President Goodluck Jonathan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, on Monday openly disagreed on the concept of separation of powers and budget preparation.
The President said although there was a theoretical separation, the Executive and the Legislature must work together if democracy must be meaningful. But the Speaker accused the Executive of refusing to sign some bills passed by the National Assembly.
They spoke at the 2012 Democracy Day National Symposium titled “Our Democracy: Progress and Challenges” at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja.
Tambuwal said the non-signing of the bills by the President had made the process of lawmaking very cumbersome. He added that the ‘anomaly’ had also led to a situation where some of the affected bills had to be re-introduced in the parliament.
He also faulted the disposition of the executive to the roles being played by the National Assembly in budget presentation.
Tambuwal said, “Another challenge is the issue of assent to bills passed by the National Assembly. In as much as it is the constitutional duty of the legislature to pass laws, it is equally the constitutional responsibility of Mr. President to assent to them.
“It is however disturbing to note that the Executive has shied away from this responsibility by not assenting to bills passed by the National Assembly. This makes the legislative process cumbersome because some of these bills have to be re-introduced de novo. This is not a healthy situation for the Executive-Legislature relationship neither does it portray our democracy in good light in the comity of nations.
“Representation is the third function of the legislature; it denotes the power of the people to either act directly or through their representatives. In this regard, I wish to allude to the issue of budgeting.
“The Executive arm of government is made up of only two elected functionaries to wit the President and the Vice-President whereas the National Assembly is a body of 469 elected functionaries. The adage that ‘two heads are better than one’ is reinforced by that which says ‘he who wears the shoe knows better where it pinches’ and both favour the position of the elected representatives.
“In the people’s wisdom enunciated in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the legislature has the final say on the budget document by way of a veto where the right of final say is resisted. The National Assembly has acted responsibly and cautiously in the exercise of this power in the belief that the Executive will come to terms with this reality before long.”
Despite the knocks, Tambuwal however observed that the Jonathan administration was doing better than that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo which he accused of “reckless executive interference” on issues concerning the National Assembly.
But Jonathan said a situation where the Executive and the Legislature work at cross purposes would not augur well for the nation.
He said people elected on the same party platform, either in the legislative or executive arm of government, must be ready to embrace party manifesto and work for the common good.
The President regretted that while the Executive was working hard to reduce unnecessary overhead by looking into the issues of overlapping agencies, people still go to the National Assembly to lobby members into creating more parastatals.
He also regretted that despite the fact that the constitution empowered the Executive to plan and manage the economy, the National Assembly was in the habit of tampering with annual budgets as if it was not the responsibility of the legislature.
Jonathan said the clear division currently obtainable would only expose the National Assembly to anti-government individuals and groups to manipulate.
The President said, “Let me talk about separation of powers which in some cases sounds even absurd. How separate are these powers? Yes, you can separate the judiciary to some reasonable level but can you really separate the parliament from the Executive and have a stable government? That is one of the greatest challenges we have, especially in Nigeria.
“I believe if the parliamentarians and those in the Executive maintain that theoretical separation of powers as if there is a wall separating the Executive from the Legislature, then this country would continue to have problems.
“The Speaker made reference to bills for example, we all belong to political parties but the judiciary does not belong to parties. Every political party has a manifesto and those who contest elections to hold any office whether in the Executive President, Vice-President, governor or those who contest election to be in the legislative arm of government, either as a legislator or councillor, are supposed to campaign based on the party manifesto and that is why individual governors don’t have their separate manifesto.
“Every member of PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) for example is supposed to key into the PDP manifesto. So when we are elected into office, both arms of government are suppose to work together to make sure that the party manifesto guides our actions. If that is true, how do we separate them?”
Jonathan said since there was nowhere in the world where any President emerged with 100 per cent votes, the onus lies on those who lost election to allow those who won do their work.
“If we begin to see this clear division, we are exposing the National Assembly for people who are anti-government to use. It is not good to always celebrate the separation, when we begin to celebrate the separation, those outside government would use the National Assembly against the Executive.
“For democracy to be meaningful and for us not to have conflict and for us to render good service, we must have a . Budget is a law, the constitution says the Executive must have a budget for you to be able to plan and manage the economy of the country.
“If you send your budget to the National Assembly and they tear it to pieces and package what they like, you start planning and managing the economy. We have challenges every year. When we came in 2007, our budget in 2008, we even wanted to go to court, so that the Supreme Court could tell us if it is the duty of the NASS to plan the economy, let them do the budget, hand over to us, we implement. But if it is our duty, then they should listen to us, because the Executive has ministries of planning and finance that work with CBN.”
“Budgets are not created from the moon, it is based on projections, commitments and funding and what you see sometimes could be disturbing. This has been a major conflict between the National Assembly and the Executive. The speaker mentioned it, that is why I am raising it, these are little things if both arms of government work together.”
“My plea is that the legislative and the executive arms of government of the same political party must work together for democracy to be meaningful to Nigerians.”