Executive-legislature relationship, this time

[FILE PHOTO] Senate

It is gratifying that President Muhammadu Buhari is desirous of a harmonious relationship with the incoming federal legislature. He reportedly told his visiting schoolmates that he looked forward to a good working relationship with the ninth National Assembly that comes into government on May 29th. That would be a most welcome departure from the acrimony, mutual distrust and denigration that characterised the relationship between the Buhari presidency and the Bukola Saraki–led National Assembly in the last four years.

It would have been gratifying to note too that the executive and the legislative arms of government in the last four years were controlled by ideologically different political parties. But they were both largely members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that campaigned so vigorously with the promise of “Change” from the contemptible governing ways of the previous’ administration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).  Buhari’s desire will be achieved to the extent that each arm of government eschews arrogance of power, fully respects the independence of the other and pursues collaborative relationship.

Government is a three-in-one entity of independent arms namely the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.  Of course, cordial relations among them is most necessary to government stability itself and to enable the entity concentrate on and discharge its constitutional obligation to deliver good governance and its benefits. This is not to say that there will not be one way or other, disagreement on point of view, or of principle, or the process or procedure to arrive at the overarching goal to serving public interest.

In the last four years that the APC has run the affairs of Nigeria, executive-legislature acrimony virtually reduced the business of government to the trivial level of personal dislike, so much effort was invested –or rather wasted – on making the other party look comprehensively bad in the eyes of the electorate. A whole range of issues, from the untidy and dishonorable manner that the house leadership came about, through the screening of some political appointees, to the preparation and vetting of the federal budget were used to detract from the serious purpose for which the president and the legislators were entrusted with power.

While it lasted, good governance was suspended and the economy suffered, unemployment rose, higher institutions closed for months, jobless youths got more restive, salaries unpaid, the people suffered and Nigeria became the inglorious poverty capital of the world. But there were no significant indications that there was a National Assembly as a check to balance executive laxity and lawlessness, for instance.

In a functional democracy as intended by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – imperfect as it may be – the powers of government are shared among three arms of government.  And their respective functions are spelt out clearly enough to limit unhealthy rivalry. The National Assembly is to ‘make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Federation…’, the President is to  execute ‘all laws made by the National Assembly.’ Besides, the executive initiates policy, while the legislature deliberates, amends, approves, or rejects it.

The purpose of this separation is to achieve a check and balance that disallows a concentration of power in one hand and the abuse it tends to encourage. But, and this point cannot be emphasized enough, it not at all the intendment of the constitution that these arms are rivals for egoistic or other mundane motives. Working together as a team, a government of the three arms is conceived as a trinity elected for ‘the primary purpose’ of  ‘security and welfare  of the people’ as stated in II (14) (2) (b).

Even as they are expected to work together, it is neither the intendment of the constitution, nor, for the sake of good governance, is it desirable, that the legislature turns into a rubberstamp instrument in the service of the executive. As the need arises, and with the purest of motive, there should be a robust challenge to any policy or proposition that an arm considers not in the best public interest. What is most desirable is first, that each arm acts consistently and to the best of its ability, with the utmost interest of the nation in mind and second, that this goal is pursued with maturity and character. And this is the snag.

Maturity and good character appear at this time, to be in very short supply among the politicians in government. Granted that politicians must ‘play politics’ to gain power, which is the ultimate goal of politicians any way. But first, politicians in government must govern in the fullest meaning of it and play less politics. The only reason a government is elected, irrespective of institutional conflict or ideological conflict, is to govern. This being so, it is quite wrong that politicians in the executive and the legislative arms do aggravate, to the detriment of the people, their personal differences to stall the smooth functioning of the system. This not honorable and it violates the spirit and letters of the constitution on the purpose of government. Where good character and maturity rule, political differences should never be a war.

Second, given the behaviour of Nigerian politicians in recent times, it is even difficult to perceive any ideological bent in any one of them. There are hardly political differences as such, only personal preferences. A major character test of the incoming APC-dominated government will be how it handles defection from one party to another. The constitution is clear on the conditions for defection. Alas, Nigerian politicians have characteristically corrupted the interpretation of the clause to suit their ill purpose. Will the APC condone this perfidy again? Only time will tell.

With cordiality, reciprocal respect and patriotic collaboration among the three arms of government, there can be no justifiable reason that the incoming APC government will not more vigorously implement the party manifesto especially the devolution of powers, which indeed is the first item on its agenda.

Since 2015, the governing party promised to ‘initiate action to amend the Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench  true federalism  and the federal spirit’;  the decentralisation of the police force to allow state and other local levels of policing, the 15 per cent allocation to education in the annual budget,  of which the APC committed itself to a target of ‘up to 15 per cent of our annual budget for this critical sector whilst making  substantial investment in training quality teachers at all levels of the educational system’;  remarkable increase in power supply of which this party  told the people ‘generate, transmit and distribute …at least 20,000 MW of electricity within four years and increasing to 50,000MW…within ten years….’

Besides, on the health sector, the ruling party, promised to raise the doctor to patient ratio from 19 per 1,000 to 50 per 1,000 and also ‘increase national health expenditure per person per annum from N10,000 to N50,000.

To do these will be keeping faith with the primary purpose of government as stipulated in the constitution. To do more than these will set the era of Buhari and his party apart from and above the locust years that Nigerians have so far endured. That is why it is important to have a robust executive-legislature relationship this time that will deliver service to the people of Nigeria. Meanwhile, the Fourth Estate of the Realm, the media should not shirk its responsibility, in this regard, in ensuring that the relationship envisaged here does not degenerate to ease of ‘execu-thieving’ and ‘legislooting.’ The mass media should monitor governance and hold the two arms at issue here to account – for all their deeds.

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