The Senate, Executive Power Game, Who Blinks First?

The Senate, Executive Power Game, Who Blinks First?

Monday, April 3, 2017 4:17 pm

Buhari and Saraki..

By Mustapha Ogunsakin

President Muhammadu Buhari gave an inkling of what would happen in his administration in his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015. “I belong to no one and I belong to everyone”, the President said, obviously talking about the power game that was not yet clear to Nigerians, but seething within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that had just wrestled power out from President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). PDP was in power for 16 years before it was defeated in the March 28, 2015 Presidential elections.

Two years into his being in office, Buhari’s words have proved to be prophetic. His inability to rein in and take control of the players in the pitch of politics and government has led to a free fall where all manners of impunity are committed daily by public office holders. Heads of government agencies have become laws unto themselves as they willingly show lack of respect for constituted authorities, whether in the judiciary, legislature, or even within the executive arm of government.

President Buhari led the trail. His disrespect for the rule of law, disobedience for orders and judgment court emboldens his aides. Both inside and outside the country, Buhari portrayed the Nigeria’s judiciary as corrupt, inept, and a problem to development. Rather than going after individual judges and lawyers, Buhari went after the judiciary as an institution, destroying both the baby and the birth water. Judges’ houses were raided without resorting to the provisions of the law. The height of disgracing the judiciary came when Buhari refused to transmit the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the Senate to be appointed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Rather, he appointed him in acting capacity.

Tongues wagged on the issue. Nigerians read ethnic meanings to it. For 30 years, all that held office as Chief Justice were from the North. Why is it that the President is withholding the appointment of a Southern Chief Justice. Senior lawyers like Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, Adegboyega Awomolo SAN wrote to the President and Attorney General, Mallam Abubakar Malami SAN on the consequences of not sending Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate. President Buhari only acquiesced through his Vice, Yemi Osinbajo in acting capacity when he was on medical vacation.

Today, the judiciary is cowed and subdued. Judges are mortally afraid of a “big brother” watching and keeping tab of their activities. A Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Bimbo Obaseki-Adejumo put it thus: “Nigeria behaved like an Oba who out of anger tore apart the beads on his neck, destroying his symbol of authority”. Justice Obaseki-Adejumo spoke at the 10th memorial lecture in honour of the late Mr Kehinde Sofola SAN recently lamented the disgrace the judiciary is going through.

She said: “Now, we cannot receive any visitor in the chambers or at home. Judges now hide their identity when they go out. Many cannot go out with official cars out of fear. Recently a lawyer approached me, requesting for an appointment because he wanted me to recommend him for the rank of senior advocate. How do I do that when he cannot come into my office, lest I be accused of demanding bribe? Yet they know the guilty ones. They know the ones that take bribe because they are the givers. But today, all judges are corrupt.”

At the same event, the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi condemned how government treated the judiciary. “Democracy is not only about parties. It is also about the rule of law. Destroying an institution in the name of going after individuals can only destroy the nation. It is our responsibility, all of us, to be alert”.

The successful disgrace of the Judiciary may have acted as tonic for President Buhari and his goons to face the Legislature, which seems to be on the war path with the executive on issues that bothers on Executive powers Versus Legislative authority. Like the case of the judiciary, President Buhari is flying the corruption kite. Since the Senate rejected Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the anti –graft agency have intensified its efforts at investigating corrupt senators. Magu’s rejection was based on the report of the Directorate of State Services (DSS), which not only gave a damning report on Magu but also confirmed its report by giving instances and reasons why he cannot be trusted with such powers.

Also for asking the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, to appear before the Senate in the uniform of the agency he heads, words came out that the Senate is witch hunting Ali because Customs impounded a bullet proof jeep imported by the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki at the cost of N240 million.

Saraki is not the only senator who is been investigated for corruption. About 21 senators are now under investigation. The emergence of Saraki as Senate President has always been a problem to some people in the corridors of power who felt he played a fast one of them to get the seat. A two term governor, and more than eight years as a Senator, Saraki for two years had faced a non-disclosure of asset charges before the Code of Conduct Tribunal since he became senate president. The intention was to whip up public sentiments, and pile pressure on him to leave the post.

That has not happened. Rather, he has proved to be a more efficient leader in his handling of the Senate, arguably better than President Buhari in his handling of state affairs. Peter Egbo, describing the Senate’s travails said: “It takes a high level of strong will and brave heart for the Senate to remain astute and resolute in the task that they are constitutionally mandated to do”.

Records also show that the Senate has not only lived much to its responsibilities, it has acted as the saviour of Nigerians by stopping policies of government that could have created untold hardship for Nigerians who are already battered by economic recession which many blamed on the decisions and indecisions of the Buhari Administration.

This Senate dismissed the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Frameworks and Fiscal Strategy Paper sent to it by the Executive, describing it as empty and not worth considering. It rejected the attempted $30 Billion loan with the argument that it will be a burden too much to bear by generations unborn, and that the Executive has failed to justify the need for the loan.

The same Senate initiated the first-ever National Assembly Joint Public Hearing on the budget. A 3-day Public Hearing was to give the public, CSOs and stakeholders like labour organizations had an opportunity to weigh-in on the 2017 appropriations bill. It also intervened in the Abuja Airport Closure, stating that it would affect businesses operating in the capital and pushed for alternatives to the closure of the Abuja airport.

Senate investigation exposed abuse of import duty waivers on rice: the senate in a motion mandated its ad-hoc committee to investigate the removal of import waivers on rice. Its intervention also led to the review of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN policy to enable small business owner’s access to Forex. It detected of the fraudulent activities involved in the implementation of TSA and resolutions to bring such act to a halt saving Nigeria N20 billion from the implementation of the TSA.

The Senate mandated Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC to immediately abolish fixed charges on electricity consumption, and bulk marketing of villages and communities, despite the fact that the Minister of Power, Works, and Housing, Babatunde Fashola SAN insisted that Nigerians must pay increased tariffs for electricity they hardly enjoy.

Motion by the Nigerian Senate on International Women’s Day 2016 on Gender Equality: This motion decried the rate of marginalization of Women and sought fair treatment for women in Nigeria. The Senate has set up a Committee on Legislative Compliance to hold Senators and Senate Committees accountable to their deadlines, mandates.

In March 2016, the Senate allocated N10bn to IDPs in the northeast in recognition of the dire situation. In September 2016, the Senate established an 8-man Ad Hoc Committee on North East charged with ascertaining the total amount of funds that have been released to the Presidential Initiative on the North East and probing spending by the Federal Government on the humanitarian crisis in the North-east. This Committee indicted the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for misappropriating funds upwards of N200million.

Senate, in a motion, halted the swift intervention on the proposed hike in prices of data plan by the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Senate has moved to investigate the Revenue Generating Agencies over alleged Leakages, Non Remittance and Misuse of Generated Revenue. It passed motion to investigate the non-remittance of over $3.4bn in revenue by the NNPC.

The Senate constituted an Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the fraud and anomalies uncovered by the 2013 audit report of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI. This report revealed that Nigeria lost over $9 billion in stolen, unremitted oil money in 2013.

The Nigerian Senate exposed how South African telecom giant, MTN, laundered billions of dollars ($12 billion) over a number of years from Nigeria and, failing to pay necessary tax in the country.

On the economy, the Senate responded to economic recession by commencing a robust debate on the Senate floor on the economy. It submitted a 21 point resolution on executive actions that the executive needed to take to shore up investor confidence, create jobs, increase revenues and get Nigeria’s economy back on track. It also listed out 11 priority bills that deal with different parts of the economy to help end the economic recession. The bills once passed and signed into law, will help to end Nigeria’s economic recession.

The two areas the executive arm of government under President Buhari has made impact are Security and fight against corruption. The Nigerian military have fought to Boko Haram terrorists in the North East to a standstill, reducing their activities to isolated and uncoordinated suicide bombings. The President also has exposed heavy corruption by seizing various funds from erstwhile public officers while many are also currently facing trial in various courts across the country.

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