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Economy: Emergency powers for the president?

M UCH as the state of the Nigerian economy has bothered Nigerians, the touted request for emergency powers for the president to deal with the situation as he deems fit without restraint of any kind seems to have even worsened their anxiety. Such emergency powers would, for instance, have the president selling off the country’s assets without recourse to the legislature. Thankfully, the retraction from Mr Laolu Akande, the Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media, who stated that the proposal had not even reached the Federal Executive Council (FEC), soothed frayed nerves.

The consternation of the citizenry no doubt derived from the cynicism about the country’s antecedents in such matters when former presidents had been egged on by their coterie of self-serving inner caucuses to get more powers with which they only failed abysmally. The fact that  it took the current administration well over six months to put a cabinet together only increased their doubts. It may not be easy for it to convince anyone that it is actually in a hurry to improve the economy. Indeed, what plans or policies in the form of bills from the Presidency have ever been rejected by the National Assembly since the inception of this administration to warrant a request for emergency powers? Has the National Assembly ever constituted any  kind of impediment to the president on any known score that is considered beneficial to the country’s economic interests?

The overwhelming victory with which the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) rode to power showed the confidence which the people reposed in the party. The economic challenges were expected but the people also expected the party to run a government that would confront these economic challenges with policies and creative ideas, not some extra powers that would suspend the constitution. The request for emergency powers for the president therefore hinted at some furtive, dark and sinister motives since there was nothing in the offing that the constitution did not already empower the president to do to turn the prostrate economy around within the shortest possible time.

Nothing, for instance, recommends emergency powers like a war situation. But even then, the constitution accords the power of recognition of the war situation to the National Assembly and the president will need the assent of two thirds of its membership for his declaration of a war to be valid. Has the situation with the country’s economy aggravated beyond a war situation that some people feel compelled to prod the president to seek emergency powers?

Truth told, Nigerians are frightened about granting emergency powers to a president who affects trust issues with the National Assembly and does not feel comfortable with exploring all the democratic options and institutions in tackling his challenges. We are persuaded that the president does not actually require emergency powers to function effectively, especially in Nigeria where many observers are of the view that the Nigerian president has been given awesome and immense powers by the constitution already.

If the emergency powers being sought for the president will make him take unitary decisions like disposing the estimated $55 billion national assets to whomsoever he pleases, will it also allow him to suspend the activities of establishments like the Due Process office? Such establishments emanated from the efforts by previous administrations geared towards protecting public funds, which emergency powers for the president will automatically trash without any evidence that they are no longer useful. Meanwhile, there is absolute mutual distrust amongst the entities in the polity, which will threaten the country’s stability if emergency powers for the president are given. Many countries have waded through economic recession and even depression without suspending their democratic institutions.

We believe that the country’s current economic challenges can still be surmounted without the rather drastic option of giving emergency powers to a president who already is constitutionally one of the most powerful presidents in the world. It is frightening that this was even mulled at all in the first place considering its dire implications, but we are relieved that it has not even reached the level of the FEC. Let it remain in the wild imaginations of the awful dreamers.