Politics

How Tinubu presidency is shaping 10th Assembly

From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

It is one year since the inauguration of he 10th National Assembly. In the last twelve months, the federal legislature has been grappling with the challenge of governance, including the discharge of its constitutional role of lawmaking, as well as exercising oversight functions over the Executive Arm of government.

Nevertheless, pundits say one single factor that has shaped the 10th Assembly since its inauguration on June 13, 2023 is the President Bola  Tinubu Presidency. The President’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) controls majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Consequently, pundits say the influence of the Presidency in the  affairs of the National Assembly cannot be overemphasized. It started with the election of presiding officers of the the two chambers.

Prior to the inauguration of the 10th Assembly, the APC had settled for former Akwa Ibom governor, Godswill Akpabio and Jibrin Barau as its preferred choices for the position of President of the Senate and Deputy Senate President, respectively.

Also, the ruling party endorsed Tajudeen Abbas for the position of speaker, House of Representatives and Benjamin Kalu as deputy speaker of the Green chamber respectively.

Expectedly, the endorsement did not go down well with segments of the APC, who felt shortchanged. Nevertheless, despite protestations by  aggrieved members, the Presidency ensured that the choice of the APC in the leadership of the National Assembly prevailed.

Regardless, in line with the desire of the Executive, Akpabio was elected Senate President in a keenly contested election between him and former Zamfara governor, Abdulaziz Yari. Expectedly, Barua emerged Deputy Senate President. In the House of Representatives, the duo of Abbas and Kalu emerged as presiding officers.

Analysts say the emergence of the quartet as leaders of the 10th assembly was a pointer to what to expect in the legislature/executive relationship in the present administration.

While a school of thought believes it would enhance legislative/executive collaboration, another school of thought argue that it will diminish the independence of the legislature.

The Executive Director, OrderPaper, a parliamentary think tank, Oke Epia, says

“While proponents argue that leveraging the expertise and experience of legislators elected or appointed into executive roles tend to enhance policy formulation, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation, it is imperative to critically interrogate whether they significantly contribute to improved governance outcomes or contribute to compromising legislative independence and parliamentary oversight.”

Epia added that by “applying best practices and implementing appropriate safeguards, the transition of legislators into the executive arm could lead to greater collaboration between both branches of government without necessarily compromising institutional independence and integrity.”

The OrderPaper, a parliamentary think tank had in its recent  Quarterly Policy Review  on public office holders, who transited from legislature to the executive, code named From Legislature to the Executive (FLEX), identified the Tinubu administration as the biggest influence on the legislature in the history of the country’s democracy.  It attributes this to the FLEX effect.

According to the organization,  “22 out of the 48-member federal cabinet appointees were members of the National or State Assemblies, thereby giving President Tinubu the record of transitioning the largest number of politicians from the legislature to the executive in one fell swoop”.

It added that apart from  President Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, the Secretary to Government of Federation ( SGF) and Chief of Staff, Femi  Gbajabiamila are also former members of the federal legislature.

The report, while highlighting the influence of the Executive on the legislature, noted that  “Ex-legislators nominated for appointment have permanently been excluded from scrutiny by the National Assembly. The ‘take a bow’ privilege, whereby these nominees are not asked a single question about how they intend to add value to the government, has been criticised by many.

“This practice, which predates the current Tinubu administration, has eroded the powers of the parliament to assure the nation of the capacity, competence and expertise of would- be ministers and heads of relevant agencies.

“The argument is that the practice has promoted mediocrity and elevated cronyism. It has also eroded the power of the people (since legislators directly represent the people) to assure themselves that those in government deserve the roles and responsibilities assigned to them.

“In some cases, the FLEX effect can also be observed in weakened legislative capacity or lax legislative oversight. One significant example of this phenomenon in Nigeria is the non-approval of the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) before the presentation of the national budget and the speedy approval of the budget without thorough scrutiny of its estimates.

According to the report  “The MTEF is a critical tool for fiscal planning and budgeting, providing a framework for government expenditure over a medium-term period. However, in recent times, the non-approval of the MTEF by the National Assembly before the budget presentation by the President has been elevated to a perennial practice that can undermine legislative oversight of the budgetary process.

“Without a thorough examination of the MTEF, lawmakers may lack adequate information and analysis to scrutinise the budget proposals put forth by the Executive effectively. This can result in the diminished capacity of the legislature to exercise its constitutional mandate of checks and balances on the fiscal policies and expenditures of the executive.”

Consequently, it noted that  the speedy approval of the budget without thorough scrutiny of its estimates can lead to potential inefficiencies, misallocations, and even corruption in government spending. In the rush to meet deadlines or political expediency, lawmakers may forego comprehensive review processes, compromising the quality and accountability of budgetary decisions.”

Former member of the House of Representatives, Samson Osagie, said the transition of political actors from one organ of government to the other is not novel to Nigeria. Osagie noted that, “the largest democracy in the world, the United States of America, has witnessed a tremendous exodus of lawmakers who eventually became US Presidents, Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State, and so on. However, the unique feature of this burgeoning phenomenon in Nigeria is that its impact on governance does not appear to show any remarkable difference.”

The former lawmaker added that,  “the President Tinubu administration has a huge expectation to deliver, owing to the preponderance of former legislators in his government. “

According to him, ‘with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration harvesting a preponderant number  of Legislators into its government, OrderPapers submission on the populace’s huge expectations for a positive impact on governance is well placed.

“It is to be further noted that much as separation of powers is necessary to prevent abuse  of power by over-concentration of powers in one authority, it is inconceivable that the Legislature should become a lackey of the executive simply because the executive branch has become populated by erstwhile Legislators.

“The Tinubu administration, therefore, has an abiding responsibility to leverage the abundance of legislative experiences in the executive branch of this government to  advance good governance and strengthen the fabric of democratic institutions in the country’s interest.”

Pundits are quick to point to the hasty passage of the 2024 Appropriation Act, the handling of the issues raised by former chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, Senator Abdul Ningi, over alleged discrepancies in the budget, as well as the expedited passage to the National Anthem Act, allegedly at the behest of the Presidency, as evidence of the influence of the Executive on the legislature.

Recall that the two chambers of the National Assembly had hurriedly passed the 2024 Appropriation Act. Critics say the passage of the budget within a month, did not give room to proper scrutiny.

President Tinubu had presented the budget to a joint session of the National Assembly on November 29, 2023 and it was passed on December 30, 2023.

Earlier in the year, Ningi raised the alarm over alleged discrepancies in the document. Ningi’s alarm generated diverse reaction in the polity.  He was subsequently suspended by the Senate for three months.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the Bauchi born senator’s suspension, as allegedly a ploy to suppress investigation into the issues he raised.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, had noted that “the suspension of Senator Ningi is apparently a desperate move to suppress investigation, conceal and sweep the facts under the carpet.

“We ask, why did the APC leadership in the Senate not refer the matter to the appropriate Senate Standing Committee for an open investigation in line with the extant Rules of the Senate? What is the APC Senate leadership afraid of and what is it hiding from Nigerians? “ However, Ningi has been recalled by the Senate, shortly before the expiration of his three months suspension.”

Also, the  National Assembly drew the ire of the public, recently, when it gave expeditious passage to the National Anthem Act, “ Nigeria, We hail thee “ which restored the old National Anthem, which was jettisoned in 1978, as another pointer of the influence of the Executive on the parliament. The parliament later held a joint session, on May 29, with President Tinubu, in attendance, solely for the rendition of the new National Anthem.

Akpabio, in his speech at the joint session, described the re-introduction of the old national anthem as one of the “profound” achievements of the President.

According to him,  “of all the significant things you have done, I think one of the most profound is to take us back to our genealogy. The genealogy of our birth, though, we may belong to different tribes, though we may have different tongues, in brotherhood we all stand.”

Epia posits that President Tinubu’s administration  having appointed the highest number of former lawmakers into key offices in government, “has held itself up for thorough study and scrutiny of the practice in ways that can offer evidence-based recommendations and advocacies in the future.”

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