20180306

Cost of Unending Executive, Legislature Stand-off in Abuja

The relationship between the executive and the legislature is everything but smooth. The Nation's Assistant Editor, Onyedi Ojiabor writes that the cat and mouse game between the two arms has neither been beneficial to the parties nor to the electorate who voted for change.

Rather than be to its advantage, the domination of the National Assembly by the All Progressives Congress (APC) is not in any way helping the ruling party.

The admission of the frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature by President Muhammadu Buhari at the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) underscores his frustrations.

He told the party’s apex organ that the frequent friction between the Presidency and the lawmakers has slowed down the delivery of his campaign promises to Nigerians.

The President’s confession, which confirmed the existence of the gulf between the two arms of government, has triggered more altercations in the past one week.

Firing back in a veiled response, the National Assembly told Nigerians to blame the delayed passage of the 2018 Appropriation Bill on the refusal of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to furnish its committees with relevant information on their votes.

But the Director-General of the Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, said the details of votes allocated to each MDA were clearly spelt out in the budget proposal presented to the joint session of the National Assembly on November 17, last year.

Akabueze said: “Given the seriousness the presidency attaches to getting the 2018 budget passed so it could earnestly focus on achieving the goals set out in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-20 (ERGP), which formed the basis of the budget, it had directed heads of ministries and extra-ministerial agencies to attend to any requests for meetings/information by the national assembly (NASS) with dispatch.

“To the best of our knowledge, this directive has been complied with.”

Many have warned that the festering executive/legislative feud, blowing open barely one year to the next general elections, could have dire consequences for the Buhari administration.

Although they said that such friction is not alien to Nigeria’s political landscape, especially, when the ruling party has no comfortable majority in the National Assembly, “this is perhaps the first time it is being admitted that frequent clashes between the two arms of government have grown so large to slow down governance.”

They urged the dramatis personae to smoothen all the rough edges to enable the electorate read the dividends of democracy.

It is an open secret that since the inauguration of the Eight National Assembly on June 9, 2015, the arms of government have been locked in a cat and mouse game. The presidency and the lawmakers are rarely on the same page on issues of national importance.

The crisis of trust stemmed from the contentious emergence of the leadership of the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly. Contrary to the wish of the ruling party’s leadership, Dr. Bukola Saraki emerged Senate President and Ike Ekweremadu, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmaker was elected Deputy Senate President.

At the Green Chamber, Yakubu Dogara and Lasun Yusuff were elected as Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

Budget impasse 
The non-passage of this year’s budget, three clear months after its presentation, has become worrisome to the government and the people.

When the budget was presented in November last year, the assurance from the National Assembly leadership was that the proposal would be speedily passed so that its implementation could begin on January 1, 2018.

That has not come to past. Three months into the year, the buck-passing and blame games continue.

As the National Assembly accuses heads of MDAs of refusing to its committee’s invitations for budget defence, the agencies complain of frivolous invitations by the lawmakers.

According to the lawmakers, the heads of the MDAs would rather prefer engagement outside the country than to honour the annual budget defence invitation. Some of the MDAs’ heads describe as frustrating the call for”unending budget defence sessions”.

About 63 MDAs are yet to appear before relevant committees in the Seante.

The Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Sunny Ogbuoji, alleged that the heads of the MDAs would rather travel overseas than honour the lawmakers invitations to make clarifications.

Ogbuoji said: “Since January, the Appropriations Committee’s doors have been opened to receiving reports from the sub-committees.

“However, most of the sub-committees have a huge challenge with the MDAS because majority of the MDAS are not coming forward to interface with them.

“Some of the ministers will tell you that they are travelling out of the country; because of that, the MDAs are not fully ready. So, we don’t have the reports yet.”

A frustrated minister lamented that “budget defence sessions have been turned into more or less sessions of witch hunt.”

Asked how MDAs are being witch-hunted, the minister declined to go into details “to avoid controversy.”

It is difficult to say when the budget will be passed as the Senate has vowed never to pass the document without input from “recalcitrant” MDAs.

Last year, the allegation of missing budget and budget padding almost ruined the implementation of the fiscal estimate. When the dust raised by the weighty allegations subsided, the budget was passed in May and signed into law in June. The implementation of last year’s budget was not more than 15 per cent in most MDAs. Governance was the worse for it.

Will the 2018 Budget fare any better? Only time will tell, some observers said.

The EFCC logjam 
The controversy trailing the nomination and confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, has become intractable.

President Buhari nominated and forwarded Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation twice. The senators rejected the request on both instances, latching on to a negative report submitted to it by the Department of State Services (DSS).

For more than two years, Magu has been working on an acting capacity, following the insistence of the presidency that Magu remained its best man for the anti-graft job, contrary to the Senate’s recommendation for his sack and request for a fresh nomination.

Perhaps, compounding the standoff was the presidency’s claim that it discovered that it was an error on its part to have forwarded Magu’s nomination to the Red Chamber for confirmation ab initio.

The Senate demanded clarification from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was credited to have said that Magu’s nomination did not need it confirmation.

The Senate went further to pass another resolution not consider any presidential nomination that is not expressly listed in the constitution if the vice president failed to recant the statement credited to him.

The upper chamber promptly suspended the screening, consideration and approval of a number of nominations for appointment already before it.

Endless wait by boards’ appointees 
The faceoff is putting on hold the inauguration of not a few nominees into boards of federal agencies. Those that attempted to resume without confirmation were reprimanded and threatened with severe sanctions.

Some of the nominations pending in the senate include that of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Deputy Governor Aisha Ahmad.

The four members of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the CBN Prof Adeola Festus Adenikinju, Dr. Aliyu Rafindadi Sanusi, Dr. Robert Chikwendu Asogwa and Dr. Asheikh A. Maidugu have also not been cleared by the Senate.

There must be quorum before the MPC can meet.

Among the nominees who have been on the Senate’s waiting list for approval are: the Chairman of Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Mohammed Isa and nine members of the CCB board.

The members include: Murtala Kankia (Katsina, Northwest); Emmanuel Attah (Cross River, Southsouth); Danjuma Sado (Edo, Southsouth); Obolo Opanachi (Kogi, Northcentral); Ken Madaki Alkali (Nasarawa, Northcentral); S.F. Ogundare (Oyo, Southwest), Ganiyu Hamzat (Ogun Southwest), Sahad Abubakar (Gombe, Northeast) and Vincent Nwanne (Ebonyi Southeast).

The Director-General, National Pension Commission (NPC), Alhaji Ali Usman, the Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission (ICPC) Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, are also awaiting Senate clearance and confirmation.

Open bickering 
To show the depth of the mistrust between the two arms of government, the House of Representatives on March 1 took on the Minister of Solid Minerals & Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, when it adopted a no confidence vote against him. What was at stake was a matter that should have been resolved without the show of strength.

Many wonder why a Federal Government with comfortable control of the two chambers of the National Assembly cannot get anything done without muzzle-flexing.

Elections timetable 
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed presidential and National Assembly elections for Saturday, February 16, 2019 and governorship and State Assembly elections for Saturday, March 2, 2019.

But, the National Assembly changed the arrangement, demanding that the National Assembly elections come first and the presidential poll last.

Adopting the reordered sequence as contained in the House of Representatives version of the amended Electoral Act, the Chairman of the joint committee, Senator Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North), put it to a voice vote.

The 12-member committee unanimously answered in the affirmative to pave the way for the report to be presented to the two chambers for final ratification.

Envisaging that the President may refuse to sign the amendment into law, the National Assembly is weighing the option of veto.

The electoral umpired has vowed to apply its own timetable in its preparation for the forthcoming general elections, even as controversy continued to trail the reordering of the timetable by the National Assembly.

Every previous step taken to patch the fractured relationship ended up creating more cracks, raising fears that creating a seamless relationship between the two arms may be a mission impossible.

But, for how long will the executive and the legislature work at cross purposes? The unwholesome bickering between the two arms has benefitted neither of the arms, and those who voted for change, are collateral victims. There should be a limit to political fight.