The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria  as amended separated legislative from executive powers of the Federation but it hardly intended that the two powerful arms of government should engage in a perpetual contest of egos and conceit and in the process ground the country to a virtual halt.
In the last three weeks, three issues beclouded the relationship between the Presidency and the Senate and have relegated to the background matters of much greater concern to the average citizen, such as passing the 2017 federal budget into law and implementing it in order to mitigate the harsh economic situation in Nigeria. Instead, Senate is preoccupied with battles to do with three top Executive Branch officials, namely Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] Ibrahim Magu, Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service [NCS] Colonel Hameed Ali [retired] and Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF] Babachir David Lawal.
While the Presidency is a natural party to these struggles, the Department of State Services [DSS] has been dragged in while the Attorney General and Minister of Justice dragged himself into the fray. The three Executive Branch officials are in this struggle for entirely different matters and reasons. Although some Nigerians blame the National Assembly for this turn of events, some other Nigerians blame the Presidency for the deteriorating relations with the National Assembly.
A close examination of the issues involved however makes it difficult to say that one agency is at fault all the time while the other big branch of government is on the right. Rather, it is a mix of right and wrong, arrogance and conceit, misdirection and overzealousness as well as inertia and poor leadership on both parts. To begin with the Magu case, Senate screened but declined to confirm him as substantive chairman of EFCC. This was fully in accordance with its constitutional powers even though many Nigerians felt that Magu’s record as Acting EFCC Chairman justified his being confirmed.
If blames must be apportioned for the Magu fiasco, many Nigerians believe that senators rejected him because he pursued fraud cases against many of them, including the Senate President. Yet, Senate’s rejection of Magu was greatly assisted by an unbelievable level of disorganisation and lack of coordination within the Executive Branch. While President Buhari’s letter renominating Magu said the charges made against him during his earlier nomination had been cleared, DSS sent another letter to Senate saying its first report still stood, that he should not be confirmed. This weekend, the letter that DSS sent to Attorney General Abubakar Malami on the Magu case was leaked. We have not seen Magu’s reaction to it but DSS made a very damning case against him. The public deserves to hear from the Attorney General the evidence he had that cleared Magu of DSS’ allegations. If the Presidency has such sufficient information, then we deserve to know why it has not punished the DSS Director General. Senate therefore has a reason to hide behind and refuse to confirm Magu until the Presidency clears this matter.
The case of NCS Comptroller General Hameed Ali is a similar jumbling up of right and wrong on the part of both Senate and Presidency. Almost every Nigerian agrees with Senate that Ali’s proposed policy of trying to collect customs duty on every Nigerian vehicle is oppressive, insensitive and most probably illegal. It is also immoral because it seeks to visit vehicle owners with the sins of corrupt Customs officers who failed to collect duty at the points of entry. That said, Senate’s demand that Ali must appear before it in uniform was a joke taken too far.
There is no clear national consensus on whether it is appropriate for the Customs’ boss to refuse to wear his service uniform. However, compared with the serious matter at hand regarding Ali’s proposed policy, it was remarkable indeed that Senate went full throttle after the uniform and forgot about the main issue. The Presidency too is coming out of this affair looking unfocused and disorganised. It never issued a clarification on its policy regarding the wearing of uniforms, if it has any. The Presidency stood aloof and askance as the head of one its agencies picked up a rough fight with Senate. Then also, when a certain lawyer went to court in order to give Ali a cover to dodge Senate summons, the Attorney General overplayed his hand by writing to Senate and telling it that Ali will not appear before it based on his advice. It is the kind of evidence of partisanship that fuels the agitation to separate the Attorney General’s office from that of Minister of Justice.
On the third matter in dispute, that of SGF Lawal, Senate is standing on firmer moral ground. Its ad hoc Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crises in the North East found that the SGF, who supervised the defunct Presidential Initiative on the North East, awarded grass cutting contracts to companies linked to him which in turn paid monies into his company’s accounts. Senate asked Buhari to sack Lawal but the President said Senate did not give SGF a fair hearing. This was not correct because the panel did invite Lawal. It is now saying he should come before it and testify, which is fair enough but Lawal is resorting to shenaniganism by going to court as a ploy to avoid appearing before Senate.
And so, in these tangled matters, neither the Presidency nor Senate is completely right and neither is completely wrong either. Both must get together and sort out their legal, moral and ethical deficiencies. We are in the midst of a recession and the last thing we want in Nigeria is conceit and power play.