The executive should table its disputes with the legislature over the interpretation of the constitution to the apex court for resolution

Right from the beginning of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, there has been a discord between the executive and the legislature over sundry issues. Most of the issues arose largely from the infidelity of the feuding parties to the 1999 Constitution as amended. For instance, in the past two years, the executive has bickered with the legislature over the extent of the constitutional powers of the latter on appropriation. Added to that is the disagreement with the power of the legislature to confirm some of its appointees.

The executive contends that the discretion granted the legislature by sections 59, 80 and 81 of the constitution to approve federal budget does not include the power to alter estimates or insert new projects in the appropriation act. Meanwhile, the executive has, over the years, persisted in the act of haphazard implementation of the appropriation law, ignoring, most times, aspects introduced by the legislature. That has continued to generate tension in the polity, with the effect that valuable time that should have been spent on the task of governance is expended on settling quarrels and cutting political deals.

However, if political dealing adumbrated the debilitating effect of the squabbles over appropriation, it has failed to douse the dust raised by the executive’s elastic interpretation of section 171 of the constitution. The executive contends that the section allows it to override non-confirmation, by the Senate, of nominees for certain positions even when extant laws establishing such bodies expressly provide for legislative approval of the nomination. The executive argues that such laws, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) establishment act, 2006, which requires senate confirmation of chairman and members of its board, conflict with section 171 of the constitution and therefore, void to the extent of its inconsistency.

It is on this ground that Mr. Ibrahim Magu has been sustained in office as the acting chairman of the EFCC despite his rejection on two different occasions by the senate. Apparently in disagreement with the disposition of the executive interpretation on the issue, the senate has since filibuster further confirmation of executive nominees that are not listed in the constitution but are required by extant laws to be confirmed by the upper chamber.

There is nothing wrong with having perceptive differences over the provisions of the constitution or public policy. The constitution indeed envisages these disagreements and has made adequate provisions for their resolution. This is why the functions of the three arms of governments have been clearly delineated with the legislature making laws, the executive executing the laws and the judiciary interpreting the laws. And the constitution frowns on one arm of government infringing on the power of the other. In the instant cases, once there were differences of opinion over the provisions of the constitution, the appropriate thing to do was to submit the dispute to the judiciary for resolution.

This had been done on many occasions in the past. In 2002, the federal government sued the 36 states over its dispute with the eight littoral states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Rivers on the seaward boundary of each of the littoral states. That was because the determination of the issue would resolve whether or not the states were entitled to a minimum of 13% of all revenue accruing to the Federation Account on the basis of the derivation of natural resources from each of these littoral states. More recently, a couple of cases have been instituted at the apex court by governors of the 36 states against the federal government over Federation Accounts issues.

Therefore, rather than resort to self-help, the executive should submit its disputes with the legislature over the interpretation of the constitution to the Supreme Court for adjudication.