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NASS and the Buhari initiative

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By Muhammed Adamu
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 dollar 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.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and President Muhammadu Buhari
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and President Muhammadu Buhari

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 to 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 practically unsustainable, 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.

Executive-Legislature Liaison

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 inconceivable that the current undertakers in that office have the attributes necessary to make a success of this job –and especially with a Saraki-NASS that has every reason to be both intra and inter-partisan.

Any appointed to mann 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 rumoured 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.

Postscript

As America decides

Excerpts from: ‘The Trump-Hillary Conundrum’, (04/08/16)

“…let’s face it, whether Trump or Hilary wins the next presidential election, one thing is certain: that America will continue to be ruled not by elected politicians, as the impression is falsely given, but by covert non-democratic security institutions who –behind Washington’s Closed Doors- will continue to determine how America makes her living: by might not by right; and by the promotion of a defective merchandise, ‘democracy’ as a decoy to entrench an unjust economic system.

Whether Trump or Hilary wins the next presidential election, democracy especially in the rest of the back countries of the world, will continue to be not really about ‘good governance’, but about continued devotion to a system no matter how non provident. It will not matter whether poor nations feed or starve as long as they remain so called ‘democratic’.

Notwithstanding who wins between Trump and Hilary, the ‘right’ of ‘might’ in international politics will continue to take precedence over both ‘legal’ and ‘moral’ imperatives. America, in all her dealings with the rest of the world, will continue to keep no ‘permanent friends’ or ‘permanent enemies’; but she will continue to assert the ‘permanence’ only of her ‘interests’. Whoever emerges President of the United States of America, will continue to ride roughshod over both the written and the unwritten rules of international law.

The feature of America’s foreign policy will continue to be ‘global war’. She will continue to use her might to perpetuate injustice around the world. Injustice around the world will continue to breed terrorism around the world. And terrorism by making the world insecure will continue to legitimise curtailing the freedoms of the people –in their movements, in their transaction and in their communications; until the ultimate ‘Security State’ is created, leading to the ‘jackbooted, Police-State’ of George Orwell’s fictional prediction in his book ‘1984’, -in which we will be walking ‘chips’ watched wherever we are by ‘Big Brother’.

Notwithstanding whether Trump or Hilary wins, the agenda for the creation of a ‘Pax-America’ will not suffer any delay!

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