The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides for three arms of government at the federal and state levels, namely, the legislature, executive and judiciary. The need to separate the various functions and duties of state arises from the idea that concentration of powers in one individual or body may lead to tyranny and suppression of the rights of citizens. It is the democratic way of doing things which differentiates monarchies, dictatorships and democracies.
By Section 4 of the Constitution, the National Assembly is imbued with lawmaking powers. It is to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Nigeria. Other sections of the constitution imbue the legislature with powers and duties of appropriation, representation, oversight over executive actions, and the powers to confirm certain executive appointments. By Section 5 of the Constitution, the executive powers of the federation are vested in the President to ensure the execution of all laws validly made by the federal legislature. The judiciary comes in to interpret the laws, to jealously guard constitutionalism and democratic principles as the bastion of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is admitted that there are inbuilt tensions in the exercise of the three separate but one power of governance. But it is constitutionally and normally expected that the three arms should work harmoniously for good governance and development. For instance, the executive can initiate bills which should enjoy accelerated consideration in the legislature. There will be no budget if the executive does not start the preliminary work and preparation. Certain presidential nominees need confirmation of the Senate for them to occupy the positions.
However, since the 2015 elections and the emergence of a leadership in the Senate, the executive and the legislature at the federal level have been in a Cold War of some sorts which, from time to time, blows open into a full scale war. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding and quarrels have nothing to do with good governance but the different political permutations and manipulations of key actors. It is usually the case in any government where a party produces the President and a majority of the legislature that the government enjoys a smooth sail in terms of policymaking and passage of bills into law in the legislature. This is so because the manifesto of the party is one for the majority of the actors and their election promises are the same.
It was the expectation in 2015 that the All Progressives Congress will in a meeting among the party, the executive and the legislature leaderships identify priorities of governance especially a legislative agenda that will quickly turn around the economic, political and social fortunes of the country. Since the government of the day had made the fight against corruption a key pillar of governance, it was expected that the executive, party and the legislature would have come up with key bills that would strengthen the anti-corruption agenda and institutionalise the same. But this did not happen. Yes, there were internal challenges, not unexpected in a democracy about the election of the leadership of the Senate but the leaders of the party took sides and allowed the misunderstanding to degenerate and quickly became personalised. The expectation of all reasonable persons was for the party to sheathe its swords and wait for the appropriate time (if need be) when it would muster the numbers to overturn what they considered was not acceptable to it. But the party and its key officers decided that they must fight to finish. As a result, there has been a stalemate in both executive and legislative attempts to deliver good governance and development ever since. For instance, there is an ongoing constitution amendment process; what was the input of the executive and the ruling party as to the appropriate structure for the country, sections to be amended and new ideas of governance? Absolutely none and when the issue of decentralisation or restructuring of the governance structures came up, it was voted down by members of the same ruling party. Now, if the constitution amendment is concluded and the President does not like some sections of exercise, he may veto the amendment and the whole bickering could start all over again. Resources spent at the federal and state legislatures would have been wasted. But this could have been avoided from the beginning if a consensus was reached.
It is not too late for the APC, the executive and legislature to come to a reasoned truce which will make them work harmoniously, together, and to use the remaining part of the tenure to produce some tangible results. There are fundamental pieces of legislation needed to put Nigeria on a proper or even keel in terms of its structure, economy, social and political life and this can be done at both the federal and state levels. It will make no sense for the National Assembly to keep considering hundreds of bills in the full knowledge that the time at its disposal would not be enough to pass more than 30 bills. It has therefore become imperative to prioritise. In the next six months, governance will be fully trumped by politics as members of the executive and legislature will be fully involved in election campaigns. It will become increasingly difficult to form quorums for reasonable discourse in the legislature while the attention of the executive will be seriously distracted. This informs the need to prioritise and finish key bills in the next six months.
The priorities should include any bills to amend the constitution and Electoral Act; all the components of the Petroleum Industry bill; introduction of private sector resources in railways, roads; facilitating universal health care through universal and compulsory health insurance;major anti-corruption bills in reforming the Auditor General’s office, proceeds of crime, witness protection, etc. Policy actions should prioritise further reforms to the power sector to introduce new investors and capital; new domestic petroleum refining capacities, etc.
It is obvious that a house divided against itself cannot stand and cannot function properly. But the victims of the division are the ordinary citizens who entrusted their affairs to the parties who have instead of doing what they were elected and summoned to do, have chosen to fight dirty in the public space. Reconciliation is the way to go in the overall interest of the people.