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Jonathan and the House: A truce or what?

Despite threats to take decisive actions against alleged infractions by the presidency, the House of Representatives seems divided between action and inaction

BY OKEY NDIRIBE

THERE appears to be a silver-lining in the horizon towards the resolution of the face-off between President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the National Assembly.

Sources close to the leadership of the legislature revealed that as a result of several meetings held to address some of the disagreements, that there is now a consensus  that all efforts should be made to promote harmony between both arms of governments. Relations had worsened when the House of Representativves declined the date set by the presidency for the presentation of the 2013 budget.

JONATHAN, MARK and Tambuwal

It was gathered that during the first meeting held at the Presidential Villa last Wednesday with leaders of the National Assembly that the legislators told President Jonathan about their grievances over the executive’s treatment of resolutions of both legislative houses.

Some resolutions passed by both houses at different times, which have been ignored, include the Senate’s resolution that the Director-General of Bureau of Public Enterprises, Bola Onagoruwa, be sacked and the House resolution that the Director-General of Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms Arunma Oteh, be fired for not being qualified to hold her position.

The National Assembly leaders also complained about some unguarded utterances and activities of certain ministers.

It was also learnt that at the meeting which was originally scheduled to discuss Bakassi that both the President and leaders of the National Assembly reassured themselves that the contentious issues between both arms of government had nothing to do with personality differences.

At the end of the second round of the meeting last Thursday, both leaders of the National Assembly agreed that the President could present the 2013 Budget to a joint session of the National Assembly on October 13.

It would be recalled that ever since the present leadership of the House of Representatives emerged in June last year contrary to the zoning plan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), that it had maintained a cat and mouse relationship with the presidency.

The leadership of the Lower House had two weeks ago sent an unmistakable signal that the cold war between it and the President was still on when it declined the presidency’s date for the presentation of the budget on October 4.

The anger of the House it was learnt, was upon misgivings by the legislators that the villa through a very senior official had released a date for the budget presentation without consulting with the National Assembly.

The lawmakers had resolved that they would suspend plenary sessions of the House to to embark on trips to different parts of the country for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the 2012 budget.

The decision of the House did not go down well with the Presidency. Indeed, the decision of the House was seen in some quarters as another confirmation of the confrontational stance of its leaders against the Executive arm of government.

Another factor which has affected the relationship between both arms of government is the change in the balance of forces within the House. The present composition of the house includes a sizeable proportion of members of opposition parties contrary to the situation in the past when the PDP maintained a comfortable majority. The major opposition party in the House – the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN- indeed, currently wields a lot of influence in the House.

Consequently, the House leadership is said not to be oblivious of the growing belief that it presently shares its loyalty between the PDP, the platform on which its members won elections into the House, and the ACN which gave the leadership the necessary backing to scuttle the PDP zoning arrangement.

For instance, when the executive presented the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), last July, ACN leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, curiously stood against it, arguing that the House would not consider the bill because its submission coincided with the time they were about to go on recess. Such instances are further believed to have indicated a sharp division even in the PDP.

The Otedola-Lawan issue is also another major reason that has contributed to the schism between the House and the president. It is believed that Lawan may have become an albatross for the House, especially after his admission that he took money from Otedola during the work of the House ad hoc committee on the monitoring of the fuel subsidy regime. Many members of the House, however, beleive that the presidency had a role in the bribery scandal with the ulterior aim of rubishing the House.

The legislators had at their last sitting before proceeding on  a two-month recess last July condemned the poor implementation of the 2012 budget and resolved that the government must achieve 100 percent implementation by the time they resumed in September. otherwise, they said, they would commence impeachment proceedings against the President.

Minority Leader of the House, Gbajabiamila of the ACN actually threatened to present the motion. He had warned that “if by September 18, the budget performance has not improved to 100 per cent, we shall begin to invoke and draw up articles of impeachment against Mr. President.”

This notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the opposition parties have actually stoked the flames in the House for the purpose of widening the visible cracks within the ruling party.

For instance, the leadership of ACN had in a press statement it issued recently given an insight into how it puts pressure on the federal legislators so that they could turn the heat on the presidency.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Publicity Secretary of the ACN had in the statement declared that “…our National Assembly today, especially the House of Representatives, has not lived up to expectations, but that is no excuse for the deliberate assault on the doctrine of the separation of powers by President Goodluck Jonathan.”

The party added that it was now common knowledge that when the House relying on Section 89 (d) of the constitution had invited Jonathan to appear before it to explain why his government was failing to tackle the worsening security situation in the country, the president failed to honour the invitation.

He continued: “But the president’s advisers-in-mischief have under one pretext or the other justified the president’s refusal to honour the invitation. May we remind President Goodluck Jonathan and his advisers-in-mischief that Section 89 (d) of our constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to summon any person in Nigeria to appear before it.

“Of course what President Jonathan by this singular misadventure is telling Nigerians and the whole world is that he is not only above the law but he is the law.”

 


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