OrderPaperToday – The much touted cordial relationship between the Executive President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly has had notable rough edges in less than two years. There are at least five times Buhari undermined the legislature as captured in this report.
Background to 9th assembly…
The 8th assembly’s tenure (2015-2019) was largely characterized by frostiness with the executive arm. The Bukola Saraki-led senate and the House of Representatives led by Yakubu Dogara were postured as cogs in the wheel of progress. Those who pushed this narrative conveniently stayed silent on instances where Buhari undermined the National Assembly during that period. Many believe this posturing contributed largely to hampering the country’s progress in some ways, especially as it related to passage and assent to critical legislature.
Era of the ‘APC anointed’…
Given the way Saraki and Dogara undercut the All Progressives Congress (APC) to emerge as Senate President and Speaker respectively, the ruling party took no chances and ensured that its anointed candidates for the positions emerged in the 9th assembly.
Thus, the emergence of Femi Gbajabiamila and Ahmad Lawan as Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate President respectively, birthed a synergy between both arms of government. In fact, this particularly became a pledge and a focal point in the respective legislative agendas of both chambers as both leaders proclaimed to continually “be on the same page” with the executive.
Happy to be rubber stamp…
In fact, the Senate President, Mr. Lawan, a veteran legislator of over 20 years plus in the federal parliament, would accept the ‘rubber Stamp’ label that many Nigerians have used on the 9th national assembly if it will guarantee good governance.
Apparently to prove naysayers wrong, a joint committee of the National Assembly and the Executive was inaugurated in March 2020 to ensure seamless passage of bills into law.
This was followed up in September 2020 with the formation of Executive/ Legislative/Party Consultative Committee to “enhance proper coordination between the party and the various arms of government for the purpose of effective implementation of programmes for Nigerians.”
So much for being on same page…
Nevertheless, while the federal parliament has been seen to invest efforts in building this said synergy, same cannot be said of the Buhari-led Executive.
On several occasions, Executive disrespected the National Assembly over issues ranging from the performance of constitutional roles by the latter to even giving backing to recalcitrant officials by the former. Below are the identified six instances where President Buhari undermined the legislature:
NDDC board and corruption saga…
Following a corruption-cum management crisis in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), President Buhari ordered a forensic audit and appointed an Interim Management Committee (IMC) led by Joy Nunieh to oversee the exercise.
Perhaps buoyed by the awareness of the fact that the IMC was unknown to law, the President forwarded names of nominees to serve on the board of the Commission. The Senate, which is legally seized of the responsibility, expeditiously approved the nominations.
But the approval amounted to futility as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, preferred to work with the IMC contraption. Even though the senate initially demurred with this arrangement, the lawmakers eventually capitulated as Buhari sided with his minister. Till date, the approved board of the Commission has remained in limbo and almost forgotten while there have been two changes to the IMC structure since Nunieh’s exit after certain unpleasant undercurrents with Akpabio.
But the board brouhaha was not the only issue on which Buhari undermined the national assembly as far as the NDDC is concerned. Contrary to public expectations, the President failed to act on a slew of corruption investigations in the Commission wherein the recently sacked IMC, led by Prof. Keme Pondei, was indicted by the lawmakers.
Electricity tariff snub…
The national assembly also suffered an undercut from the President on the issue of hike in electricity tariff which was much resisted by Nigerians. Recall that the increment of tariffs had been slated for April 1 2020, presumably to address financial challenges in the power sector but the legislature appealed to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), to shelve implementation to a later date. The appeal was a the COVID-19 pandemic which had caused havoc on businesses, economies, and livelihoods etc.
The legislature took further steps by meeting with relevant stakeholders in the power sector and the presidency and both arms of government agreed that the increment should take place in first quarter of 2021.
But on the 1st of September, the federal government approved a new price electricity regime, an action which raised a backlash on the national assembly. That the electricity tariff raise coincided with an increment in the price of fuel made matters worse as many citizens saw the legislators as being unable to protect their interests. Unfortunately, the federal legislature went mute.
The special public works scheme…
The special public works scheme conceived to reduce unemployment became controversial when the national assembly insisted on being involved in the sharing of slots to beneficiaries.
The initiative which is meant to create 774,000 jobs across the country is domiciled in National Directorate of Employment (NDE), an agency under the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity. While the former Director-General of NDE, Nasiru Ladan, supported involvement of the federal lawmakers, the Minister of State in the ministry, Festus Keyamo, disagreed staunchly. This led to a public spat where the minister was walked out of an interactive session with a joint committee of the Senate and House of Representatives. The minister had the backing of his boss and eventually had his way as Mr. Ladan was sacked recently much to the chagrin of the lawmakers who resolved in separate resolutions of both chambers to have the official recalled. Many see this as another example of how Buhari undermined the legislature with the latter capitulating on the alter of ‘being on same page’ with the former.
Sack of service chiefs…
The issue of the service chiefs – heads of the army, navy and airforce- is a case of classic snub of the legislature by the President.
On three occasions, the Senate requested the replacement of security chiefs due to the worsening state of the country’s security. The security chiefs have been due for resignation since 2019. It is worthy of note that the 8th assembly had also called their sack and Buhari did not bulge.
Asides the legislature, there have been calls from the public seeking their removal by the President but they have all fallen on deaf ears. The response from the Presidency on this matter was that only Buhari has the powers to sack or appoint service chiefs.
Snub of the Reps…
There is perhaps no clearer evidence of a presidential snub of the legislature than what was meted to the House of Representatives recently. Again and importantly, it was on the vexed issue of insecurity the country has been plunged into.
The House on December 1 invited the President over the country’s deteriorating security, at the immediate time, triggered by the killing of scores of rice farmers in Zabarmari, Borno state on November 28.
However, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, stated that the legislature lacked powers to ‘summon’ the President who eventually did not appear on the date agreed between him and Speaker Gbajabiamila.
It is less than two years in the life of the current assembly and there is already these five instances of how Buhari undermined a co-equal arm of government. So much indeed for being on the same page of governance.