By Lawrence Olaoye, Christiana Ekpa and Imechukwu Okaforadi
President Muhammadu Buhari has called for a harmonious working relationship between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government.
The President explained that the new harmonious relationship would put an end to the face-off between both arms of government.
Speaking similarly, President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has also called for closer partnership between the executive and legislature, to ensure effective governance in the country.
Buhari spoke on Monday at the 4-day National Assembly Open Week with the theme: ‘Advancing Inclusive Governance Through Legislative Openness’
This is the first major meeting between the Executive and the Legislature since the President signed the controversial N9.120 trillion 2018 budget into law last month,
Also in attendance were Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF); Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment; Victor Ndoma-Egba, former Senate President; Director Generals of Agencies and Parastatals, among others.
Buhari while signing the budget, had accused lawmakers of making reductions amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introducing 6,403 projects worth N578 billion.
Represented by the SGF, Boss Mustapha, President Buhari said it was regrettable that the Executive-Legislative collaboration was not reflected on time to approve the budget.
He stressed the need for more harmonious working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature in other to deliver peace, security, and sustainable development to all Nigerians.
“I must also mention that government has noted the detailed response to the issues raised at the signing ceremony of the 2018 Appropriation Bill. The point to underscore firmly is that, a stronger and more cordial Executive-Legislative relationship must exist in the interest of the nation and the people that elected us into office. It must be a win-win situation for all Nigerians.
“The importance of oversight activities of the Legislature to ensure efficient, equitable and the judicious use of resources to bring about delivery of service by the Executive cannot be overemphasized. Operationally, this involves visits by members of the relevant Committees to the project sites of the MDAs under their purview and in addition may involve holding public hearings in order to deepen understanding, appreciate the opportunities and challenges and subsequently agree on areas requiring legislative intervention and other forms of support/advocacy by the legislature.
“It is the expectation of this administration that the processes of over sight would be given adequate time for discussion during the week in other to fine tune it.
“The Nigerian Constitution has clearly enshrined the principles of separation of powers. I wish to state that since my assumption in office in May 2015, I have maintained a position that favor and supports the true independence of the various arms of government, including National Assembly, perhaps, more than any administration in this country. You are all aware of my open commitment to working with any set of leadership of the National Assembly that emerges, and I have remained true to it.
“This commitment is expected to take us beyond politics when dealing with the wellbeing of our citizens. We must continue to demonstrate our resolve to work harmoniously, while respecting the principles of separation of powers.”
In veiled reference to the recently signed Executive Order Number 6, which gives law enforcement agencies the power to seize and freeze the assets of any person against whom allegations of corruption have been made, pending the outcome of investigations, the President restated his commitment to bringing corruption to a total stop in Nigeria.
“There is indeed nothing to celebrate about corruption, and nothing to commend about those who are corrupt. Glorious days of our dear country have been rolled back due to corruption. Let us therefore, collectively stand to ensure that corruption does not deny us the bright future ahead,” he added.
Already, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, is expected to appear before both chambers of the National Assembly over the controversial Order.
This resolution was sequel to motions moved and adopted in the two chambers.
Lawmakers had raised the alarm over the increasing cases of alleged human rights violations and consistent assault on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution by the Executive, describing the Order as usurping the functions of the Legislature and the Judiciary.
Saraki, while speaking at the same event noted that it was imperative for both arms of government to better understand one another through “compromise, consultation and engagement.”
He further stated that: “It is also my hope that during this week, we will be able to better represent what we are doing to Nigerians.
“It is my hope that the Executive arm will also be able to get a better understanding of National Assembly’s role. Let us work together. Let us understand each other. Let us understand that compromise, consultation and engagement are the factors that will ensure that as a government, we work together effectively.
“The message that I would like us to take away from here is: We must work together. We must understand our responsibilities and we must put Nigeria first.
“I just got back from America, and I noticed that even after over 200 years of their democracy, they still go through the same challenges. We should not despair. Democracy is a journey that will take a while. However, we must be committed to working together.”
He also noted that Parliaments all over the world act as unifying forces in democratic society since the manner of their conversation makes them the true representatives of the people.
“It follows therefore that the National Assembly, is the closest arm of government to the Nigerian people. The wide-range of activities that we have planned for this week will ensure that we remain the closest arm of government to the people and that our doors will remain open.”
He stated that accessibility of the National Assembly Complex was deliberate, to ensure that citizens had access to their elected representatives.
He expressed hope that the open week would provide another opportunity for lawmakers to interact with the people and showcase what they were doing in
order to foster a better understanding of the role of the National Assembly.
“As legislators, we are very much aware that modern law making, requires the deliberate engagement of people. This is because the issues that matter to people should form the core objective of parliament.
“This Open Week will ensure that the National Assembly remains in tune with the mood of the nation because from our findings, we see that a majority of Nigerians are not sure about the work of the National Assembly.
“We hope that through this process, more Nigerians will be able to understand our role and responsibilities — the work that we do; the bills that we pass; the process that it takes; and the procedures that are required in the legislative system.”
The Leader of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, while giving his opening address for the event, had expressed concern over the public perception of the Legislature despite the enormity of its activities.
The Senate Leader, who tasked Nigerians home and abroad including Civil Society Organisation (CSOs), professional and various pressure groups on the need to engage the Legislature critically, expressed optimism that the weeklong event will provide opportunities for favourable engagement with members of the National Assembly.
“Many parliaments, including the National Assembly, are increasingly providing the public with information on their budgets, expenditures and financial activities.
“Thirdly, parliamentary openness has also taken the form of direct engagement within the policy making process by providing citizens access to information about the laws under consideration, as well as opportunities to influence legislative deliberations,” he said.
According to him, the National Assembly has made considerable efforts at promoting parliamentary openness and greater public participation in governance and decision-making. Some of the concrete measures include live coverage of plenary sessions, opening if committee meetings to the press and the public and recently, making its budgets and expenditures open to review by citizens. Also, this position is further reinforced by the Freedom of Information Act, initiated and passed by the National Assembly to aid good governance and accountability.
The maiden open week programme was initiated by the leadership of National Assembly in collaboration with National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) was stalled for over 12 minutes, while the National Anthem was ongoing.