Saraki and the frustrations with our brand of democracy, By Zainab Suleiman Okino
The president of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki appears unhappy over the constant feud and friction between the arm of government he leads and the Presidency. Under the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency, the executive and the National Assembly have disagreed over almost everything. If it is not on budget padding today, it is about the screening of nominees by the legislature. If those the system favours, those who benefit, and those who, supposedly call the shots, are angry with the system, then who else is not? Is it the electorate, who are remembered only once in four years, the hungry and dejected Nigerians, the unemployed youth or those who cannot pay their hospital bills, or those whose wards have dropped out of school because school fees have been hiked beyond their reach? Or is it the businessman who is forced to close shop because of unfair competition, the monopoly of a few and absence of protectionist policies to shield local industries.
The endless frictions, which Saraki attributed to lack of the “constructive engagement, synergy and institutional collaboration”, are taking their tolls on the Senate president, hence his anger and frustration. This came to light at the weekend in Jos during a one-day retreat organised by the Senate Press Corps, tagged “Strengthening Executive-Legislature Relations”. The Senate president, who was visibly angry and seemed flustered about the unworkability of the present arrangement, also admitted that friction is a normal occurrence in a democracy, but theirs (the Senate and the Presidency) in the current dispensation has even degenerated to name calling. Currently brewing are the issues of budget consideration, the N4.6 trillion bond and approval of $1 billion from the excess crude account to fight the Boko Haram insurgency.
“Just a few days ago, the issue of providing funding for the purchase of security equipment came up. In a good environment, such an issue needed to have been discussed with lawmakers. Already, some senators are angry. They said they were not consulted by the executive before such a decision was taken. These are the issues we are talking about.
“There is no way the security architecture of this country can work without a strong synergy between the executive and the legislature. When you see certain agencies which by their actions and utterances frustrate the relationship between the two arms, you begin to wonder. In a situation where a particular arm of government stands up and calls people from another arm of government thieves, looters and other names, how can we work together? How? It is not possible. It is not realistic. If we collaborate, the country will be better for it. Imagine, the federal government wants to raise a N4.6 trillion from the capital market. The leadership of the National Assembly first heard about it through a letter written by the president. This is what happens from time to time and yet, people keep blaming the legislature for being confrontational”, the Senate president further raved about.
Saraki also spoke on the so-called budget delay, rather blaming this on the executive which unfortunately plans (and even tries to execute) without consideration of the National Assembly’s constitutional right of oversight and scrutiny. Saraki’s anger might not be misplaced after all, especially as the Presidency seems to have retraced its steps over the funds for the prosecution of the battle against Boko Haram and is now ready to channel its requests through the National Assembly. However, the Senate president only needs to reverse his role with those of other Nigerians, put himself in their shoes, visualise the situation of things, and he will see a groundswell of anger, frustration and disenchantment against all the lawmakers put together. Their grouse is not unconnected to both the National Assembly and Presidency’s nonchalance about their welfare and security. Citizens are angry at the level of opulence displayed by the president’s men. They hear about millions changing hands among Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, when they thought they had made the right decision through their choice of the opposition party led by the assumed incorrigible President Buhari in 2015.
Nigerians are justifiably frustrated with the representatives of the people, the National Assembly members, who sometimes collude with the executive to short-change the citizens and only cry foul when their interests are not taken care of. Nigerians are angry with the president for being aloof in the face of unmet expectations. Yes, the citizens are angry at the humongous amount in salaries, constituency and other allowances that lawmakers collect on behalf of their people without giving much in return. The citizens are even more frustrated when the two arms of government that should collaborate to advance the course of development are at loggerheads. Over what anyway?
Over the years, the leadership of the country has put politics before the people in our model of democracy. We politicise everything, including social services like health, education, road construction and security. Imagine a governor like Abdulaziz Yari, whose primary and secondary schools are in tatters (only 28 Zamfara children from public schools are said to have enrolled for Common Entrance out of over 70 million across the country), playing good politics at the centre as the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, and Governor Yahaya Bello and Senator Dino Melaye of Kogi state, who draw attention to their state for all the wrong reasons.
Our brand of democracy is failing; the citizens are frustrated because our government is not people-oriented. The Asian Tigers, like Singapore and Malaysia, put development and the people before politics in their model of democracy. Here it is politics, politics, politics and personal advancement of those who hold the levers of power.
It is high time we began to prioritise the economic wellbeing of the people than focus on the face-off between one arm of government and another. Democracy works better only if the interest of the few persons in the corridors of power is subsumed under the interest of the entire citizenry. Executive-legislative harmony can only be guaranteed in an atmosphere of rule of law and adherence to the separation of powers as spelt out in the constitution, instead of the superior posturing of one over the other.
On the impasse over budget presentation recorded through the years, Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi, who was deputy chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior in the Seventh Senate, who also presented a paper on Improving Nigeria’s Budgetary Process through Executive-Legislature Cooperation suggested a new model of engagement in this direction, adding that cooperation at the planning stage and not at the stage of presentation of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) and the need to reintroduce development plans with clear objectives, outcomes and performance indicators in our budget planning process, as the way forward.
Clearly, the missing link in our endangered democracy, causing frustration all over the place is because the practitioners put the people last. The solution also lies in our leaders eschewing self-first, ego-tripping and grandstanding, while they should be more development- and people-oriented.