From the Senate, the Stories of Mustapha and Idris

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Two significant events climaxed the activities of the senate last week, writes Damilola Oyedele

Last week, the senate entertained two important visitors, whose presence climaxed activities in the red chamber. First, the newly appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, started off by building a new relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. And this was deductible from his visit to the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki. The second event was that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, eventually honoured the Senate invite after weeks of recriminations. With these two events, it was a wrap at the senate last week.

Off to a Shaky Start

The relationship between the presidency and the legislature, under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, took off on a shaky note. While the President had claimed he had no particular preferences for whoever emerged the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, it quickly became obvious he was not happy with the choices of the lawmakers: Dr. Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara.

And while he did not particularly state it, his body language inclined he was not necessarily disposed to working with both men.

While Dogara eventually settled for the President’s choices (veiled as choices of the All Progressives Congress) for Majority Leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, Saraki did not, and picked Senator Ali Ndume as Leader (Ndume has since been replaced with the President’s choice, Senator Lawan).

It did not take long for his Attorney General, Mr. Abubakar Malami to file what later turned out to be frivolous charges of forgery of Senate Rules against the Chairman of the National Assembly, Saraki. The executive also engaged in a long drawn battle with Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a battle which was eventually lost.

Perhaps, taking a cue from the (famous or infamous) body language of their principal, Buhari’s appointees seemed to be competing to outdo each other in showing disdain for the legislature.

For starters, ministers and other appointees willfully shunned summons by the lawmakers, and many only showed up after standing committees threatened to issue warrants for their arrest. President Buhari had the likes of Malami, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, Comprotoller General of Customs, (who has been silent in recent days), Mr. Hameed Ali, seemingly bent on worsening the already frosty relations.

Babachir’s Balderdash

The one person who seemed to make the destruction of the relationship between the two arms of government his personal mission was Mustapha’s predecessor, Mr. David Babachir Lawal. Lawal first indicated that the Zonal Intervention Funds, which is very dear to the heart and soul and re-election of every lawmaker, may not be released in the 2016 budget due to dwindling revenue.

He however was not diplomatic enough to accept that the ZIF being part of budget, must be implemented as law. He was later to engage the Senate in a public showdown, when he refused to appear before an ad hoc committee on allegations that he was dipping his hands into the funds meant for relief for Internally Displaced Persons in the North East. The committee recommended his removal. His response was that the lawmakers were speaking “balderdash’.

After some mediations, he was summoned again in March 2017, but headed to court to challenge his summon. Then, he made a U-turn and asked for another date, which he never honoured. He carried himself as an untouchable until he was suspended by the presidency, despite his query: “Who is the presidency?” The rest of the story is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians. Lawal was finally recently fired, and Boss, appointed in his stead.

Mustapha: A New Beginning?

Mustapha’s first major outing as SGF after his inauguration was a courtesy visit to the Senate and the House of Representatives last Monday. Perhaps, he deliberately set out to massage the ego of the lawmakers but he spoke some clear truths of the role of the vilified National Assembly leaders in the election of Buhari in 2015, and the collective role of the parliament towards national development. He was emphatic in his message to smoothen things with the legislature for effective implementation of executive policies.

On Tuesday, when the President presented the budget, Mustapha arrived early and was observed working the crowd of lawmakers, exchanging pleasantries and mobile numbers. He also stayed behind long after the President had left, still networking. His demeanor, which seems pleasant, indicated his readiness to work with the lawmakers.

Mustapha’s moves obviously pleased the lawmakers, leading Saraki to say “the days of balderdash are over”. The Senate has already given him a chance to put his money where his mouth is, and resolve the illegal extension of the tenure of board members of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

Saraki and Dogara may have also subtly set agenda for him. They have hinged the early passage of the 2018 budget on a cordial relationship.

“The early passage of the 2018 budget will depend on this good working relationship. The passage of important Executive Bills that improve ‘ease of doing business’ is also dependent on this. So, Mr. President, the 469 members in this chamber are your true partners that will ensure the success of your administration in achieving its goals and objectives. So, lobby them (not the PDP way), close ranks and let them work for you,” Saraki said.

On his part, Dogara too commended the moves by the new SGF.

“Permit me to single out the newly appointed Secretary to the Government of the federation, Barrister Boss Mustapha, who only yesterday, in an unprecedented move, visited the leadership of both Houses of the National Assembly to canvass support for Government policies and to strengthen the often strained Executive/Legislative relations,” he said.

Even though the relationship between the Buhari-led executive and the Saraki-led legislature has degenerated, it would take sincere efforts, where words are backed with action, for the relationship to be repaired. Mustapha must go beyond the rhetoric. Right now, he seems to be taking steps in the right direction and truly, the days of balderdash may be over.

Idris’ Cranky Senate Appearance

While any presidential appointee would gladly avoid any reason to appear before legislative committees (even for budget defense), Wednesday’s appearance by the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, before a Senate committee, can best be described as cranky.

The committee chaired by Senator Francis Alimikhena is charged with investigating allegations of corruption, nepotism, diversion of funds, sexual liaisons with female officers, leveled against the IGP by Senator Isa Misau.

Idris, who appeared to be on the edge of losing his temper, told the lawmakers he would not respond to any questions or make any comments on the allegations as his accuser has already been dragged to Court. He has also sued the Senate President and members of the investigative committee.

It was clear that he only appeared before the committee, to avoid a standoff that may arise if the Senate issues a warrant for his arrest, as threatened, or perhaps, the president has instructed him to.

While as his counsel, Alex Izinyion noted, to comment on the matter may be subjudice, the learned counsel also realised that the judiciary might not be so inclined to interfere with the work of the legislature, as several judgments have shown. In any case, the matter of diversion of funds (virement) in the 2016 budget is actually a budget matter and can be discussed by the committee.

If the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Enang was not at the hearing to soothe tempers on both sides, one could only imagine what would have happened.

It is however necessary to point out that the House Committee on Police Affairs in early 2017 had also conducted an investigation into the alleged diversion of the N7.2 billion appropriated for purchase of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) and the rehabilitation of 102 barracks across the country to other uses.

Idris finally appeared for the particular investigation after the House at plenary, threatened to issue a warrant of arrest for him. His submission was taken behind closed-doors. Curiously, the report on the investigation is yet to be released by the House, so the allegation remains an albatross he’d continue to shoulder.