Tuesday, 6 October 2015

PRESIDENT’S APPOINTEES AND RULE OF LAW

President Muhammadu Buhari
As the nation finally received the news of the submission of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees to the Senate President, it has become doubly imperative to emphasize that adherence to the rule of law and due process be internalised by all in the process of strengthening Nigeria’s democracy.

Going by subdued complaints surrounding the President’s previous appointments of chairmen and members of some federal agencies, it would appear that the regard for such propriety was rather scanty. Thankfully, the President has done the right thing with his minister-nominees. Rumblings in the Senate had been to the effect that some presidential appointees for public offices resumed without its clearance. The seriousness of such matter is underscored by the fact that if true, such disregard for the Senate impugns directly on democracy.

Specifically, senators had quietly accused the executive arm of government of flagrant violation of statutory procedure of screening and formal confirmation before assuming their respective offices, as required by the laws enabling such offices. According to reports, until the President eventually sent a letter to the Senate to regularise things a few days ago, the class of public officers supposedly in breach of the Senate’s confirmation include the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Ahmed Kuru, who was named the new Managing Director/CEO of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON); Mr. Kola Ayeye, Ms. Eberechukwu Uneze and Mr. Aminu Ismail, who were named executive directors of AMCON; and Prof. Umaru Danbatta, who was nominated as the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

In ways that deepen the irregularity of their resumption of duty, the nominees reportedly already began the execution of and disbursement of funds from the offices they are supposed to head, even initiating policies without Senate’s confirmation.

The rule of law is essential for order and stability in modern societies. It is one of the canons of liberal democracy. The observance of the rule of law nudges the polity away from authoritarian trappings. More important, it has come to signal progress towards democratic consolidation. Therefore, rule of law is a democratic norm to be mainstreamed in a democratising society. Sadly, since Nigeria’s return to the path of democracy in 1999, the country has been classified by some democratic audits as ‘semi authoritarian’ and ‘not free.’ This trend, which has been fuelled by the unwholesome body language of successive leaders, including the current ones, has overcast the political environment in ways that are uncomplimentary to the polity.

In the context of the expectation of change, the rule of law should rank high in the arsenal of the new administration in Nigeria. Therefore, violation of basic parliamentary procedures by the President and his appointees against the laws of the land, especially the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended, will continue to be a source of worry.

The laws setting up the institutions in reference provide that their appointees by the President must be confirmed by the Senate before they can assume office. Moreover, since the president has sought confirmation of the Senate for the appointments, it is only proper that the inchoate process be pursued to fruition. It will amount to a dangerous precedent and a costly oversight for any appointee to assume or execute his office in clear violation of the statutory procedure.

It is worth recalling that the former Director-General of Nigeria Securities and Exchange Commission, Aruma Oteh, tarried for upwards of three months for Senate confirmation, before resuming office under the Umaru Yar’Adua administration. Any violation of this procedure can thus be interpreted as disrespectful of the Senate and consequently capable of setting the two arms on a collision course.

To avoid this unpleasant scenario, nominees to positions where public officials expend public funds must be confirmed by the Senate, in line with the provisions of the extant laws and the 1999 Constitution. The service chiefs were confirmed and the presidency must not only follow due process, it should be seen to do so consciously.

Besides, the screening and confirmation exercise of the Senate is an important parliamentary function as it affords the parliament and its relevant committees the opportunity to scrutinise the profile of appointed public officials as well as what they have to offer. Where such sessions are aired, they act as a vent for the public to catch a glimpse of those chosen to serve them and their credentials for the jobs they are assigned to do.

Nevertheless, the senators must also do their work and avoid unproductive vacations. It bears emphasising that democracy and its institutions are strengthened if the rule of law is observed by custodians of state institutions. The President’s liaison officers must get down to work and facilitate the working relationship of the National Assembly with the President.

The executive must be diligent and the legislature, as the gut of democracy, must exercise its independence for the good of the country, avoid trivialities, and show dedication to legislative business. That is the only way it can justify its representative role (guardian).