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National Assembly: You cannot have powers without responsibility

I was alarmed to read in yesterday’s Daily Trust that the National Assembly had inserted 1,170 new projects in the 2017 budget of the Ministry…

I was alarmed to read in yesterday’s Daily Trust that the National Assembly had inserted 1,170 new projects in the 2017 budget of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. The have also increased the budget from 364.2 to 586.6 billion Naira. In massacring the budget of the ministry, they simply removed monies allocated to key national projects such as the Abuja-Lokoja dual carriageway, the 2nd Niger Bridge, the Mambilla and Zungeru Hydropower projects and the Katsina Wind Farm Energy project.  They then replaced these key national projects with thousands of petty projects, mainly in their constituencies. Yes legislators have responsibility to promote the interest of their constituencies but that cannot be done at the expense of the nation. Essentially, they have turned the budget into a completely incoherent set of monetary allocations designed to boost the egos of legislators. Our legislators have become completely irresponsible and they must be stopped in the national interest. 

The legislators have been saying that they have ultimate responsibility for finalizing the budget and they are right. However there is a process and they cannot just do what they like. Budgets have their origins in the party manifestos and programmes of the party in power. These are then processed into a three-year plan designed to achieve set objectives that have been defined by the government. Based on these plans, ministries, departments and agencies then develop multi-year projects that are then processed through architectural, engineering, ecological etc designs and surveys as well as costing. These are then broken into annual budget estimates. When legislators disregard all the preparatory work that has been done and then insert pet projects, they are destroying the national plan of their own government. Even more serious is the fact that they are putting projects into the budget that have not been designed, surveyed and costed and simply putting figures that are meaningless because pet projects that have not been processed are simply not real projects. This process embarked upon by legislators simply turns the budget into an instrument for destroying good governance because monies are allocated to “non-projects,” It is in this context that some legislators go behind and collect monies they have inserted for what everybody knows is a non-project. The executive must resist this type of legislative rascality but citizens also must learn to reject reducing the budget process into ego trips for legislators. 

Of course, there is a larger issue on the table – the war to establish who is stronger, the executive or the legislature. The Senate, had on Tuesday, declared war with the Presidency over the retention of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission after the rejection of his nomination by the legislature. It would be recalled that the Senate had suspended the consideration and confirmation of appointments submitted by the Executive based on a comment credited to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo that the President was empowered to make some appointments without seeking legislative approval as provided in Section 171 of the Constitution. The Senate then resolved “to suspend all issues relating to confirmation of nominees from the executive until the issues of confirmation as contained in the Constitution and laws of the National Assembly are adhered to.” They also resolved that, “the Acting President must respect the Constitution and laws enacted by the National Assembly as they relate to confirmation of appointments; and the Acting President should immediately respect the rejection of nominees by the Senate.” In addition they have given an ultimatum to Ag. President Osinbajo to “withdraw without further delay” the statement credited to him that the Senate did not have the power to confirm certain executive appointments. I believe that there is a real legal issue to resolve about how many times can the president submit the same names for consideration of Senate and whether a person whose name has been submitted twice must be removed. Why not once or three times for example? Instead of baring fangs, why not approach the judiciary for a ruling, which all parties must abide by?

It is important to understand why the Magu Affair has become so big. The Presidency and the Senate had clashed over the retention of Magu after his rejection. The Senate had protested against Magu’s non-removal and on March 28, 2017, suspended the consideration of 27 persons nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari as Resident Electoral Commissioners. Fifteen of them were later confirmed on June 1, 2017. But Osinbajo had ruled out the possibility of Buhari replacing Magu with another nominee. He said the President did not find the DSS report, which was the basis for Magu’s rejection, as a strong reason to replace the EFCC boss. The Presidency should explain to us why Magu at all costs. The Senate to must explain to us why they are so frightened of this diminutive man called Magu. 

What happened on Tuesday was that the Senators had protested when a letter from Ag. President Osinbajo, asking the Senate to confirm the nomination of Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila as the Director-General of the National Lottery Commission, was read. It was in that context that they decided they would no longer consider any nomination coming from the presidency for confirmation.

Our Constitution prescribes the separation of powers as the basis for cohabitation between the three branches of government. The independence of the legislature and that of the judiciary is therefore important relative to the executive, which tends to be the strongest branch. The key word should therefore remain independence and not the domination of the executive by the legislature. 

Worrying Signs

Also in Senate on Tuesday, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe said there was a vacuum in the Presidency as President Buhari and Ag. President Osinbajo were not in the country on that day. He said, “I simply want to bring to the attention of this chamber and all Nigerians and to ask the question: the Acting President is the person who is at the head of government now and to whom we assume that everything we say today will go to. But we have a serious problem in Nigeria today: we have nobody in Nigeria who is the head of the government. The laws and the procedures in Nigeria state that you cannot have a vacuum.” The implication of course is that the number three person in the country, the Senate President could have stepped in to takeover power. If they were flying a kite, it is not an amusing one.

As for the Executive, it is also worrying that the Attorney General of the Federation and the Spokesperson of President Buhari, Garba Shehu both came out on Wednesday to dissociate the Government from the position taken by Ag. President Osinbajo on the Magu Affair. Again and again, this Magu of a fellow. It dose not look good when the Executive appears to be working at cross-purposes.

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