Buhari vs. Senate: 5 epic battles

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Since the coming on board of the current administration on May 29, 2015 and the inauguration of the 8th Senate on June 9, same year, a number of epic battles between the Executive arm, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, and the Red Chamber, have taken place, marring the relationship between the two arms. However, last Wednesday’s 2019 budget presentation by President Buhari to a joint session of the National Assembly appears to have topped all the controversies.

When Buhari arrived the House of Reps chamber for the budget presentation, he was welcomed with cheers from members of his All Progressives Congress (APC). But at the same time, jeers came his way from members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While the APC lawmakers shouted “Sai Baba!” their PDP colleagues chanted “No more Baba!”

When Buhari began his presentation and said the 2019 budget presentation would be his last to the 8th National Assembly, the PDP lawmakers chorused: “It will be the last forever.” But their APC counterparts countered them by saying “Plus another four.”

The cheers and jeers got to the president’s nerves to the extent that he had to pause few minutes into his presentation and cautioned the lawmakers: “May I remind honourable members that the world is watching us, and we are supposed to be above this.”

Despite Buhari’s caution, the cheers and jeers continued with a PDP member from Rivers State, Kingsley Chinda, putting on his microphone and interrupting the president’s speech intermittently.

The budget presentation ended in rowdiness as Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara could not read their speeches due to the rowdiness that ensued after Buhari laid the budget on the table.

Although the jeering was spearheaded by PDP members in the House of Reps, it was observed that they received the active support of their Senate counterparts, who intermittently joined them to boo the president.

Should the PDP lawmakers decide to frustrate and delay the budget passage, it is believed that they may succeed owing to the fact that with the exception of Deputy Speaker Yussuf Suleimon Lasun, the other three presiding officers of the National Assembly, namely Saraki, Dogara and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu are all PDP members.

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Other budget controversies

Since 1999, there was never a time that the Executive and the legislature had serious face-off regarding budget like in the past three and half years. Buhari’s first budget was presented on December 22, 2015, that was for 2016 budget. It took several months before the budget was passed by the National Assembly and eventually signed into law by the president on May 6, 2016.

During the budget defence for that year, a lot of issues came up with some heads of government agencies disowning the amounts allocated to them, while some accused the National Assembly of inserting several projects under their agencies, in what has now become known as ‘budget padding.’

The 2017 budget was presented by President Buhari on December 17, 016, and it also took several months for the National Assembly to pass it and the president assented to it on June 12, 2017. The controversy that trailed the 2017 budget was minimal compared to the one before it.

However, the 2018 budget once again brought to fore the battle between the Executive and the National Assembly, especially the Senate. At some point, heads of agencies were said not to be co-operating with the legislature for budget defence, and the president had to give an express directive for all heads of MDAs to urgently attend to the National Assembly on the budget.

In the end, it emerged that projects worth over N570 billion were introduced into the budget by the National Assembly, thereby increasing the size of the budget, which the president was reportedly not comfortable with.

Alleged Senate rules forgery

The first real battle between the Executive arm and the Senate was the prosecution of the two presiding officers, Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu, over allegations that they masterminded the forgery of the Senate rules that ushered them into power.

The allegations were that while the Senate rules as obtained in the 7th Assembly provided that the election of presiding officers shall be done via division, which was a form of an open ballot, suddenly, the rules were changed to allow secret ballot, although there was allegedly no time the then Senate changed its rules to accommodate such.

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As a result of the allegations, the Nigeria Police Force invited Ekweremadu for interrogation, and the Federal Government later initiated charges of forgery against Saraki and Ekweremadu on the matter as prosecution commenced before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Jabi Division, Abuja.

However, in a dramatic turn of events, the Federal Government dropped the charges in October, 2015, citing a pending case related to the matter in a different federal high court. The case in question was a civil matter reportedly filed by Sen Gilbert Nnaji, challenging the investigation into the alleged forgery of the Senate rules.

Saraki’s CCT trial

One matter that made the relationship between the Buhari-led Executive arm and the Senate to go sour was the prosecution of Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over alleged false assets declaration.

Saraki is the first sitting Senate President to have been docked over such an allegation. The Senate President was forced to abandon his duty post at the Senate on several occasions to attend to the tribunal sessions.

Saraki’s case kept going back and forth for two years, and on June14, 2017, CCT, under the chairman of Justice Danladi Umar, discharged and acquitted the Senate President of all the 18 charges of false assets declaration and other related offences against him. The tribunal unanimously upheld the no-case submission filed by Saraki after the prosecution closed its case with 48 exhibits tendered.

However, the Federal Government did not relent as it proceeded on appeal at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal on June 22, 2017. On December 12, the appeal court sent Saraki back to the CCT, saying the Senate President did not sufficiently answer three of the charges against him.

Saraki later approached the Supreme Court on the matter, and on June 6 this year, the apex court said the Senate President had no case to answer, as the matter came to a close.

Ibrahim Magu’s non-confirmation

The non-confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by the Senate was, and still is, one issue that strained the relationship between the Senate and the Executive.

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Twice Magu’s name was sent for confirmation to the Senate, and twice he was turned down. The EFCC acting chairman was first nominated in 2016 to head the anti-graft agency, but the Senate rejected him in December of that year, citing a report of the Department of State Security (DSS), which advised against the confirmation.

In January, 2017, President Buhari re-nominated Magu for confirmation by the Senate, but it later emerged that the DSS submitted two contradictory reports to the Senate on Magu: one clearing the nominee for confirmation, and the other opposing the confirmation. The Senate relied on the later, and rejected Magu’s confirmation for the second time in March, 2017.

Not only did the Senate reject Magu’s confirmation for the second time, senators also said he should be removed as the acting chairman of the agency, but Buhari did not budge. As a result, the Senate delayed over 37 confirmations sought by the president for several months, and in some cases up to a year.

In February this year, following a court ruling that the Senate was right to reject Magu, senators renewed their call for the removal of the EFCC acting chairman, but he has been on seat since then.

Probes galore

Since its inauguration, and owing to the strained relationship, the 8th Senate, under Saraki’s leadership, launched some investigations that were perceived to be targeted at getting back at the president. For example, the Senate launched an investigation into the activities of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, over allegations of mismanagement and corruption, in what is now known as ‘grass-cutting’ deal.

Other probes that seem aimed at getting back at the Executive arm, is that of the reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina, ex-head of a presidential task force on pension, though the president had ordered for his dismissal from the civil service. Then there is also the recent alleged vote-buying probe, among others.

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