By Itaobong Offiong Etim
At the inception of Nigeria’s 8th Senate in June 2015, it was clear to all discerning minds that the Executive and the Legislative arms many not have a smooth relationship. This fear was predicated on the event that culminated in the emergence of the leadership of the upper legislative house. Some optimists were, however, quick to dismiss this, as they believed the matter would be resolved as a family affair – a phrase which gained so much currency during the PDP’s 16 years rule. Two years on, the squabble still lingers.
Clear signs that suggested that all was still not well began to emerge on November 1, 2016 when the Senate rejected the president’s thirty billion dollars loan request. They also, for the second time, refused to confirm Ibrahim Magu as the substantive EFCC boss on March15, 2017. There is also the Code of Conduct Bureau trial of the Senate President, the forgery cases and all that.
The protracted Executive-Legislative feud recently took centre stage again when the issue of confirmation of the Director General of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila, was discussed on the floor of the Senate.
It was another occasion for members of the Upper Legislative Chamber to express their misgivings with the Executive on the continued retention of the Chair of EFCC, Mr. Magu.
They were also equally piqued with the Ag. President over a comment credited to him that Executive appointment does not require Legislative approval. With this, the battle line was again drawn as all nominations for confirmations were purportedly suspended until their powers are respected.
The Acting President himself, an astute, erudite law professor and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria anchored his position on sub-section 2, section 171 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, which empowers the President to appoint and remove his appointees without any recourse to the Senate. Some Law experts have however faulted the Ag. President’s stance, arguing that the quoted section has a specific application and only affects appointments into offices such as – Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Head of Service, Ambassadors and High Commissioners, Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Extra-Ministerial Departments (EMDs) and personal staff to the President. They are of the view that the Chairman of EFCC is not included in this category of appointees
The crux of this argument is whether Economic and Financial Crime Commission can be described as an Extra Ministerial Department. To help us here, it is pertinent to note that EMDs are appendages of ministries and are created for administrative purposes while commissions like EFCC are statutory (that is created by law). Ministers are in-charge of EMDs while Commissions, Agencies and Corporations created by law are fully or somewhat independent. Experts argue that the Minister of Justice that supervises EFCC, only exercises prosecutorial powers and does not have direct procedural and operational control over it.
In view of the disagreement which this section of the constitution has generated recently, a further judicial interpretation from the apex court is the way to go. Though, it is not disputable that Chapter 5 of the Constitution confers on the Senate the power to approve or reject nominees for appointments, the handling of Ibrahim Magu’s confirmation has however cast a stygian cloud on the reasons adduced for his rejection.
The first point here is the revelation that some serving Senators are currently being investigated by the EFCC on issues that border on corruption. Secondly, many Nigerians see EFCC under Magu as performing better than it did under his predecessors. The recent massive recovery of looted funds and over a hundred convictions secured within six months by the anti-graft have strengthened most Nigerians’ resolve to support him.
Thirdly, some Senators have become jittery over Magu, claiming that he is after them, which leads to the suspicion that some Senators are afraid of him and will therefore not be favorably disposed to his confirmation.
Finally, some of those accused Senators also took part in the confirmation process that led to his rejection. They were, ordinarily, not supposed to be part of that process. So, the much flaunted DSS Report might be a subterfuge.
The resurfacing of the Senate-Presidency altercation at the time the nation is experiencing a depressed economy, agitations, Boko-Haram/ herdsmen terrorism, the ill-health of our President is to say the least, not auspicious.
Our distinguished denizens of the Three Arms zone should realise that Nigerians look up to them to make laws for their socioeconomic well-being and not to further create tension in the country. Therefore, the on-going war of attrition must stop. This egregious display of callousness among our leaders should not be our style of governance.
Etim writes from Calabar.