By Danladi Alhassan
The Presidency has assured that President Muhammadu Buhari will not interfere in the choice of the leaders for the ninth National Assembly as he would allow the principle of Separation of powers to prevail.
Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), who disclosed this, is however pleading with the elected lawmakers for the next National Assembly, to ensure that a robust mutually respectful relationship exists between the Executive and the Legislature.
Enang said President Buhari believes so much in the rule of law, and would allow each arm of government to perform its constitutional responsibility without interference on who occupies whatever position. He noted that the President will remain neutral and allow the elected lawmakers to carry out their constitutional responsibilities.
“President Muhammadu Buhari is a man of high principles. His stand on this matter is that each arm of government should function according to what the constitution says, and that every person in government should do the right thing, and that he will not go beyond what the construction allows him and that every other arm of government should stick to their constitutional responsibilities,” he said.
However, Enang’s position seems to be in contrast with some of the senators-elect on the platform of the All Progressives Congress ( APC ). During the presentation of their certificates of returns by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Thursday have expressed the opinion that the presidency and leadership of the APC must provide the direction for both chambers with regard to the leadership configuration to avoid leadership crisis that engulfed the 8th Senate and by extension, the 8th National Assembly. The new Senators had specifically cautioned President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC leadership against working at cross-purposes to avoid another tussle that would alter the party’s zoning formula.
Enang pointed out that the lawmakers are equal before the law as there was no green horn amongst them.
“There is no person that is being been sworn in in the legislature that is a greenhorn. They are equal before the law. They were elected to represent their constituencies on the basis of equality of all Nigerians, equality of constituencies.
“Therefore, they are entitled to all privileges and wisdom. Some of them are coming with extra wisdom and knowledge from their different backgrounds. So, we expect a robust legislature. We give them all the respect, we value them, we welcome them, treasure them. The executive respects them across party lines. For the executive, every senator or member of the House of Representatives, irrespective of their political party, is a legislator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and they are treated equally whether you are doing your first, second or fifth term because you have one seat and one vote. We want to relate with all of them equally. So, there is no greenhorn. They are simply distinguished senators and honourable members,” he said.
However, Enang urged the federal lawmakers in the present legislative session to give priority to certain critical legislation like the 2019 Appropriation bill, New Minimum Wage bill, the Medium Terms Expenditure Framework and the budget of the various government agencies,” he said,
“The budget of the 64 different federal government owned agencies are still pending before the national parliament. “Unless the budgets of the different agencies are considered and passed, we still have a lot to lose in terms of opportunities for employment in those ministries and some capital projects which would have increased government spending or the spending of the various agencies and parastatals.
“The executive is ready with all the system to come in and defend the budget. We have in advance, worked with the committee on appropriation to determine a time table for the defence of their budgets.
“We have informed all the ministers, heads of departments, agencies and the ministries to be on the alert so that immediately the bill is committed to the committee on appropriation, we will upon invitation, appear before them,” he said.
The presidential aide defended President Buhari’s refusal to assent to some bills that have been passed by the lawmakers and forwarded to him to sign into law,
“Under the 8th assembly the highest number of bills have been passed in the life of the legislature from 1999 to date. Also, it is President Muhammad Buhari that has assented to and brought into law the highest number of bills. He deserves accolade on this.
“In every situation where the President declined he has stated his reasons and it will not be appropriate to add to it. Now that the National Assembly and the Senate has deemed it necessary to set up a technical committee to consider the bills which Mr President has declined assent.
“Whenever Mr President assents to a law and there is something wrong with that law, it is the public that will question both the legislature and the Executive through the court.
“So, what the President has done is to state detailed reasons why he withholds assent to certain of the bills and I know that when Mr President withholds assent, the legislature looks back again at the reasons the president gives.
“Some is that it runs contrary to the Constitution. Some may be that it rums in conflict with existing laws. Some maybe that there us a drafting error which if assented to in the manner it is, will create ambiguity in the course of interpretation.
“Some may be that it will course revenue leakage. For instance if you reason with Mr President on the Petroleum Industry Bill, he said there will be too much money available to the Petroleum Regulatory Commission than will be available to be distributed to the other tiers of government.
“Also, the amount of money that will go will be too high for that agency alone as against what money will be made available to be distributed to the local governments and the state governments is being reasonable.
“I know that the National Assembly has taken steps on that bill and other bills and we have a system that we are working on which is being adopted that sometimes not outright rejection. We do consultation. Like when we have the Competition Commission Act which Mr President assented to about three months ago. That bill had problems since 2018 and the committee that was headed by the speaker worked with our team and we resolved some of those things, the Clerk withdrew the bill and it worked upon and it was represented for Mr President’s assent.
“The president is not bound to sign every bill, he is bound to act on every measure that is presented before him. He either assents to it or withholds assent. What is important is that he has to communicate his assent or withholding of assents within 30 days. He has to take a decision on it. So, it is not in any manner showing ill fate on the part of the Executive,” Enang stated.