By Emmanuel Oladesu
What could have sparked a protracted rift between the legislature and the executive in the same ruling party?
This is a big poser that agitates the minds of concerned parties in Lagos State where the House of Assembly has shelved the confirmation of 17 of the Governor’s 39 commissioner-nominees.
The legislative/executive face-off, which leaders of the ruling party are now sorting out, is confounding to many people because the occupants of the two organs of government belong to the same All Progressives Congress (APC) family.
Some observers might not find anything puzzling about this kind of misunderstanding. To such persons, it is not new. They liken it to the inevitable – however occasional – disagreement that usually occurs within a family. As elder statesman Oluyole Olusi put it: “It is the side effect of the operation of democracy.”
But the pattern of legislative/executive bickering that has dogged the practice of the presidential system in Nigeria is worrisome.
The question is: could the slippery pathway of a crisis be avoided rather than resort to damage control after the collision? Could the row have been prevented instead of making appeals for dialogue after the disagreement has degenerated into a crisis?
It bears repeating that the greatest challenge confronting big progressive parties, either at national, regional or state level, is lack of speedy crisis resolution mechanism. The sluggish approach to peaceful settlement can be costly.
While it is now generally accepted that inter-organ crises are normal – though better prevented or managed internally before they become subjects of public gossips – some circumstances may make it impossible. When it is eventually resolved, the collateral damage tends to stare participants in the politics of strife in the face. Egos are bruised.
It is worse when the governor and lawmakers are from antagonistic parties. The most embarrassing scenario of utter discord happened in Kaduna State in the Second Republic. The list of commissioner-nominees sent by former Governor Balarabe Musa of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) to the House of Assembly dominated by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was rejected. For over one year before he was impeached by the hostile House, the Governor ran the state without commissioners. Kaduna was bruised by the acrimony in the corridor of power.
Indisputably, unresolved discord and mistrust between the two critical organs have the tendency to create strains for the party on whose platform the governor and the lawmakers were elected. The impression often created is that the party is has lost cohesion, unity and harmony. That was the trend of acrimonious relationship associated with the Executive and Legislature, also in Second Republic, when the then Ondo State Governor Adekunle Ajasin and Speaker Richard Jolowo never saw eye to eye.
Majority of members of the State Executive Council backed Ajasin while majority of lawmakers backed the estranged Deputy Governor, Chief Akin Omoboriowo.
The reconciliation brokered by the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) Leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, collapsed. The great politician was helpless. The two sides could not be pacified. The Ondo chapter was so polarised by the executive/legislative crisis that it nearly rendered the state government comatose. The Governor’s proposals to the House, including the nomination of Chief Nathaniel Aina for the vacant position of Deputy Governor after Omoboriowo resigned, were rejected.
Recent experience has also shown that differential styles, not necessarily related with ideology, can create a gulf between the head of the legislature and the head of the executive. Between 2015 and 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari had it rough with the Senate, led by Dr. Bukola Saraki, despite being chieftains of the same party. The suspicion, if not hate, was so deep.
The fallout was that some presidential nominees were not confirmed. When the president came to the Upper Chamber to table his administration’s budget, there was uproar and the session was almost disrupted. The founding fathers of APC were in a sober mood.
The constitution prescribes roles for the Legislature and Executive in presidential de mocracy. The Legislature is the first and the most important organ of government because of its attribute of “representativeness”. The Executive is to be envied for always stealing the show, not only as chief executor of big projects but as the exclusive custodian and controller of huge financial resources.
While constituencies send representatives to the law-making organ, they also crave representation in the Executive, the real heart of government, where things happen. The slots of commissioners and special advisers, no matter the seeming duplication, expansion or enlargement, are still relatively fewer. The scramble for the slots is always intense.
In contemporary times, societies have accommodated the criteria being evolved by political players to reshape the scramble. These include experience, competence, expertise, gender, population, religion, ethnicity, autochthony (indigeneship), preference of governor, godfatherism, quota system, slots for youth, and consideration for the physically challenge. To maintain a balance is difficult or problematic.
While relations between Executive and Judiciary, and relations between Legislature and Judiciary are smooth, there is usually tension between the legislature and the executive for obvious reasons. The principles of constitutional separation of powers and the accompanying checks and balances are guaranteed under the presidential model. In exercising its legislative, oversight and ratification powers, legislators see an opportunity to restrain or tame the executive. The implication is that the ruling executive should always moderate its activities in utter sensitivity to the presence of a legislature that is always alert.
Yet, the exercise of the role of “approval” and “questioning” should be done with wisdom. It should not be allowed to slide into a deep gulf or lack of cooperation between the two branches. There should be mutual respect, flexibility, understanding and collective dedication to the cause of good governance.
When a conflict between the governor and the legislature festers or escalates, the two arms are distracted, governance is slowed down, energy is dissipated on crisis resolution and service delivery is hampered. Therefore, legislators and members of the executive elected on the same ruling platform should have a moral voice they can defer to, and this is the Party Caucus.
Herein lies the solution to the legislative/executive imbroglio. If the party caucus is strengthened, it can affirm its supremacy, whip its party members in the executive and legislative organs into line and enforce discipline.
This is very important because the perception that a crisis has engulfed the legislature and executive means that the party ultimately is enveloped in a crisis. It thus implies that the platform is devoid of cohesion, unity and peace. It is not tidy that the executive and legislature should watch the dirty linen of the party in the public. Party followers would be confused and the opposition would be motivated to make a mockery of the feuding arms of government.
The goal of the legislature and the executive should be collaboration for good governance without jeopardising the principle of separation of powers. The achievement of the objective depends on a harmonious working relationship between both arms of government. Experienced politicians should be appointed as Laison Officer or Special Adviser on Political and Legislative Matters as the “go between” to stem or moderate the compelling tension between the two arms.
In a moment of crisis, dialogue, which may be difficult to initiate by the two organs in dispute, should be brokered by the party, which is the parent of quarrelsome siblings in the two feuding arms of government.
Source: The Nation Newspaper