NASS 2017: Between citizens’ expectations and survival politics

nigerian-senate

How Ndume Was Unhorsed

LIFE returned to the polity with the eventual resumption of plenary by the National Assembly. It goes without saying that the plate is full for the federal legislators, as much is also expected of them from Nigerians.

More than the legislative niceties, the lawmakers knew that as they settle down to the legislative business, they have politics of survival to contend with and plots to contain the unpredictable dance steps of the presidency, which started retracing its egocentric withdrawal in belated attempts at rapprochement.

Aside politics and the constant look out for banana peels; the lawmakers seem to be fully aware of the enormity of work ahead of them. There are certain crucial issues that must engage them fully.

2017 Budget
NOT long after President Muhammadu Buhari laid the 2017 appropriation bill before a joint session of the bi-cameral federal legislature, the lawmakers proceeded on the Christmas and New Year recess. It was therefore the general expectation of Nigerians, who are much traumatized by the harrowing socio-economic circumstances in their country, that the lawmakers would, on resumption, begin work on the all important budget estimates.

Debates and possible passage of the budget, as well as, adoption of the 2017/2019, two year-Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), would help to usher in some buoyancy in the political economy.

In addition, the NASS is also expected to take a second look at the Presidency’s application for authorization to obtain a foreign loan of $29.96b, which the government believes would help in tackling the challenge of infrastructure deficit in the country.

President of Senate, Bukola Saraki, had assured that the Senate would give expeditious attention to the budget; pointing out that this time around the Senate would avoid petty politics that could delay its eventual passage in the interest of Nigerians.

On its part, especially going by the irritations and perceived smear campaigns by the former Chairman of Appropriation Committee, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said the House would inject transparency into the budget process.  The budgeting process has always been a point of friction between the Presidency and NASS. But the experience of 2016, was nothing to write home about, what with allegations of disappearance, padding and contestations over constituency project allocation.

And while the Executive and Legislature engaged in needless pugilism, critical provisions in the budget that could help to stimulate or stabilize the national economy were sidelined. This may explain the recent demand on the lawmakers by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) to, “as a matter of urgency, prioritise pending and important issues affecting the nation’s socio-economic development such as the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill, openness and transparency in the 2017 Appropriation Bill.”

CISLAC also pointed out that issues pertaining to “Constitutional and Electoral Reforms, Constituency Accountability and Sustainable (Internal) Security,” should engage the serious and urgent attention of the federal lawmakers.

CISLAC, in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), remarked that although they are “not unaware of the existing efforts by the legislators towards the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance and Institutional Framework Bill 2015,” the lawmakers should fast-track the passage of the bill.

While calling on the National Assembly to open up its own budget for public scrutiny, CISLAC noted that despite repeated promises by the President of Senate and Chairman of NASS, the right of Nigerians to know the disaggregated and detailed breakdown of the funds appropriated for NASS, has remained in the breach.

That apart, the civil society pressure group tasked NASS to ensure a thorough, open and constructive process in the passage of the 2017 Appropriation Bill, even as it pleaded with the lawmakers to “activate the existing commitments for allowing citizen-input into the appropriation process, to reflect the aspirations of Nigerians.”

But given the way the lawmakers began their legislative meetings in the current year, there is scant evidence that precision and appreciable speed could be channeled towards achieving much on the many issues in the ‘in’ tray, particularly concerning the electoral system, constitution amendment and internal security, at NASS.

Saraki’s Bourgeoning Dalliance With Buhari
TO the relief of most Nigerians, the President of the Senate, Saraki, has been having a frequent tête-à-têtes with President Buhari, unlike at the beginning of the 8th plenary, when the former military head of state kept aloof and maintained a straight face in his relationship to Saraki, and by extension, the NASS.

Perhaps, having seen the dangerous precipice down which his Presidency was headed, Buhari decided to turn a full circle in his attitude towards the National Assembly, particularly Saraki, whose emergence as President of Senate underscored the ambivalent position of the Presidency.

But with nearly two years invested in endless squabbles, Saraki and Buhari seem to be mending and exploring common grounds to promote national interest. More than that, it might as well have been a script written in the Presidency to put the meddlesomeness of the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in the flank.

Whatever may have informed the new thinking in the Presidency, what most observers do not lose sight of is the perceived desire by the President to ensure that the budget was passed in good time, as well as, vouchsafe the $29.9 foreign loan.

Although it is hard to regain lost time, sources say the Presidency is so particular about getting the loan, despite reservations by some financial experts, including the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II.

The worrisome aspect of Saraki’s closeness to Buhari is therefore, what could happen in the event that the budget suffers setback, based on the observed discrepancies in the MTEF and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP). Could it be that the Presidency is banking on the ongoing trial of the Senate president at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and alleged ongoing discussion with Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, to join APC as ploys to coral Saraki or in the event that he does not play ball, have Ekweremadu become the President of Senate, thereby achieving the much expected geopolitical balance in the National Assembly?

Ndume’s Dethronement, Exposé
The removal of Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume as Senate Majority leader last Tuesday re-echoed the age-long banana peel politics that had crippled the political careers of many past leaders of the upper legislative chamber.

It was the late Dr. Chuba Okadigo, President of the Senate, who propounded the concept of the deadly ‘Banana Peel’, which later became a very strong tsunami that claimed the political lives of many presiding and principal officers of the Senate.

Ndume might not have been formally briefed of anything before he was suddenly removed, but he had been part of the political manoeuvre that culminated in his replacement with a former candidate for the position of Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan.

Having emerged as Senate leader through a carefully contrived political strategy in June 2015, Ndume became the target of attacks by his political kinsmen from his North East Senate caucus who felt betrayed by his support for Saraki against Lawan.

Even when the leadership of the APC later asked him to resign for a political realignment and reconciliation that would allow Lawan to take the Senate leader position, Ndume refused. So the party was only waiting to take its pound of flesh whenever the relationship between him and Saraki turned sour.

At a point, it became the subject matter of chats and group discussions within the National Assembly that the Senate leader was moving too close to some power brokers in Aso Rock Presidential Villa, particularly those from his North East Geo-Political zone to the political detriment of the President of the Senate.

Another development, which compounded Ndume’s political leadership in the Senate is Saraki’s relentless bid to make peace with the Ahmed Lawan-led Unity Forum that waged a deadly war against his bid to become Senate President before he became victorious in June 2015.

After 12 months on the saddle and deep seated animosity with the forum, Saraki made some surprising changes in the committee leadership in July 2016, a development that brought most leaders of that forum into very chummy relationship with the Senate President.

For example, Senator Kabir Marafa, (APC, Zamfara State), a very hard critic of the Saraki leadership and an uncommon political foe of Ndume, became too close to Saraki, to the detriment of Ndume’s political interests.

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