In this report, AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH takes a look at major developments in the senate in 2017 and writes that the mutual mistrust, suspicion and lack of confidence between Presidency and the Senate leadership, laid by events of June 9, 2015, continue to take their toll on governance in the country.
While reacting to the situation reminiscent of today's Nigeria in US, when there was so much corruption being unearthed in all realms of life, when there was a crying need for institutions which put character above coin, virility above money, principle above position; the 26th President of United States of America, Theodore Roosevelt laid it so bare on the senate, saying "when they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer 'Present' or 'Not guilty".
The memory of event of June 9, 2015 has remained a defining factor, common denominator or decimal point as mathematicians may say; of the relationship between Presidency and the senate. They seem to have refused to sheath their swords. No matter how hard they try, no matter how broad they smile at one another or hug themselves, the daggers are still drawn in their hearts against one another.
June 9, 2015 was the day, in what could be described as the perfect coup d'etat, Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara, defied orders of their party, APC by emerging Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives in a contest that was characterised by subterfuge and skillful guile.
All efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari's administration, through the courts, to upturn verdict of 47 out of 109 senators, majorly of PDP members, to elect Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu as senate President and deputy Senate President respectively, have collapsed on their heads. Buhari called APC senators for meeting when Saraki, Ekweremadu, Dogara seized the moment to conduct the elections.
Saraki paired with Ekweremadu of the opposition PDP to set aside APC preferred candidates and the pairing of Senators Ahmed Lawan and George Akume for the Senate President and its deputy respectively.
Even by June 10, 2016, the Attorney General of Federation filed the Charge No CR/219/16 to slam a two-count charge of "criminal conspiracy, contrary to Section 97 of the Penal Code Law" and "Forgery of the Senate Standing Rules contrary to 362 of the Penal Code Law" against Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Benedict Efeturi, Dr Olubukola Saraki, and Ike Ekweremadu.
The Federal Government further alleged that Saraki, Ekweremadu and others caused the Standing Order to be believed as the genuine Standing Orders, 2015 and circulated same for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate of the National Assembly, and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.
But owing to tawdriness or futility of AGF's charge and its political irrelevances, FG on October 6, 2016 dropped charges against Saraki and Ekweremadu.
But while the brickbat, schism or Presidency-Senate strife longs, federal budget integrity test, its execute-ability or percentage performance continues to swing from bad to worse year after the other, with the 2017 budget performance becoming the worst in the anal budgetary history of the country.
One needs not to ask if it is deliberate or not; until and when he or she casts back his or her mind to the Second Republic. Neither the then Senate President, Joseph Wayas (NPN) nor Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ume Ezeoke (NPP) ever raised exceptions on the budget estimates laid before them by Alhaji Shehu Shagari's government. Budget padding, alteration or mutilations were never heard, just as the corruption-ridden constituency budgets were not in place.
Nigerian Customs officers in Lagos had on January 11, 2017, intercepted and impounded a Range Rover SUV with estimated value of N300 million and expected N74 million custom duty payment, carrying documents that claimed its chassis number was "SALGV3TF3EA190243", with a measly customs duty of N8 million paid on the car. This car, which reportedly belongs to Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had such extremely low customs duty documents, which were found to be fake. Consequently, customs officials seized the vehicle.
However, by March 16, 2017, Senate summoned Col Hameed Ali (rtd) as Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to appear before it on March 22, 2017 in Customs' uniform bearing the designation of his office and rank to brief the lawmakers on the policy of payment of customs duty on vehicles. But a letter was instead received on March 21, 2017 from the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami asking the Senate to stay action on Ali's invitation due to a court process on the subject matter of the invitation.
Unable to contain his stubborn position against its directive that he should appear before it in uniform, the Senate, on March 22, 2017 called for the resignation of Col Hameed Ali (rtd) as Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). The lawmakers in the Red Chamber declared unanimously that Ali must go because he was unfit to hold public office.
Miffed by his daring stance, the Senate declared that for refusing to honour its summons on the NCS' retrospective policy on duty payment and refusal to wear Customs uniform, Ali was unfit to hold any public office. According to it, Ali is not fit to be addressed as Comptroller-General of Customs after refusing to wear the service' uniform. The Red Chamber also accused the AGF of trying to stop it from carrying out its legislative responsibilities as enshrined in the 1999 constitution, especially in section 4, 5 and 6 that define separation of powers.
It held that the action of AGF was against Sections 88 and 89 of the constitution which empowers the National Assembly to carry out investigation on any person or authority. Accordingly, the Senate concluded that it was sending a strong-worded letter to the executive arm of government, with the resolution on Ali, attached to serve as deterrent to others who may want to flout the same constitutional provisions.
The Presidency had requested the Senate to confirm the Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu's nomination in July 2016 through a letter signed by Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo in his capacity as the acting president when Buhari was away on a medical trip. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, read the nomination letter on July 14, 2016.
However, the Senate showed no readiness to act on it until after several months of delay before the upper chamber brought it up on December 15, 2016 and consequently rejected Magu's nomination citing security concerns.
The spokesperson for the senate, Abdullahi Sabi, had announced after one-hour executive session, that Magu's nomination by Buhari as EFCC chairman had been rejected.
"The Senate wishes to inform the public that based on available security report, the Senate cannot proceed with the confirmation of Magu as chairman of the EFCC. The nomination of Ibrahim Magu is hereby rejected and has been returned to the President for further action," said Abdullahi.
In the report, the SSS concluded Magu would constitute a liability to Buhari's anti-corruption campaign, and asked that he should not be confirmed.
After the presidency received formal notice from the Senate on Magu's rejection, President Buhari announced he was referring all allegations of corruption against top officials of his government, including Magu, to the Attorney General for investigations.
But before the President left the country for the United Kingdom, he signed off the letter for Magu's re-nomination for transfer to the Senate, explaining that he had been cleared of wrongdoing, following investigations into the DSS' allegations by the AGF, Malami.
Exactly three months after he was rejected by the Senate to have him confirmed as the substantive chairman of the EFCC, Magu suffered the same fate on March 15, 2015 when the Senate declined to confirm him for the second time, citing a damning letter by the DSS as reason for the decision.
The Senate also said Magu should cease to act as the chairman of the anti-graft commission and a replacement should be sent by the president for confirmation.
However, the culmination of the face-offs led to Senate's protest on March 28, 2017 against the retention of Magu as the Acting Chairman of the EFCC despite the rejection of his nomination by the lawmakers; by suspending for two weeks, the confirmation of the 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
While reacting, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), described the Senate's action, calling on Buhari to sack Magu in two weeks, as childish and irresponsible.
Sagay added that the Senate was filled with people of questionable character, who put their personal interest ahead of that of the nation, adding that Buhari would not be cowed by the Senate's action which he described as an affront to the Presidency.
On March 29, 2017, Senate suspended for six months the Senator representing Borno south, Mohammed Ali Ndume, for raising a motion on the floor of the senate demanding investigation of media reports that Saraki imported a bullet proof range rover with fake documents; while Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi west) forged Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria's first degree certificate.
The senate insisted that he ought to have investigated the veracity of the media reports, to establish prima facie evidence before daring to raise such motion on the floor of the senate.
Senate, in October 2016, constituted an ad-hoc committee to conduct a public hearing to ascertain how much was released to the defunct Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE) and how it utilised the funds. The committee was also mandated to investigate allegations of diversion of grains and other food items from the Strategic Grain Reserves, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other sources for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
In its interim report on December 13, 2016, the panel indicted him and asked him to resign. Following the indictment, President Buhari ordered the AGF, Malami, to investigate the allegations, which consequently cleared the SGF and the president in a letter dated January 24, 2017 communicating the outcome to the senate, ostensibly saying Babachir won't go anywhere.
But Senate ad-hoc panel still went ahead to summon the SGF over alleged fraud in the award of contract by the PINE. Babachir came under allegations that PINE, which is under his office, used the sum of N270 million in clearing grasses in some communities in the North East as part of the programmes under the initiative. It was alleged also that PINE spent N188m for Nigerian refugees living in Minawao, Republic of Cameroon. His personal company was alleged to have been the ultimate beneficiary of the contract through a proxy.
On March 23, 2017, Babachir told the Senate that he would not appear before it, claiming first that he had gone to court, and thereafter saying he could not "because of an engagement of government which clashed with the date and time of the hearing".
However, shortly before President Buhari travelled to London on medical vacation on April 19, 2017, he directed the suspension of the SGF from office pending the outcome of the investigations of a three-man committee comprising the AGF, NSA and headed by the Vice President.
The President had also directed the suspension of the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayo Oke, pending the outcome of the investigation into the discovery of large amounts of foreign and local currencies by the EFCC, in a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, over which NIA has made a claim.
More than four months after President Buhari laid 2017 budget estimate before the joint session of the National Assembly precisely on December 14, 2016, the lawmakers on May 11, 2017 passed the 2017 Appropriation Bill.
Both chambers of the assembly raised the figure from N7.30 trillion presented by the president to N7.44 trillion. In separate sessions, both chambers of the assembly approved the Bill with the same figure, which represented an increase of about N143 billion from the amount proposed by the president, after harmonising their reports.
Osinbajo, who was acting President as Buhari was still receiving treatment for undisclosed ailment, received the N7.441 trillion passed budget on May 19 and on June 12, 2017 signed the budget.
But following alleged introductions of over 4,000 new projects by the National Assembly in the 2017 budget, Osinbajo was quoted as saying on July 12, 2017 that the lawmakers have no power under the constitution to introduce new projects in the budget.
The following day, Saraki reacted during the plenary saying, "the Acting President must have been quoted out of context on the 2017 budget"; just as Dogara went for the Presidency's jugular, saying "non-implementation of the Appropriation Act is an impeachable offence".
Signs showing that 2017 budget implementation has hit the rock emerged on October 3, 2017 when the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, revealed Federal Government's plan to roll over at least 60 per cent of 2017 capital projects to 2018 budget proposal. Adeosun made this known when she appeared before the Senate Joint Committees on Finance and Appropriations that was inquiring into reasons for recording abysmal 10 per cent of the 2017 budget performance with less than 90 days to the end of 2017.
Besides the delay in passing the 2017 budget, financing of the capital project items of the budget was predicated on external borrowing as source of financing. Consequently, President Buhari on October 10, 2017, requested approval of the senate to borrow $5.5 billion external loan to finance the deficit in the 2017 Budget and capital expenditure projects in the same budget. Senate however approved the request on November 14, 2017.
Meanwhile, on November 7, 2017, President Buhari presented N8.612 trillion as the 2018 Appropriation bill to a joint session of the National Assembly, saying the projected expenditure would drive rapid economic recovery.
He said at the session that with a benchmark of 45 dollars per barrel at an exchange rate of N305 to a dollar in 2018, the budget would consolidate on the achievements of previous budgets to aggressively steer the economy to the path of steady growth.
Senate had, on December 5, 2017 raised hopes of passing the 2018 budget before the end of the year; just as it raised the $45 oil benchmark price to $47 as the document passed the second reading. This was to augment President Buhari's plan to revert fiscal or budgetary calendar year from January to December, instead of the current uncertainties.
Consequently, senate gave its committee on Appropriation up till December 19 to submit its report on the N8.612 trillion estimate submitted by the executive arm on November 7, as it adjourned plenary session till December 9 to consider the report from the Appropriation committee and other standing committees.
But the promise of 2018 budget passage before December 31 became endangered when on December 12, 2017, a three-man Court of Appeal panel, led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson upheld counts 4, 5, and 6 challenging the acquittal of Saraki and ordered him to return to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to face trial on the three counts bordering on corruption and failure to disclose assets.
The appellate court noted that the prosecution was able to establish a prima facie case against Saraki, saying that the property he claimed to have bought from the proceeds of rice and sugar sales was purchased using loan facilities from commercial banks.
Justice Akomolafe-Wilson, in the 70-page unanimous judgment, struck out 15 of the 18 charges brought by Buhari's government against the ruling of the tribunal on the grounds that they were incompetent.
They may not have said, but following the Court of Appeal judgement, Senators on December 19, 2017 took turns to lambast the presidency for submitting to it a budget estimate they considered as empty and unworkable. With the alleged defects, Senators said the earliest time for its passage was March 2018 in order to pave way for the needed thorough work on the document.
Saraki, while reacting to the position of senators, expressed anger, saying that the executive arm must sit up and warned that disaster was lurking if the 2017 budget was not rolled over to 2018. This is just as the lawmakers observed that the "2018 budget is heavily padded, inconsistent, full of errors and inaccuracies."
"By now, 2017 budget should have been implemented by up to between 40 and 60 per cent, but this has not been the case. The executive on its part, should sit up and not just make rhetoric, but get down to work. If 2017 budget items are not rolled over to 2018, that is a disaster. Let the executive show some seriousness towards the budget exercise", Saraki said.
At the last count, appointments into seven key government agencies have been left hanging in the Senate awaiting confirmation, some for more than four months now. This includes the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, four EFCC commissioners nominated along with Magu in a letter dated June 17, 2016 and 47 career ambassadors.
Other nominations are chairman and commissioners of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), National Population Commission (NPC), six INEC commissioners and two Supreme Court Justices - Sidi Dauda Bage (North Central) and Paul Adamu Galinje (North East).
Also, the confirmation of the Chairman and Commissioners of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is still hanging at the Senate. The confirmation of six commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and five commissioners of the National Population Commission (NPC) has not received the nod of the Senate.
Governors had earlier approved the sum of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the purchase of weapons to combat insurgency in the North East, though Saraki refused to allow a debate on the ECA fund during plenary session on December 21, 2017, but insisted that the $1 billion must not be withdrawn from the ECA, by Buhari's government until it's approved by the senate.
However, Senators still harbor grudges seriously in their privacies as most of them survive on their official allowances only which were hardly paid, their constituency projects were not funded or executed by executive arm, bonuses, accidental earnings or moneys for Sallah, Christmas, New Year and so have all stopped. Senators feel they are being starved. Those beaten or stoned back home attribute their ordeal to lack of money to take care of their constituents.
The relationship between Presidency and Senate will continue to be domiciled on the event of June 9, 2015 when Saraki and Ekweremadu emerged as senate President and deputy senate president in a "questionable circumstance". The ding-dong affair has assumed life of its own, gotten to feverish pitch with the Presidency's 2018 budget passage plan now scuttled. While Saraki will be devoting much of his time and energy to avert been sentenced to jail next year by courts, the Presidency may have to come down from its Olympian Height to prevent impeachment motions on the floor of the senate otherwise it will remain hamstrung by hostile, noxious and blood-letting resolutions of the senate.
No matter how hard they try, no matter how broad they smile at one another or hug themselves, the daggers are still drawn in their hearts against one another.
Neither the then Senate President, Joseph Wayas (NPN) nor Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ume Ezeoke (NPP) ever raised exceptions on the budget estimates laid before them by Alhaji Shehu Shagari's government.