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Monday, June 4, 2012

Senate Vs Jonathan: Now The War Drum Beats

President Goodluck Jonathan last week stoked the fire when he accused the National Assembly of tearing budget bills to shreds. The National Assembly has returned the fire asking Jonathan to sit up. UCHENNA AWOM, in this diary, suggests that the war drum beat, after all,may be sounding fast and aloud.
These are heated times in Nigeria’s socio-political environment. It is a period that could alter the once chubby relationships and can also bring out the best in institutions. That being the case, is the once rosy romance between the National Assembly and the Presidency going awry? Indications to this emerged last week during the democracy day celebrations.
President Goodluck Jonathan first stoked the fire at the Democracy Day symposium last week Monday, the President accused lawmakers of “tearing” the budget bill and of acting against the manifesto of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). By inference, he implied that the National Assembly frustrates the implementation of the budgets.
Though Jonathan was said to have squared up with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, over the bills that have stayed for a long time in the President’s in-tray at that occasion, but his vociferous approach to the issue underscores the emerging gulf between both institutions. In that case, it was potent enough to ignite a caustic response from the parliament no matter how uncoordinated. The response did come and of course it has elicited several interpretations ranging from some that suggests ‘no-love-lost’ between both arms.
First, Tambuwal pointedly said at the occasion that Jonathan was shirking his constitutional responsibility by sitting on many bills passed by the National Assembly.
His remark was seen as a forerunner to a planned coordinated response by the National Assembly.
So, it was not surprising when the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, took on President Goodluck Jonathan last Wednesday over his failure to assent to some bills passed by the National Assembly.
He also claimed that the President “distorted facts” when he said on Monday that the lawmakers tore up the budget proposal sent to them; thereby, making it difficult for the executive to implement it.
“A number of bills that would have changed a lot of things for this country have not been signed”, Ekweremadu said using the opening of a public hearing by the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology on a bill to set up an erosion control commission to hit back at the Presidency.
“So, my advice to the executive is to dialogue with the legislature in matters like these and find a common ground instead of shifting blames”, he added.
Continuing, Ekweremadu warned, “We expressed our displeasure over some of the bills which we have sent to the Presidency for assent since last year that have not received presidential assent. And in response, the president said that it is because we are creating agencies. We will continue to create agencies if it is important, because that is why we are here.
“So, we have to do our job. Most of those bills have nothing to do with agencies. I remember we have the State of the Nation Address Bill, it has nothing to do with any agency and it has not been signed. We have the National Health Bill. It has nothing to do with an agency. It has not been signed. We have the Air Force Institute of Technology Bill and Tobacco Bills.
“If institutions are to be created, they will definitely be created. So any person who thinks that the creation of institutions should stop is wasting his time. It would not stop because the society itself is dynamic”.
On the budget bill, Ekweremadu declared, “I also believe that the issue which he (Jonathan) also raised regarding the Appropriation Bill was also a distortion of facts. The president said that we tore the Appropriation Bill into pieces which made it impossible for implementation. Certainly, that is not so.
“I am aware that the 2012 Appropriation Bill was returned to the executive substantially the same way they brought it. So, we are challenging them to ensure that the 2012 Appropriation Act is fully implemented.
“They have been complaining that they could not implement the budget because of the inputs of the National Assembly.
“So, this year, we said we are not making any input, we are going to give you the bill the way you brought it as a challenge to ensure that it is implemented. So, we expect them to implement it 100 per cent because that is their own vision.
“Of course, he also made reference to a point where they wanted to go to court to challenge the role of the National Assembly in altering Appropriation Bills. Well, that will be a welcome development.
“So we want to suggest that the executive should please take that step of going to the Supreme Court or any court they wish to look at the constitutionality of our role in terms of appropriation for this country. We will be happy to see the outcome, and of course, we will obey whatever the court says.
“But we believe the National Assembly has the ultimate say when it comes to the appropriation of funds because that is what the constitution says. If the Supreme Court or any other court says otherwise, we would succumb to it and do exactly what the court says.
“Some of these things I think are things we should be able to discuss with the executive. There is need for closer collaboration between the parliament and the executive because if we are close to each other, we can always discuss, we can always dialogue. But if we are far in between, of course, we will be shouting at each other because for you to hear me if we are far between, I have to raise my voice. So, I don’t think that is good for democracy”.
The spat is perhaps the first open show of tacit disagreement between the Presidency and the National Assembly. Though there had been instances where the Presidency and the House of Representatives disagree openly, but such altercations have never exceeded the boundaries of both chambers. In most of such cases it was the Senate that mediates. But the situations have changed and there is unanimity of purpose, defence and response in the National Assembly.
The implication is that we may again witness a situation of serial overriding of a seeming presidential veto of any of the bills lying in the President’s in-tray. Doing this, which was last witnessed in the first session of the National Assembly when they overruled ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s veto on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) Bill, will reinvent the national parliament as peopled by serious minded individuals who are ready at all times to check the excesses of the executive.
For now, the beat goes on and the chicken is coming home to roost.