Improving Executive/Legislative Relationship

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Improving Executive/Legislative Relationship

 

By

 

Professor Jibril Aminu
 

culled from NEWSWATCH, June 12, 2006

 
Nigeria runs a presidential system which, in structure and theory of operations, is almost identical to that of the United States. The Nigerian presidential system started, of course, with the (50-1) Constitution Drafting Committee inaugurated by General Murtala Muhammed in 1975. They took the US system almost lock, stock and barrel.
 
But, the system was not adopted in order to strengthen democracy or to empower the legislature and the legislator. It was adopted principally to take the very divisive census issue out of the general elections. It received a further boost on account of the death, from a dastardly coup attempt, of the proponent of the idea, General Murtala Mohammed.
When we adopted the US Presidential System in 1979, America was just over two hundred years old, and had gathered commensurate experience. Apart from that, our history, when we adopted the system, was very different from when America adopted hers. We had a Parliamentary system in the days leading to Independence and in the period after Independence, until 1966. We also had ancient civilisations with empires and potentates in the African tradition.
 
Besides, our religious profile was very different. In addition, to Christianity and, predominantly, Islam there were also the African traditional religions. In other words, although the system was the same, the operators and the environment were both very different.
This type of situation is bound to create different observable results. It is not only in Nigeria that this was true. Philippines was an old Polynesian Dutch archipelago. The experience with Spanish colonialism, the Polynesian culture and the dominant Catholic Church, produced results different from the US, with, for example, the emergence of a powerful dictator like Ferdinand Marcos. The same thing is observable in South Korea, where economic growth and development were not accompanied by a free and contractual society, with clean, tolerant and accountable political system and government.
The Second Republic started the new Constitution in 1979, both at the Federal and State levels. At the centre, President Shehu Shagari was very democratic and appeared willing to fully observe the provisions of the Constitution and the rule of law. He took part in fashioning out the Constitution of 1979 and was elected President through a very vibrant democratic process, that means tested the key provisions of the Constitution up to the Supreme Court and affirmed them. He always seems to me to be saying and acting that he was not afraid of the democratic process because that was how he came to power. But, he did have some serious structural problems although he acted as if they did not bother him. They were an economy that needed to be nursed in the face of a reckless political class; opposition parties headed by powerful political colleagues (Waziri Ibrahim, Solomon Lar, Rimi, etc) and elders Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Aminu Kano) who were not particularly happy with his victory and appeared set to give him and the system a tough time; and then a military that tasted power, was full of ambitious young people and never appeared far away.
The presidential system of Second Republic was characterised, and additionally stressed, by a number of other factors or political curiosities of no mean order.
 
The first was the observation made by someone that the presidential system, as we perceived and practiced it in the Second Republic, could only be sustained with a lot of money, that is to say, a great economic boom. When the economy collapsed as a result of the world oil market in February 1982, the results were predictable.
 
Second, was the case of the political party leaders who failed in the presidential election and now had to live with no political office but who had their party men who were powerful office holders like governors, senators, ministers etc, and some of whom did not really care about their party leader anymore. They hijacked the party and it became their own. Aminu Kano and his PRP and Waziri Ibrahim and his GNPP, and, to some extent, even Nnamdi Azikiwe and his NPP, all faced these tribulations. In the parliamentary system, they would have been Members of the Parliament and in a better position to control their parties.
Third, was the situation where someone should stand election as representative, senator or governor, and lose and is then made a powerful minister controlling enormous resources. This obviously created much envy and polluted the atmosphere between the executive and the legislature to a similar extent, especially between the successful legislator and the powerful and influential man he had defeated.
 
Fourth, were some provisions of the Constitution which created a national pre-occupation or diversion, namely, impeachment and the creation of states. One governor and one deputy governor, out of 19 each, were impeached for nothing but trumped up and inflated charges of misconduct. But, that does not give an indication of the number who were constantly threatened by their respective legislators, and where considerably hampered by that. The creation of state and local government, especially the processes leading to that, took up most of the time of the legislators and the executives. In the end, no new state was created. Plenty of local governments were said to have been created. But, they never really functioned until the coup of 1983 ended the experiment.
 
Two further factors which emerged in the presidential system were the Party Caucus and the Bonic Legislator.
Every party has a caucus and the ruling party has a ruling caucus. The Shagari Presidential system was very democratic. So, he allowed the party caucus to be and it was influential, attended by the president and other top party and government leaders, but chaired by the party chairman. It was alleged that they reviewed decisions of the Federal Executive Council particularly on contracts. That seemed to be why a number of them were detained by the incoming military in 1984, although the national chairman and quite a number of those they would have wanted to get their ham-fisted hands on, and on whom they were willing to pay as much as the cost of a crate, escaped those armed clutches.
 
The bionic legislator was truly unique in the new presidential system. In the erstwhile parliamentary system, the legislator was under the chief whip, with his three line whipping, and collectively, the legislators did not want to offend the prime minister who could always have the parliament dissolved with everyone facing dreaded new elections. The presidential system legislator is free, bionic and completely on his own. He was boisterous, and in a place like say, an airport departure lounge, especially if there were complimentary drinks to be had, you knew everything that went on in the chamber that day if the honourables were there.
 
The constitution did not allow the bionic legislator to cross the carpet. But he could always join with a few and form a faction of the party and claim that, that was the legitimate entity and they could have effectively crossed the carpet without saying so.
The Babangida Constitution of 1989, probably to exercise some control over the bionic legislators, introduced the recall clause for any legislator. No recall has so far been successful. But, the recall clause became a convenient tool for the governors, in particular, to harass legislators. It is due for being struck out of the Constitution because there are other ways of dealing with erring legislators according to the rules of their own particular chamber.
For all their boisterousness, the legislatures did not appropriate funds as, say, the ministers do. They as individuals are really not in statutory control of public funds. That is why no legislator was jailed by the Buhari Administration of 1984 only on account of being a legislator. It is interesting to see if anything has happened to change that perception and status.
 
The legislator, unlike the president and governor, has no term limits, and can be there for a very long time. That is one key to building power and influence and making a bid for the top executive job. This is very true in the United States, but is yet to mature in Nigeria.
The Second Republic collapsed for many reasons; military inability to fit back into civilian life hardships after tasting power, collapse of the oil market, the commodity that literally fuelled the mono-economy, natural disasters like the serious draught of 1983, etc. But, excesses by politicians, their egocentrism, lack of compromise, corruption, dirty politics and taking the people for granted played a very prominent role and was the excuse given by the military when they eventually returned.
 
There were cases of executive, legislative friction, but they were not responsible for the collapse of the 2nd Republic. In other words, it was not the constitution, or the presidential system that collapsed. The reasons were much more mundane. In short, Nigeria successfully embarked upon the presidential system, but the experiment was cut short by the excessively poor behaviour of the operators and the unfavourable environment.
From May 29, 1999, Nigeria has been in what some call the Fourth Republic, but which others call the Third. We are now towards the end of the Second Term of the new Republic. It was said that Nigeria was jinxed and you could never get Civil-Civil Transition to last long. So far, this one has lasted, and is very much on the way.
Nothing gives a better idea of the stability of a system, than for it to face very serious crises and survive and continue to grow. The present system looks and remains rock solid.
In 1999, the presidential system was not new. So everyone was familiar with its working rudiments.
 
The National Assembly, from 1999, set about doing its work including law making, budgeting, oversight functions, confirmation and investigation. Crises developed over these and they became the centres of controversy, and some of which went very far, and will be referred to very briefly.
It seems as if the real issues in legislative/executive relationship are personally driven. The Senate changed its president twice before 2003. The House had two speakers in the first term. In nearly all cases of such legislative upheavals, with loss of office, alleged personal misconduct was what was cited. But, somehow, people tell you that they could see the hand of the executive there. It is not as if the legislature was always the victim either. Starting from the House of Representatives, a very serious attempt was made in 2001 to impeach the president. The joke that went too far looked like it was going somewhere, but was fortunately nipped in the bud by the intervention of two former presidents: Yakubu Gowon and Shehu Shagari.
There was argument over everything. The presidency blocked the release of funds to the House, which responded with the impeachment threat. The fact is, someone looking for a fault will always find it. There is always something that the presidency does, or fails to do, round which a case for impeachment can be built by those eager to do so. Similarly, the presidency can always find something wrong with the way the legislature behaves particularly in managing their own finances. Each side was gleeful whenever it could score points against the other. The executive was accused of using the recall clause, in collusion with some governors, to harass legislators. Peace was only brought about by the end of the first term, and the respective heads and, in the case of senate, three quarters of the members, did not return. Again, the executive was rightly or wrongly fingered on this matter.
It can be said that the first term from 1999 was characterised by the typical Nigerian over-assertiveness, of one side trying to establish dominance over the other as the two sides discharged their constitutional responsibilities. It is fair to say that the problem was the operators, not the constitution, not the environment. Significantly, there was no bloodshed, in spite of dramatic moments like when the senate mace was removed in order to forestall what was perceived to be an unfriendly meeting.
 
The crises of the first term were sometimes very acrimonious. But they served to clearly define areas that needed attention in terms of improving the relationship between the legislature and the executive and achieving maturation of the system.
Being part of it since 2003, it will be both difficult and impolitic for me to comment on what goes on now or to try to analyse it. Suffice to say, in addressing the various areas one may be able to point to some where improvements can be made and what is the nature of the improvement needed in each case. That is one way to face the challenge of the consolidation of democracy in this dispensation.
The Executive needs to accept that the Constitution provides for the Legislature and assigns responsibilities to it. The Legislators are not just a nuisance to slow down things or, put another way, the Executive should not think that the purpose of the Legislature is to service the Executive by quickly dealing in a compliant way with whatever the Executive wants. It should also be appreciated that, at least in the United Sates, the delays occasioned by legislative processes are not regarded as evil. They are regarded as essential to the plurality and diffusion of power, expressing clearly the doctrine of the separation of powers, in order to stop tyranny and other undemocratic tendencies.
Legislators must have full loyalty first to the country and to the Legislature. It does not pay when some legislators, particularly those in key positions, appear to be there only to push the interest of the Executive, not to talk of outside interest. In particular, rushing matters through just to appear to be doing the bidding of the Executive demonstrates failure to appreciate the essence of the presidential system.
The party system must be strengthened. Division in the Legislature along party lines is considered the most healthy in order to give plurality a strong say. A legislature cannot demote party affiliation and pretend to be democratic.
 
The party itself is not helping democracy when it becomes little more than an agent of the Executive, stressing party loyalty and discipline only to compel the Legislature to do the bidding of the Executive.
Legislators are to concentrate on their work and their dignity. Their constituency projects should be substantially and promptly funded. These projects spread development into nooks and crannies, they thus accelerate national development. If they are given generous allocation for constituency projects, legislators will reduce their unwholesome practice of going to the ministers in their offices looking for little personal and constituency favours, a situation fraught with the danger of ruining relations between the Executive and the Legislature.
Whatever it is, legislators need to shun questionable money no matter from what source. The Executive must not be used to the idea of compromising the
 
Legislature only to turn around and declare them corrupt.
Both the Executive and the Legislature need to understand that, in the presidential system, the legislature is in charge of the money. The Executive is in charge of its approved budget. Any monies outside this require the Legislature to approve. The Legislature must know where every kobo is and is entitled to know how every kobo is spent. They should not collude with the Executive, as happens in some states, to loot.
 
The National Assembly should be as independent of the Executive as possible. This should include direct, first line charge for their budget, abolition of the recall clause which is only a tool in the hands of governors and other executives to harass legislators, and according the legislators an ungrudging recognition of their true protocol status as elected representatives of the people. The Executive needs to recognise the critical role of legislators when requiring a law, ratifying a treaty or screening of some political appointees to some public offices. Similarly, in all major state undertakings, the legislators need to be consulted or included because, for most projects or programmes to succeed, they may need some kind of legislation. The legislators also require working space and manpower. Before comments are made about how expensive they are, the suites and staff available to the American Senators and Congressmen should first be studied. It would be quite instructive.
There are structures needed to raise the quality of legislation and the legislator's work. The American General Accounting Office, and Office of Management and Budget, OMB, increase the data and advice available to the legislators and will greatly enhance their productivity. The facilities are cost effective.
 
The Committees need to be accorded greater respect. While they must be enjoined to do their work with due diligence, the committees need to be allowed much latitude, on deciding the right to block some bills or decisions for good cause. A committee should not be asked to report in so many weeks if it appears that they will not be able to do so, or that some constitution is cut out because of expedience.
When the Senate indicates that it is not willing to clear some appointee following a screening exercise, the matter must not be pushed by the Executive with the same candidate returned over and over again until approved. In other words "LET GO" is a good mutual policy of how to respect each other.
Neither side should take pleasure in propagating scandals on the other. They should avoid speaking ill of each other. The Executive should not use its enormous direct control of resources to spread stories in the media and civil society in general, with the view to maligning the legislature, particularly collectively.
 
On law making, the Executive must act on private members bills and resolutions. Hardly any private members bill has been signed into law. There is little evidence that much notice is taken of even formal Resolution of the National Assembly except those that the Executive may be impeached in the future. Most problems appear to arise from little more than insufficient information and consultation over the very dynamic state of government liquidity, particularly in an unstable economy, like one relying on one commodity, oil. Resentment also arises from a prejudiced mindset in whatever direction for whatever reasons.
The Executive will need to be transparent about all government revenues and expenditure. There is a popular notion that not enough its known about what goes on. This idea of the Accountant-General to look after the Federal Account and a Federal Treasurer to look after the Federal Consolidated Revenue Fund must be pursued and actualised, Otherwise, suspicious will remain.
 
The federal and state executives must give up immunity in criminal offences. The legislators do not have immunity except while speaking in the Chamber. No one should have the immunity to commit criminal offences with impunity.
The challenge of consolidating democracy is for the system to work, and for the operators to try to get it to work in spite of the divergent history and culture. If we get it to work, like it does in the United States, from where we borrowed it, democracy will be very difficult to shake in his land.
 
 
*Professor Aminu is senator, Adamawa Central Senatorial District, National Assembly, Abuja. The foregoing are excepts from his lecture marking The Third Oba Okunade Sijuwade Distinguished Guest Lecture, at OAU, Ife, recently.

 

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