President Muhammadu Buhari’s requests to the Senate since the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly have been getting the nod of the parliamentarians, with little or no challenge.
From ministerial screening to the confirmation of the nominees, consideration and passage of the 2020 budget and other legislative interventions, the Senate under Ahmed Lawan has been on the same page with the Executive, passing all their requests.
This may not be unconnected with the smooth relationship between the Ninth Assembly and the Executive, especially the Presidency.
Unlike the relationship between the Eighth Senate, led by Dr Bukola Saraki, which was characterised by a lot of conflicts with the Executive, the Ninth Senate seems to be on the same page with them. But following the attitude of the Senate towards President Buhari’s requests, a lot of Nigerians see the present National Assembly as a rubber stamp of the Presidency.
For instance, the speedy confirmation of ministerial nominees from the president without rigorous screening, and the speedy passage of executive bills, were among the issues people view as pointing to the fact that the legislators have become an appendage of the Executive. Some people also formed such opinion after witnessing the procedure through which the leadership of the National Assembly emerged.
Many believe the new leaders must return the favour they enjoyed from the Executive. Unlike the Senate under Saraki, when ministerial nominees went through rigorous screening, majority of nominees this time around enjoyed the legislative privilege of “take a bow and go.’’
The list of nominees was transmitted to the National Assembly on July 23 and all the 43 were confirmed within five days (July 30, 2019), after the Senate suspended its rules. The same process was applied when the president sent the list of nominees for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) to the National Assembly for confirmation.
It was done without delay. However, three nominees for the positions of resident electoral commissioners screened by the Senate Committee on the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) could not enjoy the “take a bow and go’’ privilege. One of them was asked whether he was a member of any political party. In response to the question on membership of a political party, Raheem Muideen Olalekan, who hails from Osun State, said he was a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Subsequently, in consideration of a report that Olalekan could not defend the allegation of bias leveled against him by a petitioner, he was not confirmed. Attempt by Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege to save the Osun nominee failed. Furthermore, some people see the quick passage of the 2020 appropriation bill as one of the actions that make the Ninth National Assembly a rubberstamp.
It would be recalled that in the past, especially under the Saraki-led Senate, budget proposals went through rigorous scrutiny as legislators took time to scrutinise proposals before sending same to the president for assent, but the process was a smooth sail in the present Assembly. It is also believed that members of the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are romancing with the leadership of the Assembly because most of them were silenced by juicy committees; hence there’s no friction of any sort between the Legislature and the Executive.
Fielding questions from newsmen on the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive, Senate President Lawan said, “I will like to appeal that you judge us by what we do. We have taken so many actions so far; and the press has been on this journey with us. Please judge us on what we do and what we don’t do.’’
He said lawmakers would do everything possible to legislate on issues that would make life better for Nigerians. “So far, we have shown that we are ready to defend Nigerians. I think we have not done anything to show that we would pass any request against Nigerians. That settles the allegation that we are rubberstamp legislators.
When we behave like rubberstamp lawmakers, you can say so, but please encourage us when we also do what is right,” he said. Speaking on the quick passage of the budget, Senator Ali Ndume said the Ninth Assembly only cooperated with the Executive to achieve financial order. He said there’s no perfect budget, adding that inadequacies or omissions “should not hinder its implementation since it can be corrected through virement or supplementary budget.’’
Speaking on the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive, Dr Lawan Cheri, a lecturer and political analyst, observed that previously, Nigerians were used to unhealthy friction between the two arms of government, to the extent that people now suspect any cozy relationship between them.
“The relationship between the legislature and the executive arms of government is spelled out by our laws. If there are contraventions we can rightly say the parliament is cowed to accept the dictates of the Executive, but if the order of procedure is followed and conventions are not contradicted, I don’t see any reason to cry foul.
“As I said earlier, we are used to a country where presidents finance the impeachment of leaders of the National Assembly, order arrest of their loyalists, while members of the National Assembly reply with impeachment notice and many despicable acts. That is why we always expect them to be fighting; and any cordial relationship is considered a misnomer,’’ Cheri said.