matters the most thereby allowing the executive arm to get away with virtually every wrong decision without consideration of the injurious consequences on the well-being of citizens.

In a statement he issued on July 2, 2024, Lukman said the parliament has lost courage to tackle the executive arm of the government to deliver on its ‘renewed hope’ mandate. According to him, “the point is, Nigerian democracy, as it is, is not functionally representing the interest of citizens largely because the parliament represented by the two chambers of the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives – have involuntarily submitted themselves to the narcissistic control of the president. Partly because of the faint or almost complete absence of courageous voices in the National Assembly, the President and the members of the executive body of government are practically getting away with virtually every wrong decision that is injurious to the wellbeing of Nigerian citizens.”

The politician, who has fallen out of favour witth the party apparatchik in Abuja, went on:“A good example is the impulsive declaration of President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to end petroleum subsidy without any clear plan, followed by another impulsive decision to float the naira exchange rate against other international currencies with hardly any plan. How did we get to this abysmally low level of legislative practice whereby it can almost be said that in Nigeria, democracy equates to darkness? Without going into details, combinations of many factors, which have taken place over the last 25 years are responsible. Some of the factors include the reality whereby systematically, the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly have been downgraded to the status of appointees of the President. That was largely made possible by the fact that the party machinery or organs, which are supposed to serve as the platforms for negotiations, have been weakened and also subordinated to the President.”

                                                                    Rep. Philip Agbese 

Reacting to the tirade from Lukman, deputy spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Rep. Philip Agbese (APC, Benue) knocked the former APC leader and called his accusations baseless and mere attempts to get relevance.  Salihu Mohammed Lukman’s persistent attempts to assert relevance in the political sphere have led him to unfairly criticize the esteemed leadership of the National Assembly, including Senate President Godswill Akpabio and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Abbas Tajudeen, PhD,” Agbese said in a statement. According to him, “Lukman’s baseless accusations against the National Assembly are regrettable diversions from the genuine challenges facing our nation. Those who thrive on anarchy and discord are the true obstacles to national cohesion and progress. Instead of responsibly addressing national issues, Lukman focuses on undermining dedicated leaders who are committed to serving the nation.” He went to school the politician on executive-legislative relations thus:  “The 10th Assembly remains committed to its constitutional mandate of holding the executive accountable while advocating for constructive engagement over unnecessary conflict. Disagreements with the executive are approached with patriotism and the nation’s best interests in mind. Unproductive friction between branches of government serves no purpose and undermines our nation’s progress.”

Has the parliament lived up to its constitutional mandate?

In analysing the issues raised by Lukman brings to the fore the tag of rubber stamp that is however not peculiar to the 10th assembly. But like preceding assemblies, the current legislature may have lost its authority, relevance and assertiveness following the way and manner the presiding and principal officers, including the minority leadership, emerged.

The journey into the 10th House of Representatives presiding and principal officers elections came with its usual buzz as a lot can be said to have taken place in the build up to the emergence of the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio and Speaker Tajudeen Abbas. However, the build up to the election saw the ruling APC divided as the Senator Abdullahi Adamu-led National Working Committee (NWC) had announced a zoning formula that favoured Abbas in the House and former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari as President of the Senate. But President Bola Tinubu had vested interest in Akpabio and that option prevailed eventually. Former House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, now Chief of Staff to the President played a huge role in the installation of his successor in the person of Abbas. The alliance between the former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, now Federal Capital Territory (FCT) minister, ensured that Rep. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) emerged minority leader of the House.

What’s the role of the legislature as hardship continues to bite? 

Since the beginning of the Tinubu administration, Nigeria has been battling one of the worst financial downtimes in the nation’s history, with heavy debts hanging and dangling on its neck. The average Nigerian is striving to survive the economic crisis leading to untimely deaths as many persons have reportedly committed suicide. The impact of petrol subsidy removal was swift and unsparing. Immediately the pump price of petrol tripled, the prices of food, commuting, medication and other basic necessities skyrocketed. Precious time was dissipated on the best way to provide succour to the needy, while the poor and the marginalised continued to wallow in unmitigated pains. One year later, the National Assembly is yet to call the executive to order on its promises to put in place programmes that will cushion the negative effects of the unexpected removal of subsidy.

Subsidy removal and palliatives forgone… 

Recall that President Tinubu had announced the removal of fuel subsidy on 29th May 2023. He disclosed this in his inaugural speech as the new President of Nigeria. According to him, “Subsidy has gone, subsidy can no longer justify its ever increasing costs in the wake of drying resources.” In July 2023, the National Assembly received a communication from the President requesting approval for $800 million loan and N500 billion palliative to cushion the effect of the removal of petrol subsidy. The President in his letter to the House of Representatives stated that the request was necessary to enable the government to provide palliative for Nigerians to cushion the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy.

“I write to request for the amendment of the 2022 supplementary appropriation act. The request became necessary among others things, to source for funds to provide necessary palliative to mitigate the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy on Nigerians. Thus, the sum of N500 billion only has been extracted from the 2022 supplementary 7 act of N819 billion, 536 million, 937 thousand 803 naira only for the provisions of palliatives for Nigerians to cushion the effects of subsidy removal“, Tinubu had said.

The request was swiftly approved. And it presented opportunity as it were for the lawmakers to advance their own interests as against the welfare of the suffering citizens because in 5 months (between May and October 2023), they  approved N70 billion from the N819.5 billion in 2022 supplementary budget to support their working conditions. They also earmarked an extra N40 billion to acquire 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), bulletproof cars for principal officials and members, totalling N110 billion. 

FLEX and NASS rubber stamp tag

Rubber stamp tag and the FLEX factor…

The rubber stamp tag may be relatable to the preponderant number of former lawmakers who have been appointed into the executive arm under President Tinubu. The phenomenon of Former Legislators in the Executive, styled FLEX, in the OrderPaper Quarterly Policy Review (QPR) has been given its most pungent expression by the incumbent administration. With the appointment of former Speaker Gbajabiamila as Chief of Staff, former senator George Akume as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), and the likes of Senator David Umahi as minister of works and Rep. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo heading interior ministry, the Tinubu government is projected to exert the most influence on the NASS. The report revealed that much as separation of powers is necessary to prevent abuse of power by over-concentration of powers in one arm of the government, it is unexpected that the legislature should become a lackey of the executive simply because the executive arm has become populated by erstwhile legislators.

Elizabeth Atime

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