No to Buhari’s Emergency Powers By Lekan Sote
But for the Sallah holidays that ended on Tuesday, the Executive arm might have presented its Emergency Economic Stabilisation Bill to the National Assembly. The delay has probably given President Muhammadu Buhari more days to explore backdoor manoeuvre to convince unsympathetic senators to buy into the bill.
Some senators fear that the bill if passed into an Act may transform President Buhari into a dictator, and reduce the relevance and powers of the legislature. The attitude of the law to the issue of legal transfers of any sort, including possible transfer of legislative authority to the Executive, probably supports the apprehensions of these senators.
In law, to transfer is to convey, or remove from one person to another; to pass or hand over from one to another; and to take over possession or control. Because the law is an ass, a successful and complete transfer of legislative power in this case, will give the Executive the benefit of absolute control over the authority that it receives.If this logic is laboured, it is the tortuous way of the law that can use a thousand words to convey a thought.
Some alarmist legal theoreticians suggest that the proposed Act could return to Aso Rock, a legislative President almost in the mould of Indian Presidents who can issue ordinances on urgent public matters when the Parliament is not in session.
The bill will ask the National Assembly for sweeping powers to set aside some extant laws, and empower the President to roll out an economic recovery plan within one year.The National Association of Nigerian Students agrees that laws that no longer fulfil their purposes should be amended or weeded out.
It has been suggested that the Economic Management Team led by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a law professor, wants to avoid legal booby traps that may lie ahead of necessary policy changes. Government argues that extant laws will prolong “the recession… and Nigerians will not get the desired respite, which is the goal of (President Buhari’s) government.”
The legal amendments will be used in the manner of a shoe horn-to “fit” expected economic policy changes to comply with the laws. This somewhat legal activism reminds one of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Vice President’s eminent grandfather-in-law, who constantly used the law courts to test the wisdom in certain laws. Maybe, Nigerians are now in the days of Awolowo legal activism 2.0.
The objectives of the emergency bill are to strengthen the naira; create more jobs; revive the manufacturing sector; and improve delivery of electricity.To achieve these, the bill wants to reduce the processing period for government procurements to less than six months; stimulate spending in critical sectors of the economy; increase mobilisation fee of local contractors from 15 to 50 per cent; and reduce the timeframe for sale or lease of government assets to generate non-oil revenue.
The bill also seeks virement powers to enable the President to move budgetary allocations between expenditure subheads without recourse to the National Assembly; amend the Universal Basic Education Commission Act so that states pay only 10 per cent counterpart funding; and release about N58bn trapped in UBEC’s accounts to states.
Finally, the bill is expected to amend immigration laws to allow visitors obtain Nigerian visa within 48 hours of application; reduce immigration protocols at the airports; and compel the Corporate Affairs Commission and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control to improve their throughput time.
You may be interested to know that just as it did to the first Buhari administration in 1984, the International Monetary Fund is asking the second Buhari administration to reduce capital expenditure (sic) for three years (a curious requirement); and remove subsidies from petroleum products (with no corresponding increase in local production of these products).
The IMF also wants Nigeria to devalue the naira by more than 60 per cent; liberalise foreign exchange and import controls (without encouraging local production of at least consumer goods); increase taxation, and improve the efficiency of tax collection agencies (in the face of a comatose real sector and pauperised citizenry).
President Buhari has observed that just as in 1984, the price of oil, the mainstay of Nigeria’s mono-product economy, is falling drastically. Despite his rueful observation, Section 16 of the constitution requires the government, which he heads, to harness the resources of the nation, promote national prosperity, and secure maximum welfare of the people. Though this constitutional provision requires a lot from the President, there is hardly any reason for him to ask for emergency powers.
Section 402(ii) of the Federal Government’s Financial Instructions already allows a relocation of the provision of one expense sub-head to another when necessary. The officer doing the transfer is only required to quote the relevant Warrant Number, and write the reduction from the former sub-head in the Vote Book. But the President can always send a Supplementary Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly.
The President only needs administrative astuteness to get CAC, NAFDAC, and the Nigeria Immigration Service to be more effective in the discharge of the responsibilities they are paid and already empowered to perform. And to abridge the procedures for awarding contracts or privatising government assets needs no sledgehammer emergency laws.
It is certainly going to be tough to stretch the provisions of Section 305(3) of the Nigerian Constitution to accommodate the requirements of the Emergency Economic Stabilisation Bill. Though the amendments required may be urgent, the federation is certainly not “in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war; (or) actual breakdown of public order and public safety.”
Certainly, there is no occurrence, imminent danger, or natural calamity in any community or a part thereof, or any present danger that constitutes a threat to the existence of the federation. Neither has President Buhari been asked to proclaim a state of emergency by a state government.
Everyone knows that the Boko Haram insurgency that has attracted emergency rule in the North-East zone of the country has been adequately taken care of, though one can appreciate the President’s need to impress the urgency of the dire economic situation upon Nigerians. There is no sweating that.
But those who seek to justify the President’s request for emergency powers with the speed which America’s President Frederick Delano Roosevelt obtained fundamental changes to the laws of America to implement his New Deal reforms should think again.
It is true that within 100 days in office, Roosevelt got amendments to end the prohibition on sale of beer, build a dam on the Tennessee River, allow government to persuade farmers to fallow their farms to boost commodity prices, suspend some anti-trust laws, establish a public works authority, and pass necessary banking and mortgage laws, he never sought emergency powers. But the urgency in his actions was not in doubt.
While several laws in Nigeria’s statute books need to be changed to remove bottlenecks to business, the emergency bill (that some say is no more than a testing of the waters or thinking aloud) is unnecessary. And so, as a former teacher would say, to the demand for emergency powers by President Buhari, the answer is a resounding no.
Members of the “People’s Parliament” holding in the nation’s “beer parlours” actually think that the word, “emergency,” is inappropriate.