Government Shut Down: From Obama to Jonathan, By Adeolu Ademoyo

The attempt by the All Progressives Peoples Congress-APC to slow down the   passage of the 2014 budget as a democratic tool to extract commitment on the part of the ruling party-PDP- to respect the Nigerian constitution on questions of liberty, freedom and more economic good for Nigerians    has been likened to the situation last year when the Republican party in the US shut down the democratic party led government of President Barack Obama. Given the false analogy commentators are drawing between the two, the question is:  are the two situations the same?

Two issues were and are still at stake when the Republican Party shut down the democratic government of President Barack Obama.  They are substantive questions of ethics and democracy.  President Barak Obama’s health care program popularly called Obamacare is the ethical issue. The democratic issue is the constitutional duty of the American Congress over the executive.

By constitutionally and democratically expanding the scope of the number of Americans who will have access to basic healthcare the Obamacare commits the American state and society to a more holistic health care for Americans. For this reason the Obamacare as a policy has become a moral issue. To use Congressional power to block or slow down the implementation of Obamacare as the Republican Party did last year during the budget gridlock is also to raise a moral question.

The democratic issue is that under the American constitution, it is constitutional for the American Congress to use its power to audit and inspect the policies of the executive. This is a constitutional power we all know and accept in America. It has nothing to do with which party is in power or with which party has the majority in the Congress. Like we say: It is about the constitution.

So the face off between President Obama and the Congress last year produced the clash between the ethical commitment of the American constitution and state on one hand and its democratic commitment on the other hand. Thus the question is: Is it undemocratic to uphold the ethical commitment of the American state and constitution as the democratic party government of President Obama has done with the Obamacare or is it unethical to uphold the democratic commitment of the American state and constitution as the Republican Party led Congress did?  Like all issues most if not all American citizens took position for or against this issue.

Therefore, to argue that the Nigerian and American situations are the same is to draw a false analogy.  President Jonathan’s PDP led government is not upholding nor is he defending a moral or democratic position such that it becomes questionable constitutionally for the Nigerian House of Representative to slow him down or block the passage of his budget.  On the other hand, President Jonathan’s led PDP government is engaged in undemocratic and morally questionable acts such that it becomes a legitimate constitutional issue to use the power of the Nigerian Parliament to call his attention to these acts.

Let us look at the issues. The House argued that there is a Fiscal Responsibility Act, which guides the submission of the budget to the House by the President.  Under this Act the 31 agencies, which include the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, are required to submit their budgets to the National Assembly through the Finance Ministry. The question is whether this is part of the due process under the law and constitution for the submission of the budget to the House. If it is the law, then there is a reason in the eye and wisdom of the constitution and its makers why it is made part of the law. It therefore must be upheld if it is the law.

But the political anarchy, impunity and the use of state power to violate the law openly are subtexts to the threatened government shut down in Nigeria.  The anarchy in Rivers state is one example.  The PDP and the loyalists of President Jonathan and his wife Mrs. Patience Jonathan have been fingered as the primary causes of this anarchy. The Nigerian Police, which ought to be neutral in all crisis situations, has been found to be openly partisan in favor of President Jonathan and his supporters. A fall out is the transfer of Mr. Mbu; the erstwhile Rivers state police commissioner who is perceived to be acting out a script on behalf of Mrs. Patience Jonathan.

It is the questionable part of Nigerian politics that wife of a President vicariously gets involved in actual act of governance either at the federal level or at the local level of state.  But the point is that the anarchy in Rivers state and other parts of Nigeria   has become part of the conversation of the debate of the 2014 Nigerian budget. The APC majority House has asked Mr. Goodluck Jonathan to call his loyalists to order in Rivers state and let peace reign otherwise it will slow down the passage of the budget.

So in the Nigerian case there is just one question. And the question is: Is it constitutional and democratic for the House of Representatives to use its powers of budgetary auditing and control to ask President Jonathan’s government and party to respect the constitution in Rivers state on one hand and elsewhere and the Fiscal Responsibility Act on the other hand?

And if indeed the Fiscal Responsibility Act is an inherent part of the due process in passing the budget, a failure to uphold it becomes more fatal for it further raises serious two ethical questions because the question of a Responsibility Act is an ethical one.  The ethical questions are: Is it ethical for President Jonathan and his government to have submitted the budget in violation of an ethical due process by failing to uphold the Fiscal Responsibility Act? And is it not constitutional and lawful for the House of Representatives to ask President Jonathan and his government to follow the ethical due process in submitting his budget proposal?

Finally, if it is constitutional for the House of Representatives to pass the budget in deference to a moral act which the Fiscal Responsibility Act is, then the House of Representatives would be violating the law and Nigerians if it passes the budget in disregard to this Act. Therefore to slow down the budget passing process will be lawful and ethical because it would be   in due and lawful deference to a moral Act and the constitution.

This is why it is a false analogy to liken President Jonathan to President Obama because the Nigerian situation is not the same as the American situation.

Adeolu Ademoyo is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.


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