31 December 2018

Nigeria: Senate vs Buhari - Five Major Battles in 2018

For the Nigerian Senate, 2018 is a year of sustained battles with members of the executive arm.

Starting from the head of the executive arm, President Muhammadu Buhari, to his appointees, the lawmakers had cause to face-off with the executive several times.

Below are some major battles between the Senate and Mr Buhari or his appointees in 2018.

Senate Vs Buhari (Electoral reform bill)

One of the most controversial decisions of President Buhari in 2018 was his refusal to sign the electoral reform bill.

Mr Buhari had first in March withheld assent to the bill with reasons that the proposed law would usurp the constitutional powers of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decide on election matters, including fixing dates and election order.

However, after a second communication from the National Assembly, the president again in September declined to assent to the bill.

On December 7, for the third time, Mr President returned the bill with the excuse that passing a new bill with elections close by could "create some uncertainty about the legislation to govern the process".

This did not go down well with the legislators as some of them publicly stated their preference for overriding Mr Buhari's veto.

Getting a veto, however, seems almost impossible as it would require two-thirds of lawmakers.

The controversy still lingers.

Senate Vs Buhari (Budget inflation)

One issue that is always capable of setting the two arms of government against each other is the budget preparation.

This became more pronounced in 2018. The president had sent an N8.6 trillion budget to the National Assembly but the budget came out as a N9.2 trillion document to the fury of Mr Buhari.

President Muhammadu Buhari signing the 2018 Appropriation Bill into law at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Wednesday (20/6/18). Standing with him are: Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matter (House) Suleiman Kawu; Representative of the Senate President, Sen Ibn Na'ala; Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matter (Senate) Sen Ita Enang; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Sen Danjuma Goje; Representative of Speaker, House of Representatives, Rep Ado Doguwa; Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha and Minister of Budget and National Planning, Sen Udoma Udo Udoma. 03268/20/6/2018/Callistus Ewelike/NAN

While signing the budget into law in June, President Buhari accused the National Assembly of tampering with the documents sent to them by cutting essential projects and inserting non-essential ones.

Specifically, he said the National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.

But the lawmakers insisted they had to tinker with the budget document as they are not a rubber stamp legislature. They refused to remove any of their inserted projects.

In another frantic effort to get the lawmakers to expunge their projects from the budget, Mr Buhari in July wrote the lawmakers.

In his letter to the National Assembly on July 17, Mr Buhari raised two issues: first was the need for the lawmakers to remove projects they inserted in the budget and replace with original ones; and secondly, the 2019 election budget which needs to be approved.

However, when the two chambers passed the 2019 election budget on October 16, the lawmakers proposed that the election should be funded partly by removal of N121 billion of their projects previously stashed in budgets of MDAs.

Despite this removal, however, the lawmakers still have about N557 billion in the 2018 budget including their zonal intervention projects.

Certainly, the 2018 experience will play out in the preparation of the 2019 budget already submitted to the lawmakers.

Senate Vs Buhari (Tucano jets)

In April, some senators called for the impeachment of President Buhari for failing to seek National Assembly approval for the withdrawal of $496 million from the Excess Crude Account to purchase 12 Super Tucano aircraft for the military.

Mathew Uroghide was the first to move a motion for the lawmakers to invoke Section 143 of the Constitution to start the removal process of Mr Buhari.

He was backed by Chukwuka Utazi who stated that it was time for the legislature to be decisive.

The Senate President however did not grant their request.

Instead, he referred the issue to the Senate Committee on Judiciary to advise the whole house on next move.

The committee never submitted its report.

Buhari Vs Lawmakers (2019 budget presentation)

Mr Buhari's 2019 budget presentation was marred by boos and jeers from anti-Buhari lawmakers. With some holding placards, the lawmakers interrupted the president's presentation with dissenting comments.

National Assembly in rowdy session as President Muhammadu Buhari presents 2019 budget

They sang solidarity songs while shouting 'lies' after every of Mr Buhari's claims.

"Freedom cometh by struggle, freedom come by struggle by struggle, freedom come," they sang.

It turned out to be a battle between pro and anti-Buhari senators with both battling to carry the day.

The jeers were matched by pro-Buhari lawmakers who chanted 'Sai Baba' 'four more years' to encourage the president.

The rowdiness prevented the Speaker of the House of Representative, Yakubu Dogara, from saying the traditional closing remark after the presentation.

In a picture that later emerged on the internet, Mr Buhari was seen raising four fingers from both of his hands indicating that he would spend four more years as president.

For a National Assembly leadership ostensibly headed by the opposition in both chambers, this did not go down well.

Senate Vs IGP Idris

The Inspector-General of Police three times in the outgoing year shunned invitations to appear at a Senate plenary.

The police boss was expected to answer questions on the arrest of a lawmaker, Dino Melaye, and killings across the country.

He was first summoned on April 25 but he failed to appear. On the day he was expected, the then chairman of Senate committee on police affairs, Abu Ibrahim, informed the lawmakers that the IGP had accompanied President Buhari to Bauchi.

The Senate re-summoned Mr Idris after it refused to allow the Deputy Inspector-General in charge of Operations to represent him.

The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, appears before the Senate Committee of Police in response to the Senate's summon on Tuesday.

Mr Idris was asked to appear on May 2 by 11 a.m. Again, he did not show up.

This time, Mr Ibrahim said last he had not been able to reach Mr Idris for a while but he later found out the police chief had travelled to Kaduna instead of honouring the Senate's invitation.

The Senate issued a third summon following a suggestion by the Senate president, Bukola Saraki.

Mr Idris was asked to attend the Senate plenary on May 9. But when it was time for the IGP to be ushered into the Senate chamber, the lawmakers realised Mr Idris was not available.

This time, the police boss said he found no reason to do so, having learnt that the invitation was "a deliberate blackmail, witch-hunting, unfortunate and mischievous" on the part of senators.

The attitude forced the Senate to declare Mr Idris, an 'enemy of democracy,' who is not fit to hold public office in Nigeria and abroad.

Interestingly, when it was time for a public hearing on the police reform bill, Mr Idris was at the Senate wing where the event was held for hours.

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