Going by the paradigm shift the 9th National Assembly effected on the relationship between it and the executive arm of government, as demonstrated within the last seven months, informed Nigerians are of the view that it is all but a ‘rubber stamp’ of the executive. TAIYE ODEWALE in this report takes a look at the issue
Historically, for the National Assembly over the years from the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Assemblies; problem of public perception which arose from different forms of scandal like leadership to monetary allocations has been their lots, but actual the problem being faced by the 9th National Assembly arose from its harmonious working relationship with the executive arm of government.
Chronologically, while the 4th National Assembly had problem with its image partly on account of age falsification scandal the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, committed which led to his replacement by Ghali Umar Na’aba from the same Kano state, the Senate on its part at leadership level, had the scandal of alleged name forgery and financial misappropriation which led to the removal of Senators Evan Enwerem and Chuba Okadigbo as presidents in 1999 and 2000, respectively.
Scandal-related crisis also rocked the leadership of the Senate and by extension, image of the 5th National Assembly from the alleged ‘money for budgetary votes bribery scandal’ which ousted Senator Adolphus Wabara as President of the Senate in April 2005.
Although the leadership of both Chambers during the 6th, 7th and 8th National Assemblies did not court such scandals, the issues of N100 billion yearly constituency projects for the 469 members, delays in consideration and passage of appropriation bills on a yearly basis and allegations of budget padding affected its image during the time with attendant acrimonious relationships with the executive.
The very reason the leadership of the 9th Assembly – the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, right from inception in June last year, declared that harmonious working relationship between the National Assembly and the executive arm of government, particularly, the Presidency; will be the order of the day in the interest of Nigerians.
Senate president’s take
Specifically, Ahmad Lawan in his inaugural speech as President of the 9th Senate said amongst others that “We are going to work collaboratively with the executive arm of government to strengthen our planning and budget linkage that ensures effective service delivery and fulfilment of essential government obligations to the citizens, while taking care of the perennial delays in the annual appropriation bill passage and implementation.
“For the 9th Senate, and by extension the National Assembly, harmonious working relationship with the executive anchored on mutual respect shall be the way out for the benefit of all as against acrimonies of the past.”
In working the talk, both the Senate and the House of Representatives within the last seven months gave virtually all the bills and requests forwarded to them by the executive, expeditious considerations and passage, the treatment they indicated, will also be given the $29.96 billion external loan request forwarded to them by President Muhamnadu Buhari last month.
Lawan, who gave the assurance at a media briefing in Abuja on Monday, December 16, 2019, said, “On the question of whether we will pass the loan request of the executive arm of government or not , the answer is yes, we will pass it. If we don’t have money and you have projects to build them, how will you provide infrastructure that you need?
“In 2016, the Senate did not pass the loan request of the Executive at that time and the reason was because there were no sufficient details. I want to inform this gathering and indeed Nigerians that the letter conveying the loan request of the executive came with every possible detail and in fact we will ensure that we are getting the right information from the executive arm of government. So, the situation is not the same.”
However, to some Nigerians, the actions of the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly within the last seven months as regards express approval of executive requests, more or less portray it as ‘rubber stamp’ to the executive arm of government.
Perception of such Nigerians in that respect came to fore last week Tuesday during the one-day group focused discussions on citizens’ expectations from the 9th National Assembly held at the temporary site of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Abuja .
Specifically, the chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Abuja chapter, Dr. Kassim Umar, at the Forum, cautioned the leadership of the 9th National Assembly on ‘the same page relationship’ it is running with the executive arm of government since the three arms of government in a presidential democracy are meant to serve as check on one another.
“Harmonious working relationship among the three arms of government and in particular, between the Legislature and the executive in a presidential democracy like Nigeria is a welcome development, but taking it to the realm of subservience by being on the same page with the executive on all issues is dangerous for good governance.
“In the light of this, Nigerians will want the 9th National Assembly to be more assertive, thorough and resolute in exercising its constitutional duties as regards approval of proposals from the executive arm of government so as not to be seen as rubber stamp and invariably creating perception problem for itself.
“Effective oversight functions on the two other arms of government by the National Assembly is highly expected from them by Nigerians which will go a long way in taking off whatever toga of rubber stamp many critics have put on them,” he said.
In his contribution , Barrister Daramola Bade who represented the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Abuja chapter, said for the 9th National Assembly to be taken seriously by Nigerians, far reaching constitution amendments that will make Nigeria , a development – driven federation and not an over centralised one should be carried out by it.
“Approving all proposals forwarded by the executive without coming up with robust legislation that will transform the country for good, will make its public perception to be more of a rubber stamp than an autonomous arm of government,” he said.
The representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA), Malam Akande Abubakar, said once the federal lawmakers allow the fear of God to prevail in all their legislative activities, Nigeria and Nigerians will be better off and the problem of negative public perception on them will no longer be an issue.
Ernest Ereke of the Centre for Legislative Engagement, however, insisted that as long as the National Assembly continues fraternising with the issue of constituency projects, so long shall its image be low before Nigerians.
According to him, since the issue is not constitutional, it will continue to smear the image of members of the National Assembly whether they are directly involved in the execution of the projects or not; Moreso, when President Buhari declared last year that over a trillion Naira have been cash backed for such projects within the last ten years without anything to show for it.
However, despite perception problem, the Ninth National Assembly under the leadership of Lawan and Gbajabiamila strongly believes that harmonious working relationship with the executive and the attendant ‘rubber stamp’ appellation is far better than frictional ones of the past which yielded Nigerians and Nigeria, nothing, in terms of good governance.
In his reaction to the appellation last month, Gbajabiamila said, “People, critics and members of other parties have said the 9th Assembly is a rubber stamp of the executive. They may have told you that, too. You know what? It is better to be a rubber stamp and bring progress, than fight the executive without progress. When two elephants fight, the grass suffers.
“The fact is that the National Assembly is not a rubber stamp. This is a National Assembly that represents the interests of the people .The people of Surulere did not elect me to fight the executive, but to engage and collaborate with stakeholders to bring the dividends of democracy.
“This is a new dispensation. There will be checks and balances. There will be separation of powers. We will agree with the executive if we have to, and we will disagree if we have to. Our watchword is to protect the interests of the Nigerian people. That is the oath that my colleagues and I swore to.”
Similar rebuttal against allegation of ‘rubber stamp’ on the 9th National Assembly was also made on phone during the week by the chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Godiya Akwashiki (APC, Nasarawa North).
Akwashiki, in his rebuttal, said, “Those alleging that the 9th National Assembly is a rubber stamp of the executive arm of government going by its harmonious working relationship with the latter, are either ignorant of the workings of government in a Presidential democracy or mischievous.
“Do they want us to pass the budget and leave the Finance Bill meant to raise revenues for implementation of the budget unattended to? Or want us not to pass the 2020 FCT Appropriation bill into an Act, just because it was forwarded to us by the Presidency?
“What about the Deep – Off Shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2019 initiated by the Senate and passed by the National Assembly in October which the President signed into law on Monday, November 4, 2019. Is that a rubber stamp by the President? Or amendment bill on the 2007 Public Procurement Act also initiated and passed by the Senate last year?
“With all these posers, it is very clear that within the last seven months, as the 9th National Assembly gave expeditious consideration and passage to most of the executive bills forwarded to it by the Presidency, it also initiated others considered and forwarded to the presidency for assent, all in the general interest of Nigerians and Nigeria.
“It is, therefore, very unfortunate and unfair, for the 9th National Assembly to be portrayed as rubber stamp of the executive arm of government by some unformed critics. As always declared by leadership of both Chambers , the 9th Assembly is one, ready to at all times, collaborate with the executive arm of government for good governance in Nigeria.”
Obviously, the issue of rubber stamp or otherwise, on the part of the 9th National Assembly, will be clearer to Nigerians within the remaining 41 solid months of its tenureship.