Brash and rash Hameed Ali is the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). A retired Colonel, he arrived at his duty post with an attitude. And he generously demonstrated it. Ali said he came to Customs to discharge the mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari which he listed as improving the revenue stream, cleansing the Service of endemic corruption and instilling order in an obviously disordered Customs milieu. Ali was a former military administrator of Kaduna State but he was not in the mould of popular or notorious Generals like the mercurial Ibrahim Babangida, T.Y Danjuma, Oladipo Diya, the late Sani Abacha, Tunde Idiagbon, et al.
Bukola Saraki, a medical doctor and a failed banker, is the President of the Senate. He was also a two-term former governor of Kwara State. A privileged child of the great Saraki political dynasty, he came into office with a heavy baggage of allegations of corrupt enrichment and opaque asset storehouse which he allegedly hid from the relevant authorities. In parliament, Saraki is foreshadowed by two prominent characters, a certain Daniel Jonah Melaye (Dino Melaye), more commonly known as Saraki’s Man Friday and Ali Ndume, former Senate Leader, and in the eyes of his colleagues, a man of shadowy tendency who works for the Executive against the independence of the Senate.
Elsewhere in the Executive is a Muhammadu Buhari, a retired General and former dictator who cuts the picture of an austere, ascetic family man, not known for frivolity, not sullied by lucre like most of his retired and serving military colleagues. Buhari succeeding the now notorious rogue government of Goodluck Jonathan was seen as the ideal man for the job: at least one who should stop the fiscal hemorrhage and sundry corrupt tendencies that dog governance in the country. But Buhari carries his own peculiar baggage. He is an unrepentant nepotist as reflected in his appointments. And nepotism is yet another variant of corruption. Buhari may not be involved in illicit financial enrichment but those around him, the caucus he built as a buffer around his throne, have various allegations of financial impropriety hanging over their heads like a hoodoo.
Somewhere in-between is a certain Ibrahim Magu, the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Magu just like Ali came to discharge the anti-corruption vision of Buhari. And so far, he has done it with ruthless lustre, raising the bar of zealotry and fervour. It is to his credit that some big men have had their feathers ruffled; some Ogas and Madams have even scampered to temporary safety offshore, afraid to return home to clear the mess ascribed to their names. Magu has proved the man with the gun. But he is being accused of turning the other way when the President’s henchmen are alleged stewed in the corruption juice. Besides, he too, has been handed his own baggage of corruption and he is struggling to clear his name.
Recall that at the beginning of the life of this administration, precisely in June 2015, when the 8th Senate was inaugurated, something uncanny, at least in the history of the nation’s parliament, happened. A parliamentary coup was hatched and the result was a strange dalliance between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the now dismembered opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to produce an APC President of the Senate and his PDP deputy. That act, against the will and wish of the power brokers in the APC particularly the Executive, set the stage for all the unfolding drama being unleashed on the nation today.
The Executive won’t have this weird arrangement, so it unleashed state might against the Tom and Jerry of the Senate, Saraki and Ekweremadu. Getting Ekweremadu, considered by the APC as Achan, was difficult because of the block support from the PDP. Unseating Saraki proved even more gargantuan. A way out was to unsettle both; make them uncomfortable and sell them as unworthy duo before their colleagues and Nigerians. They were both accused of forgery. Then, someone remembered the sins of Saraki; that he did not fully declare his assets while leaving office as Governor. They got the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to keep an eye on him.
All of this pitted the Executive against the Senate. But the Nigerian Senate is not one known to take the stick and live with it. It has been fighting back. Refusing to confirm Magu because of a damaging DSS report; insisting that Hameed Ali dons his Customs uniform and refusing to listen to him if otherwise; suspending Ndume for six months for working for the enemies of the Senate leadership; refusing to confirm the President’s nominees for INEC commissionership with immediacy and some other unprintable undercurrents.
Such has been the cat and mouse relationship between the Executive and the Senate and by extension the House of Representatives for close to two years in the life of a government that has a four-year tenure. In barely two months from now, it would be exactly two years since Buhari government took office. Two good years have been spent on politics and politicking. And if you factor that in a typical Nigerian democratic setting, electioneering begins a good two years ahead of election, it would then mean that the whole of four years would be spent on politics and not a single moment for governance.
But it is not peculiar to this government. Previous administrations walked the same path of all politics and zero governance. Obasanjo spent his eight years fighting the legislature and brawling with his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, in an open show of Executive rascality; Gentleman Yar’Adua played the politics of hide and seek with the nation pretending to be fit for the job even when it was too obvious that he was unwell. His unwillingness to resign on account of ill-health prepared the stage for one of the grandest political brinkmanship ever played on the nation’s political stage. Goodluck Jonathan was a victim of his own innate foibles. He was a weak leader as well as a poor politician. So, his recruits helped him to play the politics. He lost control of his party and the lever of power. At the end he got stewed.
In the main, Nigeria has never had governance. All we have had in nearly 18 years of democracy is politics. Somebody must halt this perennial acquiescence to politics at the expense of governance. What is happening between the Senate and the Executive is not a good representation for the doctrine of separation of power; it is bad, toxic politics. And it does no one any good, not even the main actors.
Perhaps the actors may be feeding their fat ego and lining up their deep pockets from the macabre dance but they should know that the greatest losers are the people, the masses; the hoi polloi; the same plebs they were elected to serve. This is the time for both the Executive and the Legislature to moult their ego; beat down the walls of acrimony and work for the common good of the commoners. Post-independence Nigeria has seen monumental waste from the opportunistic military regimes to this democratic dispensation. The leaders must arrest the bleeding. Democracy is about institutions not individuals. Those who have elevated themselves above the institutions they represent should be told in unmistakable terms that they would one day very soon quit the stage and the institutions will remain.
But President Buhari should lead the charge. He should convene a private meeting with the leadership of the Legislature and the Judiciary where all parties must as a necessity yield an inch to the centre for the common good. That’s compromise. It is a democratic virtue not a vice. Above all, it’s the nation first; not selves.