Nigeria struggles with a government of “body language”
As the administration of General Muhammadu Buhari suddenly draws close to the end of its honeymoon (first 100 days in office), it is becoming clearer that
Nigeria is threading a new part of nationhood. Technically, the new pattern of governance is not entirely new, but the creepy circumstances are quietly creeping into the National subconscious culture.
It is gradually gaining acceptance amongst those who are caught up in the band wagon of collective amnesia. It is definitely not a constitutional democracy; not a diarchy; not the usual military rule by Decrees, and but by all ramifications, a convincing government of “Body Language”.
In the run up to the 2015 Presidential elections, Buhari had told Nigerians that he was now a refurbished civilian – a converted democrat who believed in multiparty democracy. Nigerians believed. Powered by the demonization of the Jonathan Administration, the change Campaigners flooded the Nigeria with the message of change. The word “Jonathanian” was introduced into the National lexicon by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai (now the Kaduna State governor). “Clueless” became the most shared term both in the print and social media.
Since the inauguration of the Buhari Presidency on May 29, however, Nigeria’s constitution has been violated more than observed. The first Salvo from Buhari was to disappoint his entire party on the formation of a cabinet as required by this constitution. The framers of our constitution had envisaged a cabinet to help in the daily running of government to realise the hopes and aspiration of its people. It has now gone down in history that Buhari has been the only President since independence to govern without a cabinet for almost months, under a constitutional democracy.
Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media through a press statement had informed Nigerians that President Buhari will appoint a Cabinet in the fullness of time. Soon after, President Buhari informed the world that amongst all the nominees for ministerial positions, who are predominantly his party members – the All Progressive Congress (APC), he has not found one individual worthy to serve as a minister.
The puzzling questions are: did the APC as a political party decided not to form a cabinet four months in government? Would Asiwaju Tinubu have supported and sponsored Buhari if he knew he wasn’t going to form a government until September? Is this cabinet impasse a party decision or the body language of a maximum ruler?
Section 147 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended provides that “There shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President”. But the Buhari supporters would always be quick to misinterpret this statutory passage, with a pointless argument that cabinet appointment is discretionary.
The provision of the constitution actually permits the President to decide the number of aides he would work with, and Buhari had reportedly reduced the current ministerial positions. But the appointment of ministers in a timely manner remains obligatory. For example, the word “shall” as used by the law gives no room for any discretion. But in complete revolt of the oath of the office he took, President Buhari has remained in utter violation.
With the dwindling oil prices and the reckless spending by State governments during the last general elections, President Buhari was confronted with months of unpaid workers’ across various states of country. Without the benefit of financial advice especially from a Finance Minister, President Buhari had embarked on a bailout mission for the States against the spirit and letters of the Constitution. It must be stated here that workers deserve their wages. The longsuffering Nigerian workers deserve to get more than their current take home pay.
However the process of financial bailout for States is clearly spelt out in Section 164(1) of the 1999 constitution that, “Federation may make grants to a State to supplement the revenue of that state in such sum and subject to such terms and condition as may be prescribed by the National Assembly”.
Firstly, the “Federation” the law considers here does not apply to the President. Secondly, any grant or bail out by the federation must be appropriated by the National Assembly. But in protest to his sworn oath of office, President Buhari unilaterally approved and appropriated funds while the National Assembly was on recess. And since resumption of plenary by the National Assembly, no letter, motion or request has been brought before the National Assembly for ratification. Are we still running a democracy?
In pursuit of his disdain and relegation of the constitution which he swore to protect, Buhari had abandoned Section 150 which provides that “There shall be an Attorney –General of the Federation who shall be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and a Minister of the Government of the Federation.” Mr President further went ahead and appointed an unconstitutional Advisory Committee on Corruption which has no backing of law and which as a result would render all its actions, advice, and recommendations detrimentally unconstitutional.
All these aberrations and rape on our constitutional democracy have been termed the “body language” of Mr President. The Body Language of Buhari is gradually becoming the acceptable grundnorm of the Nigerian Nation. Consequently, the current body language is synonymous with the usual military disdain for constitutionality – which is Buhari’s major command trait.
Almost 100 days into the life of a new government, the body language of Mr President has not given a clear road map and a policy direction in the various sectors of the economy. With the continuous fall in price oil price, the body language of Mr President has not articulated a clear position on how to annex the inherent mineral resources that abound all over the country. All we hear are praise songs from very scary quarters urging Buhari to carry on with his body language.
Gradually, as Nigerians, we are beginning to forget that we operate a constitutional democracy. While we await signals coming from the body language of President Buhari in every area of our national life, we hope that that the body language will not translate into the kind of cult followership obtainable in rogue nations like Iran and North Korea where every utterance from the maximum ruler is law.
Oshiokpekhai Utu-Orbih is an attorney, broadcaster and media consultant.