The perceived animosity between the executive arm of government and the National Assembly came to the fore Monday, when President Goodluck Jonathan engaged the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, in war of words at a one-day symposium marked to commemorate the nation’s Democracy Day, and the president’s one year in office.
The rare exchange somehow turned out a platform for the president, whose policies have come under stringent public attacks lately, to home in an easy win, disposing of each of Mr. Tambuwal’s concerns and seizing the moment to put forward a defense of some of his decisions.
The Speaker of the House spoke first during a presentation, accusing Mr. Jonathan of sitting on legislations passed by the National Assembly by withholding his assent.
“In as much as it is the constitutional role of the legislature to pass laws, it is equally the constitutional responsibility of Mr. President to assent to same; It is however disturbing to note that the Executive had shied away from its responsibility by not assenting to bills passed by the national assembly,” the speaker said.
Mr. Tambuwal claimed the president’s refusal was responsible for a frosty executive-legislature that dates back to the speaker’s controversial election last year, which held against the ruling party, People’s Democratic Party’s directive.
The speaker also accused the executive arm under Mr. Jonathan of usurping its powers to appropriate spending as guaranteed by the 1999 constitution, a remark that appears targeted at the president’s repeated call for amendments to approved budgets.
“In the people’s wisdom as enunciated in the 1999 Constitution as amended, the legislature has the final say on the budget document. The National Assembly has acted responsibly and consciously in exercise of its power in the belief that the Executive will come to terms to fulfill their action before long,” Mr. Tambuwal said.
“The Executive arm is made up of only two elected functionaries to wit, the President and the Vice President, whereas the National Assembly is a body of 469 elected functionaries, the adage that says two heads are better than one, does not refute the one that says he who wears the shoes know better where it pinches, and both favour the position of the elected representatives,” he added.
Responding, Mr. Jonathan said he did not signed most of the bills passed by the National Assembly because it will end up adding more over head cost at a time the government is thinking of cutting costs.
The president accused the Assembly of creating unnecessary parastatals without considering the source of funding for such agencies.
“Most of the bills passed by the National Assembly only adds to our overhead cost; We are in office because the people have elected us, so if you come up with some parastatals, the source of funding you don’t even know, it becomes a problem,” said Mr. Jonathan.
The president’s explanation seemed in line with a paradox that has dogged both arms within the past one year.
While the Jonathan administration complains of a growing number of worthless government agencies and departments that gulp federal recurrent spending annually, the legislature on the other hand churns out new offices through establishment bills nearly each week.
A presidential committee set up in 2011 by Mr. Jonathan-the Steven Oronsaye committee- has recently submitted a report recommending that hundreds of the offices be merged or shut down to save needed funding for other crucial sectors.
On the issue of budgets, the president said though the National Assembly approves the budget, it is the responsibility of his office to plan and implement it.
“The Speaker also said budget is a law, and the National Assembly makes the law, But the constitution says the president has to plan and manage the economy of this country, and for you to plan and manage the economy of a country, budget must be planned, if you send the budget to the National Assembly and they tear it into pieces, and package whatever they like back to you, is that planning or managing the economy?,” Mr. Jonathan asked.
Mr. Jonathan recalled that the Executive arm of government nearly went to the Supreme Court to seek an interpretation of who really is in charge of budgets.
“I remember when we came in 2007, we even wanted to go court, our believe was that let the Supreme Court of Nigeria tell us if it is the duty of the National Assembly to plan the economy; let them do the budget, handover to us, we will implement, But if it is our duty to plan the budget, then you should listen to us, because the executive arm of government have the National Planning Commission, Ministry of Finance and the CBN. Budgets are not just created from the moon, it takes some projections based on commitment and funding,” he added.
Mr. Jonathan admonished the leadership of the Assembly from openly criticizing the government as that is what “anti government people want”, adding that the Executive and legislature must be seen to be working together for their own good.
“If we begin to see this clear division, then you are also exposing the National Assembly to people who are anti-government to use”.
“There is theoretical separation of powers, but where the executive and the legislature come from the same political party, they must work together for democracy to be meaningful to Nigerians”.
“No matter how bad you feel about any situation, you just follow the rule of law, when an elected president fails to follow the rule of law, and then there is no democratic setting again.”