Dr. Doyin Okupe
Contrary to the much sought after cordial executive/legislative relation, the attitude of some of the aides of President Goodluck Jonathan is rather fanning the embers of discord, writes Olawale Olaleye
The unhealthy rivalry between the President Goodluck Jonathan Presidency and the National Assembly is niggling. No thanks to some of the aides of the President, who under the guise of discharging the duties for which they are paid have continued to accentuate the unfriendly atmosphere.
Dust raised by the uncomplimentary submission of Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, that resolutions of the legislature are merely advisory and not minding on the executive had barely settled when the 2013 budget presentation provided another opportunity for sparring between the two arms of government. Although, Maku who later apologized had come out to say that his comments were misconstrued and that he had only spoken in his personal capacity as a Nigerian; the ire generated by the comments of another presidential aide, Dr. Doyin Okupe, in the light of the 2013 budget presentation may have, however, lend credence to beliefs in certain quarters that the ongoing hostility between both arms of government may tarry even longer.
Both the Executive and Legislative arms of government had expressed divergent views on the appropriate oil benchmark for next year’s budget. While the House of Representatives in the vote of thanks speech presented by the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, 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 it had recommended a slight increase to $80 per barrel, the presidency defended its decision to benchmark it at $75.
The Speaker, however, went ahead to score the President Jonathan administration low on the implementation of the 2012 budget and used the occasion to also raise some of its grievances against the executive arm of government. Tambuwal, amongst other things, said interim reports from the 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.
Although, by laying of the 2013 budget estimates early in October, Tambuwals 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.
Earlier, Senate President David Mark had assured the president that the National Assembly would ensure that the 2013 budget, when passed into law, would be closely monitored to ensure its accountability, probity, transparency and full implementation. But he did not forget to add: “Our stand is that the parliament is constitutionally empowered to make inputs. What the constitution enjoins Mr. President to lay before the National Assembly are mere estimates, not immutable figures. And once the estimates are so laid, their consideration becomes subject to the constitutionally prescribed modes of exercising legislative power.”
But quickly and smartly too, Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had responded to the question of oil benchmark as she sued for caution and given the volatility of the global oil market. She said the 2013 Budget proposal made a provision for N971 billion for fuel subsidy as against the 2012 figure of N888 billion.
With somewhat maturity, she noted: “What the government is proposing is within the ambit of what other countries are proposing; we don't see any country with $80 benchmark.” According to her, the $75 benchmark "will safe guard what is precious to the economy, which is the macro-economic stability of the country,” adding that “if we go with a high benchmark, a lot of liquidity will be thrown into the system, because it’s not just the Federal Government we have to worry about.
“The benchmark also affects the money that goes to the states; so even if you are trying to reduce Federal Government's fiscal deficit, the states are not under that obligation— they will be spending and that will throw up a lot of liquidity which can lead to higher inflation, depreciation of the exchange rate, which will force the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor to raise interest rates, which is not pleasant for the private sector," she said.
Much as the Finance Minister had made a good case, justifying the action of the executive, Okupe soon stymied the whole dialogue of understanding when he described as both dictatorial and authoritative, 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 over authoritative in over ruling the President.
Comparing the 2013 budget benchmark of other countries with that of Nigeria, Okupe said the aim of pegging the 2013 Budget at $75 per barrel was meant to avert the danger of crash in the global price of crude oil and gave the 2008 example when the budget benchmark of $147 crashed 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.”
While Okupe got deserved responses from the two offices of the Senate President and the Speaker, observers believe it is about time aides of the President weighed their views on critical issues, especially those that directly involve the elected representatives of the people before creating needless acrimony between both arms of government.
Mark had probably situated the matter of appropriation in context when he said the parliament is constitutionally empowered to make inputs and that what the constitution asks of the President to lay before the National Assembly are mere estimates and not immutable figures. In other words, once the estimates are laid, their consideration becomes a responsibility of the National Assembly.
That there is constant face-off between the executive and the legislature, observers argue, is a problem of both parties. However, it tells more that majority of those on the side of the executive lack the experience and maturity to deal with the legislature that is ever ready to “pick a fight at the slightest opportunity or provocation.” But more instructively, aides of the President, observers say, must be called to order and learn to respect an institution which has the legitimate mandate of the people to stand and defend them at all times.
Particularly, Okupe’s combative approach to defending his boss, analysts say is rather counter-productive and non-value adding as evident since he clinched the job. The presidential aide, it is believed, could have made his point without using uncouth languages that would denigrate an institution that houses 469 Nigerians with the authority to carry out legitimate checks on the executive. Instead, he is believed to be affirming the position of those who would rather address him as attack dogs- a reference for irrational defence of the illogical.
The idea by these presidential aides to always rush to apologising after each act of insolence, observers note, says a lot about their habitual indiscretion and the tendency to act first before subjecting issues to serious and thorough consideration. This, observers further add, speaks a lot about even the cabinet composition of President Jonathan.
Thus, observers believe that the aides of the President need not go the road of insulting the legislature before they are seen as working or living up to their bidding. The President and the lawmakers are the elected ones here. The aides were merely invited into government, supposedly on merit to help drive the ship of governance. But driving against the tide or exacerbating the aggression on ground is not the way to go if indeed the ship must berth safely.