President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday engaged the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, in war of words over who is responsible for the failure of government’s policies – the executive or the legislature – at a one-day symposium to mark this year’s Democracy Day celebration.
Both the president and the speaker took turns at the symposium to blame each other for the failure of government’s policies.
Mr Tambuwal who was the first to speak, accused the president of deliberately refusing to assent to bills passed by the National Assembly.
“In as much as it is the constitutional role of the legislature to pass laws, it is equally the constitutional responsibility of Mr President to assent to same; It is however disturbing to note that the Executive had shied away from its responsibility by not assenting to bills passed by the national assembly,” he said.
The Speaker said that the refusal of the president to sign the bills passed by the National Assemble was responsible for the rancour between the executive and legislature.
He accused the president of usurping its powers to appropriate spending as guaranteed by the 1999 constitution.
“In the people’s wisdom as enunciated in the 1999 Constitution as amended, the legislature has the final say on the budget document. The National Assembly has acted responsibly and consciously in exercise of its power in the belief that the Executive will come to terms to fulfil their action before long,” Mr Tambuwal said.
“The Executive arm 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 says two heads are better than one, does not refute the one that says he who wears the shoes know better where it pinches, and both favour the position of the elected representatives,” he added.
Jonathan fires back
Reacting to the comments of the speaker, President Jonathan said used the sitting arrangement in the venue of the symposium to explain the cause of the rancour between the executive and the legislative.
The sitting arrangement in the auditorium had the lawmakers sitting at one end, the executive at another end and the judiciary at a separate end.
“The setting alone is one of the greatest problems we have in Nigeria. You start creating divisions that don’t exit,” he said.
Responding to accusation of tardiness in his handling of bills from the National Assembly, Mr Jonathan said separation of power is a challenge to politicians from the same political party.
He accused the National Assembly of creating unnecessary parastatals without considering the source of funding for such agencies.
“Most of the bills passed by the National Assembly only adds to our overhead cost; We are in office because the people have elected us, so if you come up with some parastatals, the source of funding you don’t even know, it becomes a problem,” he said.
“The Speaker also said budget is a law, and the National Assembly makes the law, But the constitution says the president has to plan and manage the economy of this country, and for you to plan and manage the economy of a country, budget must be planned, if you send the budget to the National Assembly and they tear it into pieces, and package whatever they like back to you, is that planning or managing the economy?,” Mr Jonathan asked.
The president said the Executive almost went to the Supreme Court to seek an interpretation of who really is in charge of budgets.
“I remember when we came in 2007, we even wanted to go court, our believe was that let the Supreme Court of Nigeria tell us if it is the duty of the National Assembly to plan the economy; let them do the budget, handover to us, we will implement, But if it is our duty to plan the budget, then you should listen to us, because the executive arm of government have the National Planning Commission, Ministry of Finance and the CBN. Budgets are not just created from the moon, it takes some projections based on commitment and funding,” he said.
He cautioned the lawmakers to stop criticizing the executive arm of government openly but instead cooperate with it for the good of the country.
“If we begin to see this clear division, then you are also exposing the National Assembly to people who are anti-government to use”.
“There is theoretical separation of powers, but where the executive and the legislature come from the same political party, they must work together for democracy to be meaningful to Nigerians”.
“No matter how bad you feel about any situation, you just follow the rule of law, when an elected president fails to follow the rule of law, and then there is no democratic setting again.”