April 2, 2017

Senate vs Presidency: How not to exercise constitutional powers

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

By Charles Kumolu

OYOMESI! Of course, students of elementary government easily understand what  this word stands for.No matter how long anyone has been disconnected from the study of government as a subject,  Oyomesi and its connotations may not be forgotten for various reasons.

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

First, Oyemesi refers to the seven-man electoral college in the pre-colonial Oyo Empire.

Led by the Bashorun(Senate President or better still Prime Minister in modern democracy),  the Oyemesi possessed legislative powers, which  were not absolute.

Scholars  posit that the Oyemesi performed functions similar to what today’s legislature does without usurping the powers of the monarch, Alaafin.

Some of the functions!: Selection of a new Alaafin, making of laws, providing checks and balances,  ensuring that policies were implemented and advising the  Alaafin on good governance.

A  perusal of the above shows  that the Oyomesi ensured that there was separation of powers in the pre-colonial Yoruba  empire  even before Baron de Montesquieu  proposed it in his piece: The Spirit of the Laws.

 Executive power, not the principal

First published in 1748, Montesquieu, in the political theory, called for a constitutional government where there would be three arms of government with all being independent.

The beauty of this political theory, which today  is the bedrock of modern democracy, is such that the third President of the United States of America,  Thomas Jefferson, observed thus in his book, Democracy in America: “The executive power in our government is not the only, perhaps not even the principal, object of my solicitude. The tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn but at a more distant period.”

During the early post-independence Nigeria when the nation practised parliamentary democracy, the principle of separation of powers was applied, though in variant forms.  It was also like that in the Second Republic.

Even during the military era, when the theory of separation of powers was abused by decrees and edicts, there were a few instances when the judicial arm of government had its way.

Citing one of such instances in Separation of Powers and Constitutional Democracy, Ikenga Oraegbunam observed: “In Ojukwu however, Eso JSC had cause to say that though the FMG had undoubted power to rule arbitrarily, but in so far as it had chosen to operate under laws, it must obey court orders and refrain from exercising powers within the judicial sphere.”

Powers and integrity of the Senate

The relevance of the above could be found in the current face-off between the Senate, the Presidency and some organs of government over certain national issues.

Lately, the nation has witnessed scenarios that, in the estimation of analysts, ridiculed the powers, integrity, and independence of the National Assembly, NASS, as an arm of government.

Observers contend that the  crisis stemmed from the perception by the legislature that some members of the executive are deliberately treating the actions, laws, and pronouncements of the NASS as jokes that can either be obeyed or ignored at the discretion of the executive.

It was observed that while the disagreement has been made worse by the actions and utterances of some presidential appointees, the issue of ego is also central in the matter.

Not a few would disagree that the Senate’s decision of not confirming Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, started this season  of anomie.

The Magu matter, which has left many wondering if the Presidency would not obey legislative resolutions, is believed to have divided the Presidency.

The retention of Magu in the face of  his rejection by the highest lawmaking body in the country, to many, passed for an illegality and is as well seen to be fuelling the frosty relationship between the legislature and the executive.

However, what those antagonising the Senate for its decision do not understand is that some people in the Presidency see Magu as the candidate of a group led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Impeccable sources told Sunday Vanguard that a certain camp in the Presidency  is not keen on having Magu confirmed because of certain political perceptions to it.

 Good faith and national interest

It was on this strength, the source said,  that the Department of State Services, DSS, wrote the report that prevented his confirmation by the Senate.

While the Senate is believed to have acted in good faith and national interest, given the evidence backing the report, those sympathetic to Magu have interpreted the action as an affront against the executive.

The case of the Comptroller General of Customs, Col Hammed Ali, retd, is another scenario that exemplified the issue under consideration.

Ali had formulated a policy to  ask motorists to produce genuine import duty payment documents.

When the Senate invited  the Comptroller General over the matter, his response was generally seen as insulting the legislature.

In fact,  he  treated the invitation with disdain by going to the media to announce that he would not honour the invitation, adding that there was no going back on the policy.

He later wrote the lawmakers  to say he had a management meeting on the day he was scheduled to appear. Hence, the resolution of the Senate that he would appear in uniform.

Although President Muhammadu Buhari’s interference was said to have made Ali to  apologise to  Senate President Bukola Saraki through the efforts of the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, Ali  remained provocative in his treatment of the Senate invitation.

Rather than appear before the Senate accordingly, he went to court over the matter which perhaps informed the Attorney General of the Federation’s advice that the parliament’s  should stay action on the invitation.

 Total disregard for the legislature

With the total disregard for the legislature, it was not surprising that the lawmakers resolved that Ali is not fit to occupy any public office in the land.

The Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr. Babachir Lawal, treated the Senate in the same manner.

Lawal,  who had been invited by the Senate over the alleged illegal award of contracts by the Presidential Initiative on North East ,PiNE, which he hands, also went to court and used the mere serving of court processes to evade appearance.

In addition to these actions that observers think have symbolically undermined the hallowedness of the Senate, the utterances of Prof. Itse Sagay and the Personal Assistant to the President on New Media, Mrs. Laurreta Onochie, have, in no small ways, ridiculed the Senate.

Considering the demeaning nature of these on the NASS, analysts were not taken aback when the Senate refused to screen the Resident Electoral Commissioners

nominated by the President until the Presidency starts respecting legislative decisions, resolutions, and invitations.

For the Presidency, the action was nothing but a wake-up call. Hence the decision to set-up a committee under Osinbajo to look into how to improve executive -legislature relations.

Indeed, Sunday Vanguard can authoritative say that the composition of the committee suggests that there is likely to be meaningful results at the end of its assignment.

Already, in a manner signifying its readiness for a harmonious working relationship with the executive, the Senate described the setting up of the committee as a welcome development and pledged to co-operate with the committee to clear all grey areas.

Against the perceptions in  some sections of the public that the Senate was distracted from its primary duties by all these, analysts say  its functions were not neglected.

For instance, it was amid all these that the Senate passed a new Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, bill with several new initiatives like the electronic voting. It also passed the Diaspora Commission Establishment law.

On the heels of that, the joint leadership of the NASS  met last Wednesday night to finalise the strategy for fastening the pace of work on the 2017 budget.

It was at the forum that all committees were given a deadline for  the submission of their reports to the appropriation committees  in both chambers of the NASS.

Also, April 25, 2017  was chosen as the date for submission of reports on the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIB.

That, however, suggests that the PIB may be passed before the second anniversary of the present administration.

What all these mean  is that the Senate has moved on. It is ready to live above the distraction by some members of the executive who think  the principle of separation of powers is a joke.