By Emmanuel Aziken
The work to rule action employed by the Senate in its dealings with the presidency is the latest in the on-again-off-again love affair between the two branches of the Federal Government.
The decision of the Senate to suspend the screening of the nominees of President Muhammadu Buhari for appointment as Resident Electoral Commissioners in 27 states is indeed a major scar in the relationship between the two arms of government.
Despite the fact that the two arms of government are controlled by the All Progressives Congress, APC, there is little surprise over the fact that the legislative and the executive branches of government have returned to battle mood.
The decision flowed from the president’s failure to heed the Senate’s resolution on at least two crucial issues: the rejection of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and that seeking the dismissal of Mr. Babachir Lawal as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF.
President Buhari’s decision to stick to his appointees is not surprising as it is the habit of executive office holders to sink and sometimes swim with nominees they think are crucial to their agenda. Presidents also often seek to protect their powers from being taken away by the legislature. They often do not like the legislature telling them who to sack.
However, Buhari is not the first president to have had a favourite nominee rejected by the Senate. He, however, may have been the most tactless of the presidents of the Fourth Republic in pushing through his legislative agenda, including the confirmation of his appointments.
At the beginning of his second term in office, President Olusegun Obasanjo was faced with a similar situation. His nomination of Prof. Babalola Borishade, a key strategist in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was thrice rejected by the Senate. Senators were supposedly miffed by claims that Borishade who served as minister of education in Obasanjo’s first term was disrespectful of the legislators, notably the principal officers.
Even before that, President Obasanjo had in 2000 engaged the Senate in a war of attrition over the composition of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
Obasanjo had rejected the amendments crafted into the NDDC Bill, which incidentally was one of the two bills he forwarded when he became president. His veto of the bill was, however, overridden by the two chambers of the National Assembly in mid-2000.
Having overridden the veto, the National Assembly was faced with a pyrrhic victory. Though they had their way, they, however, could not constitute the board of the NDDC. So, what was generally regarded as a good initiative for the Niger Delta was put on hold on account of the rivalry between the Senate and the presidency.
Even more, when some lawmakers got to their senses and appealed to President Obasanjo to overlook their indiscretion in overriding his veto, Obasanjo still had it in for them when he insisted on appointing his own man from outside the oil producing area of the Niger Delta as chairman of the NDDC board.
Stakeholders revolted, but with a president like Obasanjo who had been publicly trounced, you were not likely to have a second opportunity.
Seeing reason to kowtow to the president, the lawmakers conceded and Obasanjo inaugurated the NDDC board on his own terms with Mr. Onyema Ugochukwu from outside the NDDC oil producing area as chairman of the board.
Obasanjo was able to get around the legislators mainly on account of his tenacity of purpose and his ability to rally all his aides behind his agenda. He also had an effective legislative liaison in the person of Senator Florence Ita-Giwa to push for Borishade’s confirmation.
However, that is not the case in the matter of Buhari and the Senate.
Senators and indeed nearly all Nigerians wonder how the Department of State Services, DSS could have authored the report upon which the Senate in part relied on in rejecting Mr. Magu. Even more, the president has till now remained indifferent, at least openly.
Few would forget that General Muhammadu Buhari’s downfall in 1985 mainly arose from the fact that he lost the support of the nation’s highest making body of that era; to wit, the Supreme Military Council, SMC. In our democratic era, the equivalent of the SMC of that era is the Senate.