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Buhari’s Yes Chamber?

Thereare concerns that despite assurances of leaders of the ninth National Assemblythe legislature may be too submissive to the executive that it may shirk itstraditional role of keeping the government on its toes

As soon as the leadership of the 9thSenate was inaugurated on June 11, Ahmed Lawan, the newly elected President ofthe Senate and Ovie Omo-Agege his deputy, went straight to the PresidentialVilla where President Muhammadu Buhari was waiting to receive them. After thevisit, they told reporters that it was a “Thank you” visit.

But the move led to speculations abouthow the 9th National Assembly would relate with the executive. Whilethe visit may have been routine courtesy between two arms of government, aviral video of the new deputy senate president kneeling to greet PresidentBuhari is seen by many as an indication of what the relationship between asubmissive Senate and the presidency would be- a ‘Yes’ chamber genuflecting tothe presidency. 

Although this need not be so. Thelegislature can maintain its independence without behaving as an adversary ofthe executive. But this could only happen if the legislators stand on the oaththey took to serve in the interest of the country.

Femi Gbajabiamila, the House ofRepresentatives Speaker and his deputy, Ahmad Wase also went to the villa to‘thank” the president for his support and to pledge the cooperation of thelegislators.

However, Lawan and Gbajabiamila have bothrejected the notion that their leadership would be a rubber stamp for theexecutive. In their acceptance speeches as senate president and speaker, bothacknowledged the ‘myriad of problems” confronting the country and theexpectations of Nigerians on the national assembly.  Gbajabiamila evenwent further to give a hint of what Nigerians should expect from hisleadership.

He said: “The 9th Assembly under my leadership is going to be a House of reforms or if you like a reform Assembly. The reforms will be dished out piecemeal and at intervals so as not to shock the system.  Moving forward, therefore, my dear colleagues, it will not be business as usual and we will be shaking the table just a little.”

But so far there is nothing yet to showthat the 9th national assembly would show vibrancy and put theexecutive on it toes. For instance, while many of the legislators in the rulingAll Progressives Congress, APC, speak to reporters off-the-record about whyBuhari needed to quickly release the list of his next cabinet before theirresumption on July 2, no one, including the leadership, has gone on tape tourge the president to do so.

Many papers carried reports of senators and House of Reps members giving reasons why the president was expected to submit his list of ministers to the Senate before last week’s resumption. But up till press time, the much-anticipated list had still not surfaced. Yet everyone seemed to see the situation of the country as an emergency, which required a sense of immediacy on the part of the executive.

PRESIDENT BUHARI RECEIVES NEW SP AHMED AND DSP OMO-AGEGE 2A. L-R; President Muhammadu Buhari in a handshake with The newly elected Senate President Senator Lawan Ahmed accompanied by the Deputy Senate President Senator Ovie Omo-Agege at the Residence State House in Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE. JUNE 11 2019
PRESIDENT BUHARI RECEIVES NEW SENATE PRESIDENT AHMED AND DSP OMO-AGEGE 2A. L-R; President Muhammadu Buhari in a handshake with The newly elected Senate President Senator Lawan Ahmed accompanied by the Deputy Senate President Senator Ovie Omo-Agege at the Residence State House in Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE. JUNE 11 2019

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Could it be a sign of timidity or theloss of independence that the lawmakers have failed to call out the presidenton the issue? If the legislature cannot call on the presidency to do the rightthing, how would it be able to perform the more critical task of screening ministerialnominees?

The APC has 64 members out of 109senators while the opposition holds the rest with PDP having 41.  Thiswould mean that the APC has a simple majority, though it may not be in theposition to push through major bills on its own, which may require a two-thirdmajority. This would make the opposition relevant to any legislative agenda.

But having control of both chambers ofthe national assembly would undoubtedly ease the working relationship betweenthe legislature and the executive-a relationship that was contentious duringthe 8th national assembly under Bukola Saraki.

It is an advantage, which may yet prove achallenge for the Buhari administration, which blamed its first-term failureson the miss-governance of the administrations before it and the adversarialdisposition of the last legislature where the opposition was strong enough toproduce the deputy senate president, Ike Ekwerenmadu.

Now the executive has no such excuse asit practically installed the current leadership of NASS. Both Lawan andGbajabiamila were anointed candidates of the party and that of the president.The party and the presidency lobbied governors and the legislators to ensurethey were voted as the leaders of NASS.

Since it now has control of both chambersof the legislature, there is no reason why the government would not be able topush any of its agenda as it relates to election promises to the electorate.

But the administration would have to show purposeful leadership if it hopes to take advantage of its position in the national assembly. A lack of supermajority by the ruling party in the Senate is expected to make it less docile and help promote legislative independence. The ruling party needs the opposition, at least some numbers, to get through its agenda.

But this would also not be difficult ifLawan and Gbajabiamila keep to their promises to run an inclusiveadministration, which gives headship of some important committees to theopposition. After their inauguration, leaders of both chambers understandably promisedto lead with the support of opposition members.

They were elected with the support of many opposition members who defied the directives of their parties to vote for them. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, told its members in the Senate and House of Reps not to support the anointed candidates of the APC. It asked them to vote for Ali Ndume in the Senate and Mohammed Bago at the House of Reps.

The results of the elections for theprincipal officers of the national assembly shocked the PDP. Lawan scored 79votes while Ndume polled 28 votes out of the 107, a figure which showed that asizeable number of PDP members voted for the new Senate President, against thedirective of their party. A similar scenario played out in the second chamberof the national assembly. In the House of Reps, while Gbajabiamila needed only181 votes to become speaker, he got 283 votes to defeat Bago who scored 76.

The overwhelming victory of Lawan andGbajabiamila riled the PDP leadership, which saw it as a betrayal of the partyby the legislators. A press statement signed by Kola Ologbodiyan, nationalpublicity secretary of the opposition party, last week, said the party waspoised to probe the betrayal.

But for many Nigerians, the only way thenational assembly leadership can show it is not a rubber stamp legislature isto make the executive accountable by asking relevant questions and initiatingradical bills aimed at bringing about transformation in the system.

National Chairman of the Coalition ofUnited Political Parties, CUPP, Ikenga Ugochinyere, says the country is goingthrough rough times and the legislature must check the executive to ensure goodgovernance.

“They should prove that they are notHallelluyah boys to the president. I’m not saying fight him. Prove that you’reon the side of effective transparency and monitoring. How would they do it? Therules of checks and balances are there. Checkmate the executive. Over onebillion naira has been spent on security and we’re not seeing results. Banditshave taken over our country. Let them get into that. Investigate the servicechiefs and if they’re found culpable, they should recommend their removal.” hesaid.

Ikenga told TELL that the legislatureshould also send back the amended electoral act to the President for his assentinstead of ‘wasting time’ on a new one. “After the president’s assent, it couldbe further amended.”

But President, Voters AwarenessInitiative, Wale Ogunade disagrees with him. Ogunade wants the 9thassembly to take a “deep look” at the electoral act and use relevantrecommendations of the electoral reform panel.

Others who have expressed their views onwhat should be the pre-occupation of the new assembly include activist andlawyer, Olisa Agbakoba, who wants the legislature to ensure devolution of powerto states.

He said: “The first item of businessshould be a bill for an enactment to devolve powers to the states from theFederal Government and the next most important is to legislate for autonomy oflocal governments and third is to pass a special bill on economic recovery withmajor emphasis on banking regulation to fix interest rates in single digits andfinally, a bill to create a national credit guarantee administration to supportprivate sector borrowing backed by government guarantees.”

Neither of the two chambers has revealed its legislative agenda yet. But many Nigerians expect the current legislature to be on the side of the Nigerian people in their yearning for good governance, security, economic development, and social welfare.

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