Towards Deepening Democracy …Of Acts Of Commission, Omission


When calls for an early formation of Federal Cabinet peaked during President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the United States of America (USA) in August, four months after his inauguration, Nigeria’s Commander-In-Chief assured that a Federal Executive Council would be formed by September. But at the end of that month, what Nigerians got was a list of 21 ministerial nominees.
The constitution requires President Buhari to nominate a ministerial nominee each from the 36 states of the federation. This means, Nigerians must wait a little more longer to behold a complete Federal Executive Council, amidst urgent national needs.
The Senate, constitutionally charged with responsibility of screening the nominees has fixed Tuesday, October 13, for take-off of the exercise, in hope that the remaining 15-member list of nominees shall reach the upper chamber of the national Assembly.
With criteria set for the screening of nominees and mixed reactions among Senators, there is no telling how much longer, the Buhari government would operate as a Military regime. The question is did the All Progressive Congress (APC) not anticipate electoral victory in the last general elections? Were they not remotely optimistic of forming a government? Or are they still shocked that they won the elections? Could it be that they had prepared more for an unfavourable outcome and planned elaborately on how to make government ungovernable, but instead met a peaceful response from former President Goodluck Jonathan and thus have to replan?
These questions have become imperative because many can no longer rationalize the unnecessary delay in forming a government, at a time when many national concerns are waiting for attention. The explanation that the new government needed to study the hand-over notes of the past one and reduce the number of ministries to manageable levels to reduce cost of governance does not really hold waters.
During the campaigns, the APC and its presidential flag bearer Gen Muhammadu Buhari claimed knowledge of all the nation’s problems and indeed bandied a blue-print that would help it hit the ground running once obliged the mandate. That blue-print should have captured the number of ministries, identified its first among equals, that would form the federal cabinet and save itself the embarrassment of public criticisms, over lack of preparedness to govern.
Worse still, the list of 21 nominees eventually sent to the Senate did not depict the result of a rigorous search and a time-consuming thorough investigation. It is not the product of a search for apolitical technocrats and indeed experts in the diaspora in various fields whose knowledge and service would help turn things around for the country.
The list instead turned out to be the expected, the same within the public domain and indeed canvassed by the social media for nearly one-month prior to its eventual unveiling by the Senate.
The delay in the appointment of ministers has in some ways criminalized some actions of the federal government. For instance, the prosecution of Senate President Bukola Saraki or any other, for that matter by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) should be ordered by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) or anyone delegated by him or her to do so.
The Buhari administration has yet to appoint a Minister of Justice or Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) so, who authorized the trial of the nation’s number three man? What was the cause of the haste by the CCB to prosecute the Senate President even before an AGF nominee has been screened by the accused himself? Interestingly, such AGF, with powers to authorize Saraki’s trial, must first appear before the Senate, with Saraki presiding and clear him for the job.
In the same vein, there are some public officers appointment and removal which procedure is clearly defined by law. Such enactments outline the process of nomination by the executive and confirmation by the legislature before they can be seen as constitutionally appointed.
While the Senate was on recess early September, President Buhari appointed Mr. Babatunde Fowler as Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Ahmed Kuru, new Managing Director/CEO of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) and Mr Kola Ayeye, Ms Eberechukwu Uneze and Mr Aminu Ismail respectively, as Executive Directors of AMCON. These officiers functioned and performed official duties without official confirmation by the Senate as required by the constitution.
In like manner, Professor Umaru Danbatta, was nominated as the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and indeed started work without official confirmation. In situating the weight of such violation of the law, The Guardian, quoting a dependable Senate source wrote, ‘This is an offence and a gross breach of the constitution. Some of us are peeved by this conduct of the nominees…, adding, “we consider it an abuse of the respect we have for President Buhari.”
“This sort of thing cannot happen in America or any other civilized democracy. President Buhari should avoid unconstitutional acts by his nominees,” the Senator warned.
“We have confirmed several nominees of past presidents who had to wait for weeks and sometimes months before they could assume office.
“Take the case of Ms Aruma Oteh, who waited for three months because when she was nominated by President Yar‘Adua to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) we were on recess and by the time we got back, she had an accident that necessitated the postponement of her screening and confirmation for several weeks.
“Yet she never took over office at SEC until she was duly confirmed by the Senate. The same is applicable to those who previously headed the same parastatals for which Buhari recently announced new nominees,” the Senator was quoted as lamenting.
The same procedure attended the appointment of security chiefs, who though in acting capacities, started performing the constitutional duties of their positions without prior confirmation by the Senate, as required by law. These actions, without doubt, attempt to question the independence of other arms of government.
Like President Buhari, the Senators and members of the House of Representatives were elected by the people to form the legislative arm of government and indeed represent their various constituents in law-making and perform other over-sight functions of the Executive. Therefore, each time such duties are denied the elected law-makers, it not only amounts to impunity of sorts, which in opposition, APC repeatedly protested against, it indeed undermines the very essence of democracy, and of separation of powers and indeed of checks and balances, necessary for good democratic governance.
Though a retired army general, President Buhari must, at all times demonstrate his total rebirth as a democrat, democratically elected through a democratic process. And as a beneficiary of a free and fair election, guided by laws, the President must at all times uphold the rule of law not minding whose ox is gored. He must be as non-partisan as he can be on some issues, if he must earn the respect and approval of the citizenry.
The decision to send half-list of ministerial nominees, while the constitution stipulates otherwise is indeed undemocratic and should be corrected. He must not give the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a reason to celebrate early democratic missteps to underscore his military pedigree.
These indeed were issues regularly criticized by the then opposition APC as acts of impunity and it will be unfortunate should the APC elect to repeat what it constantly preached against, because it is now in power.
The Senate and indeed the House must be respected as another independent arm of government. Same goes for the Judiciary, both of which owe Nigerians distinct services ordered by their constitutional independence. They must not function as extensions of the Executive Arm because that would amount to absolute power which also corrupts absolutely.
My Agony is that even with such required separation of powers and checks and balances, there are very visible signs that the same executive wants to set rules and define criteria for the screening of its own ministerial nominees. Or have the screeners face its full executive weight, including, dishonourable trips to the CCT? Is that  a consideration or part of the bargain? Pray Not.