Yemi Osinbajo

• Ministers assigned to lobby legislature, lawmakers spoil for showdown

Olawale Olaleye

For the second time in one week, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Sunday night met with the two heads of the National Assembly, with a view to resolving the lingering disagreement between the executive and the legislature.

Osinbajo, who met with Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, sources said, has also detailed about four ministers to lobby the National Assembly and find a meeting point on some of the issues that have led to the discord between both arms of government.

The meetings, sources in the presidency hinted, may have become compelling, as the lawmakers were said to be spoiling for a showdown with the executive over their differences, ranging from the disagreement over the retention of the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, despite his rejection by the Senate, to the alterations made to the 2017 budget by the National Assembly.
Also, the brickbat between the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, and the legislature in recent weeks over the changes to his ministry’s budget have helped to heighten tensions between both arms of government.

According to sources, the divide has further unified the Senate, especially the Northern caucus, which is said to be determined to push back on every attempt to demonise the Senate and disrespectfully ride on the goodwill of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The attempt by Osinbajo at a détente with the Senate President and the Speaker may also not be unconnected to hints that the National Assembly was planning to go on its summer recess earlier than usual, a development that could truncate the executive’s plans and budgetary execution.

For instance, there are some appointees still awaiting the confirmation of the Senate, the virement of some capital projects is also still pending, as well as the approval of the external borrowing plan being sought by the executive.

Thus, if the National Assembly proceeds on recess, it would mean that these things would have been put on hold until it resumes sometime in September, a development that could throw the spanner in the works for the executive.

According to sources, while the Senate is proposing to go on recess a little later in the month, the House, which is also not happy with the executive, is said to be considering next week to start its recess.

Apart from Fashola’s position over the alterations to his ministry’s budget and that of other ministries, which was said to have angered the lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly, other factors believed to have aggravated the crisis included the leak of details of the first meeting between Osinbajo and Saraki last week and the statement credited to the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, on Magu.

El-Rufai, during the commissioning of EFCC’s office in Kaduna last week, had on behalf of the acting president said Magu would remain in office despite the insistence by the Senate that he should be let go.
It was gathered that el-Rufai at the event had gone beyond his brief and even embellished the statement, much to the astonishment of the presidency.

Also, the manner in which some details of Osinbajo and Saraki’s meeting were leaked to the public, was said to have angered the presidency, as other interests believed to be in the camp of the acting president may have been responsible for the leak to an online news portal in order to disparage the Senate, while President Muhammadu Buhari, who is ailing and is not in the country, took the bashing.

Another reason the National Assembly is said to be unhappy with the acting president, THISDAY learnt, was Osinbajo’s initial position on the confirmation of political appointees, wherein he was quoted as saying that the Senate’s confirmation of a nominee was not really binding, a remark considered in bad taste, particularly against the backdrop of the controversy that dogged the rejection of Magu.

But Osinbajo soon contradicted himself when he started sending in fresh nominations for the Senate’s confirmation, while the issue of Magu’s non-confirmation was still being hotly contested.

The development soon set off another confrontation, which is yet to be resolved with a lot now at stake.
However, with the rising opposition within, the acting president quickly came up with the idea of detailing some ministers, including the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige; Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Hon. Bawa Bwari; and Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, among others, to mediate with the National Assembly on behalf of the presidency.

The ministers, all of whom were once members of the National Assembly at one time or the other, were deliberately handpicked to interface with the legislature and work on an amicable resolution of the current impasse between the lawmakers and the executive.

Although Osinbajo was said to have initially left the matter of Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila’s confirmation, the nominee for the post of director-general of Nigeria Lottery Commission, for when Buhari returns, he was however said to have been forced to submit his name for confirmation due to pressure from certain crucial quarters with an interest in seeing Gbajabiamila’s confirmation sail through.

It was also surprising that when the Senate last Tuesday resolved not to entertain further nominations sent to it by the executive for consideration and confirmation, it was the senator representing Zamfara West, Ahmed Yerima, who moved a motion questioning Osinbajo for sending a nominee to the Senate after he had reportedly stated that the Senate did not have the power of confirmation.

Yerima’s position was surprising because the Northern lawmakers were believed to have long taken a position to support the Buhari presidency whether or not it aligned with the vision of others.
However, they have not extended the same support to Osinbajo, because he was believed to be taking a lot of things for granted based on the poor counsel he was getting by some vested interests.

Besides, the fact that Osinbajo was said to have confided in some senators that he did not authorise el-Rufai to make the statement that he made last week on Magu and his promise to issue a statement clarifying his position but failed to do so, was a pointer to the senators that he might have decided to remain resolute on the issue.

The acting president, sources said, has been very worried about the unsavoury turn of things between the executive and the National Assembly, as well as the implications of the Senate going on recess without attending to critical matters that require the legislature’s approval.
Accordingly, he was said to be making efforts to resolve some of the issues, but observers are waiting to see how he would turn the tide in his favour without conceding to the demands of the lawmakers, especially now that the Senate has predicated all other issues on Magu’s removal.