By Dele Sobowale
“Wisdom in people consists of the anticipation of consequences” – US Editor. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 274.
There is a quiet war which started in Abuja and which is gradually spreading to the states. If left unchecked by reason based on compromise, it will consume all of us. We tend to take our democracy for granted simply because it has lasted for almost seventeen years. Pakistan’s lasted for longer than that and it was terminated in one day when civil society could not summon the wisdom to avert a total breakdown of law and order. Then, non-democratic forces moved in.
I have repeated times without number that Africans and Nigerians never learn anything from history. Nothing in our current situation suggests that we have changed our ways.
In 2015, we the people by a clear majority voted for a President and a National Assembly as well as state governors belonging to the same political party. It was a reverse situation from the 1999 election when we chose the outgoing political party. We assumed that those elected shared the same world view on governance; that the clear majority would allow them to bring about the positive changes the nation needed to develop and eventually take its place among the great nations of the world. Two years after, we are faced with a situation unprecedented in our political history. The executive and the legislative branches of government are now at daggers-drawn, and the governors have just joined the fray on the side of the lawmakers. Even the Judiciary is at logger-heads with the Executive branch. Increasingly, the Presidency is becoming isolated in a democracy defined as a government which includes the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. It is not a healthy situation for any nation. The first and most obvious question is: what went wrong?
Put another way: what have we done wrong?
The first thing one observes is that most informed Nigerians have taken positions which are becoming locked in concrete everyday and almost precluding the compromises that would save us from the consequences of taking the current steps to their logical conclusions. Few now consider the consequences of what they do and the measures they advocate. Everybody wants their own positions to triumph intact without any give and take. That is a prescription for disaster which might overtake us soon enough. Most wars don’t start all at once. People creep towards it one step at a time until they reach a point of no return. Then it is too late to draw back.
One issue, among others, represents the growing confrontation between the lawmakers, governors and the presidency. That issue has been personalized by Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Mr. Magu was nominated by President Buhari for confirmation as substantive Chairman of the EFCC. This is the fourth time a President would send the name of a nominee to the Senate for confirmation and nobody until now has raised the question: why is the President requesting for confirmation? Why not just appoint the EFCC Chairman without approval? The Senate subjected the nomination to security investigation as it should. The Directorate of State Services, DSS, an independent body under the Executive branch rendered a damning report to the Senate on Magu and the Senate sent the name back to the President.
“The first thing we do; let’s kill all the lawyers.” Shakespeare, 1564-1616. VBQ p 123. We might have to do that eventually because collectively and individually they constitute a pain in the wrong end of the anatomy. Always self-centred, they argue on both sides of an issue depending on who greases their palm. Never depend on them for an objective view. Suddenly, controversy erupted – led, naturally, by leading lawyers. If as it is often said, “the law is an ass” might SAN stand for Senior Asses of Nigeria? They started the war on this one and it is still raging. Some argue that Buhari should ignore the Senate and confirm Magu. Others argue that it is an impeachable offence if Buhari tries it. What is a lay man supposed to make out of what to me is a needless conflict.
The Nigerian constitution was largely borrowed from the United States of America. There, as here, Presidents are mandated by the constitution to submit the names of nominees to the Senate for confirmation. For most of the nominees it is a most emotionally wrenching experience. Most Senators have their own and their constituents interest behind their minds when interviewing (or grilling) the nominee. There is never any pretense that the matter is totally objective. Conservatives want a conservative appointee; Liberals also want an ideological comrade. Eventually a vote is taken. If the majority, even a majority of one, votes for the nominee, he gets the job. If on the other hand a majority says “No”, even by one vote, he is dropped. The President never re-presents his name. And, he can never occupy that seat. I challenge anybody, Professors, SANs etc, to provide a single example where the US Senate had voted down a nominee and he goes on to occupy the position.
Those who insist Magu should continue in office are being dishonest. They have no precedent anywhere in any country operating presidential system to back up their position. We may not like the outcome of a vote, but, we cannot deny the legitimacy of the institution which is established to make it simply because the vote did not go the way we wanted. By what authority are our SANs ordering Buhari to swear in Magu acting?
At any rate, Magu’s problem was largely caused by a divided Executive branch. The accusations which nailed him came from the same Executive branch. Are we saying that next time the Senate receives highly negative report about a nominee they should ignore it and confirm all the same? Is that not, by itself, the mother of all corruptions?
Instead of attempting to obtain a result which commonsense does not support, we should have been asking the President to try diplomacy which is alien to him, to get the man confirmed. Again we can borrow from the US. Such votes never catch a US President by surprise. With his ears close to the ground on Capital Hill, he already knows those who were likely to vote against the nominee. He then gets on the phone invites several of them and tries to persuade them to alter their votes. That is what Presidents are supposed to do. That was what Buhari failed to do. Magu was left on his own. He had no chance. Meanwhile anybody who expects somebody else to go through the murderous process to get elected as Senator only to vote for his own ouster is either a fool or a hypocrite. None of the self-righteous activists will do it if they are Senators today.
So, what is to be done about Magu? The situation is tough but not impossible. With a solid NASS waiting on the other side and governors now joining in asking for Magu to go, it will amount to political suicide for Osinbajo to swear him in as Chairman. There are two powerful reasons from our history.
“Discretion is the better part of valour.”
Former Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa was engaged in a similar test of strength with the Kaduna State House of Assembly in 1980-1. He was ill-advised by great lawyer activists of that generation to resist the “corrupt” Assembly which had more than two-thirds of NPN members. Balarabe Musa’s PRP had less than one third. While the politically naïve lawyers were still impressing themselves with fancy constitutional arguments in support of Musa, the Assembly impeached him. He never regained his seat as governor despite cases that went all the way to the Supreme Court. In the end, it turned out that the lawmakers can remove an Executive with two thirds of votes for any reason at all.
Some of the same lawyers and activists were on hand to advise Chief M.K.O Abiola to claim his mandate by declaring himself president after the June 12, 1993 elections. My advice was that the man should run away and stay out of Nigeria because if he is ever apprehended he would never see his bedroom again. The lawyers and activists had their way. The rest is history. The lawyers and activists went home. MKO?
Osinbajo should steer clear of the Magu matter. A word is sufficient.