How Buhari should deal with the legislature
Democracy is being misinterpreted by this administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Democracy does not mean the office of the President alone. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people, according to Abraham Lincoln. And it is represented by the three arms of government, namely the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Note that the legislature is usually named first because without the constitution, there is no democratic government. The executive and judiciary can function in a dictatorship, but if any government should be called democratic, then the legislature must be added. And when the judiciary makes laws, even members of the executive should keep themselves under the laws, if it is indeed a democracy.
The legislature is not an appendage of the executive. It does not exist to fulfil all righteousness and do the bidding of the President. Neither does the judiciary exist to give judgements that suit the President. The legislature and the judiciary are independent of the executive and exist to carry out their duties as stipulated by the constitution. Each arm is meant to be a check on the other, in order to avoid absolute powers and dictatorship, which lead to impunity, lawlessness and anarchy.
It is said that even if a judge were to stagger into a courtroom, reeking of alcohol, but passes judgement on a case, that judgement stands. It is not for the President to choose whether to obey that judgement or not. The judgement is meant to be executed to the letter. The President, or a minister or governor has the option of appealing the ruling and getting it nullified. It is also not the duty of the executive to discipline the drunken judge. There are laid down procedures for such.
In the same vein, if the President sends the best candidate in the nation for confirmation for a position by the Senate (the legislature) and the Senate disqualifies the candidate for whatever reason, no matter how seemingly obtuse, it is not within the powers of the President to overrule the Senate. It is part of the duties of the Senate to confirm or reject nominees sent by the President. If it were a mere formality, the constitution would not have stated that the Senate should confirm certain appointments made by the President.
It is the duty of the President to ensure that he is in good terms with the legislature, to ensure that his nominations and bills are given favourable treatment. And if at any time the legislature rejects his nomination or bill, he should not see it as an affront but a case of the legislature carrying out its role.
The President should not create the impression that governance starts and ends with him and that other arms of government exist for his pleasure. He is not the chief executive of a company with the legislature and judiciary operating as his directors that work under him. In a democracy, the three arms of government are like three CEOs in charge of different aspects of the company. Each faces his roles and reigns supreme there.
If the President were to go into the National Assembly, he would bow to the Senate President. If he were to go into a law court, he would bow to the judge or justice. It is a confirmation that these are supreme bodies that are above any individual or office.
The President must also stop creating this wrong impression that whatever he wants must be done always. No matter his professed good intentions, he cannot get whatever he wants always. That is how democracy works.
The President must respect other arms of government. He must show respect to the legislature and the judiciary and must caution his subordinates against disrespecting these two bodies through their words and actions. He must look beyond the individuals who hold positions in these two arms of government and focus on the offices involved. If these bodies are not respected or their decisions discountenanced, then we are destroying the foundations of our democracy and inviting anarchy upon ourselves.
The President must drop the impression that only one person is good enough in a country of 180 million to man a position. The message being sent out is that if that person were to meet with any eventuality or gets a higher appointment, such a position would not be filled. As important as Mrs Amina Mohammed, erstwhile Minister of the Environment, was in the cabinet, when she got an appointment as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, she left her office and went to the UN. Buhari’s government did not collapse. Even when Buhari himself was away for nearly two months on medical leave, Nigeria did not collapse. On the contrary, governance experienced some boost under the direction of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was the Acting President.
The Senate has rejected Ibrahim Magu twice and has issued a two-week ultimatum that he be stopped from acting as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Last week, the Senate suspended the confirmation of the Resident Electoral Commissioners for two weeks because of the failure of Buhari to drop Magu after being rejected twice. The 2017 budget is still with the National Assembly. The National Assembly may decide to delay it and other bills.
Respect is reciprocal. The President must respect the decisions of the National Assembly to ensure that his office is also respected. In the event of a standoff between the President and the National Assembly, it is the nation that suffers. But the greatest loser will be the President because his policies and plans will not be executed optimally. No matter the cogent reasons he will present, the masses will conclude that President Buhari has not delivered on his campaign promises.
Those who blame this on the fact that Buhari did not take interest on who became the heads of each of the two arms of the National Assembly miss the point. The President does not need to interfere in the election of the officers of the National Assembly to have a good working relationship with the lawmakers. That attitude made the National Assembly unstable in the past, especially during the tenure of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. What a President needs to do is to work closely with the parliament, show them respect, and discuss issues with their leadership constantly.
This ugly scenario about Magu is also a lesson to Buhari on the need to act fast on cases. If Magu had been presented quickly enough to the Senate for confirmation shortly after he was made the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, it would have been easy to confirm him.
The President must also ensure that there is uniform communication from agencies working under him. The damning report by the Department of State Services on Magu was what the Senate exploited to deny him confirmation. How could two different reports on Magu emanate from the same DSS?
Democracy does not move as fast and as smoothly as dictatorship. It can be frustrating sometimes. It may even seemingly work against good plans. But it is still more dignifying than dictatorship. It creates more stability and peace than dictatorship. Those who practise it only need to learn more how to work with people and make them do one’s wish without force or hard lines.