New Telegraph

February 24, 2024

2023: Governments shut down over elections

With the 2023 elections a few weeks away, DAVID CHUKWU and PHILIP NYAM, in this analysis rue that governance now suffers as top government officials abandon office for the campaign

Preparatory to the 2023 general elections, many government establishments are shutting down operations, to enable members and staff of such establishments to actively participate in the ongoing political campaigns and subsequent polls that will follow thereof across the country in the country.

Ministries and agencies are not left out as some of the ministers have abandoned their duties, no matter how strategic to campaign either for the presidential candidate of the ruling party or for their spouses and political allies. This has, however, almost brought governance to standstill in many of such offices.

Ironically, the current development is at variance with the stern warning and directive issued last November by President Muhammadu Buhari, to all ministers, permanent secretaries, and other top government officials not to involve themselves in electioneering activities ahead of the general election scheduled for the first quarter of 2023.

Buhari, who gave the directive at the end of the two-day 2022 Ministerial Performance Review Retreat, held at the Conference Hall of the State House, Abuja, warned ministers, permanent secretaries, and heads of government agencies not to abandon the business of governance for electioneering, saying, “any infraction will be viewed seriously.” Buhari had said, “Consequently, all ministers, permanent secretaries, and heads of agencies must remain focused in the discharge of their duties, as any infraction will be viewed seriously.

“Our collective goal is to map out a transition plan for the incoming administration to ensure proper documentation of all the policies, programmes, and projects of government with up-to-date status of implementation.” He also charged all ministers, permanent secretaries and heads of government agencies to step up, double their efforts, and work in synergy toward total delivery of the administration’s set targets.

However, this directive has been rounding violated by top government officials, both elected and appointed. For instance, a female minister presiding over a strategic ministry, has almost relocated to Bauchi State where her husband, a retired Air Marshal and former Chief of Air Staff, is the All progressives Congress governorship candidate.

The situation is not any different in a number of ministries and agencies. At the state level, governors and lawmakers seeking re-election are hardly visible at the Government House and the legislative chambers as the travel to the constituencies with the governor during campaign. Interestingly, such convoys of government vehicles are fueled to such campaign venue at public expense. Another of such institutions is the National Assembly. The two Chambers of the apex legislative institution – the Senate and the House of Representatives have already embarked on five weeks recess, to enable the federal lawmakers participate in the process.

Even before now, plenary at the Houses hardly recorded a quorum. Curious enough, there is no doubt that, as the two Chambers shutdown legislative activities, there are some critical issues begging for the attention of the legislators that have been left unattended to, and which may not actually receive treatment as a result of the short period remaining for the tenure of the Ninth Assembly to elapse.

In the Senate, one of the salient issues which is pending and seems to have been abandoned by the parliamentarians is the issue of Ways and Means request by President Muhammadu Buhari. President Buhari had in a letter to the Senate shortly before the Chamber went on Christmas and New Year recess, sought for restructuring of the N22.7 trillion Ways and Means advances from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) within the last ten years. “Ways and Means” are loans or advances by the Central Bank to the Federal Government to enable it to cater for short term or emergency finance to fund delayed government expected cash receipt of fiscal deficits.”

However, while considering the request on December 28, 2022, serious disagreement erupted among Senators, leading to the proposal being stepped down, and a Special Committee set up to look at it and submit a report for the Chamber’s consideration after resumption on January 17. What President Buhari sent to the Senate for restructuring was actually in excess of N1 trillion; bringing the total to N23.7 trillion which is required by the President to fund the 2022 supplementary budget. The Special Committee was mandated to summon the Minister of Fi-nance, Zainab Ahmed, CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele and heads of other relevant agencies, for details on expenditure made from the N22.7 trillion. The Committee, which is headed by the Senate Leader, Ibrahim Gobir (APC, Sokoto East), was directed to submit its report on 17th January, 2023 when the Senate resumed plenary.

But on resumption day, Gobir told the Senate that Ahmed and Emefiele did not avail the Committee of the relevant documents and all necessary information needed to work on the request. He therefore, asked the Upper Chamber to give the Committee additional three days, to enable it meet with the relevant officials of the Executive arm, and then support its report this week for consideration and approval.

On Wednesday January 25, the apex legislative Chamber adjourned plenary till February 28, when it will reconvene after the conduct of the presidential elections, while failing to approve the N22.7 trillion Ways and Means restructuring request by Buhari, contrary to expection of Nigerians. It was highly anticipated that the request would be considered and approved by the Chamber before going on the break, to enable members participate in the ongoing political cam-paigns and presidential election. Indication emerged that the request would not receive expeditious approval of the Senate, when it was not enlisted on the day’s Order Paper among other legislative items scheduled for consideration during plenary by the lawmakers.

Sunday Telegraph learnt that the required details on the fund were not provided by the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. But it is not certain if the apex legislative Assembly will still consider the presidential request after its resumption in the next five weeks. The story is the same in the House of Representatives as lawmakers are not exempted from the distraction from electioneering campaigns. Although many of them lost out in their parties’ primaries, some have crossed over to other political parties and are therefore still in the race.

Hence, many members of the House are seeking re-election back to the National Assembly while some are vying for the position of governor in their states. As a result, they are often involved in campaign activities in their constituencies and states. Again, some are part of their various parties’ presidential campaign councils and have been traversing the country campaigning ahead of the 2023 general elections. For example, the All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial candidate in Niger State, Hon. Mohammed Bagu, is a member of the House while the Labour Party gubernatorial candidate in Benue, Hon. Herman Hembe is also a member of the House.

Again, almost all the presiding and principal officers are seeking re-election. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and his deputy, Idris Wase are both seeking re-election. Similarly, House leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, Deputy House Leader, Peter Akpatason and the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu are all in the race to return to the chambers.

The secretary of the APC PCC, Hon. James Faleke is also a serving member of the House representing Ikeja Federal Constituency of Lagos State. But investigations by our correspondents revealed that the lower chamber has not violated Section 63 of the 1999 constitution, which provides that “The Senate and House of Representatives shall each sit for a period of not less than one hundred and eighty-one days in a year” Since after the presidential primaries, which marked the end of the nomination of candidates for various elective positions in the 2023 general elections, the House has embarked on different recesses.

It will be recalled that the House had resumed plenary on June 14, 2022, after the emergence of presidential candidates of the 18 political parties. After spending two weeks, the House again proceeded on another recess on June 29, 2022, to observe the Sallah holidays and reconvened for the plenary session on July 19, 2022. Of course, the June 29 recess was to mark the end of the 2022 legislative year. Hence, after reconvening on July 19, 2022, the House proceeded on its end of legislative year recess on July 27, 2022 and resumed plenary on September 20, 2022. While on recess, renovation work began on both chambers of the National Assembly.

The lawmakers were therefore relocated to committee rooms, which have been converted into temporary chambers for plenary. Both chambers of the National Assembly have been undergoing renovation work since August 2022. Hence, in November 2022, the House went on a two week recess to resume November 17 but it was later extended to November 22.

Though no reason was given, it was insinuated in some quarters that the extension was to allow for fumigation of the National Assembly premises. In December 2022, however, the House deferred its annual Christmas break to pass the 2023 budget.

In other words, the House could not proceed on Christmas break until after the passage of the 2023 budget on December 28 before they left for the New Year break. The House had sat on December 22 and adjourned to Wednesday December 28. After passing the budget on December 28, 2022, the House proceeded on New Year break and only resumed on Tuesday, January 18, 2023. The lower chamber is expected to proceed on election recess next week until after the general elections, which would end with the governorship and state Houses of Assembly election on March 12. Note that the presidential election is scheduled for February 25, 2023.

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