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Three Years of NASS, Presidency Imbroglio

By Eric Elezuo

When the National Security Adviser, Mallam Ali Munguno, honoured the summon of the Senate, many people heaved a sigh of relief, believing that the faceoff between the Presidency, to a large extent, the executive and the legislature, comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives, has finally come to an end. The  green light was followed by President Mohammadu Buhari keeping his promise to sign the ‘Not too Young to Run Bill’, a bill passed by the National Assembly, which Buhari promised to sign into law within a few days during his Democracy Day speech.

However, the last is yet to be heard of the imbroglio that had engulfed and continue to engulf the Presidency and the National Assembly. It is a known fact that ever since the advent the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, three years ago, the relationship that has existed between the executive and the legislative arms has been everything but cordial. In fact, most political watchers have termed it ‘cat and rat’. The soured relationship, according to stakeholders is not unrelated to the emergence of the principal officers of both the Senate and House of Representatives chiefly among them Dr. Bukola Saraki and Mr. Yakubu Dogara of the Senate and House of Reps respectively as leaders of the chambers.

It would be recalled that both Saraki and Dogara emerged against the wish of the ruling party, thereby constituting a known division among party members in the National Assembly. The division was along individual lines – those for the president and those for Saraki. Since then, both institutions have viewed the other with avid suspicion, and their activities have affected the running of government negatively. Consequently, most executive bills and appointments have been rejected on the floor of the House for the simple reason that it came from a particular institution, and assents, in the same vein have been refused for reasons not different from the former. The likes of Ibrahim Magu of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are still in acting capacity today as a result of the unhealthy power tussle.

The clash, which many have described as insensitive, took its root from appointments and ratification of appointments and suddenly nosedived into refusal to give assent to bills and overriding of vetoes to flagrant disrespect of summons and legislative orders with special reference to the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col Hameed Ali (Rtd) and the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris.

In 2017, President Buhari refused to assent to three bills, and followed it up with a letter explaining the reasons behind his actions. In the letter addressed to the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, dated January 25, 2018 and read at the plenary, the President said: “Pursuant to sections 58(4) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision on 25th of January 2018 to decline presidential assent to three bills recently passed by the National Assembly namely:

“Police Procurement Fund Establishment Bill 2017 – Due to lack of clarity, regarding the disbursement of funds as well as constraint issues regarding the powers of the National Assembly to appropriate funds allocated to the 36 state governments and 754 local governments which conflicts with sections 80-82 and 120-122 of the 1999 constitution as amended.

“Chattered Institute of Public Management of Nigeria bill 2017 – Due to lack of clarity over the scope of the profession of “public management”, that this bill prohibits all persons who are not members of the institute from practicing.

“Nigerian Council for Social Works Establishment Bill 2017 – Due to the lack of clarity over the scope of the profession of social works, that this bill prohibits all persons who are not members of the institute from practicing.
“Please accept, distinguished senate president, the assurance of my highest consideration.”

On the National Peace Corp Bill, the President cited financial implications and duplication of duties of existing security agencies, as reasons for withholding his assent.

While it was obvious that by the provisions of the constitution, the National Assembly can, by two-third majority, override the president’s assent after 30 days, they did nothing, but waited. And in between their wait, they unleashed tantrums at presidential desires.

With the dust of withholding of assent yet to settle, President Buhari again withheld assent on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

The President’s communication addressed to the National Assembly at its plenary session on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, and read by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, respectively, also stated reasons for refusing assent in line with section 58(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Some of the reasons given by the President for withholding assent include:

  1. That the amendment to the sequence of the elections in Section 25 of the Principal Act may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission to organize, undertake and supervise all elections as provided in Section 15(a) of the third schedule to the Constitution;
  2. That the amendment to Section 138 of the principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process and
  3. That the amendment to Section 152(3)-(5) of the principal Act may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.

Under the proposed amendments to section 25, elections had been proposed by the National Assembly to hold in the following order:

  • National Assembly Elections
  • State Houses of Assembly and Governorship Elections
  • Presidential Election

This deviates from the current position that gives INEC discretion to appoint dates for when elections should be conducted. In addition, the amendments to Section 138 sought to expand on the grounds of petition and void elections conducted by the State Independent Electoral Commission in local government councils of the Federation that failed to comply with the Electoral Act or its procedures in the conduct of elections.

Political observers have hinted that the President is believed to be the target of the proposed Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which seeks to dictate the sequence in which the Independent Electoral Commission must conduct the 2019 general elections. When therefore, the President turns to become the target for any action, the entire executive is deemed to have been targeted.

The sponsors of the proposed amendments are seeking to reorder the sequence of the election which INEC had earlier announced.

The biggest squabble that could be recorded as the executive/legislative crisis in the last three years could be the inability of the President to call to order heads of government organisations who had bluffed the legislature in the course of executing their functions. Such bodies remain the Customs, the Police and the EFCC.

As a legislative arm of government, the National Assembly is empowered by the provisions of section 58(5) of the 1999 constitution as amended, to override the President’s veto on Bills.

Section 58 (5) says, “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required”.

Order 12(b)(c) of the standing rules of the House of Representatives (2016), also provides that, the rejected Bill could be looked upon by the House, (through a motion) and if supported by two-thirds of the Reps, the Bill is proclaimed law without the assent of the President.

In the pursuit of both legality and impression, more members of the National Assembly, especially the Senate, are currently facing criminal charges and incarceration. Among them is the former governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, and the senator repreenting Kogi West, Dino Melaye.

The two men, the former, prosecuted for ccorruptly enriching himself, and the later for banditry and murder, have said that their ordeal is as a result of executive lawlessness, saying that they are innocent of the charges.

In a similar development, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, alleged that the Police are hatching plans to robe in a charge of murder and banditry as well.

The fear generated by the discovery led the NASS top shots to visit the President to register their displeasure as regards the wanton accusation, supposedly initiated by the police rank and file led by Idris Ibrahim. The President had earlier hinted that he was not aware that the Police IG disobeyed his instruction of relocating to Benue after the New Year Day massacre by Fulani Herdsmen. However, Idris retains his position and had no punishment meted against him , giving the impression that the presidency is in sync with the lawlessness its arms were perpetrating.

Earlier, the Presidency has refused to change the rejected EFCC chairman many months after the rejection as well as failed to compel the Customs’ boss to wear uniform as instructed by the Senate.

However, both arms seem to have reached a compromise having given something for something. For the legislators, the Peace Corps bill has to die a natural death so that the President can sign the Not too Young to Run bill.

The way things are going, the administration is fast going down in history as the worst in terms of executive – legislature relationship.

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