By Dr. Ezrel Tabiowo
Before he ventured to contest the Senate Presidency, Senator Ahmad Lawan, had a clear-cut vision in his legislative agenda which some at the time considered a rather tall order.
One of the most ambitious of them was his bid to restore the nation’s deformed budget cycle to the January to December timeline.
The country for twenty years between 1999 and 2019 had operated an irregular budget cycle from the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo all through to the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
Determined to correct the anomaly which for long had weighed down the Nigerian economy from making steady progress, Lawan understood he needed to come up with a leadership model or, if you like, a stopgap that would adequately address the bureaucratic setbacks that hitherto frustrated the nation’s budgetary processes in the past.
In coming up with his unique leadership model, the Senate President, one of Nigeria’s seasoned and longest-serving legislators, understudied the leadership style and outcomes of past Assemblies and how the persistent clamor for exclusive authority and supremacy between the arms of government had staggeringly hindered the evolvement of the country’s democracy.
He also weighed these outcomes against the attendant impact which they had in general on the economy and other facets of our national existence.
To him, the associated fallouts of legislative-executive feuds under the guise of ensuring ‘checks and balances’ was nothing short of an albatross on legislative undertakings that would ultimately continue to make Nigerians the overall losers in the scheme of things. He felt this had to stop, as it was too much baggage working against the nation’s advancement.
Giving a new flare to the role of the National Assembly, Lawan devised a model which now accommodates robust legislative engagements across frontiers that nevertheless adheres to the principle of ‘Separation of Powers’ in Parliament’s dealings with the Executive arm of government.
No doubt, this new thinking, and approach attracted its fair share of public criticism from some Nigerians who were already addicted to the screaming headlines on covers of national dailies from internecine conflicts between the executive and legislature under past assemblies.
To them, a parliament not at war with the executive has to be in bed with it and is nothing short of a “rubber stamp” in their exact words.
They however fail to see that Lawan’s leadership model has become the great reset that altered the dynamics of the nation’s governance architecture in a way that underscores and distributes shared responsibilities between the arms of government, so as to guarantee collective effectiveness in leadership roles.
In other words, it drew the curtains on the mediocre way of scoring cheap political points by those opposed to government policies through unnecessary and avoidable face-offs which, in my considered view, is grossly counterproductive and does nothing but reduce the quality of governance as events have shown.
Validating Lawan’s Advocacy for Harmony In Governance
The consistent clamour for harmony in Executive-Legislature relations by the Senate President, no doubt finds footing from his leadership model which relies on a flexible approach to outlining the limits of the principle of ‘Separation of Powers’ as provided for in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
In Public Law, the principle of Separation of Powers in the Constitutional System are along two paths; the Strict Approach and Flexible Approach.
Montesquieu, a French Jurist, and Political Philosopher advocated the Strict Approach amidst his view that no organ of state should encroach on another, either in terms of function or personnel. He was instrumental to the division of government powers along three functions: law-making – Parliament; Implementation of the law – Executive; and Interpretation – Judiciary.
However, Luigi Giussani, a Theologian and Public Intellectual, while referring to a number of writers, viewed such system of Strict Separation of Powers as “unworkable”.
According to Cheryl Saunders, a specialist in Comparative Public Law and President Emeritus of the International Association of Constitutional Law, “every constitutional system that purport to be based on a separation of powers in fact provides, deliberately, for a system of checks and balances under which each Institution impinges upon another and in turn is impinged upon.”
She explained further that, “a lack of cooperation between limbs would result in constitutional deadlock.”
Kent H. Barnett, an Author and world-renowned Professor of Law, who resonated this view posited that a system of government founded on the strict separation of powers could result in legal and constitutional deadlock if the branches of state disagree. By implication, such disagreement between the arms of government could also manifest in non-assent to bills passed by Parliament and non-approval to executive money bills by the legislature.
Flowing from the above, it becomes obvious as to why a lot of legislation passed under the Eighth National Assembly were refused assent, and why most passed by the Ninth Assembly were signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It also explains why the National Assembly under Lawan’s leadership was able to effortlessly restore the Budget Cycle to the January to December timeline with the support of the Executive arm of government, as well as get assent to other critical legislations which before now defied passage such as the Finance Act and Petroleum Industry Act, among others.
The national budget was passed by the Ninth Assembly and signed by President Buhari in record time three years in a row since 2019, a feat never once achieved by previous assemblies or any administration since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.
As a result of the restoration of the nation’s budget cycle to the January – December timeline, the Nigerian economy has become insulated against recession threatening other developing countries, in spite of the country’s reduced revenue earnings from a crash in crude oil price caused by the attendant effect of the global lockdown, following the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
Lawan’s leadership model – which fosters Inter-governmental collaboration and inclusion – if replicated by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government – would no doubt address some of the challenges faced by Nigeria as a result of the lingering insecurity.
It is, however, noteworthy to point out that insisting on a harmonious and mutual working relationship between the arms of government and its agencies do not in any way strip them of their independence nor does it weaken or make one arm or agency a subject of the other.
Lawan’s leadership model demonstrated this a couple of months back when the Senate bared its fangs on errant MDAs that refused to defend projects proposed to be funded by the external borrowings of the Federal Government.
The upper chamber under the leadership of the Senate President also frowned at wasteful spendings by refusing to approve monies running into hundreds of millions for the procurement of mosquito nets never minding the cordial working relationship it has with the executive.
Against this backdrop, security agencies such as the Military, Police, Department of State Services (DSS), the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and others not mentioned, must begin to think along the lines of ensuring Inter-agency cooperation in the fight against terrorism, insurgency and all forms of criminality across the country. It is time to stop the jostle for supremacy and put on the garb of patriotism in the discharge of duties.
The urgency of the situation makes it expedient for the hierarchy across these agencies to adopt a workable leadership model that encourages mutual engagement, as well as prioritises the security and welfare of Nigerians in accordance with duly enshrined constitutional provisions.
On the much anticipated Electoral Act Amendment Bill not signed into law by President Buhari, Lawan’s poise radiates unwavering confidence in the power of engagement between the executive arm of government and the National Assembly.
It would be recalled that moments before the Senate adjourned on December 22, 2021, for the Christmas and New Year break, the Senate President, immediately after the chamber rose from a closed session, announced that the Senate would consult the House of Representatives in January to decide what next line of action to take over the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021.
President Buhari in a letter read by Lawan on the floor a day earlier had advanced reasons why he decided to withhold assent to the piece of legislation.
He warned that signing the bill into law would have serious adverse legal, financial, economic, and security consequences on the country, particularly in view of Nigeria’s peculiarities.
Buhari added that it would also impact negatively on the rights of citizens to participate in the government as constitutionally ensured.
Having made his reasons known, Nigerians should keep in mind that the Senate is bound by an obligation to do only those things that would bring about unity, peace, and prosperity for the country.
One of those things, according to Lawan, is “stabilising the polity”, particularly in moments when it is heated up by agitations and anxiety.
The National Assembly is constitutionally required to act only in the interest of Nigerians like it always has, without due recourse to any other consideration not in tune with their expectations.
As we begin the new year, may the patriotic zeal which has guided their actions be renewed with vigor for the service of humanity and advancement of our fatherland.
Dr. Tabiowo is the Special Assistant (Press) to the President of the Senate and writes from Abuja.