Budget 2019: where is parliamentary decorum?

                           

The hallowed chamber of the National Assembly was a House of Babel yesterday. Decorum was sacrificed on the altar of partisanship. President Muhammadu Buhari and the nation were embarrassed. The parliament became a laughing stock. The legislative/executive feud assumed a new dimension. Hope of cordial relations dimmed. Nigerians were taken aback. Many observers asked in bewilderment: is the Senate and House of Representatives worthy of national pride?

The president and the lawmakers had turned up for a strict constitutional duty. The nation was full of eagerness. President Buhari was exercising his constitutional right of presenting the budget, which the legislators also have the constitutional right to vet. But, at what stage? Should the legislature not listen to the president and allow him to place the document before it before kicking off its debate on it? Should the president be prevented, as it were, from performing the ritual of budget speech?

The parliament has often admonished the executive to consider early presentation of budget to prevent the delay in passing the document. President Muhammadu Buhari has managed to meet the “deadline.” What was the reason for the uproar over a budget that was being presented? Why the attempt at hindering budget presentation? Is the parliament now becoming a platform for frustrating budget estimates?

Since 2015, the Presidency and the National Assembly appear to be working at cross-purpose. The cat-and-mouse relationship, to say the least, has been counter-productive. It has not been in the national interest. The country has been the loser. Yet, there is no end in sight to mistrust and suspicion. The parliamentary hostility has manifested in budgetary passage delay, rejection of president’s appointees, mutual antagonism and uncanny media war. The gulf deepened, following the defection of Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The acrimony, analysts predict, may heighten as the country warms up for next year’s elections.

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Yesterday’s hullabaloo represented a new pillar on the foundation of executive/legislative discord. The division, as usual, was sharp on the floor. The joint session was rowdy. Anti-Buhari lawmakers were on the prowl. Those supporting the president were on the defensive. To observers, the show of shame underscored the fragility of the core democratic institution and the demonstration of immaturity by aggrieved legislators. When will politicians draw a line between personal agenda and national interest?

President Buhari may have approached the parliament with a budget of promise, hope and consolidation. To divert attention from the content and its likely improvement over past budgets, he was booed and jeered at as he stepped into the chambers. Indeed, many senators and House of Representatives members have scores to settle with the Commander-in-Chief. He stood before them in honour and dignity of an anti-corruption crusader, a reformist and ‘no-to-business-as usual’ leader. He was kingly as he towered above his tormentors and noisemakers, not only in height, but also in responsibility. It was a wide departure from when President Buhari was military Head of State who brooked no nonsense.

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His message was ignored, not because it lacked potency. The budget speech fell on deaf ears of many legislators, who may be acting a script. The President’s remarks were interrupted. Some lawmakers were shouting on top of their voices, to the consternation of constituents who viewed the unruly behaviour on television. As President Buhari reeled out his achievements across the sectors, shouts of “no, no no” and “lie, lie lie” filled the air.

For the President, it was a test of emotional stability. President Buhari kept his cool. But, as the irritation persisted, he urged calm. As a statesman, he patiently cautioned the unrepentant legislators. “May I appeal to the honourable members that the world is watching us…we are supposed to be above this.” When they would not listen, he added: “You are only messing up yourselves.” The incorrigible lawmakers intensified the disruptions.

Tension enveloped the chamber. It was a day of drama. Some APC lawmakers joined their PDP colleagues in the confusion. The PDP lawmakers saw an opportunity to play politics. They knew why they should make a political capital out of the scenario. The nation is in critical electioneering. At stake is the presidency, which will be hotly contested. To them, the virulent opposition to the president who was visiting the parliament fell into the framework of the resistance to his second term ambition.

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But, does the acrimony and hostility reflect the general perception of the president across the six geo-political zones? Will it alter geo-political calculus during the contest on February 23, next year? Does the budget presentation translate into a popularity test for the president before Nigerians?

But, why should APC lawmakers join the bandwagon? Where is the place of party discipline? Observers have suggested that some members of the APC caucus are aggrieved because they lost out at the primary. Is the inability of a lawmaker to get a return ticket the end of life? Is a politician not expected to have a second address? Is politics, which is widely perceived as a vocation, now a lucrative career that cannot be forgone? Why are they joining the opposition to throw stones into their own house? Where will the desperation lead them?

Historians will record the period between 2015 and 2019 as the height of legislative/executive rancour in Nigeria. It may be a consistent tragedy Nigerians will endure till May 29, next year.

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