The presidency, National Assembly and public interest
The protracted feud between the presidency and the Senate that has resulted in rejection and suspension or delay of some presidential nominations and even the passage of 2017 budget, has assumed the dimension of a national embarrassment. What is worse, in a democracy that conventionally encourages negotiation, lobbying, debate and other conflict-resolution and peace building mechanisms, it is curious that the governing party which controls the presidency and the bicameral legislature cannot organise itself out of the present logjam. This is sad in the extreme.
The other day, senators reportedly bared their fangs against the presidency when they suspended the screening and confirmation of 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) nominees needed to enable the election management agency fulfill its constitutional mandate. Besides, the two ministerial nominees submitted to the Senate early last month to fill vacancies in the federal executive council have not been screened, although one of the vacancies occurred since March 2016 when the occupant died in a car crash.
The more intriguing in this connection, has been the stalled confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu who has been acting since 2015. The Senate, aided by a damaging report from the office of the Department of State Services (DSS) in the presidency, has twice rejected the nomination of the president. Whether the DSS report was done without the knowledge of the National Security Adviser, NSA and the president or not, members of the public have been wondering why the governing party has been this uncoordinated and remarkably disunited. It is again curious that the president’s men have been blaming the Senate for rejecting the EFCC’s acting boss that the DSS said had “failed integrity test and would be a liability to the EFCC and indeed the nation.” Amid all this confusion, the same presidency has been threatening fire and brimstone as it insists that Magu would not be replaced. What is more, the same presidency that submitted the name twice is now saying that the Act of the National Assembly that creates the EFCC and provides that the Senate must confirm its chairman is no longer relevant. And so the presidency has been claiming that the constitution that empowers the president to nominate and appoint officers is different from the law of the land that provides for confirmation.
On its part, the Senate too has declared its readiness to defend its integrity against attacks by some persons it did not name, signifying a possible showdown between the two arms of government.
The upper chamber unanimously resolved to suspend the consideration and confirmation of RECs nominated by President Buhari to protest what it called disregard for its resolutions. The Senate had earlier resolved that the presidency should replace the Acting EFCC chairman.
Specifically, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki said the upper chamber would not succumb to blackmail and intimidation in the discharge of its constitutional duties. Despite a reconciliation committee the president had set up to break the logjam, little progress has been made, as fundamental differences remain inherently dominant, in this regard.
Thus, there is at the moment no love lost between the National Assembly and the presidency led by the same party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). And the immediate victims are the people who have been deprived of the benefits of budget even at the end of the first quarter of 2017, representation in the executive council of the federation and INEC.
Of course, this is not the time to blame any party for the current impasse between the two arms of government, it is important for the two parties to note that service delivery to the people will suffer in the face of this conflict. And the executive officers of the governing party should note that the conflict has so far subsisted because of dereliction of their responsibility. The role of political parties in a presidential democracy is constitutional. None of the feuding parties could have been anything without political party platforms. This democracy is almost 18 years old and separation of powers element has been well managed. The same Senate has rejected candidates even more than twice before and such candidates have been represented for confirmation that was peacefully done after consultation and lobbying, which are essential ingredients in a democracy. Whatever happened to the party caucuses that should have been vehicles of peace building!
Meanwhile, presidential aides and members of advisory bodies that have been unable to separate the Senate members from the institution and so have been hauling insults at the Upper Chamber should desist from doing so. The sanctity of institutions must be respected, regardless of those who are elected or appointed to man the institutions today. If we denigrate institutions of governance because of certain acts that are unfavourable to some causes today, we cannot complain tomorrow if the institutions are crippled and cannot work for the common good. In this instance, the two arms, the executive and the legislature, are creations of the constitution and the same supreme law assigns responsibilities to all the arms. And if there is a misunderstanding, the same constitution enables the two arms to approach another arm, the judiciary, for final adjudication. This is a fine element of the rule of law, not the rule of man, which always triggers anarchy and anomie such as Nigeria has at the moment.
And so, there is a clarion call on the governing party, the presidency, and the federal legislature to put this house in order so that the nation can have stability. The EFCC deserves a legitimate chairman and INEC should not be left without full complement of the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs). In the same vein, the vacancies in the Federal Executive Council should be filled to give a sense of belonging to the people of Kogi and Gombe states who lost their quota to death and the United Nations respectively. Besides, the 2017 budget deserves some urgency. Therefore, the current impasse between the presidency and the Senate specifically, is capable of escalating recession and eroding confidence in the government. And if this is allowed to continue, the welfare and security of the people, which the constitution says, shall be the primary purpose of government, would suffer a great deal. The president, especially should rise above all sentiments, and truly lead in the interest of the nation.