What has taken weeks of unpredictability got eased after the meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, last week. Media statements from both sides tried to assure Nigerians that, contrary to widespread anxiety in the polity, the two branches of government are not at war. Indeed, Dr. Saraki asserted that the relationship between the Senate and the presidency is “cordial”.
Before this rapprochement, the Senate had refused to confirm nominees to the board of the NDDC. Also, it had rejected Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of the EFCC, not once but twice. As if that was not enough, the senate suspended the confirmation of 26 INEC electoral commissioners recently nominated by the president. Of course, the 2017 budget, forwarded to the National Assembly since December 2016 is still crawling between National Assembly committees. Ditto the PIB that had been in the legislature for many years was yet to be passed.
The public perception of the slow legislative activity on these issues, in spite of the Senate President’s virtuous statement, is that the relationship of the presidency and the National Assembly is far from cordial. And, it did not begin with the President’s nomination of Mr. Magu. The genesis of the NASS/Presidency rift could be traced to the leadership contest in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which happened at the beginning of this administration. Precisely on June 9, 2015, the APC National Assembly caucus was beset by an acrimonious internal leadership rivalry through which, contrary to the wishes of the party chieftains, Dr. Saraki emerged Senate President, a position he got with the support of opposition members of the Senate.
Be that as it may, we had expected the APC to get over this initial disappointment as part of politicking where there will be winners and losers at every contest; but the issue keeps recurring, leaving in the Senate a permanent acrimony or so it seems. This is not helped by the now infamous disorganisation of the government, which led to the issuing of a negative report on the president’s nominee for the position of EFCC chair, by the Department of State Services (DSS), an agency in the president’s office.
The 2004 EFCC Act S. 2(3) is unambiguous that the President’s appointment of a chairman for the agency is subject to the confirmation of the Senate.
There is a counter argument that the DSS also wrote another report which was not disqualifying. Why the DSS should write two contradictory reports on a single nominee is questionable. That no presidency official saw the negative report against Magu before it got to the Senate is also indicative of the incoherence in the President’s office.
Mr. Magu has acted in the capacity as chairman for nearly 18 months. The jury is out there to determine how he fared but there must be a limit to what brings discord to what should otherwise be a harmonious relationship between the executive and the legislature. Mr. Magu probably hasn’t done enough to lobby those who have the powers to confirm him. Neither have those who appointed him. Democracy is about lobby not strong arm.
The presidency must either find a way to break the impasse with the Senate over Magu, or find another nominee to head the EFCC. The fights over the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, should also be resolved as quickly and openly as possible. Conflicts between the executive and the legislature are expected in a presidential system of government such as we practice.
We observe that the National Working Committee of the APC has been meeting with the APC National Assembly caucus to ease the seemingly strained relationship between it and the presidency. The Buhari administration has also appointed intermediaries to reduce dissension between the executive and the legislature.
These moves are in order. The objective in the end should be to reduce if not eradicate minor altercations completely. In a system that has persons of the same political party controlling the parliament and the executive, there are surely milestone programmes that all party members must be in cahoots in order to move the country forward. There is nothing inherently bad in having squabbling arms of government; however, in the end it must be for the betterment of society and promotion of ideals of democracy.