Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Buhari and challenge of delivering dividends of democracy

The 2015 elections have largely been conducted save for the supplementary governorship elections to be conducted this Saturday in Taraba, Imo and Abia states. In spite of the large number of losers who conceded defeats, many of the defeated candidates and political parties are heading for the election petitions tribunals to seek redress. That is a good omen. It is better to ventilate your grievances at the tribunal rather than on the street.
After elections, comes governance and as we approach the May 29 handover date, it is important to chip in some words of advice to our newly elected leaders to guide them in their onerous task of administering a complex entity like Nigeria. The incoming administration of the All Progressives Congress campaigned on the slogan of Change! This may be a vacuous battle cry unless we, the citizens, make a concerted demand of our elected representatives for a positive change. Change, as we know, is double-faced. It could be for better or for worse. It could be positive or negative as well.
In governance, like in economics, demand engenders supply. Many of us are eying dividends of democracy. We have both the hardware and software of this. The hardware dividends are made up of the tangibles. The concrete things like uninterrupted electricity supply, modern health care facilities, world-class educational institutions, good roads, pipe borne water, employment opportunities, and low cost housing, security of lives and properties. As for the software of democracy dividends, we are talking of the rule of law (i.e. supremacy of the law, equality before the law and civil liberties or what many of us know as fundamental human rights). It also consists of separation of powers and checks and balances among the three arms of government.
I was a guest on “Mementos”, a radio programme of Premier FM 93.5, which is the Ibadan Zonal Station of the Radio Nigeria on Monday, April 20, 2015. The current affairs programme is anchored by Olubukola Enimola and Adedamola Tinubu where my colleague and I discussed the issue of checks and balances among the three arms of government and how the incoming government can work harmoniously to deliver on its campaign promises.
One of the distinguishing features and the beauty of the presidential system of government is the concept of separation of powers. This ensures that the executive, legislature and judiciary arms of government are independent of one another unlike what obtains in the parliamentary system where there is fusion of powers as members of the cabinet are picked from the parliament. In order to ensure that each of these arms is not a lord unto itself and that they do not misuse the powers vested in them by the constitution, there are checks and balances. These controls make the three arms to work as a complete system. They need one another to survive and succeed.
It is true that the legislature makes laws, the executive implements the law and the judiciary interprets the law. However, the legislature performs oversight functions on the executive to ensure optimum performance. The executive formulates policies and drafts annual budget estimates, but it cannot spend money without the express approval of the legislature. The appointment of high ranking judicial officers such the President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Justice of Nigeria and even Supreme Court Justices have to be approved by the Senate just as high profile appointment of members of the executive such as minsters, ambassadors, heads of parastatals and boards of government institutions have to be approved by the upper legislative chamber – the Senate. The President also has veto power over legislative bills while the parliament can also override presidential veto.
Under the outgoing administration, the relationship between the executive and legislative arms, particularly at the federal level has been frosty and adversarial. Though the Peoples Democratic Party controls the two branches, it could not have been worse if they belong to different political parties. There is no area where the bickering of the two arms are most blatant than on the issue of appropriation. The National Assembly never fails to condemn the Federal Government, particularly the Presidency for late submission of budget estimates for the parliament’s review and passage, low budget performance, unrealistic oil benchmarks, lopsided capital vis-a-vis recurrent budget ratio which is at the ratio 10:90. On some occasions, the President has refused to append his signature to the appropriation bills passed on to him by the National Assembly on the grounds that they were unimplementable.
As Muhammadu Buhari steps in as the next president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, expectations are high on the part of the Nigerian masses that it is going to be business unusual from May 29. However, if the incoming government will succeed, there has to be a cordial, collaborative working relationship among the three arms of government and the three tiers of government viz. the federal, state and local governments. A tree, the saying goes, does not make a forest. Unless national interest is paramount in the heart and mind of the operators of the system, there will be little or nothing to cheer at the end of the term of the incoming administration.
Buhari claimed to be a converted democrat having been a dictator as a military Head of State between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985. Under this democratic dispensation, his strength of character will be put to test as he cannot rule by fiat but has to negotiate with varied political interests many of which backed his election for diverse personal reasons. Buhari will soon learn that he will have to hurry slowly and needs to convince his lieutenants about the need to put Nigeria first and not their own personal aggrandisement. I agree with those who have suggested to him not to get involved in the election of the leadership of the National Assembly as his predecessors had done. The good thing is that his political party, the APC, won the majority of seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives and as such will produce the leadership of both chambers. Also, he should steer clear of the politics of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. He should learn from the outgoing presidency which tried to foist a leadership on the NGF only to be rebuffed. Again, the APC has majority of the governors and whoever emerges as the chairman of the forum will likely be from the APC.
While Buhari should not be unduly meddlesome in the affairs of the other branches and levels of government, he must strive to have good working relationships with them all. Besides, he should run an inclusive, open and transparent government and should avoid any form of shadow-boxing and witch-hunt, and remain disciplined, honest and focused as well as appoint the best men and women into his cabinet irrespective of political affiliations, gender, religious beliefs, social status and ethnic backgrounds.