Buhari: Rewarding cooperative lawmakers with a dinner

President Muhammadu Buhari brought together all members of the National Assembly recently for a dinner to show appreciation for the cooperation between the executive and legislature thus far. LEON USIGBE writes on the novel event.

RECENTLY, President Muhammadu Buhari hosted all members of the National Assembly, across political parties, to a dinner at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. It was a novel event in the six years of the Buhari administration. Given the often quarrelsome exchanges between the opposition, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), some persons were unsure about whether the PDP members would show up for the event.  But, it turned out that the opposition was there in their numbers. They ate but had no opportunity to speak even where there were deprecating words directed at them at times over the meal. However, the night turned out to be remarkable in its offer of foods and drinks and for the opportunity it accorded the president to appreciate even the opposition for the support he had enjoyed in the legislature. As the second legislative year of the 9th Assembly had just come to an end, part of the reasons the president said he hosted the dinner was to jointly review shared commitments, to identify what had been achieved, and what was left undone.

Buhari took the chance to address the most nagging concern dogging his administration – insecurity. He proclaimed during his address that his government was ready to use every means within its powers to end insecurity in the country and bring perpetrators to book as he noted that ‘‘insecurity, manifesting as insurgencies, banditry, kidnapping and urban crime of all sorts is the single most difficult challenge we face today.”  He conceded that the situation had inhibited government’s ability to build infrastructure, provide the much needed social services to the people, and to attract investments that drive innovation, create industries, and provide jobs and create wealth.

He said: “Some of the people who perpetuate these various manifestations of insecurity do so for profit; others, in the name of discredited ideologies. Whatever their motivations may be, their actions are an existential threat to our country. In the circumstances, we must do everything within our power, without consideration of distractions, to put an end to their activities and bring them to book. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from this objective, or waver in our commitment, and I am confident that together we will triumph in our present efforts.”

Suffice it to say that the President has indeed enjoyed maximum cooperation from the ninth National Assembly, as the lawmakers had not hidden preparedness to pass whatever is transmitted to them from the presidential villa, a disposition that has led cynics to tag them a “rubber stamp” legislature. Buhari has thus, used every opportunity to acknowledge that cooperation and did not miss the dinner platform to echo the sentiment. He told them that they were discharging their legislative duties with maturity and competence, regarding them as ‘‘full partners in national development.’’ Significantly, he particularly commended the minority parties in the legislature for their cooperation and support for government programmes, saying: “Our ability to govern in the best interests of the Nigerian people depends to a great deal on effective collaboration and partnership between the Legislature and the Executive. The obligation to check and balance each other is not an invitation to conflict, and it should not be characterised by quarrelsome disagreement when consultation, engagements and compromise have proven time and again to be a more effective approach. In the ninth Assembly, you have distinguished yourselves by your conduct in office, by the scale and quality of your legislative interventions, and by your capacity for engaging with the difficult questions facing the country with maturity and competence.”

The President listed some legislative accomplishments of the 9th Assembly as returning of the budget cycle to January to December, the amendment of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), the Nigeria Police Act, the Finance Act, the Deep Offshore Production Sharing Contract Act, amongst others. He commended the leadership of the National Assembly under Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila for their dedication through challenging times. He said: “You have also, succeeded in overcoming the political and other obstacles that have for two decades, inhibited the much-needed reforms of our Oil and Gas industry, resulting now in the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). I congratulate you all, and thank you for your contributions to the difficult, yet necessary task of nation building.’’

President Buhari recalled that the executive and legislature came into office at a time of significant challenges for the country, observing: ‘‘Overcoming these challenges require that we finally confront long ignored questions of economics, politics, law and history that are often at the root of our national problems. This moment in history requires us to make hard choices, take difficult decisions and act with diligence and patriotism to ensure that our country can survive and thrive long after we have all left. What this means in effect is that our jobs will not get any easier. However, the objectives we seek, and will work together to achieve, deserve our best efforts regardless the sacrifice.”

President Buhari explained that by jointly reviewing their shared commitments, they could prioritize activities and allocate the resources necessary to ensure that, in the lifetime of the present Assembly, and of the administration, “we can complete the work we have started, and leave behind a record of achievement that will stand all of us in good stead in the assessment of history.” Consequently, Buhari said that he looked forward to continued collaboration and partnership between the Executive and Legislative arms of government, working together to achieve a shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous country.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, saw the occasion as a podium not to discuss state matters but to enjoy sonorous and soulful music, and exchange high fives “for a job well done.” On the one hand, he praised the opposition members in the house for their cooperation and on the other hand, aimed some sardonic jabs at them.

“And I must at this point, single out the opposition members.  The opposition members in the house have engaged in constructive opposition as they watch their numbers deplete daily on the floor. And in the face of adversity, they have been amazing and truly patriotic in putting national interests above all others in supporting this government, when it comes to crunch time. I salute and I doff my hat to them. I suppose as we get nearer to 2023, their colours and their tone may change. But we’ll wait still. That will be just for the sake of politics. Now we’re doing government business, and they are indeed with us together. Thank you very much for making it worthwhile,” Gbajabiamila remarked.

For Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, even though the lawmakers enjoyed the good music, the food and drinks on offer, the event was more than just about that. He observed: “My understanding is that this partnership that has seen so much in governance, is a worthy partnership. Since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, in 1999, I’ve never seen a government that is so challenged in terms of the paucity of funds or resources and in terms of the myriads and massive challenges of development, particularly when it comes to security issues, to health issues, and other social vices that we have to fight against. So, for us in the National Assembly, particularly in the Senate, right from the beginning, we decided that we as senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, though political parties and ideologies may differ but in brotherhood, we must stand.”

Lawan was effusive in his adulations for the opposition and as well, the House of Representatives as he spoke of the value of their cooperation in the national interest. He stated: “Therefore, I will join my brother, the speaker, to commend my distinguished colleagues, for making sure that the Senate remains focused, remains structured. And in spite of the differences in political parties, we’re able to deliver when it will matter most. And we have delivered so well. Yes. The Senate and House have been able to work very closely in a very harmonious and cooperative manner. And that is the main reason why we are able to pass legislations and to lessen harmonizations and get such legislations across to you for presidential assent.

“So far, the partnership between the Senate and the House has seen the demolition of demons that stopped the PIB from being passed, that stopped the deep offshore production sharing contract from being passed and in fact, today in the Senate, we passed the bill to establish the electoral offences commission. That too, was talked for so many years. And it is because we are focused, we are determined to ensure that within this period that we have been elected to walk, we walk as Nigerians, as people who are here to ensure there’s good governance in this country.”

Observers note that the dinner was a good idea on the part of the president but wonder whether such could build trust and create the necessary synergy particularly with the opposition members in the National Assembly. With what went down between the ruling party and the opposition members on the floors of the legislature over the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the Electoral Act amendment, it would appear that more work remains to be done.

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