THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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By Mohammed Adamu
It has become necessary, in this second part, that I do, even if a light-hearted graffiti of the universal character of most parliaments and parliamentarians, and especially those in a presidential system of democracy, before I round off next week with a third concluding part, and in which I should provide yet, a universally acceptable Executive formula for an effective management –if not effective taming- even of the most cantankerous legislature.
The near successful attempt by the Ghali Assembly to impeach Obasanjo on the altar of very flimsy, malevolently-hatched allegations was practically eye-opening -especially about Parliament’s potentials for mischief at the slightest bruise of its legislative ego. And so poor Obasanjo, my Principal’s Principal, in his First Term in office, had learnt his earliest democratic lesson the ‘hard way’, not to ever underestimate even a Parliament comfortably controlled by his own Party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Parliaments more often than not are not justified by the righteousness of their moral or legal stand on issues; rather their stand on issues is usually always validated by the rightness of their legislative might –especially when the people that they represent are not organized enough, whenever lawmakers get giddy, to call them to order. Thus the idea that only the Executive arm of Government regales in the autocratic saying that ‘might is right’ is blatantly untrue. Left unchecked by the people who elected them, legislators can be the most incorrigible wielders of ‘legislative might’ for sundry selfish reasons.
It is a theoretical misnomer that parliament is usually involved in a tripartite circle of mutual ‘checks and balances’ between and among the arms of Government. In truth it is Parliament alone that arrogates the exclusive right to check others and also the right not to be checked by others. And this is made worse by the fact that as much as it is derogatorily deemed the proverbial ‘woman of easy virtue’, nonetheless Parliament everywhere is imbued with such enormous powers that even at its weakest, it is still a turf upon which no other arm of government can afford an arrogant swagger.
Truth is ‘opportunism’ rather than ‘righteousness’ is what actually exalts, especially in the constitutionally-mandated ‘cat-and-mouse’ relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. Merely being legally or morally right on a matter is just not enough; but which arm of government has the other’s testicles at hand, has always been the criterion of righteousness especially between this grouchy Executive ‘Tom’ and this habitually cantankerous ‘Jerry’. And although the odds seem stacked always in favor of the Executive, with its advantage of ‘purse’ and ‘power’, parliament actually gets away with the most murder.
And the reason is not far-fetched: parliament has the exclusive power not only to approve ‘funding’ and to authorize ‘spending’ but also to investigate and to indict mis-spending. And although to the executive arm is the custody of both the ‘knife’ and the ‘meat’, yet Parliament alone decides not only the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ the ‘apple of discord’ is to be cut, it also determines ‘who’ gets ‘what’ and ‘who’ gets ‘nothing’. Reason when Parliament toys with the phrase ‘zero allocation’, heads of public institutions quiver!
If there is any institution in a presidential democracy that is untouchable (except by the extra-legal majoritarian anger of the people themselves), it is Parliament which, in addition to its legislative authority, also enjoys some quasi-judicial and quasi-executive powers. Parliament alone makes, amends and abrogates laws; it alone approves funds and authorizes public spending. Plus it has the power of oversight to question how the funds it approved have been or are being spent.
And so to the Executive and Judicial arms, every ‘budget season’ is like a woman’s ‘time’ in a month. Things can either get crampily bloody and come down in agglutinating oodles or they may stay immaculately spick and span! Budget season is like the proverbial ‘Ides of March’. It is Parliament’s legislative ‘day of reckoning’ at which well-behaved public institutions are rewarded with excessive ‘funding’, erring ones are blatantly ‘underfunded’ as warning for bad behavior and headily-tendentious ones -like Keyamo’s candidate Labor Ministry- may be punished, if necessary, with ‘zero-funding’. Thus parliament alone has the constitutional wherewithal to whip the ‘offending Adam’ out of all public institutions.
Keyamo’s rebuff of a Joint Committee’s attempt to impose a selfish ‘pecking order’ in an Executive job-dispensing program which Parliament deemed itself a ‘benevolent’ enabler of, may have been the Labor Junior Minister’s legislative ‘baptism of fire’; but it was not the Ministry’s dreaded ‘Ides of March’ for the 2021 budget season -yet. That date which is still a few months away in the womb of time, is what a righteously-giddy Keyamo almost preemptively jeopardized.
And it was to avert a potentially tragic ‘Ides of March’ for the Labor Ministry (when Parliament would’ve shown it who truly the ‘lords’ of the democratic ‘manor’ are), that Keyamo’s senior and more experienced Chris Ngige quickly stepped in, in profuse apology, pleading as it were, with the NASS, to forgive Keyamo, ‘for he knew not what he was doing’. It was the nimblest move of an ‘old’ executive ‘dog’ to whom, as the saying goes, no new trick may be taught. Pray Keyamo grasps the Achebean adage: ‘when mother cow chew grass, its young ones watch its mouth’.
And in fairness to Parliament, or should we say that being the proverbial ‘woman of easy virtue’ that it is, the legislature is usually never niggardly of its forgiveness -particularly to those who are profusely repentant and self-correctively penitent. They are always forgiven, whoever remorsefully returns to Parliament contrite and pledging never so offend again. ‘Easy’, as they say, ‘does it’: when a child dares to resist a local bully and soon realizes that the bully controls all the streets and alleys in town, the only path to an enduring peace is that he being the weaker party apologizes, hands over his pocket money, and pledge never to resist -again.
It is thus a misnomer even, to suggest that Parliament is merely a cantankerously ‘un-checked’ member of a tripartite circle of ‘checks and balances’; because in truth Parliament is not just ‘unchecked’ in this constitutionally-mandated relationship of ‘checks and balances’, it is in fact practically ‘un-check-able’-except by the people themselves! And so where the people are passive and therefore incapable of democratic anger against their elected representatives, Parliament inevitably becomes the ‘un-check-able’ legislative bully of the constitutional governance process. It can ride roughshod on everyone and every institution.
Now it has grown enough wings not to say sorry even when it offends. On the contrary it demands apologies, as we now see, from the very ones that it has blatantly offended. This is how un-righteously powerful Parliament can get, in a presidential system of democracy. No thanks to a docile electorate incapable of democratic ager. Every attempt by the Executive or Judicial arm to put this kind of parliament on the path of constitutional righteousness is a casus belli for war. And at the slightest bruise to its legislative ego, parliament bristles its crest and is prepared to fight.
And although it always takes a ruling of the Judicial arm to burst Parliament’s egotistic bubble, truth is, it equally takes a self-aggrandizing re-legislation even of judicially-decided matters, for Parliament always to get its ‘self-righteous’ groove back. Parliament is a shrew that a wise and proactive Executive arm must always find a way, by crook -if not by hook- to tame. Else….
To be concluded…