Between legislators and the executive – By Mohammed Haruna

Last week the newspapers gave prominence to the squaring off between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and President Goodluck Jonathan over the issue of the separation of powers among the three arms of government, namely the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

The occasion was the Democracy Day Symposium, penultimate Monday, titled “Our Democracy: Progress and Challenges,” held in the Banquet Hall of the State House. This was a day ahead of this year’s so-called Democracy Day that has been inflicted on Nigerians as a holiday by our unlamented old despot, General Olusegun Obasanjo, for no better reason than that he returned to power as a civilian on May 29, 1999.

The topic of the symposium itself couldn’t have been more appropriate thirteen years after the second military interruption of our democracy came to an end in 1999 after nearly sixteen years. (The first, as we all know, occurred in 1966 and ended with Obasanjo as military head of state between 1976 and 1979, following the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed, his immediate predecessor, in a failed coup). Thirteen years may be like the twinkle of an eye in the life of a nation, but it is not too short to determine if the nation is heading in the right direction.

Few Nigerians, I imagine, will disagree with the view that Nigeria has headed in the wrong direction since 1999.  No doubt the country Obasanjo inherited that year was hardly a happy one, what with all inequities and despotism its hapless citizens had been subjected to by their rulers. But then the country he left behind after eight years as its civilian ruler was hardly better than what he had inherited. On the contrary, virtually all the human development indices indicated the country was worse off at after his rule.

The May 28 squaring off between the Speaker and President Goodluck was in the end about which arm, between the legislature and the executive, should be blamed for the country’s retrogression all these 13 years that its citizens had been led to hope that the end of military rule in the country in 1999 will signal the end of their seemingly interminable miserable existence.

Naturally each side blamed the other but, not surprisingly, Speaker Tambuwal started the altercation. If little or no progress has been made in the first year since the last elections in May, he said, it was because the executive arm has refused to sign the bills the legislators have passed “for the peace, order and good government of the Federation,” to use the words of our Constitution in defining the powers of the three arms of government.

Not so, said the president. The problem, he said, was that the legislature had taken the meaning of the separation of powers between the three arms, especially that between the legislature and the executive, too literally. In developed countries, he said somewhat disingenuously and certainly inaccurately, it was news when a lawmaker publicly voted against the executive, whereas in Nigeria it was news only when a lawmaker supported the president.

Since the return of civilian rule to the country in the last 13 years it is pretty obvious that each arm has had its share of the blame for the sorry state of the country. But certainly the greatest share must go to the executive for the simple reason that it has the greatest capacity among the three to interfere with the others – and has never shied away from doing so, as was glaringly obvious in the circumstance of the very emergence of Tambuwal as speaker exactly one year ago today.

The precedence was, of course, set by Obasanjo back in1999. Then he made sure only those who, military style, obeyed his orders before they complained emerged as leaders of the National Assembly. May last year, President Jonathan, as a protégé and a good student of Obasanjo, tried to emulate his benefactor but obviously lacked his benefactor’s capacity and gumption to prevail on the ruling party to impose a leadership on the legislators other than the one they liked.

With the arguable exception Dimeji Bankole, the embattled immediate past speaker, Tambuwal is the first to have been installed as speaker in spite of stiff opposition from the ruling party’s leadership and from the executive. This explains how the man could go into the lion’s den and accuse the executive of obstructing the legislature from doing its job.

A year on since the last elections both arms of the National Assembly, the House in particular, have demonstrated that they are no longer satisfied with being the poodle of the executive, as was the case at least during the first eight years of the current Republic. This is quite obvious from the public enquiries that the legislators have instituted into the executive’s apparently scandalous management of the country’s oil subsidy, its fire sale of our public assets and the gutting of the pension fund by a few venal bureaucrats, to name three of the most recent examples.

So if there has been little or no progress in the country since the return of democracy in 1999, the larger responsibility must go to the executive which always disapproved of the legislature asking awkward questions, to begin with, and invariably never acted on the findings of the legislators, as provided in the constitution.

Re:Niger State’s Night(s) of the Long Knives

By Danlami Ndayebo

The Government of Niger State finds it necessary to respond to an unfortunate cocktail of wild allegations, all of them without foundation, contained in Malam Mohamed Haruna’s column published simultaneously by both TheNationand Daily Trust newspapers on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. Opinion is free, but facts remain sacred.

We concede that Malam Mohammed Haruna has a right to canvass support for whoever he wishes, but unkind cuts of members of the executive and legislative arms of the government of his home State is a disservice to the people and the institutions disparaged in his column. We are therefore compelled to set the record straight, so as not to misguide the successor generation that their past was riddled with unconscionable opportunism. Sentiments cannot replace historical facts and realities.

As a Nigerlite, the writer has a right to be concerned about developments in his home State, but nothing happened in the political clime of Niger to warrant the choice of words and description of the leaders of the state as Malam Mohammed would want the world to believe. What is bizarre about an institution of government changing its leadership? What transpired on the floor of the State House of Assembly is democracy at work, not a ‘bizarre’ political situation.

Producing three speakers in quick succession may baffle Malam Mohammed, but that’s realpolitik beyond textbook theories. If it was right for the Assembly men to replace Hon Mohammed Tsowa Gamunu with Hon Isa Kawu, what would have made the latter’s reign eternal? From the first paragraph to the last, the writer laboured, albeit unsuccessfully, to give the impression that Hon. Kawu is the only competent person in the 27-member legislature to drive the process of protecting the independence of the legislature. We are sure that the honourable lawmaker would not find that sufficiently flattering.

Niger Legislature has operated unfettered since Dr. Babangida Aliyu assumed office as governor of the State. GovernorBabangida Aliyu has a firm, interpretative understanding of democracy and separation of powers that he would not leave governance for the ego of wanting to turn whoever leads the parliament into a puppet. To regard members of the Assembly as robots in the hands of one man is to robe him with the garb of divinity, a blasphemy that Gov. Aliyu abhors.

Furthermore, to submit that the lawmakers were induced is an exercise in presumptuousness. For the writer to insinuate that all the other 26 lawmakers in the Niger State House of Assembly, except his friend, Kawu, lack honour and have been repeatedly bought and cowed is to undermine their sense of self-worth and integrity. It is more of a disservice to former Speaker Kawu than display of loyalty.

As a very senior journalist and journalism teacher, Malam Mohammed should know that writing without facts is the worst crime in journalism. What manner of ethics is embedded in this assumption for instance: There were rumours of huge sums, first, ten million Naira, then fifteen, and finally twenty, being offered to each member by the executive to persuade the members to ditch Kawu barely twenty four hours after they more or less swore to stand by him, come rain, come shine? If the executive and the new House leadership have denied the malicious accusation, did Hon Kawu also bribe the same people previously to get elected as Speaker? Shouldn’t Malam Mohammed have scant evidence before going to town with the allegation that the executive was behind the crises that rocked the legislature three weeks ago?

In his concluding remarks, the writer asked what he called ‘the big question’. Why is the Chief Servant so afraid of Kawu? My answer is: Why would Babangida Aliyu who is running his second and final term, be intimidated by a partner in Niger Project. Every discerning mind knows that the Chief Servant is not afraid of Isa Kawu.

Suffice to add that the current administration under the able leadership of the Chief Servant is almost on auto-pilot and we know that Hon Kawu would not join any disgruntled force to put spanner in the works.

Our big brother Mohammed Haruna should know that all the dramatis personae in the Niger Assembly saga are from one large political family. A house divided against itself cannot stand and the articles of faith binding the People Democratic Party (PDP) men and women would not allow party faithful unduly hurt one another.

Hon. Kawu has a promising political career and big brothers like Malam Mohammed should not trade this off for whatever interest they choose to serve.

Ndayebo is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State.


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