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Why gov is rated high on executive/legislature relations – Borno Speaker

Daily Trust: There is this impression some observers have that the Borno State Assembly is a rubber stamp which blindly approves anything from the executive…

Daily Trust: There is this impression some observers have that the Borno State Assembly is a rubber stamp which blindly approves anything from the executive arm since the coming of Governor Kashim Shettima in 2011. What’s your take on that? 

Abdulkarim Lawan: There is no State Assembly in this country that is as independent as the Borno State one. Go and find out. In many States, Assembly members don’t even have any say in what happens in Government but in Borno, lawmakers have say in virtually everything the executive does. Look, the number one secret of an executive having its way in dealing with lawmakers is to consult them in making major executive decisions and this is precisely what Governor Kashim Shettima has been able to institutionalize since 2011. It will not make sense for any Assembly, be it State or National Assembly, to come to plenary and reject something if the Assembly was duly consulted in the decision from the beginning.  

What Shettima does is that for every step his executive is taking which he knows will require the approval of the Assembly whether it is on budget, creation or amendment of laws to establish government agencies, nomination of commissioners and heads of government agencies, appointment of caretaker chairmen or anything whatsoever, the first thing he does is to convene a meeting with principal officers in the State Assembly and he makes sure he is present. He explains what his executive wants to achieve and how it will benefit Borno. There are instances we agree with what he has in mind. But to be candid with you, there are many instances where as lawmakers we change his decision entirely in our consultative meetings, we give him reasons and if our reasons are superior to his own, he will accept our own and whatever he is sending to the Assembly will be based on our recommendation.

In effect, what works for him is that before he sends anything to the Assembly, he makes wide consultation with the leadership of the House and after his consultation with us, he will also invite members. For instance, if what he wants directly affects one community, he will invite the member representing that community and possibly all members in the senatorial zone where that community is located. In his budget, he starts by asking members to go and identify the needs of their constituencies based on priorities and submit to the leadership of the Assembly and these needs are submitted to him directly. He insists that the Assembly leadership handover a list of these needs to him personally and he will try to take us for granted by playing hanky-panky, he will make sure these needs are captured in the budget and he will do everything possible to implement them. 

DT: So there is no friction whatsoever between him and the Assembly?

Lawan: No. If he has challenges, he will invite members affected by projects and tell them why there is problem of implementation whether the problems have to do security challenges or other problems. This is essentially why there is no friction between the legislature and the executive led by Governor Shettima. I remember there was a time we rejected a medical doctor he really wanted to reappoint as Commissioner for Health. It was of public knowledge and it became a major concern for all the arms. There was no proper consultation in that instance otherwise the Assembly would have acted in private and not during plenary in the full glare of the media. At the end, there was thorough lobbying from the executive and we reversed our decision based on some conditions we gave in the best interest of our constituents. There are times we reject names he recommends during our consultative meetings with him, we give him good reasons and if he is satisfied, he instantly replaces the nominee.

DT: But there are observers who may think the lawmakers are ‘settled’ by the Executive to act in a particular direction…

Lawan: A lot of political observers in Nigeria mistake unnecessary confrontation and ego flexing as the independence and productivity of the legislature. If you take a look at what the National Assembly was able to achieve between in the last eight years and compare it with what was achieved between 1999 and 2007, you are likely to count more bills passed into Law, more resolutions reached, more oversight functions carried out in the last ten years as against the period of fighting between the Federal Executive and the National Assembly in those early years. But then, there are some Nigerians who will tell you that the leadership of the National Assembly in those early years were more independent. 

DT: Earlier, you talked about consultation between Governor Shettima and your Assembly as being largely responsible for lack of disagreements between the legislature and the executive in Borno State. are you saying that other governors don’t consult their assemblies?

Lawan: Let me say majority of the current governors are doing their best because times are changing, democracy itself and its processes are growing but I attend conferences of speakers of the 36 states’ houses of assembly, I interact with some of my colleagues and when I tell them about the experiences of the Borno State Assembly with the Executive Arm in the last six years, most of them conclude that very few leaders in this country have the approach of Shettima, in knowing how to relate with the legislature and get results.

Some leaders may think it is easy to dip hands into public purse and buy the legislature. I want to tell you that for many of us, our dignity comes first. I pray it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think Borno will easily get a governor that has genuine and very consistent respect for the legislature like Shettima. He listens to us, he is sincere with us and he makes very genuine and practical efforts to address the problems of our communities whenever we meet him. In most cases, he gives instant directives for the needs of our constituencies to be addressed and he ensures his directives are implemented. I have been a lawmaker for over ten years and I have had so many interactions with principal officers in Assemblies and members and judging from what I have heard, the Governor of Borno State remains first in Executive, legislature relations in this country. 

I think what leaders need to know is that not everyone has a price, as far-fetched as this may sound. There are leaders who do not have an iota of respect for the legislature. They simply see the executive arm as government, and the legislature as one institution at the mercy the executive, by the executive, and for the executive. This is why you hear of impeachment here and there. 


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