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Indolent NASS and dictatorial rule

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By Ochereome Nnanna
WE have been complaining about President Muhammadu Buhari’s snail’s pace in appointing people to crucial posts in his government, especially the federal cabinet. At least, the president has proffered a presentable alibi: he is taking his time to look for “angels” to help him run his administration. He does not want to rush to pick crooks and thus run into avoidable embarrassments. Being “Mr Clean”, he wants his team members to be clean as well.

This sounds like sweet music to the ears of his teeming admirers, particularly those panting for a clean departure from the past spate of sleaze and scandals in government. We are waiting for Buhari to unveil this angelic team. Who knows, the wait could be worth the waste. Even the children of Israel took forty years to arrive the Promised Land from servitude in Pharaoh’s Egypt. All that matters is that they got to the Promised Land.

If Buhari has a plausible excuse for his “slow and steady” approach, how do we justify how the National Assembly (the Senate and House of Representatives) are going about theirs? Take a look at this: the two chambers of the Eighth Assembly were inaugurated by a presidential proclamation on 9th June 2015. Between then and now, they have embarked on FOUR expensive recesses. After the controversial election of the Senate President and his Deputy, as well as the Speaker of the House of Reps and his Deputy, NASS recessed for two weeks to enable their members get properly “checked in”. They had sat for only three days before the recess that started on June 11th.

They reconvened on June 25th, sat for another three days and went on a four-week recess that was scheduled to run from June 25th to July 21th, after a shameful “royal rumble” on the floor of Reps. The resumption date was postponed to July 28th to give the majority All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers more time to sort out their power tussle mess. On resumption, they sat for plenary business for nine days and on August 13th, both chambers proceeded on what they called their “annual leave” which will last for six good weeks. This means they would resume on September 28th 2015.

Now, between June 9th and September 28th, you have 101 days; nearly a third of the year is gone. From my own computations, I was able to establish that the Eighth National Assembly has sat for only 15 days for plenary business, though I admit that the committees are always busy behind the scenes. No bills have been passed; all we have seen is a lot of fisticuffs for posts and the screening of Buhari’s Service Chiefs. For this the country has spent about 12 billion Naira on our indolent lawmakers. It is estimated that so far, each senator has gone home with 36 million Naira, while the Reps members took 25 million each. There is nothing in the way these chaps are carrying themselves to reflect the fact that majority of those who elected them have not been paid their salaries for months in their states, and that Nigeria is groping for funds to cope with the latest oil bust.

The danger in this lack of legislative presence and impact is hydra-headed. We have just experienced an unprecedented power transition from one political party to another. President Buhari is forming his touted reformist government with very little legislative partnership and oversight. A lot of irregularities are being injected in the appointment of some officials. The due process has been largely circumvented, and the constitutional imperative of carrying every section of the country along has been ignored with impunity. A section of the country continues to predominate, and a cult of nepotism and marginalisation has been enthroned. These are the things a virile and vigilant National Assembly is supposed to check in order to ensure a balanced federal government.

Dangerous and vexed issue

The dangerous and vexed issue of irregular and unconstitutional appointment of Hajiya Amina Zakari as “Acting” National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is waiting for the attention of the federal legislators. The Presidency has ignored all calls to remove Zakari and appoint a substantive, credibly independent INEC Chair through the constitutional due process. Meanwhile, Zakari, at the top of a thoroughly emaciated INEC Board that cannot even form a quorum, is preparing to conduct the impending governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States! The legal consequences that lie in ambush against the outcome of such elections are obvious, but nobody seems to care.

The Directorate of State Services (DSS) under President Buhari’s kinsman, Lawal Daura, has been meddling in the election tribunal proceedings in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States. These are two oil-rich Niger Delta states which collect hefty sums of monthly allocations from the Federation Account which, some allege, the ruling APC is desperate to add to their electoral haul by all means possible. The law does not permit our secret police to meddle and suborn officials of the otherwise independent INEC and the Judiciary in the discharge of their duties. The National Assembly which has the power to intervene and save the situation is nowhere to be found!Only last week, another controversial set of appointments were made by President Buhari. He dissolved the Board of the Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON). Its MD, Mr. Mustapha Chike-Obi, was fired and Alhaji Ahmed Lawan Kuru sent to replace him. Three new Executive Directors were also appointed. In flagrant violation of the AMCON Act of 2010, Buhari appointed these chaps without due regard to legal requirement that the president must consult with AMCON’s owners – the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Ministry of Finance (FMOF), which shall nominate the appointees, while the president forwards their names to the Senate for confirmation before they assume office. If the NASS were active and alert to their responsibilities, they would have raised the alarm to this act of impunity and insisted on the due process being followed.

Besides, it is obvious that when Buhari eventually unveils his ministers in September, the nation may have to wait for the Senate to end its expensive recess before the usually lengthy confirmations are carried out. We will have only three months left of the year, during which the screening of ministers and other presidential appointees and the budget of 2016/2017 must be done. There will be a lot of bills to debate and oversight functions to carry out within this little time. From the look of things, it is very likely that the NASS will miss the constitutional minimum of 181 days they must sit in a year. It will be recalled that the Seventh National Assembly missed the timeline by one day in the 2014/2015 legislative year.

It is very dangerous for the NASS to continue on its current path of allowing the Executive Branch to carry on just as it likes without being there to call it to order. The pity of it all this is that the PDP legislators, who are supposed to spearhead the effort against the growing impunity of the Presidency, are apparently unconcerned. It is not even a case of the Presidency or Executive undermining the independence of the NASS; it is a case of the NASS abdicating its responsibility and thus creating the room for dictatorial rule.

We are lying supine and clapping while a violation of our democracy and the rule of law are being perpetrated. We might wake up one day and find ourselves back to 1984, or worse. Have we willingly surrendered the gains of the past 30 years, without even a fight?

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