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Government in action: The Executive Orders

By Josef Omorotionmwan

WORLDWIDE, no government is an island unto itself. Like the human being, every government has another one that it looks up to in some specific areas.

Before she branched off to the presidential system of government in 1979, Nigeria was virtually glued to Britain because she operated the British parliamentary system of government at the time.

We cannot be called copy-cats. We live in a world that hardly tolerates half measures. Having opted for the American-type democracy, it simply behooves us to adopt, in full measure, those instruments of governance that have worked for the Americans over the years. One of these instruments is the Executive Order.

What is an Executive Order? Black’s Law Dictionary defines an Executive Order as “An Order issued by or on behalf of the President, usually intended to direct or instruct the actions of executive agencies or government officials or to set policies for the Executive branch to follow”.

Executive Orders have the full force of law, based on the authority derived from statute or the Constitution itself. The ability to make such orders is also based on express or implied Acts of Parliament that delegates to the President some degree of discretionary powers – delegated legislation.

In essence, the Executive Order is not a deviation from law. Rather, it is an extension of the existing law or the Constitution, giving biting teeth to both. It is for quick decision and action. The Executive Order recognises that it is not enough to make laws and put them to sleep. Rather, it ensures that no law goes to bed without accomplishing the purpose for which it was enacted.

Like both legislative statutes and subsidiary ordinances by government agencies, Executive Orders are subject to judicial review. They can be challenged in whole or in part; and they can be quashed if they lack support by statute or the Constitution.

In the US, from where the idea derives, it is as old as the country itself, with the first Executive Order issued by the first President of the US, George Washington (1732-1799). That first Executive Order was issued on June 8, 1789. Washington addressed it to the Heads of Federal Agencies and Departments, asking them to educate him on the functions of their various establishments: “… impress me with a full, precise and distinct general idea of the affairs of the United States in your fields”.

In the US, the Executive Order has been a very potent instrument of administration in the hands of Presidents. Some Presidents have used it sparingly while others have used it bountifully. In the latter category, we have the following: President Harry Truman (1884-1972) who issued 907 Executive Orders; President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) issued 1081 Executive Orders; President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) issued 1203 Executive Orders; President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) issued 1803 Executive Orders; while President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) stands out clearly as the undisputed heavyweight champion in the issuance of Executive Orders, having issued 3,522 Executive Orders in his tenures.

This is understandable because FDR, as he was fondly called, remains the only American President that has been re-elected three times; and he was the one who used the enormous Federal Government powers to pull America out of the Great Depression. He secured passage of a sweeping economic programme known as the New Deal, which provided relief, loans and jobs through a variety of Federal programmes. Despite his declining health towards the end, FDR kept pursuing and kept winning; and the Americans were the better for it all.

Going by the lessons of history, we are encouraged that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Administration is on the right path. The Federal Government is introducing the regime of Executive Orders, which will usher in a New Deal, The Executive Order is a new approach to government business.

For the Agency Heads and Heads of Department, who will be the major executors of the Orders, we have news: Henceforth, it will no longer be business as usual. They will either move or be moved. There will no longer be compensation for failure. Listen to Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, “any defaulter in this area shall be subjected to immediate removal from the post and disciplinary as well as criminal proceedings in line with extent laws and regulations shall be fully applied. We see the Executive Orders as orders that must be obeyed”.

The penultimate week, Acting President Osinbajo signed three Executive Orders at a time when many were of the view that government had fallen asleep. These initial Orders which focused on Nigeria’s business environment, local content in public procurement and timely budget presentation clearly demonstrate that constraints against doing business in Nigeria were of major concern to the administration.

Specifically, Osinbajo directed the resumption of 24-hour operations within 30 days of the issuance of this Executive Order, at the Apapa Port. He out-rightly banned touting by officials and unofficial persons at all the airports, land and seaports throughout Nigeria.

Elsewhere, we have shown that obtaining a visa to visit Nigeria is akin to the proverbial passing of the camel’s head through the hole of the needle. Essentially, the Nigerian visa is the hardest to obtain throughout the world. That explains why the Executive Order on entry visa to Nigeria is abundantly clear, “Entry visas to Nigeria shall henceforth be issued, or rejected with reasons, by the Consular Officer of Nigerian Embassies and High Commissions within 48 hours of the receipt of valid applications”. It is time to move forward.

Perhaps as a way of saving the best for last, we see the first bold attempt ever made to compel Federal Agencies and extra-ministerial Departments to submit their budget estimates within specific time frame to the appropriate authorities for consideration; instead of posturing as the big Republics within a smaller Republic called Nigeria.

Indeed, change has begun. The Executive Order is an idea whose time has come! It is the dawn of a new era.

 


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