Between presidency and the senate, by Wale Sokunbi


In the past few weeks, Nigerians have been treated to the drama of a feud between the Presidency and the Senate, which culminated in a threat by the upper legislative chamber not to screen and confirm the president’s nominees for vacant positions in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In spite of the fact that the leaderships of the Senate and the Presidency are of the same ruling party- the All Progressives Congress (APC) – there has been no love lost between them.

The unconventional mode of emergence of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who had to forge a coalition with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to attain his position against the glaring wish of the leadership of his party, roughened up what should ordinarily have been sm

The first indication of a stormy relationship between the duo began early in the life of this administration. The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) suddenly became an all-powerful office, as it, against the run of play in the country, docked the Senate President for failure to declare some of his assets during his tenure as governor, several years earlier. That case is still alive and well. The nation was yet to get used to the unlikely sight of a Senate President in the dock when Panama Papers scandal broke out, and the allegation of the Senate President’s ownership of some offshore companies in that country was made the public face of that scandal in the country.

It was, therefore, not totally surprising that the attempt by the president to get the appointment of the czar of his anti-corruption battle confirmed by the Senate ran into stormy waters. But the storm, strangely, was aided by no less than an agency under the purview of the presidency itself – the Department of State Services. A report questioning the integrity of Mr. Magu, President Buhari’s EFCC chairmanship nominee who had been holding the office for 17 months in acting capacity, was all the Senate needed to officially slam the gates of the anti-corruption agency against him.

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And, that is where the fireworks on the question of whether Magu can continue occupying the office of EFCC chair without the confirmation of the Senate began in earnest. This question has pitched and is continuing to pitch Nigeria’s notable legal minds against one another. While one side of the divide says the EFCC chair can continue in office in acting capacity without the Senate’s confirmation, the other side is convinced that this will make the president a dictator who, henceforth, will be ruling with his self-appointed officers without regard, and recourse, to the Senate, contrary to the extant provisions of our laws. To this side of the argument, a nominee of the president for a position that needs Senate confirmation cannot continue to act in that capacity ad infinitum.

The president’s man, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Mr. Itse Sagay,   further poured fuel into the fire of the raging controversy with his claim that Magu can continue in acting capacity without Senate approval as the body is  made of people of questionable character. When he was invited to appear before the Senate to explain his statement, he averred that the Senate had no power to invite him.

When this statement is viewed alongside the refusal of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali, to appear before the Senate in his uniform; the directive of the Senate that he ceases to hold that office after two weeks, which appears to have been ignored; and the refusal of the presidency to heed the Senate position on the case of the Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr. Babachir Lawal,  relating to the questionable award of contracts to companies with which he is associated in the troubled North-East, it becomes quite clear that Nigeria may be entering a phase in its governance where the presidency is beholden to no one, and has regard for no authority other than itself. This will, of course, be a dangerous scenario for our democracy. In the case of Sagay, Section 89 (c) of the Nigerian Constitution states that the Senate or House of Representatives shall have power to “summon any person in Nigerian to give evidence at any place…”

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Subsection (d) of this section also provides that the two chambers of the National Assembly “shall have power to issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so…” It is quite clear from this section that the Senate can invite any person, but “for the purpose of an investigation”.

These wrangling between the Senate, the Presidency and its officials, is not in the best interest of our democracy. It is therefore, good, that the Presidency has called its officials to order and urged them to respect the office of the Senate and the National Assembly in general.  This is very much in order as the country must be careful not to inadvertently nurture the development of a maximum ruler who cannot be questioned by the National Assembly, even with its warts and all.

Let there be a thaw in the freezing Presidency/Senate relations. The unending rifts between the two arms of government are quite unfortunate, because they can do our democracy no good. The unhealthy situation reflects the failure of the ruling party to keep its house in order. The National Working Committee of the APC, which has been on a fence-mending mission, should do a good job of smoothening relations between the two arms of government so that they can concentrate on the important task of getting the country out of recession and improving security and the lives of the people. The Presidency has also charged some people with the work of reducing acrimony and improving cooperation between the Executive and the National Assembly. This is very much in order so that both arms of government can get on with their work.

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Nigerians can only benefit when the relationship between both arms of government is characterized by mutual respect. The Presidency must respect the Senate and House of Representatives and allow them to do their jobs. They are not there to rubberstamp the president’s decisions. The APC and the Presidency may not like the faces of certain persons in the National Assembly, but, as long as they occupy those offices, they must be allowed to play their constitutional roles, while the presidency also puts its house in order, and does not work at cross-purposes (a la DSS), to smoothen the paths of its nominees in the Senate.

But then, respect is reciprocal. The Senate and House of Representatives should respect the Presidency and not seek to throw spanners in its works, as the threat by the Senate not to screen the persons nominated for vacant positions in INEC represents. Nigeria needs peace among its leadership class, if the objectives of rescuing the country from the jaws of recession, unemployment, insecurity, poverty and poor social services, are to be achieved.

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