The concept of separation of powers recognizes that there are three arms of government which are the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary, each with separate, independent powers and responsibilities so that powers of one arm are not in conflict with those of the other arms. The Legislature makes the laws, the Executive implements, enforces, administers the laws and the Judiciary interprets the laws. Each arm is also given certain powers so as to check and balance the other arms in a system known as checks and balances.
The idea from the Executive to create 774,000 public works programme jobs in Nigeria, a thousand each for every local government and council, to ameliorate the effects of the pandemic on the economic well being of the poor, jobless and uneducated of the people is commendable. Every arm of government was therefore expected to work in harmony to ensure its materialization. The recent altercations between the executive and the legislature over the project was unwarranted and avoidable.
Let us be clear, everything that is legal may not be expedient and everything that is expedient may not be legal. The first salvo that radiated into the political cosmic atmosphere on this project was fired by the Minister of State, Hon Festus Keyamo SAN. He was reported to have said, “I will resign if this project is hijacked by politicians”. When he made this statement, the project has not even commenced. That was a proactive indictment of the political class that they were hijackers of project. The foundation of mutual suspicion was therefore laid by that statement. With that mindset, the Hon Minister started fighting before the whistle blew. The Legislature spoiled for a fight because they interpreted the statement to mean that they were not going to be carried along in the execution of the project. Ego war set in and ambushes were laid.
In order to protect the project from being hijacked, the Hon Minister concentrated the execution of the project within his office in total exclusion of the office of the DG of the National Directorate of Employment, Nasir Ladan. He set up the committees in the states unilaterally and the DG of NDE heard it first on social media, leaving the DG to ask the whole world, “is it fair”. To be honest, it was not fair. When the matter came to the National Assembly, the oversight committees capitalized on this gaffe to wage war against the Hon Minister, the project and everything about it. This led to a bitter altercation that led to the Hon Minister storming out of the venue or being worked out by the members depending on the side one wants to look at it. Eventually, the National Assembly purportedly suspended the project, cancelled all the initial work of the Minister and ordered the DG of NDE to bring fresh proposals to it for approval in a veiled attempt to move the project out of the table of the Minister. Their argument was that the law which set up the NDE gave the power of execution to the NDE while the duty of the Minister was to supervise. Keyamo came out of the meeting and confirmed to Nigerians that the confrontation raised up very weighty constitutional issues and he was not bound by the illegal instructions of the National Assembly. He also reminded Nigerians that his earlier prediction that politicians were planning to hijack the project has come to pass as they should note the conspiracy between the legislature and the DG, NDE to move the project from his seat so they can have a field day. He vowed to resist it subject only to the instructions of the President.
Now I realise why my lecturer in Management during our University days hammered it on our heads on the dangers and destructive tendencies of the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy and advised us to avoid it at all cost when we eventually become managers in any capacity. The concept is all about a predetermined mindset before commencement of a venture. It starts with the leader having a predetermined assumption about a matter, then proceeding to condition his actions based on his assumption, his actions will attract commensurate reactions from the recipients of his actions and he will use their reactions as the basis to confirm and substantiate his original assumption. For instance, you assume somebody to be mad and you act to the person roughly as you would do to a mad man and the person reacts roughly in response to your actions and you use his rough reactions as a confirmation of your initial assumption that he was mad. The truth is that the man may not be mad, he was merely responding to your actions. The concept admonished every leader to maintain very positive mindset in leadership as the basis of his actions until the object of his actions prove otherwise.
A look at what transpired showed that the Hon Minister assumed initially that the politicians will hijack the project, and in order to protect the project from being hijacked, he decided to wrongly cut off every officer that would have rightly been part of the process of the execution of the project. The officers and the National Assembly reacted to his actions of wrongful exclusion and he used their reactions as the basis to confirm his earlier assumption that the politicians planned to hijack the project. You see the dangers in self-fulfilling prophecy which certainly leads to self destructive tendencies.The earlier statement by the Minister was therefore unnecessary. Any leader facing the press must learn to avoid their catalytic trap meant to make officers issue certain statements that will help them sell their papers but will precipitate crisis between the officer and others.
At this juncture let us examine the legal implications of the fallout of the altercations. The problem we have in this country is our penchant to correct a mistake with another mistake and if the vicious circle is allowed, the problem and its attendant troubles will become intractable. The legal process towards the execution of the project as stated in the Constitution starts with the initiation of the project by the executive with a proposal of its estimated cost forwarded to the Legislature for appropriation and approval of funds for its execution. It comes back to the executive for full implementation with the legislature reserving its right of oversight of the implementation of the project by the executive with a view to exposing any corruption, inefficiency and/or waste. The project having not fully commenced, the issues of corruption and waste cannot be effectively proved at this stage. Doing things right is efficiency. The Legislature rightly pointed out to the Minister that he wrongly excluded the DG, NDE, as this exclusion could lead to inefficiency. They would have simply advised the Minister to go back and correct the anomaly and carry everyone along in accordance with the provisions of the Act that established the NDE or report this anomaly to the President for necessary corrective actions if the Minister persists in the wrong direction. Rather than stopping where their constitutional powers stopped, they went further to suspend the project, cancel earlier work on it and even instructed the DG, NDE to submit proposals to them for approval. This is an extravagant violation of the principle of separation of powers and with due respect, the legislature does not have such powers. This is akin to the President asking a Senator to take over the job of the Senate President and perform his duties because the Senate President did not do what he was supposed to do correctly. No, the power lies with the Senate to determine the fate of the Senate President if he missteps and with the Courts if anybody believes he acted illegally. So also, the power lies with the President to determine the action to be taken against the Minister if he missteps or cancel the committees earlier set or ask the DG, NDE to set up any other committees and the Courts to determine if any of his actions is illegal. The Hon Minister was therefore right not to be bound by the illegal resolution of the legislature as their ultimate resolution, if obeyed, would have amounted to an illegitimate hijack of the project by the legislature.
Politicians must however learn to play politics with decorum and mutual respect for each other. Dialogue is always preferred to confrontation for the benefit of the common man because when two elephants fight the grass suffers. None of the dramatis personae in this saga is totally exenorated. The Hon Minister of State for labour, Festus Keyamo, in a bid to prevent the project from being hijacked by politicians based on his initial unprovoked assumption, hijacked the project himself to the exclusion of others. The legislature, in order to prevent the Hon Minister from hijacking the project, tried to re-hijack the project back to itself. We completely agree with the substantive Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, a former Senator, when he submitted, “we must work hand-in-hand without acrimony or even drawing a very rigid line of who has this power and who doesn’t. That is the only way the programmes of government can be made sustainable and executed for the benefit of our people”.