It is heartwarming that after the meeting of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, last week, the official statements from both sides tried to assure Nigerians that, contrary to widespread anxiety in the polity, the two branches of government are not at war. Indeed, Dr. Saraki asserted that the relationship between the Senate and the presidency is “cordial’’.
Before this rapprochement, the Senate had refused to confirm nominees to the board of the NDDC; it had rejected Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of the EFCC, not once but twice; it had tossed aside the confirmation of 26 INEC electoral commissioners; the budget, forwarded to the National Assembly since December 2016 had not been passed; the PIB that had been in the legislature for many years was yet to be passed.
The public perception of the slow legislative activity on these issues, in spite of the Senate President’s pious statement, is that the relationship of the presidency and the National Assembly is far from cordial. And, it did not begin with the President’s nomination of Mr. Magu. The Senate’s rejection of Magu’s nomination as EFCC chair by the president is seen in many quarters as a direct affront on President Buhari, and a personal attack on Mr. Magu, especially in a chamber which has many of its members with pending corrupt practices.
The genesis of the NASS/Presidency rift is traceable to the leadership contest in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which happened at the beginning of this administration. Precisely on June 9, 2015, the APC National Assembly caucus was beset by an acrimonious internal leadership rivalry through which, contrary to the wishes of the party chieftains, Dr. Saraki emerged Senate President, a position he got through the support of opposition members of the Senate.
Did all it could, the majority APC could not alter the situation but would neither forget nor forgive it, especially when the Deputy Senate President position was awarded to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as its pay-off for supporting Saraki.
We had expected the APC to get over this initial disappointment, but the issue keeps recurring, leaving in the Senate a permanent apple of discord. This is not helped by the apparent disorganisation of the government, which led to the issuing of a negative report on the president’s nominee for the position of EFCC chair, by the Department of State Services (DSS), an agency in the president’s office.
The 2004 EFCC Act S. 2(3) is unambiguous that the President’s appointment of a chairman for the agency is subject to the confirmation of the Senate. There is a counter argument that the DSS also wrote another report which was not disqualifying. Why the DSS should write two contradictory reports on a single nominee is questionable. That no presidency official saw the negative report against Magu before it got to the Senate is also indicative of the incoherence in the President’s office.
The time seems to be running out on Mr. Magu. He has served for 17 months in an acting capacity, has demonstrated grit, courage and commitment. Unfortunately, he has too many enemies in the National Assembly, especially the Senate that is legally empowered to confirm his appointment. He, however, obviously has public support, on account of his courage in the battle against corruption in Nigeria’s leadership class.
The presidency must either find a way to break the impasse with the Senate over Magu, or find another nominee to head the EFCC. The fights over the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, should also be resolved as quickly and cleanly as possible. Conflicts between the executive and the legislature are expected in a presidential administration.
Often, it occurs on issues of ideology and principles. But, most of the issues fueling these conflicts in the country border on ego, personal ambitions, money-making ventures and self-protection. The Senate President is facing various charges at the Code of Conduct Bureau. It is difficult to withdraw those cases without defeating the aim of the war against corruption.
We observe that the National Working Committee of the APC has been meeting with the APC National Assembly caucus to ease the seemingly strained relationship between it and the presidency. The Buhari administration has also appointed intermediaries to reduce dissension between the executive and the legislature.
These are all good moves. The ultimate aim should be to reduce the discord between the two arms of government, in the spirit of give and take. Both sides should also realise that the three arms, though independent, are expected to work together as a single entity for the betterment of Nigeria.