By Adamu Muhammed
NOW EFCC’s Ibrahim Magu and Customs and Excise’s Hameed Ali are added to the list of Executive matters going through unnecessary rough times at the legislature. I have written several times reprimanding the National Assembly for always making a mountain out of a mole hill.
But as the Hausas would say idan bera da sata, to daddawa ma da wari, meaning: ‘If the rat is a thieving bastard, the smelly condiment is also a son-of-a-bitch’. If NASS is to blame, the Executive too cannot go unblemished. I serve you this week a piece I wrote previously on the President’s initiative on the legislative process, which I still insist is abysmally poor and need to be upped. It was titled ‘Nas and the Buhari Initiative’. Read on:
NASS and the Buhari inititiative: That the President’s Executive proposals nowadays go through rough legislative times before they are either rejected or at best rancorously approved, should worry Mr. President. Or so I thought. From the perennial proposal for the passage of money bills, to the routine requests for clearance or confirmation of presidential nominees, and now even to the most critical request for approval to take a $29billion loan to get Nigeria out of a biting recession,the APC NASS seems always ready to stand in the way of executive requests.
Even when it was merely rumoured recently that Mr. President might be placing before the National Assembly, a request for economic emergency powers in order to fast-track the efforts by his administration to get the nation’s economy out of the woods, the NASS, surprisingly was already preemptively hysterical, with most of its members readily filled with the fire of anticipatory disapproval, so much that if it was true such an Executive request was in the pipeline, it would definitely have been dead on arrival already.
Why would an APC-majority-Assembly be poised always to give executive requests from an APC government such hard time? Because APC’s victory at the polls has not been properly managed. This often bi-partisan hostile treatment of presidential requests at the legislature, is an indication not only of the inability of the APC government to manage its legislative majority tactfully, it is also a clear indication that the President’s ‘Executive Initiative’ at the legislature is not handled with the circumspection, tact and diplomacy that it requires.
The ‘legislative process’ in any democracy is the heart and soul of the democratic enterprise. It is tended for the overall good of the entire body polity, and it is ignored often at great peril not only to the Executive arm but to the entire system’s operation. The ‘legislative process’ feeds the democratic circulatory system from the mighty jugular pipe of life, right to the minutest capillaries of everyday administration. It is the most all-encompassing of any governmental processes touching on virtually all sectors of a polity and of a necessity leaving no stone unturned and in fact no turn un-stoned.
In most Western-type democracies the importance of the legislative process is such that presidents necessarily establish a special department headed by a carefully selected political lobbyist to advise them on how to deal with this vital arm of government in their executive dealings with the legislature and to interface with lawmakers for the executive arm. In the United States it is the office of ‘Senior Advisor to the President and Director for Legislative Affairs’. Its equivalent in Nigeria is the office of ‘Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters -which is rooted administratively in the bureaucratic nomenclature of ‘Department for Legislative Liaison.’
Thus in presidential democracies especially, strong and weak Presidents are usually judged almost exclusively by the deftness of their executive initiatives in the legislative process; and maybe it is the reason Theodore Lowi and Randell Ripley wrote, in their book ‘Legislative Politics’ that: “The president is the agenda-setter for the congress and the chief continuing initiator of subject matter.”
As agenda setter, it is incumbent not only on a President to take the lead role in executive-legislature relations, but is expedient also that his cabinet members operate in synch with the goal of ensuring an excellent presidential initiative at the legislature. They must, in relation to their specific duties, double as Mr. President’s legislative foot soldiers -availing as regularly as possible-‘valuable time’ and ‘useful information’ to parliament both in trying moments of frosty executive-legislature relations and even more so during times of mutual camaraderie.
A President must take the lead role in executive-legislature relations. He must always be a notch ahead of his constitutional check-mates. How he does this is less a matter of theory than it is of expediency.
And whereas a jackbooted approach would be practicallyunsustainable, passive non-interference – which Buhari seems to favour-can be terribly self-harming! Rather than portray the President as respectful of democratic limits, it betrays a weak presidential initiative to the legislative process and by implication a weak presidency.
But it is in tactfully striking a delicate balance between the extremes of meddlesomeness and non-interference that ‘strong presidents’ in a presidential democracy live up to their executive billings in getting matters through legislative bottlenecks. The APC lost the momentum when – no thanks to Mr. President’s ill-advised aloofness- it failed to corral its newly elected legislators to speak with one voice and to install party-centrist leaderships in both chambers. Since then virtually every internal crises of the APC owes its origin to that presidential indiscretion.
The office of the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, is not any different from other political offices. But unlike others, this hub of executive-legislature liaison may not effectively function to meet presidential objectives if just ‘any’run-of-the-mill politician is appointed to man it. Although commonplace political savvy, relevant academic qualifications or simply legislative experience may suffice to qualify for the job, these alone may not always avail to see executive requests through the legislature.
It is the reason those who know this turf well see superintendence over this key governmental office not as a ‘political appointment’ but a ‘special assignment’ requiring more of ‘advocacy’, ‘diplomacy’ and ‘tact’ than merely ‘politics’ or ‘administration’.
In truth sometimes it may require all of the above. It is clear that the current undertakers in that vital liaison office do not have the attributes necessary to make a success of this job –and especially with a Saraki-NASS that has every reason to be both mischievously intra and inter-partisan.
Any appointed to man this office, no matter his political experience, his academic credentials –or notwithstanding even the lack thereof-must bring to bear not the usual blithe of harum-scarum that everyday politicians are known to go by, but a certain go-getting, soldierly mentality of an Ita-Giwa when she was there, or the deftness of a profoundly diplomatic Aminu Wali who set up the office in the first place. A square peg to this square hole must bring more than a little measure of sagacity, tenacity, gumption and then guts.
Such must be one of consummate social skills; dignified and up to his political snuff.
He must be ready sometimes to stoop or -whenever necessary- even to grandstand to conquer. And it is in knowing when to stoop to conquer from when to grandstand to conquer, that the touch of the tactful undertaker stands out from the tactless tackle of poor gladiators whose conduct may only help to line up enemies for the President.
And worse still –as in our present situation- if the President himself, is decidedly his own enemy. And this was exactly the case with Obasanjo’s Presidential Liaison Officers, PLOs, –Kashim Imam and Esther Oduehi-during their Principal’s first term in office.
OBJ’s baptism of fire
Obasanjo’s Executive in its first four years, little equipped and little self-motivated to equip for the all-important task of executive-legislature liaison, was the sole victim of the very chaos that its own approach to the legislative process had occasioned. The Senate of that dispensation at some point in reaction to Kashim’s excessive grandstanding – or was it over-gladiation?- had to issue the President an ultimatum to replace him or to risk non-cooperation. The House was even less diplomatic: it simply banned Ester Oduehi from its Chamber.
It took this extreme baptism of fire for Obasanjo to realise his weak initiative in the legislative process and to proceed, in his second term, to create a coordinated, one-channel executive approach to the legislative process. And it was this executive rapprochement -and not the rumored existence then of a ‘rubber stamp’ assembly- that was
responsible for the smooth passages thereafter of executive bills under the Obasanjo administration. President Buhari has to up his game in dealing with the NASS.
But first he must be thorough with his legislative requests. Because with a Saraki NASS there will always be no free meals for the President.
Re-‘Much ado about uniform’
I BELIEVE Customs boss wearing uniform to appear in the red chamber is not Nigerians’ problem; but it is the policies that Customs is operating that worry Nigerians …. Whether such policies are in the interest of Nigerians or for their own selfish interest’.
–Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia
+2348136011376:– ‘Hi Mohammed, the senators that brought the issue of Ali not wearing uniform are the ones that have an axe to grind with him. Most of our so-called senators are supposed to be in mental asylum. Maybe INEC should demand a certificate of mental clearance from any Nigerian that wants to go for national elections. And the certificate must be thoroughly verified by an independent group of psychiatrists. Nigeria’s National Assembly is made up of a bunch of myopic phonies. God himself will not help Nigeria until Nigerians start to recall egomaniac, time-wasting and confused senators’ –Chudi ‘Chidez’ Chinakwaeze.
+2348138259284:– ‘Please digest issues before writing. Hameed Ali is Comptroller General of Customs –which is a rank in Customs Service. He is bound to wear and display his rank and name whenever he is performing his duty. His refusal to wear it is informed by impunity which is a first step in corruption which we are all crying….(missing text)’
Online:– ‘But why can’t he wear uniform. He wants to be called CG and wants to enjoy all the entitlement of the office and yet (he) won’t adhere to (the) code of conduct. I feel CG Customs should wear uniform with pride’. –Gbenga Obaye
Online:- ‘The way it is, very few Nigerians are aware of the main issues here with the debate shifting, rather sadly, to whether the CGC should wear a uniform to appear at Senate plenary. It’s a sore sign of bad times. It will be a disaster of no mean proportion, if after the ‘gains’ of 2015 that produced the present administration, Nigerians backslide and return to known clowns in Senate in 2019’ –Abdulrazaq Magaji.
Online:– ‘Well written. Thanks for the research and insight’– Christian Chinedu
Online:- ‘There are other pressing issues the senators need to attend to. Their action is nothing but delay tactics’. –Sahihu Mukaddam.