In order to deepen the bond between the Executive and Legislative arms of government, the Presidency and the leadership of the National Assembly organised a two-day retreat at the Aso Rock Villa. BODE GBADEBO reports.
Since the beginning of the current administration, the executive and legislative arms of government have given priority to building cordial relationships for the primary purpose of enhancing good governance and effective service delivery.
Consequently, the Executive and the 9th National Assembly resolved to consolidate and deepen the existing partnership between both branches of government for the good of the country.
This synergy since June 2019 culminated in organising a retreat, which took place at the Aso Rock Villa between October 5 and 6, 2020.
The retreat, which was themed: “Promoting Effective Executive-Legislative Partnership – Finding a Middle Ground” was jointly organised by the Presidency and the leadership of the National Assembly as part of efforts geared towards promoting good governance in the country.
The retreat was declared open by President Muhammadu Buhari with goodwill messages delivered by the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
Participants who were drawn from both the executive and legislative circles and included President Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Ahmed Wase, chairmen of committees in the Senate and House of Representatives, members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), heads of agencies and senior government officials including the management of the National Assembly.
At the opening of the event on Monday, President Buhari called on Nigerians that are aggrieved or dissatisfied with certain laws of the land, to be patient and seek reforms where necessary, in line with democratic practices.
This is even as he commended the 9th National Assembly for their accelerated passage of the 2020 budget and its subsequent review in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the timely confirmation of nominees and passage of critical legislations, noting that they are testaments to their willingness and commitment to playing their part towards delivering effective services to Nigerians.
“Let me also remind our common patriots, gentlemen and women, that the process of lawmaking and governance is dynamic and ever evolving, I will seek their indulgence to be patient with any legislation or law which they have certain misgivings about and engage the process in line with democratic practices.
“Our interest is sincere the promotion of our collective will and aspiration to build a nation where justice, peace, and progress are the norms,” Buhari said.
The president, therefore, called for more collaboration between the executive and legislative arms of government to enhance governance in Nigeria.
He said that the retreat offered an opportunity for the two arms to reflect and engage as one government, for the benefit of all Nigerians.
“This retreat provides us another opportunity to interface, reflect, brainstorm and engage as one government. I use the word one government because there can only be one government in a nation at a time and officials, both elected or appointed in the executive or legislative arms, must all be working for the peace, unity and development of our country,” he added.
Buhari said that the theme of the retreat was “apt as it reflects the peculiarity of a presidential system of government like ours,” adding that “the experiences of the last 20 years of steady democratic practice in Nigeria have underlined the need for effective partnership and collaboration between the executive and legislative arms of government to deliver our mandate.
“I believe that the principle of separation of powers as enshrined in our constitution is designed to enable all arms of government to work together in cooperative and collaborative manner, through executive and legislative engagements. Let me thank the leadership and members of the 9th National Assembly for the cordial and warm relationship we have enjoyed in the last one year,” he said.
Buhari noted that the country had since started reaping the benefits of the cordial relationship the two arms are enjoying.
“By virtue of our effective partnership and your support, this government has initiated critical reforms targeted at reforming and strengthening our economy, increasing efficiency in governance, consolidating on the repairs carried out in the last four years and putting the country on a steady path of growth and development.
“The accelerated of the passage of the 2020 Budget and its review in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the timely passage of my nominees and passage of critical legislations by the National Assembly are all testaments to your willingness and commitment to playing your part towards delivering effective services to Nigerians.”
The president, however, called for the sustenance of the steady relationship through dialogue and consultation.
“There is a compelling need to sustain and strengthen this partnership by creating platforms for regular dialogue, consultations and interactions between the executive and the legislature, to share ideas and build consensus on critical governance and policy issues.
“This approach will enhance coordination within government and strengthen our capacity to effectively address the challenges of governance, service delivery and development,” Buhari said.
in his remarks, Senator Lawan (Senate President) described those calling the lawmakers, rubber-stamp for choosing to work harmoniously with the executive for the benefits of Nigerians, as mischievous.
“This National Assembly decided quite early to work with the executive very harmoniously for the benefits of Nigerians. I am glad that Mr. President you have expressed similar commitment.
“In fact, this relationship is misunderstood by many. Some out of mischief describe the National Assembly as rubber stamped, some out of misunderstanding. For us, what is uppermost in our minds in the 9th Assembly is how to work with the executive to make Nigeria better.
“If the prize to pay is the names that we get, then let it be. Because, we believe that Nigerians deserve better service, better infrastructure and it is difficult if not impossible to achieve meaningful development in this country or any democracy without understanding and harmony in the way and manner the two arms of government work.
“So far, we have been doing this for over 12 months, so, it’s time to review this partnership and see the weaknesses in the relationship and the areas we have achieved so much which have resulted in some level of improved service delivery.
“There are a lot of rooms for improvement because, we believe we have not yet achieved that level of relationship that we can now say, it is good. This particular retreat will present opportunities to review and strengthen areas we have achieved so much and address areas where there have been weaknesses. There are key areas to be strengthened,” Lawan stated.
The Senate president expressed the hope that both arms of government will talk to each other in a frank and truthful manner, adding that “because what we do here will impact significantly on the polity, governance and Nigerians deserve to have what we promised them.”
Hon. Gbajabiamila, on his part said that both arms of government need to work symbiotically to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people.
“This two-day engagement will do nothing but to strengthen the relationship between these two critical arms of government but enhance it, so that the people will be the better for it. I believe that it will be frank, truthful, we will speak truth to each other and I believe the outcome will be to the benefit of all Nigerians,” he said.
The convener of the retreat and senior special assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Reps), Umar El-Yakub, in his opening remarks, said that the summit was conceived to strengthen executive, legislative partnership.
According to him, “one of the ways to achieve this is to equip critical players in both arms with information and tool necessary to develop strong and cordial relationship, one that is underpinning, underlining the commitment to national interest. The importance of working cooperatively and harmoniously cannot be overemphasised. Since the beginning of the administration, Mr. President and the leadership of the National Assembly have taken proactive steps to foster and deepen cooperation in both arms of government,” he added
Invited resource persons shared their experiences and perspectives at the event. They were eminent scholars, current and former leaders of the National Assembly and senior government officials.
Some critical issues were highlighted at the event. The principle of separation of powers as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is designed for the three arms of government to creatively and innovatively work together in a cooperative and collaborative manner through meaningful and constructive engagements to bring about national development.
The forum, therefore, recognised that there is only one government with all arms in their various capacities contributing positively towards the realisation of shared goals and purpose of government.
The participants acknowledged the cordial and warm relationship between the Buhari-led administration and the 9th National Assembly, which has led to the achievement of critical reform initiatives such as the timely and speedy passage of the 2020 Budget and the confirmation presidential appointees by the National Assembly.
President Buhari also emphasised the urgent need for aligning the nine-point priority agenda of the Executive and the Legislative agenda of both the Senate and the House of Representatives to enhance synergy in government priorities areas.
The participants also acknowledged the importance and timeliness of the retreat as it provided a platform for sustainable dialogue, consultations and collaborations at different levels in order to mitigate crisis of confidence.
They also identified the need for better communication, consultation, and collaboration as critical ingredients that will foster executive/legislature relationship.
In the same vein, budget and oversight processes were identified as major areas or sources of disagreement between the executive and legislative arms of government. Therefore, the need for synergy in the budgeting processes to make it more inclusive with opportunities for the legislative arm to make inputs (where necessary) at the planning stage was reiterated by participants.
This is to help co-creation in the articulation of national development priorities and reduce friction during the budget approval process.
The need to strengthen the current budget process to make it focus on a national plan and deliver government’s priority agenda, the ruling party’s manifesto and citizens’ needs was also emphasised.
Participants also recognised the role of political parties, especially the ruling party that controls majority in the National Assembly on managing conflicts between the Executive and the Legislature; as well as the need for dialogue.
In the course of the frank discussion at the two-day retreat, some issues came to the fore. They include weak mechanism for conflict management and dispute resolution between both arms; limited consultation between the two arms on critical governance issues such as policy initiation, programme implementation, planning, and legislative processes.
Others are lack of clarity in communication and poor feedback mechanism leading to different and subjective interpretation of intent and purpose of the message; and limited understanding of the workings and internal processes of each arm of government by the operatives.
Also, there is lack of mutual respect between the executive and the legislature in the conduct of governmental business; inability of the ruling political party to play the fatherly role that is expected of it in managing the relationship between the executive and the legislature, among other pertinent issues raised.
In order to address the issues raised at the retreat, a 10-point recommendations were proffered in a communique read by the minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Bello, among other measures, as a solution and means of fostering the executive-legislative bond.
“The ruling political party should be encouraged to take ownership of its members to be able to reconcile them whenever conflict arises, and, members in both arms of government should show regard for the party and its leadership.”
It also called for a concrete understanding and working knowledge between both the arms of government just as it noted that an effective confidence building measure should be put in place in the governance process to ensure mutual respect and cordial relationship between the executive and legislature.
The parley further recommended the creation of an effective conflict management and resolution mechanism in resolving areas of disagreement between the two arms in the overall national interest.
Other recommendations were that there should be modalities for better access, interfacing and engagement between the leaderships of both arms of government, the NASS committees and MDAs should be worked out by the SGF and NASS-Executive Liaison.
“There should be regular pre-budget consultations between the executive and legislature particularly between the MDAs and NASS committees, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and the appropriate committee in NASS.
“There is need for an effective communication and collaborative engagement to enhance and strengthen the relationship between the arms of government for the benefit of Nigerians.
“The relationship should not be adversarial but complementary, thus, more interpersonal and informal relationship between heads of MDAs and NASS members should be encouraged.
“Operators in the arms of government should act with moderation and limit their sense of entitlement by placing public interest over and above personal and parochial interest.
“The Presidency should strengthen the capacity of the Executive Liaison Offices in the National Assembly.
“There is need for an organic budget law which will optimise the budgetary process so as to deliver effective and efficient service to the citizens,” the communique read.
Pursuant to the directive of President Buhari and concurrence by the leadership of the National Assembly and other participants, a Joint Technical Committee (JTC) will be constituted to perform certain tasks.
These tasks are the alignment of the federal government’s 9-Point Priority Agenda with the Legislative Agenda of the Senate and House of Representatives to increase synergy, improve harmony and coordination of government policies and programmes.
To articulate and synthesise the outcome of the retreat and make recommendations to the president and the leadership of the National Assembly for necessary follow-up actions and provide inputs and recommendations to the Joint Tripartite Committee (JTC) chaired by the vice president for consideration and necessary actions.
In his closing remarks, Vice President Osinbajo noted that the context within which the arms of government operate is important, noting that given the situation in the country, it will be callous and irresponsible if the different arms of government don’t work together to resolve the problems facing Nigerians.
“The fact that we have all been here for two working days demonstrates our common commitment to collaboration. Frankly, we have no choice if we are not to fail the Nigerian people who have given us this incredible opportunity amongst millions of our compatriots to serve at this high leadership levels we occupy today,” he said.
While noting that “this is all about Nigeria and Nigerians,” he added that “this is the context for our operations. Let me say that every generation of leadership must understand context. Law itself must be interpreted and implemented in context. What is the reality of the context that we operate in today? We all know, our nation has millions of extremely poor people, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened employment and poverty.
“The dogmatic emphasis on procedural niceties is a luxury we cannot afford. In any event, there is no pure practice of the doctrine of separation of powers. The Anglo-American traditions that we hold on to in support of the separation of powers are not pure…so for example, the US vice president serves as the president of the Senate and presides over the Senate’s daily proceedings,” Osinbajo said.