opinionBy Bola A. Akinterinwa
Lagos — Relationship between the Executive arm of Government and the Legislature has never been easy since the advent of the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999. The uneasiness in the relationship is traceable more to legislative arrogance, self-misperception and megalomania than to struggles for the protection of the constitutional rights of the legislature. It was nothing more than an expression of arrogance and self- overestimation when the legislature makes laws that apply to all Nigeria but not intended to apply to the lawmakers themselves. The legislature wants to probe others but does not want to be probed. The principle of immunity from prosecution only covers alleged offences committed in official capacity but Nigerian parliamentarians interpret the principle to also cover offences committed for private purposes.
It is this same misinterpretation of the role of the legislature in foreign policy making that is now aggravating the uneasiness in the Executive Legislative relationships. The attitudinal language of Sadiq Yar'Adua, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, in reaction to the letter of Sule Lamido, Foreign Minister, to the Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, is an illustration.
The letter of the Foreign Minister was advisory in tone and in accordance with the 1999 Constitution. It was not in any way aggressive or designed to show supremacy of the Executive. However, the reaction of the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations completely missed the intent and purposes of the Foreign Minister's letter. Consciously or otherwise, Nigeria's foreign relations are being poorly managed as a result of lack of coordination and proliferation of foreign policy actors.
In other words, who is actually responsible for policy making as distinct from who is responsible for policy execution? Is foreign policy the exclusive responsibility of any arm of government? Must foreign policy making in Nigeria follow the pattern of that of advanced democracies? Why must the conduct and management of Nigeria's foreign relations be done along parallel lines?
In a letter entitled The Role of the National Assembly in Nigerian Foreign Affairs Management, and sent by the Foreign Minister to the Senate President, the Foreign Minister had the honour to draw the "kind attention to the visit to Islamabad, Pakistan on 25 April 2002, of a nine-member Joint Committee of the House on Foreign and Inter Parliamentary Affairs to the Indian Sub-continent, apparently on a mediation mission on the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan... As the Minister charged with the conduct and management of Nigeria's foreign relations, I am concerned that such a major initiative was undertaken without any input from my ministry... I am all the more concerned because of the complexity of the issues, which have, for long, been recognized as diplomatic minefields, trod with great care by friends of both countries... The situation has been further complicated by the nuclear states of both countries, with far-reaching implications for regional stability, global peace and security...
"Mindful of the challenges of nation-building in the light of our own post-independence experience, this administration has shown great sensitivity to the differences within and between countries and pursued strategies and policies aimed at creating conditions conducive to friendship and cooperation among countries... This is particularly so in the case of India and Pakistan with which Nigeria enjoys excellent relations. This strategy, which has served us so well, must never be seen to be compromised...
However, in a telephone chat with The Guardian, last week, Sadiq Yar'Adua said: "the truth is that nobody is here as an appendage of Sule Lamido's Ministry. We are not his boys; we are not bound by his whatever foreign policy strategy. We are here as representatives of the people and we are the ones to determine the way Nigeria's foreign policy should go. If he doesn't understand what democracy is all about, let him go and check how advanced democracies are organized. Congress is never under the tutelage or the direction of the executive arm. It is we who will determine whose Nigeria's friends should be."
From the reaction of the House Chairman Committee on Foreign Affairs, it is clear that he is missing the points. First, the Foreign Minister is talking about the need for the "input" of the Foreign Ministry. Why must there be an input? Because the conflict between Pakistan and India is universally considered as a "diplomatic minefield," that every country has been treading cautiously. Because the issue involved is not only complex but also involves the nuclear status of both countries with all its attendant implications. Because Nigeria maintains a balanced relationship with both countries bilaterally and multilaterally, especially within the framework of the Commonwealth. Thus the critical point is the need for foreign policy coordination and not who is the true representative of the people. Even if we are to emphasize representation of the people, the President, on whose behalf the Foreign Minister was writing, is more a representative of the Nigerian people than any of the legislators. The president has the nation as his constituency while the legislators have limited constituencies. More importantly, in international law, it is the Executive arm of government that can enter into international relations on behalf of Nigeria. The legislators should therefore stop their foreign policy misadventures.
If there are inputs from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the position of the Nine-Member Joint Committee of the House on Foreign and Inter Parliamentary Affairs would be enriched. Non-consultation with the Foreign Ministry had the potential of damaging what had already been built. It makes the Joint Parliamentary Committee at best ill-prepared for whatever mediation the Committee might have engaged in.
The point is not that the legislators cannot decide to go on foreign policy missions but that there is need for home briefings first rather than travel out as half-educated negotiators. The Joint Committee can be briefed and the Committee may decide not to reckon with the briefing but the beauty of the jettisoned briefing is that it would have provided a special opportunity to have alternative opinions on the issue.
In Nigeria, everybody purports to be a specialist or an expert even in areas they are least educated. It is only in Nigeria that politics takes precedence over professionalism in all facets of life. In which way can the legislators be better informed and equipped than the diplomatic careerists in the Foreign Ministry? When legislators go to Islamabad without first-hand situation report from our High Commissions in the two countries what type of solicitors and advocates are they?
According to Sadiq Yar'Adua, none of the legislators is an appendage of Sule Lamido and that the legislators are not bound by the foreign policy strategies of the Executive arm of government. Agreed. But which people of Nigeria were consulted before going to Islamabad for mediation? After the Islamabad trip, who was publicly told about the outcome of the mediation efforts?
The leading research institute on international affairs, though still poorly funded and equipped, is the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. It is a non-political, independent, world institute in Africa and an African institute in Nigeria. It was not asked for a situational analysis before the trip. It was not briefed after the trip. The management of public affairs cannot be the preserve of any single individual or institution. If there was merit in having a joint committee to travel to Islamabad, there cannot but be a greater merit in also consulting with as many as foreign policy actors and institutions as possible.
Besides, the legislators must learn to distinguish between policy making and policy implementation. Law making can also have policy dimensions. The executive arm of government is essentially responsible for policy execution. It also makes policies and signs executive agreements that do not necessarily warrant legislative approvals.
Sadiq Yar'Adua said it is the legislators that have to determine the way Nigeria's foreign policy should go. I cannot agree more. However, does the determination of the road path of foreign policy exclude consultation or the regard for constitutional provisions? If the legislators represent the people of Nigeria, does it mean that the people cannot talk themselves? Must they speak through the representatives all the times?
The opening preamble of the 1999 Constitution says "We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria" are "dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international cooperation and understanding." Articles 5(4) (b) and 5(5) subject the deployment of Nigerian troops on combat duty abroad to understanding between and among the legislature, the executive and the National Defence Council. In fact, Article 24 (b) says "it shall be the duty of every citizen to... help enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render such national service as may be required." Additionally, foreign affairs, including diplomatic, consular and trade representatives are under the Exclusive Legislative List, hence within the competence of the Federal Government. Any arm of the Federal Government can be engaged in the conduct of Nigeria's foreign relations. All Nigerians are to be involved. The legislators do not have any right of monopoly to enter into international relations. This is why there is need for coordination and consultation.