There is no doubt, that the 8th Senate, led by Bukola Saraki, did not enjoy a rosy relationship with the executive arm of government led by President Muhammad Buhari. In this report, our correspondent, Ikechukwu Okaforadi chronicles the various supremacy contests between the leaders of the two most antagonistic arms of government in 2017.
The 8th Senate led by Senator Bukola Saraki has in the estimation of many Nigerians, failed to meet up with the expectations of majority of socio-economically conscious Nigerians; regarding how the parliament is expected to check the executive. These failures range from economy to politics, and to legislation.
Senate rejects Magu as EFCC boss, Buhari insists on reappointing him
No doubt, at the inception of 2017, one of the initial controversies between the Senate and the
Executive was about the political status of Ibrahim Magu, who was appointed as the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Sequel to what the Senate termed security report submitted against Magu by the Department of State Services, he was considered unqualified to lead the anti-graft agency. Contrary to the position of the Senate, President Buhari was favorably disposed to Magu, as he was obviously unperturbed by the ranting of the Senate.
As this controversy heightened even to the extent of consuming the former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, the Senate wrote to the President insisting that he should nominate another candidate for the position of EFCC chairman. But the President rather re-nominated Magu to lead the anti-corruption war of his government. In the letter addressed to Saraki, Buhari who made reference to the resolution of the Senate rejecting his nominee said “I have taken due note of the contents of the aforesaid resolution as it concerns the nominee, particularly the conclusion of the Senate not to confirm the nomination of Magu, due to a security report on the nominee issued by the DSS and addressed to the Senate.
“Upon receipt of this said resolution, I took administrative steps within the executive arm of government to ensure the speedy clarification of issues relied upon by the Senate in
arriving at its decision. These steps included a request for the response of the nominee to the allegations contained in the report out of desire to ensure that the credibility of our anti-corruption campaign is not compromised or called to question.
“It is in the above context that I therefore request the gracious indulgence of this distinguished Senate to favorably accept my re-nomination of Ibrahim Magu Mustapha for the position of the chairman of the EFCC, having received adequate clarification considering the matter relied upon by the Senate in arriving at its decision”.
The Senate, after a closed door meeting to reconsider the second nomination of Magu which lasted for some hours, resolved to reject, again, the nomination of Ibrahim Magu, claiming that allegations against him were grave enough not to be swept under the carpet. The Senate had lamented that against all caution, the President represented Magu for confirmation.
However, despite the face off, the EFCC chairman is still operating today though in acting capacity. Also, contrary to expectations of Nigerians, the Senate has continued to receive in audience the EFCC acting chairman at different legislative programmes even though it passed a resolution never to recognize or have any deal with Magu in the capacity of the EFCC boss.
Senate insists Customs boss must wear uniform, Ali remains adamant
Before the furor generated by the EFCC controversy could settle, the Senate became entangled in a fresh debacle with the Executive regarding the refusal of the Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali, to wear uniform of the agency. The first salvo in this particular fight was fired by one of the topmost henchmen of the Senate President, Obinna Ogba, who asked the Customs CG to explain why he does not wear uniform.
Hameed Ali had appeared before the Senate Committee on Customs and Exercise Duties to defend why he had not constituted the Board of the NCS, as well as make contributions to the proposed amendment to the Act establishing the agency. At the event, Senator Ogba, who had apparently laid ambush for the CG, descended heavily on him when he asked him why he had been flouting the law establishing the agency for not wearing his rank?
“Mr. CG, this committee will like to know the reason why you are still in mufti close to two years after your appointment as the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service”, the Senator had asked.
Another top henchman of Senate, Dino Melaye, attacked the CG the more by putting it to him that even a retired Military General, Haladu Hananiya, wore the FRSC uniform when he was appointed as Corps Marshall of the agency, asking him if he is claiming to be above the law.
Obviously, as political observers pointed out, the intension of the Senate was if they could not get at the President himself directly, they could succeed in creating conflict with him by getting at his boys, which they hoped will drag him into the controversy. In one of his summons to appear before the Senate at plenary to defend his new import duty policy, the Senate specifically
passed are solution directing the Customs CG to ensure that he appears before them in his official uniform. Saraki, who presided over plenary rules thus “we are guided by the general views and opinion and integrity of this institution; and I think it is clear and it is a collective position…I do not think there is need to prolong this issue – and the position of the Senate is clear. He should appear tomorrow in his uniform as directed by the Senate.”
However, the CG did not appear before the Senate the following day in uniform, following which he was turned back by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary. Ekweremadu had told the CG “Leaders must lead by example, by refusing to wear the uniform, other officers in the service below your rank can also claim that no law compels them to wear uniforms.”
The Deputy Leader of the Senate also compelled the CG to wear uniform saying “The law requires you to wear uniform. We understand the intention of Mr. President, but this Senate is not an institution that can be put to disrepute”.
But contrary to their expectations, the President, who reportedly met with the CG in the Presidential Villa, paid a deaf ear to the controversy, even as the Customs CG has continued to wear mufti. Like the EFCC chairman, he had appeared in audience to the Senate committees, even in mufti, signaling that the lawmakers have eventually cut their powers according to their strength.
Senate, Presidency clash over $29.9bn foreign loan
Another major area of conflict between the 8thSenate and the Buhari’s government was the request by the Executive to borrow $29.9billion from external loan sources, including World Bank, IMF, and others.
The Presidency had written a letter to the Senate indicating the intention of the government to borrow externally $29.9 billion, which he described as a rolling borrowing plan, to enable his government address infrastructure deficit in the health, education, water resources, road and other sectors.
Also in another letter same day, the President requested the lawmakers to approve the virement of N180.8billion from different budget subheads of 2016, for meeting up some critical government responsibilities including payment of salaries and allowances to some government establishments, as well as to the ex-militants in the Niger Delta region.
Initially, the lawmakers did not agree with the $29.9billionloan request, saying that the letter from the President was empty, without details of how the fund would be spent. They, therefore, resolved not to entertain the request until the details of projects and programmes for its expenditure were attached by the Presidency.
Though the conflict was later resolved, approval of the request was delayed by horse trading between the two arms of government.
Chairman Presidential Committee on Anti-corruption, Itse Sagay summoned to Senate
One harsh voice against the Senate within President Buhari’s cabinet was Itse Sagay, who heads the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption. From the inception of the 8th Senate, Sagay had constantly described the upper chamber in most unprintable words. He has maintained, at every occasion, that the Senate is full with persons of questionable characters. His attack reached a crescendo when he described the Senate as irresponsible and childish for refusing to clear and confirm Ibrahim Magu as the substantive chairman of EFCC.
According to him, Senate’s decision to withhold confirmation of Magu was because most of the Senators, especially former governors, have criminal cases pending in the anti-corruption agency.
Expectedly, this drew the anger of the Senate which viewed it as an attempt by the Presidency to malign, and bring to disrepute, the institution of the Senate. To this end, the lawmakers resolved to summon Sagay, accusing him of ceaselessly making derogatory remarks against the Senate.
However, Sagay as predicted by observers, called the bluff of the lawmakers, by not only refusing to appear before the Senators but also intensifying his vilifications against the lawmakers of the upper chambers, who obviously were helpless in the situation, following President Buhari’s deafening silence on the matter.
Rather than taking more aggressive actions to compel Sagay to appear before the Senate, the lawmakers resorted to exchange of diatribe.
Presidency, Senate fight over 100 billion naira zonal intervention projects
In the 2017 budget, the President had budgeted N100 billion for the constituency projects of the lawmakers. However, due to paucity of funds, this money was not released by the federal government, resulting in some senators allegedly being stoned in the constituencies.
The zonal intervention projects and programmes were captured in the N2.6trillion capital spending plans of the different ministries, departments and agencies of government in the year 2017, but the President only released N436billion for only priority capital projects, not involving the constituency projects of the senators. Sequel to this, the lawmakers were not prepared to receive the President who came to present the 2018 budget, but for the intervention of the Senate and House of Representatives leadership respectively.
The major bone of contention between the sacked Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal, was because of his criticism of the constituency programmes of the National Assembly, which he described as outrageous. He was therefore summoned by the Senate, where he appeared and defended his comments, insisting that federal government has no option but to cut the amount budgeted for the zonal intervention programmes of the senators, even as he argued before the senators that government cannot release all the funds due to falling oil prices.
The rift between the Senate and the scribe of the Buhari’s government deepened to the extent the SGF was accused of awarding contracts for clearing of grass in the North East to his company at the cost ofN222million. Though efforts were made by the Presidency to save Lawal, the Senate refused to shift ground. He was eventually sacked after a Presidential panel, led by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, indicted him.