Among other factors responsible for the frequent executive-legislative rift in Nigeria despite the fact that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) controls the two arms of government are the lack of ideology-based politics and poor party discipline, writes Olawale Olaleye
After the 1951 elections, the Action Group (AG), a political party led by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had set up a Parliamentary Council made up of all the party’s parliamentarians in addition to members of the Central Executive Committee. It co-opted a few other members of the party. Although, caucus tendencies in the leadership of the AG were evident from the outset, the idea, as it later turned out, was to coordinate and direct party policies in the regional and central legislatures without much a fuss.
Consequently, the Parliamentary Council elected Awolowo as its leader and Chief Bode Thomas as deputy. The council also set up a sub-group called Parliamentary Committee. The committee consisted of Awolowo, his deputy and five other members elected by the council, two of whom, at least, were not members of the then Western House of Assembly. The committee served as the engine room of the party and it was responsible for screening party members for ministerial appointments, both in the regional and central governments, and also shortlisted members for the Western House of Assembly who were elected by the body to sit in the federal legislature. But at the end of the day, all selections of the Parliamentary Committee were subjected to the approval of the Parliamentary Council.
In his book: Nigerian Political Parties- Power In An Emergent African Nation, Richard Sklar, wrote that some members of the Parliamentary Council soon became agitated. Their fears stemmed from the fact that there was the likelihood that the parliamentary committee could assume de facto management of the party’s affairs because of its closeness to the leader. For the radicals amongst them, there was the need, therefore, to establish regular procedures with a view to ensuring that the “regionalist-confederationist-minded” business group in Lagos did not exert disproportionate influence in the formulation of policies. This was crucial to the core politicians.
Initially, their objection to the concentration of authority in the parliamentary committee was dismissed by the leadership on grounds that the powers of the committee, especially the appointment of ministers, were indeed, the prerogatives of the leader.
Owing to this mindset, the radical wing sustained its pressure for a reform and proposals were immediately drawn up by the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, which eventually restored the primacy of the Central Executive Committee, particularly in the area of policy formulation through the exclusion of non-legislators from an enlarged Parliamentary Committee. It also restricted the function of that body to the drafting of legislation in accordance with party policies.
The initiative, at the end of the day, ensured the supremacy of the party executives over the parliamentary wings and thus, sustained a tradition of impressionable political ideology that would later become a classical case study in the body polity.
In the Second Republic, the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had an enviable rapport with the National Assembly where it controlled the majority. But this was not automatic; it was a function of a better organised platform that provided for cohesion of purpose amongst the tendencies.
Formed on September 20, 1978, NPN comprised members of the Constituent Assembly initially headed by Makaman Bida, an old NPC member. A month later, the party adopted zoning formula to elect party officials. This development paved the way for the emergence of the late Chief Augustus Adisa Akinloye, a Yoruba man, as chairman. In the same vein, the zoning arrangement led to the emergence of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a politician of Hausa/Fulani extraction, as the party’s presidential candidate.
After the 1979 elections, the NPN won 36 Senate seats out of the then 95 and 168 out of 449 seats in the House of Representatives. Given the discontent that followed the election, especially allegations of massive irregularities; apart from the shaky alliance that the NPN had with the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) to earn majority votes in the National Assembly, the NPN also ensured synergy with the lawmakers through ideological politics of what was later identified by analysts as clearing house mechanism.
This was the point where the party came in as supreme. The party leadership had formed a caucus, which met weekly to fashion out the workings of the institution and the organic nature of the party as a cohesive platform. Before issues are debated on the floor of the legislature, the possible areas of disagreement would have been ironed out with the lawmakers at a meeting presided over by the chairman and at which the president was present as an ordinary member of the party.
Unlike what obtains now where the president assumes automatic leadership of the party, the party chairman then was the most senior in ranking. Other members of the clearing house, apart from the president and party chairman, were Vice-President Alex Ekwueme, Senate President, Senator Joseph Wayas, Senate Leader, Dr. Olusola Saraki and Speaker, the late Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, amongst other key players.
Policy issues were considered by party chieftains along with the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly as may have been conceived by the executive since the approval of the legislature was essential. Particularly, because party structures were established on strict discipline and with people of like-minds, it was easy for the NPN to whip elected members in line and also keep the legislature constantly in check.
This was germane to the survival of an administration that came on board with near zero goodwill or acceptability. By the time the issues had been straightened out at the caucus level, the laying of such before the legislature became sheer affirmation ritual as each member of the caucus would have been handed various assignments, chief among which was selling the caucus resolution to their colleagues and clearing the house ahead for the passage of executive bills.
The Shagari administration survived undue executive-legislative distraction because of the clearing house mechanism with little or no opposition from lawmakers of other political parties much less its own legislators.
But like a notorious medical condition that has defied every possible solution, the politics of ideology seemed to have taken flight since the demise of that era as the executive and the legislature now see their relationship more as a popularity contest with intense effort to undo each other at every given opportunity.
Apart from the obvious lack of discipline, especially in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it is basically an issue of failed or absent of ideology-based politics. The tendencies in the PDP are largely bereft of the required ideology to enhance the image as well as the performance of government, even in the face of determined opposition.
Unfortunately, since the return to democracy in 1999, this palpable hostility is pronounced more in the lower chamber of the National Assembly than the Senate, which is believed to house more level-headed individuals. Whilst it might be difficult to severe the now lingering executive-legislature face-off from the initial meddling by the executive in the choice of the leadership of the legislature in 1999 by the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, attempts to assert independence had been misconstrued, misinterpreted and subsequently abused by the somewhat exuberant lawmakers.
For the four years that former Speaker, Alhaji Umaru Ghali Na’Abba, held sway, he nearly ran down the government of Obasanjo. Na’Abba who had emerged speaker in the wake of the fall of the preferred candidate, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, over allegations of falsified age and certificate, saw his emergence as an opportunity to assert the authority of the lower chamber and by extension, the National Assembly that was taken from the legislature by the bullish Obasanjo presidency.
The Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari era, which took over from Na’Abba, provided some respite as it was about the most peaceful and mature leadership the House has had since the rebirth of democracy in 1999. However, in the race for re-election in the 2003 general election, Masari was edged out. The speakership of Mrs. Olubunmi Patricia Etteh could not make any impact before it was hounded out of office by its opponents in the House. But the days of Dimeji Bankole and the incumbent, Aminu Tambuwal, appear two of a kind. Both shared the singular similarity of being anointed from the House. Bankole who emerged speaker after Etteh was forced to quit, was anointed by his predecessors’ traducers who sold his candidacy to other lawmakers.
On his part, Tambuwal emerged against the grain of the zoning formula of the party that had conceded the post to the South-west. However, with the support of some renegade members of the PDP and opposition lawmakers, Tambuwal, from the North-west, ran and defeated the PDP’s anointed candidate, Hon. Mulikat Adeola-Akande, who was later compensated with the House Leader position.
The circumstances of the emergence of both Bankole and his successor, had significantly tempered their style of leadership. Not only were they considered arrogant in their disposition to the executive, they were believed to see this business of governance more as a popularity contest where one party has to outshine the other to secure attention.
Unfortunately, the executive too is believed not to have lived up to expectations in terms of the required maturity to relate with an arrogant legislature which like the proverbial leper could throw spanner in its work. But analysts have attributed this to gross failure on the part of the party leadership to enforce discipline and indoctrinate its members with ideological politics.
Armed with such independence devoid of any input from either the presidency or the party leadership, the House under Tambuwal, has continued to maintain and sustain a somewhat needless rivalry with the executive. Despite its professed friendship with the executive, the Tambuwal leadership in a PDP populated House, is seen by analysts as an enemy within. His leadership is believed to tilt more to the opposition, which gave it the leeway to emerge speaker as against the position of the PDP. In fact, some analysts believe that the Tambuwal leadership consults more with the opposition on policy issues of its own government before taking a stand and as such, hardly aligns with the executive on such critical policy issues, its merit notwithstanding.
For instance, the House’s handling of the removal of subsidy from petrol in January by President Goodluck Jonathan, is said to be more political than a stand informed by conviction. Although, the issue attracted extreme public sentiment, the House cashed in on it and made huge political gains from it. That the House sat on a Sunday to address the issue was seen by many as a design to embarrass the presidency and steal the show from it. It is also believed that the presidency is yet to forgive the House for deliberately undermining it.
Again, at a time the security situation in the country had elicited serious concerns following the escalating menace of the Boko Haram sect, the House had summoned the president, a move many believed was unconstitutional and a grandstanding conceived to embarrass Jonathan.
The suspended planned introduction of the N5,000 notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also provided an avenue for both arms to spar. While the Federal Government admitted to having given the CBN a go-ahead on the initiative, both chambers of the National Assembly had through their respective resolutions, asked that the idea be dropped to which the executive obeyed. But some of the aides of the president soon came out to defend the intention behind the idea. Indeed, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, went further to say that the resolutions of the National Assembly were advisory and therefore, not binding on the executive.
This angered the legislature, which fired back immediately. In separate pronouncements, both the Senate President, David Mark and Tambuwal had condemned the outburst and immediately, Maku withdrew his statement and apologised.
The latest straw, however, was two weeks ago when the president laid his 2013 Budget before the joint sitting of the National Assembly. Both the executive and legislature had expressed differing stances on the appropriate oil benchmark for next year’s budget. Tambuwal who gave a vote of thanks on behalf of the joint sitting of the National Assembly expressed dismay that the 2013 budget estimates were based on $75 per barrel even after the House had recommended a slight increase to $80 per barrel. The presidency defended its decision to put the oil benchmark at $75 per barrel. The Senate later came to douse the tension over the appropriate benchmark for the 2013 Budget, when in passing the 2013-2015 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), it recommended $78 per barrel as the oil benchmark.
Tambuwal also scored the Jonathan administration low on the implementation of the 2012 budget and used the occasion to further raise some of its grievances against the executive. He said interim reports from field oversight conducted by the House committees on the 2012 budget implementation scored the budget implementation low in fund releases as well as utilisation of available resources, adding that the poor implementation of the 2012 budget had become a great challenge to all arms of government, particularly the lawmakers.
By laying the 2013 budget estimates early in October, Tambuwal said the president met the expectations of the parliament as provided for in the constitution and disclosed that the House had begun work on a bill for the amendment to Section 82 of the 1999 Constitution to ensure early presentation of budget and its impressive implementation. He also reminded the executive on the need for government to compose the Public Procurement Council provided under the Public Procurement Act, as a way of enhancing the budget implementation.
But a presidential aide, Dr. Doyin Okupe, who thought the occasion was inauspicious for such an affront, condemned the speaker’s speech. He said the decision by the National Assembly to insist that the 2013 Appropriation Bill would be based on $80 per barrel instead of the $75 benchmark was dictatorial and was an attempt to overrule the president.
Okupe who defended the president and compared the 2013 budget benchmark of other countries with that of Nigeria, said the aim of pegging the 2013 Budget at $75 per barrel, was to avert the danger of a crash in the global price of crude oil and gave the 2008 example when oil price crashed from $147 per barrel to $38 as one of the reasons the Federal Government opted to exercise caution. He said the 2013 budget was based “on extra conservatism and undue recklessness of consuming all federally collected revenues.” But he did not stop there. He further accused the speaker of “merely playing to the gallery.”
Of course, the legislature thought Okupe’s comment was outside his brief as the President’s aide on Public Affairs and came down hard on him. But that was not the end to the face-off on budget presentation. The president’s Adviser on Political Matters, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, also added his voice to the row that greeted the budget presentation and described the lawmakers as illiterates who couldn’t come up with implementable bills. Gulak, therefore, dared the National Assembly to follow in the steps of lawmakers in 2004 who threatened to veto bills.
The Senate was to join the fray as it described the two presidential aides as fifth columnists who do not want the president to succeed. The Senate, through a motion sponsored by Senator Abdul Ningi, urged the president to caution his aides against making inflammatory comments capable of setting him on a collision course with the National Assembly.
Mark, on his part, wondered how Jonathan, whom he extolled as a complete gentleman, could surround himself with aides who had failed woefully and lacked the capacity to do their jobs. He said the comments of the aides were unnecessary and unfortunate, adding that they have no business in the presidency.
“We all feel very hurt and very bad about it. And we say this against the backdrop that the president as a person is a very gentleman. Nobody can fault him. If you have a personal interaction with him, you will know that he is a gentleman. But what is disturbing is that he has surrounded himself with aides that are not gentlemen in any respect – aides who have failed woefully to do what they are supposed to do. And because they are totally incapable, mentally and otherwise in doing their work, they are finding a way to please Mr. President.”
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, taking a cue from Gulak’s challenge, however, suggested that the Senate should henceforth veto bills not assented to by the president.
But as the tension rose, another aide of the President disowned her colleagues, including ministers who had variously made inflammatory statements against the National Assembly. Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, in a statement, distanced the President from the controversial statements credited to two of his aides.
“Let me state categorically that the alleged statements neither reflect the views of the president, His Excellency, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on the National Assembly nor the enormous respect he has for the institution and the cordial relationship he has encouraged between the executive and the legislature. In other words, those to whom the statements were credited were on their own and never spoke the mind of the president. I therefore want to advise that restraint and maturity are the watchwords in the executive-legislative relationship as rash and hasty comments on legislative thrusts or executive policies could be counterproductive,” she said.
It, however, took things to get this messy before the PDP leadership waded in. PDP warned its members, especially those in the legislature, to be wary of their utterances. The party threatened to “invoke the full weight of its disciplinary measures on any erring member who further brings the party to disrepute.”
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Chief Olisa Metuh, who gave this indication at the end of the National Working Committee (NWC) meeting of the party in Abuja, frowned on the utterances of some of its members which tend to suggest that there was no unity of purpose in the party.
“The NWC exhaustively discussed and frowned on the disagreeable trend where members of the party elected and appointed into federal positions engage in utterances and actions that portray the PDP in bad light and as having no unity of purpose.
“We wish to emphasise that our manifesto as well as our constitution are abundantly clear on the need for all party members, especially the elected representatives of the people, to be on the same page at all times in order to ease the realisation of our policies and programmes for the benefit of the people. We, therefore, warn that the party will invoke the full weight of its disciplinary measures on any erring member who further brings the party to disrepute,” Metu said.
Metuh, though, was reportedly silent on the kind of disciplinary action that would be taken against members who flout the order of restraint; such action, observers say, would not be more than a suspension or expulsion from the party. In 2002 for instance, PDP suspended Na’Abba in the wake of the long-drawn face-off with Obasanjo.
But such crass indiscipline is not peculiar to the PDP. While it seemed quiet and peaceful in other parties, observers say it is because what obtains in those parties is liberal authoritarianism and not that there is any operable ideology that has sustained the nucleus of such parties, not even those who profess the ideals of Awoism. In such parties, observers say there is a central authority, often an individual, whose words are law, irrespective of what others feel.
Meetings held in these parties prior to critical decision-making, observers say, are convened merely to fulfill all righteousness as the position of the leader as a symbol of authority is final. Here too, ideology is only feigned as observers have noted; it is very different from the truism of democratic tenets.
Much as the PDP appears good an example, the larger implication for the polity, observers say, is niggling because ultimately, the effect of such non-ideology-based party system is usually evident in governance. Observers contended further that since there is no ideology as the basis for the formation and strengthening of the parties, there is certainly nothing upon which to envisage a smooth working relationship between the two arms of government as critical elements in governance.
Analysts have also described as bothersome and unfortunate in the case of the PDP, the fact that the executive was said to have held a pre-budget presentation dinner with the leadership of the National Assembly with a view to ensuring a hitch-free rite, the lawmakers still showed their grouse and played it differently. Sadly, this rubs off on the PDP which by extension does not leave out even the lawmakers. Had they adhered to plans as agreed at the dinner, the laying of the budget would have been smooth and the distraction that followed would have been non-existent, analysts say.
Yet, analysts blamed the presidency and the PDP for making the pre-budget presentation dinner the first of its type preparatory to a major presentation at the legislature. This, analysts say, is a pointer to poor management of the party machinery to taming tendencies of this nature. That the President, the PDP and the legislature do not have a steady meeting where issues are first presented and resolved, analysts maintain, tells a lot about the party’s non-commitment to ideological politics and a resounding executive-legislative rapport. The result, of course, was the embarrassment that followed the budget presentation.
By implication, the time and energy that should have been spent driving policy initiatives and implementing same on the understanding that both arms are on the same page are dissipated on the popularity contest dubbed “a fight for the people”. And because this new but unpalatable experience is becoming entrenched, it has also opened up another debate on whether or not the lawmakers, especially the House leadership, actually understand properly its briefs not just as lawmakers, but as members of the same party as the president whose sole aim is to see the party succeed as a political organisation and to whose credit the development or otherwise of the country would be recorded.
More than anyone else, analysts have blamed the PDP as failing abysmally in its responsibility as a political parent whose weakness has turned its children against each other. And given its place in the political equation, especially its size, influence and popularity, the PDP cannot afford to fail, hence, the need for a restructuring that would see to the rebirth of a self-acclaimed Africa’s most populous political party. But such exercise must be ideology-based as the fall of PDP despite its many imperfections, analysts say, would be grave for the polity.