Executive meddlesomeness dangerous to Nigeria’s democracy – Zoro

Former President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Malam Sani Zoro in this interview with EMEKA NZE links the faceoff between the executive and the lower arm of Nigeria’s legislature arising from the defection of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. He also warns of the attendant implications of executive interference being capable of derailing the current political dispensation

What do think are the implications of Tambuwal’s defection from the PDP to APC and the subsequent withdrawal of his security aides?
Well, Tambuwal is not the first elected legislator to have turned the table against his party and for personal reasons decide to cross over to another party. If I may recall the first elected national assembly member that crossed over from his party to another party was Senator Wahab Dosumu, who was elected on the platform of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) back then in 1999 to represent Lagos Central and for reasons best known to him he now migrated to the ruling party. Since then the number of senators and members of house of Representatives as well as governors and legislators at the House of Assembly that have crossed over to different parties from the ones they were elected are too numerous to mention. So, since that floodgate was opened Nigeria has witnessed these – many times opportunistic, if you like, many times with justified excuses for crossing. Now having said so, I want to believe that all these issues of crossing over were never challenged in the courts of law as far as I can remember except the recent mass defection of PDP members into the rival APC months back. That’s the only occasion in which the PDP went to court asking the courts to declare those seats vacant. You know the outcome of the High Court ruling which asked them to vacate their seats, which have been appealed against at the Appeal Court, it is still lying there.
Now the defection of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and the reaction particularly of the executive arm of government has a grave consequence to democratic process and if not well-managed, is capable of not only undermining the sustainability of the process but is capable of being the trigger that can bring the entire democratic process to an abrupt end.

Why is it so?
In the presidential system of government everywhere especially in the case of the United States of America that I have a little knowledge about and that of Nigeria, there has always been frictions between the executive and the legislative arms and in most cases a study will show that it is the executive that encroaches and poaches into the duties and mandates of the legislative arm. The executive becomes power hungry because of its nature and will always want to take it out on the legislative arm of government especially when that legislative arm of government is critical, especially if it is conducting its oversight functions very well, the executive normally becomes jittery and intolerant of the activities of the legislative arm of government which is basically to oversee it and the judicial arm of government. However, because our democracy is fledgling as they normally say, it is too sensitive and it will not be able to absorb the kind of friction occasioned by the civil war, into the executive arm of government, no.  The system is too immature, the system is too tender to absorb that kind of friction and that is why I said it has a very grave consequence.

Can you us one example of such case in recent time?
In the history of executive-legislative relationship from 1999 till date, we will see that it is the executive that always wanted to dictate to the legislative arm. If you remember in 1999 after the general elections of May 1999 there was a distinguished Senator now late, called Dr Chuba Okadigbo. The ruling PDP went into voluntary agreement within its own internal structure that Dr Okadigbo was to be the first Senate President. In other words, the PDP was to use its majority to install him as President of the Senate but immediately after the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, the first thing it did was to undermine that agreement. Well, Okadigbo had been to all parts of the country lobbying and got acceptance that they were going to run an independent legislative arm of government based on the principle of Separation of Powers. And what did it do? First of all, President Obasanjo refused to inaugurate the National Assembly immediately upon his own inauguration until the legislators started in this very hotel where they were lodged, they started to threaten that they were going to inaugurate themselves if the president didn’t because it was just ceremonial. Now after the presidency has accepted in its own plans to undermine the resolve of the national assembly, that’s when it went ahead to inaugurate the national assembly. And what happened after that inauguration, it did not take up to six months when Dr Chuba Okadigbo was removed and Chief Evan Enwerem elected in his place and Ibrahim Buhari emerged as Speaker of the House of Representatives. So right from the word go President  Obasanjo had started as a military dictator; apparently he didn’t want to condone opposition from the two other arms of government and that’s why he went to undermine the emergence of the true leaders of the other arms, especially the legislative arm. And since then he set a tone of meddlesomeness into the legislative arm. After Enwerem for the next three or so Presidents of the Senate, it was Obasanjo that removed or installed them, even in the House of Representative, they were very lucky that after the dethroning of Ibrahim Buhari, they elected their own people as Speakers- Ghali Na’aba, Aminu Masari but he installed the lady from Osun- Hon Patricia Etteh. The house being the most diversified, rigorous and vibrant Assembly decided to put a stop to that and they wanted to assert their independence since Hon Etteh was impeached and that was why for the first time, independently, they elected Dimeji Bankole as Speaker of the House and of course, the story of how Aminu Tambuwal and Emeka Ihedioha emerged is also well known. These were the heroes that tried to assert the independence of the House of Representatives. That is the history of meddlesomeness of the executive arm of government and this is just as it affects leadership talkless of using the party structure also to be supportive of the executive always. If you remember under Ahmadu Ali’s administration of the party, he had always moved him to convene meetings of the caucuses of the PDP only when President Olusegun Obasanjo misbehaved or one of the presidents that PDP had produced so far had done an illegal and contentious action in the course of duty and the National Assembly really arose against him either threaten him with impeachment and so on; that’s when the party will now move to convene and try to cajole members of the National Assembly into supporting the president. The party had never blamed the president, which means that the party has always taken the side of the executive arm of government.

Why has this trend continued to colour the Nigerian political terrain in recent years?
It is simply because every president minus President Yar Adua. President Olusegun Obasanjo and the current President have always installed their own preferred elements as leaders of the party. Why I singled out President Yar Adua is because the Chairman of the PDP then, Vincent Ogbulafor, when Yar Adua came to power said in an interview that they went to see the late president and asked him “What would you want us to do as a party to support you?” The late President replied and said “Look, you are the party to which I belong; you have your own programmes and activities you should not expect any details from me; go and conduct the affairs of the party according to the rule of law, according to how you perceive your own assignments to be. So that was the only time when the party was not manipulated to support certain arbitrariness and dictatorship of the executive arm.

What would you say is the danger such a combative political relationship?
Why this particular confrontation is dangerous is because it is coming on the heels of an election in which there are so many contentious issues – some constitutional, some legal and some political. This again is very dangerous because Nigeria has not gone to election between 1999 till date, amidst intense activities of insurgents; Nigeria has not been to election with clear signs of divisiveness based on ethnicity and faith that have been played up like now; and whether we like it or not the national assembly – because of its number – is a stabilizing factor. While the president represents the entire county as his own constituency, we should not forget the fact that that it is at the macro level, but the people that represent the individual constituencies that regulate the national character of Nigeria is the National Assembly. Those Federal constituencies that produce the 360 constituencies that makes up the House of Representatives and then the 109 Senators who were elected on the basis of equal representation from each of the states and the FCT. These are the people that represent the micro levels because at federal level these are people that aggregate the feelings, aspirations of their people at the national level.

So, you believe it has a destabilising effect that could go on and on?
So if you destabilize it, the ripples will automatically rub off on the national polity and in all spheres. That is why this crisis has the potential of reverberating and being echoed in all parts of the country. It has the potential of affecting other parties in the course of alignment and realignment that characterize Nigerian politics towards elections. It also has the tendency of engulfing other institutions because the institutions in Nigeria are not independent of politicians like the Nigerian Police already is soaked because it has taken sides. A withdrawal of the security personnel around the Speaker could mean that the entire security apparatus which has been part of the executive has been moved against the leadership of one of the arms of government. You see the response of the national assembly also has the potential of attracting other institutions- known and unknown because this is the height of partisanship in the country. So you will see solidarities being built along regional lines, along ethnic lines and along religious lines; that is capable of further deepening the political crisis in the country and anything can happen.

From your point of view, why is democracy and its institutions so delicate?
If you look at democracies that have very strong institutions, the 21st century has shown that there is no country or democracy or system of any government that has a guarantee of absorbing the minutest of pressure. Tunisia’s revolution started with an unemployed person who went on a purely individual campaign and set himself ablaze- hara-kiri. That is what triggered what is now called the Arab Stream. It engulfed not less than 6 countries and swept away so many leaders including the butchering of Muammar Gaddafi who was the longest serving leader in the world for about 32 years.
Now let’s come to what is ascribed as the basis of this crisis or its trigger. It is this entire attempt at tenure elongation. The PDP has endorsed in a very cavalier manner, in a very strange manner, in a manner that is described as a lesson and learnt; it has influenced its internal structures to endorse the president as the only candidate and it has promised governors that they were also going to run for second term, that’s those who are in the fight term and those who are leaving after second term would be free to nominate their successors, the PDP has breached all that now. All  the desperate attempt is to get the president to contest another round of election, which is constitutionally and legally contentious. Now if look at what has just happened in Burkina Faso, that is the overthrow of the regime of Blaise Campoire after 27 years, appropriately these Bourkinabe coup d’état or forceful change of government has the potential of being the West African equivalent of the Arab Stream. It is like the revolutionary wind that blows. So this is like the West African wind that can blow to any direction where you have this sort of fledgling and manageable political environment like Nigeria. I am not talking of military takeover per se but revolutions can come in various forms. There is the people’s revolution as witnessed elsewhere; there are various forms of upheavals that can bring about change. Let’s hope and pray that the Nigerian political elite will learn lessons from these kinds of 21st century triggers. Of course these are triggers that were not witnessed in the 20th century; it is because of the advancement of the information technology which assists easily in spreading information.

Related content you may like