Nigeria, which is currently battling its first recession in 25 years could slip deeper into crisis if the present power tussle between the executive and legislature is not tamed, analysts warn.
Key issues such as budget planning and implementation, and enactment of critical bills that could advance the economy have suffered set-back in recent times, as Nigerian law makers and the executive arm engage in stand-offs over issues which many say could be quietly resolved.
The Senate, last Tuesday for instance, resolved to suspend all confirmation requests from the executive, until decisions of the legislature are respected. Their decision was in reference to a statement credited to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, doubting that they are supposed to confirm certain nominees.
“At this stage of our economic recovery, we can’t afford to have bottlenecks. This economy cannot afford any bottlenecks,” Bismarck Rewane, Managing Director and Chief Executive of Financial Derivatives Company Limited, warned.
Economic plans as earlier outlined by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, while assenting to the 2017 budget, may also suffer some setbacks, especially as the National Assembly prepares to proceed on its annual six-week vacation in less than a month.
Africa’s largest economy has been projected to jump back to growth by the end of the year, on the back of a promising Economic Recovery and Growth Plan and expanded budget, but there are now heightening fears that the impasse between the two arms of government which ought to lead the recovery process, could cause delays or even reverse gains.
“It is very expensive for Nigeria and to be honest with you, we need to do something pretty much. We can’t afford it right now,” Rewane added during a telephone interview with BusinessDay.
In particular reference to the rejection of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, the Senate insisted that the Executive must respect the country’s constitution, or go to court for clarity.
The Executive is expected to approach the Senate with documentation for an administrative transfer of funds, to make up for the shortfall in the 2017 appropriation and is also yet to submit the Medium Term Framework (MTEF) for the consideration of the Legislature, ahead of the submission of the 2018 spending plan in October.
The Senate on the other hand, has on its table, the N5.8billion rail transport loan request, Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill, Host Community Development Fund Bill, as well as some Economic Reform Bills for its consideration.
The Economic Bills yet to be passed by the upper legislative body, include the National Roads Funds Bill; National Transport Commission Bill; Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) (Amendment) and
Investment and Securities Act (Amendment) Bill, as well as the National Development Bank of Nigeria Bill.
Experts say when passed and signed into law, the economic bills have the potential to get Nigeria out of
economic recession, create 7.5 million jobs and reduce poverty by 16.4 percent.
Rewane said it is very expensive for Nigeria to have any sort of bottlenecks on its road to recovery.
“The whole idea of politics is about looking for solutions. You can disagree, but then look for a way out and it is not typical to Nigeria. Even in the US, we have government lockdown. I think as professional politicians, they will resolve it and nobody will take entrenched positions,” he added. Rewane was optimistic that the two arms of government will be able to resolve their differences for the good of the nation, rather than taking entrenched positions and slowing down the wheels of progress.
The crisis between the two arms of government also calls to question, the role of the committee supposedly set up by the Federal Executive Council in March this year, to mediate with the National Assembly and resolve the differences, to allow for a good working relationship between the two arms of government.
Apart from rejecting Ibrahim Magu , the acting chairman of the EFCC, for a second time, the red chamber also refused to screen the president’s nominees for Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) but recently backtracked.
There have also been claims and counter claims between the Legislature and some members of the Federal Executive Council, especially the Minister of Power, Works, and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, over alterations of his ministry’s budget.
Osinbajo also expressed similar disappointment over the new injections made by the National Assembly, into the budget, which he said fundamentally affected some of the government’s priority programmes and would make implementation extremely difficult and in some cases impossible.
The proposed budget for critical projects such as the railway standard gauge implementation, the Mambilla Power Project, the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, among others, were significantly cut, to enable some of the new projects they introduced get appropriate funding.
The N7.441trillion 2017 budget, christened Budget of Growth and Recovery, was approved by the National Assembly on 11th May, with a raise of N143billion from N7.298trillion to N7.441trillion. The budget was finally submitted to the Presidency on the 19th of May, 2017 and assented to by the Acting President, on the 12th of June.
Analysts are already expressing worry that the needless impasse may affect the implementation of that ‘budget of recovery and growth’, the presentation of the 2018 MTEF and other decisions that may require legislative endorsement.
“The implication is that our house is burning, while our leaders are chasing rats. The executive is not implementing the budget. Go and look at all the claims they had last week, all of them were lies. Check out the website of the budget office, you can hardly see any proper report.
“The last one, which was for the third quarter, was showing implementation that was not up to N700billion and we were being told they have released N1.2trillion, where is the report? Go to the budget website, you can’t even see the details of the 2017 budget. All that we have is the summary, close to one month after we signed the budget,” said the Executive Secretary of the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere.
Onyekpere said the executive and legislature have failed to realise it is a budget for the whole country and not just the two arms of government.
“The two arms of government each have their different roles to play, but they are not talking to each other”, Onyekpere posits, adding that “they are being smug and arrogant and refusing to take each other on the point that they are starting the budget.
“For instance, if the budget for 2018 as the Acting President said, should be ready by October, it means that by now, the executive should have laid down their framework for the budget and gotten in touch with the leadership of the legislature for an important discussion on what they want, what they do and then they agree on certain template and move on from there”.
For him, since the issue of constituency projects has come to stay, the legislators should be asked to turn in their projects to the ministries involved, early enough for priority checks, rather than bicker over mistakes already made.
“So we have a situation where we need to call the two of them to order, I am not taking sides with any of them. Each of them is thinking they can do it on their own, that it is a supremacy tussle.
“The important thing is that we cannot continue looking backwards, we should look forward. The mistake of 2017 has been made, what lessons have we drawn from 2017 so that we don’t repeat them in 2018?”
The Presidential Liaison to the Senate, Ita Enang, who spoke on a live radio programme, agreed that the impasse between the two arms of government is hinged on each trying to assert its constitutional powers.
Enang further said there are already efforts being made to resolve the crisis between the two arms of government.
Cheta Nwanze, head of Research at SBM Intel, posited that to solve the impasse, the first step is for the Executive to let Magu go and not allow it come between the synergy that would have fostered economic growth.
“The first thing is that Magu has to go. He is not indispensable, throwing the entire weight of the executive behind him, when he was sabotaged by people from the same executive is problematic. In the minds of so many senators, he has come to symbolise the executive disregard of their statuary position.
“So as long as Magu is there, the solution to all of this is going to be pretty difficult to come by,” he said.
Nwanze further said, “Some people are saying that it is political theatrics but it is not. There are important policy consequences to what is happening. For a start, one thing that has become increasingly clear, is the executive’s habit of refusing to make small political concessions in order to drive their wider agenda.
“They don’t know how to live and let live, or give in order to get something bigger. A lot of bills that they have will not be attended to promptly by the Senate and those bills are going to have an effect on projects such as the Ease of Doing Business and all of that, Nwanze stated.
He added that with nominees not being confirmed, the country is likely to continue in the same “rudderless manner that we have been going for quite some time, simply because the executive has failed to learn how to give concessions in order to drive its wider policies”.