By Onyedika Agbedo
Former Minister of information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, Momoh, who was also the National Chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), spoke on the current face-off between the Executive and the Legislature, particularly the Senate, over the non-implementation of some of its resolutions. He warned those suggesting that President Muhammadu Buhari can be impeached over the issue that they were going too as “it can’t happen.”
The face-off between the executive and the legislature under this administration has resurfaced again even when Nigerians were thinking that it has become a thing of the past. What is your take on that?
In a democracy, there is separation of powers and division of powers. But the supreme document is the constitution. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and it is from the constitution that government derives all its powers and authority, not some of them. So, if any person or body exercises a power that is not provided for in the constitution, that person or body should be called to order by the media and those who know.
The power to make laws belongs to the National Assembly; nobody can take it from them. The power to execute laws is that of the executive and the power to interpret laws is that of the courts. Now, what we have is a situation where people overreach themselves or people are enthusiastic to make a point and so unnecessarily expose themselves.
So, it is a good thing that the executive arm has set up a committee to reach out to the National Assembly so that there will be a better working relationship between the executive and the legislature. All these things wouldn’t have arisen if there had been that arrangement before now. The Senate and the House of Representatives are supposed to be linked with the Executive such that if there are stresses then they can be pointed out and attended to in the background.
There are supposed to be lobby groups. In democracies like this, the National Assembly will lobby the Executive and the Executive will also lobby the National Assembly. I am not talking of lobbying in the sense of taking money there and distributing it to people as was happening under past administrations. I am talking of lobbying in the sense of public relations.
That seems to be absent. The party ought to be involved. There does not seem to be any relationship between the party and those in the National Assembly. The APC has the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate; and most of the arrowheads of the current face-off are more APC than PDP. So, it means that lobbying like the party relating with elected officials, the executive relating with those in the legislature and the legislature relating with those in the executive is absent. And communication is the answer to everything. As you communicate your grievances, challenges and worries to another person who will see it from your own perspective, a resolution will be taken. Both arms of government were created to serve the country but some people are trying to overreach themselves and that should be avoided. All the powers are located within the constitution and people should know their limits.
The current face-off between the two arms of government has its root in the continued stay of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, in office after the Senate had rejected him. Meanwhile, there are already views in some quarters that the president can be impeached over Magu. Is that in order?
It’s in order if there are numbers for it. You need the House of Representatives to concur with the Senate to impeach the President. And how will you get the two third majority of the National Assembly to impeach the President? How will you even get the support base for the Chief Justice of Nigeria to set up a committee to investigate the President for impeachable offences? I mean that’s going too far; it can’t happen.
Are you saying that it is impossible to impeach the President over Magu?
Over anything in Nigeria! It is only when you come to such critical areas that you will know the APC has the majority in the National Assembly. How will you gather the majority to impeach the President? You can’t!
The thing is that the Senate can refuse to confirm Magu. But they have no right to tell the President to remove Magu. The President appoints and removes. The Senate confirms and has the right to withhold confirmation. But Magu can act till the kingdom comes. So, people should know the limits of their powers.
But they have directed the President to remove Magu within two weeks or …
(Cuts) I said that, that is completely outside the powers of the Senate. The power of the Senate as provided in the constitution is that they confirm. The power to appoint resides with the President under the constitution. The Senate cannot tell the President who to appoint. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo sent Prof. Babalola Aborisade’s name to the Senate three times. The President can send one nomination 100 times and the senate can refuse to confirm 100 times but the Senate cannot tell the President who to appoint. That is what I’m saying.
What do you see as the impact of this development on governance?
You see, we are in a democracy. So, people shouldn’t think that the legislature and the executive should agree and collude to undermine the system. Each arm has its powers clearly stated in the constitution. One would expect the National Assembly to come together in spite of party differences to protect its own interest as the law-making organ of government. So, we should expect these disagreements in a democracy. But at the end of the day, if there is any problem, let them go to court. It’s the court that interprets the constitution.
What is your advice to both parties even as the executive has set up a committee to sort out issues with the legislature?
The fact is that this step ought to have been taken before now, but it’s better late than never. You know that these issues are always discussed behind the scenes. Democracy is public show of what had been decided in the backyard; that is what democracy is. Many of the things you see happening in legislative houses had been discussed in caucuses and so on and so forth. So, they just go to the House to implement what they had discussed. So, if this type of discussion had been on, there wouldn’t be all these public show of shame.