The relationship between the executive and the legislature in any presidential democracy is often characterised by the contest for power and control of the political space. The Nigerian constitution grants both arms of government enormous powers and the exercise of these powers usually creates friction and turbulence in the system.
Although the theory of separation of powers tends to make the executive and legislature equal and independent of each other, the principle of checks and balances demands that they work with each other in the task of governance and delivery of the dividends of democracy.
In Nigeria, the relationship between the Presidency (executive) and the National Assembly (legislature) has often been dogged by mutual suspicion and shadow battles. It is sometimes described as a cat and mouse relationship because of the intrigues associated with it.
In the past two years, Senator Joy Ifeyinwa Emodi had been managing this delicate relationship as Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters. Until last Friday, when she was relieved of her duties, Emodi held sway as the ears and eyes of the president in the National Assembly.
As the bridge between the Aso Rock Presidential Villa and the National Assembly, Emodi had tried to carry on her duties with humility, diligence and patriotism. She played her role as a quintessential parliamentary diplomat. She knew that her office was a two-way door and a channel of communication between the two power blocs of democracy.
As a former member of the Senate, Emodi understood the psychology of the average parliamentarian. She was abreast of parliamentary practices, precepts and conventions. She also had a good grasp of what the Transformation Agenda of the president meant and how both arms could collaborate to achieve the common goals of governance.
Emodi had an uncommon goodwill among the lawmakers, many of whom saw her as their colleague and accorded her due respects. Those who were not privileged to be in the parliament when she served as senator also saw her as a repository of legislative experience and matron of the parliament.
It is to her credit that most of the executive bills sent to the National Assembly in the last two years successfully sailed through the legislative mill. Emodi also deployed her energies and legislative experience to ensure that the National Assembly passed the 2013 Appropriation Act in December last year. This was to ensure that the New Year started on a fresh budget and a clean slate. It was the first time such a feat had been achieved since 1999.
It is a fact that the Presidency has not had it so smooth with the National Assembly in the past two years, but this has always been the case since the return to democracy 14 years ago. It has never been a smooth sail, particularly, when it concerns the budget.
The 1999 Constitution gives the executive and the legislature competing roles in the budget process. Both lay conflicting claims to the power of appropriation and until one party goes to the Supreme Court to seek proper interpretation of the position of the law, it will remain a situation of war without end.
In April, Emodi caused to be organised a national conference on establishing a new relationship between the two arms of government based on mutual respect and better understanding of each other’s roles.
The programme, which brought together all the 469 members of the National Assembly as well as the over 40 members of the Federal Executive Council, provided a platform for robust engagement between cabinet ministers and the lawmakers. The participants were taken through the techniques of running an all-inclusive government so as to reduce the frequent disagreements between the executive and legislature.
But some have asked why the National Assembly is such a hot spot in the politics of Nigeria. The answer is simple. It is a gathering of the representatives of the people from all over Nigeria. The diversity is not only in terms of their ethnicity, culture, language, religion and educational background, but also in their political persuasions.
The Seventh Assembly is even more complex because of the sustained culture of democracy and the drive by the various constituencies to elect their best to represent them at every successive parliamentary session.
Besides, the leadership of the National Assembly is today more confident and daring. The independence of the federal legislature is now guaranteed more than ever before because the National Assembly is on the first line charge in the national budget. It gets is funds directly through statutory transfers and does not need to go cap in hand to the executive to survive. With this financial autonomy, it is difficult talk down the parliament or pocket its members.
All through her tenure, Emodi refrained from using the confrontational approach to address issues emanating from the National Assembly.
Some analysts claim she was fired because of her alleged involvement in some financial misdemeanours. Nothing could be farther from the truth, from all indications.
Emodi simply lost out to some hardliners in the Presidency who felt she had not done enough to reign in the lawmakers to support Mr. President. Like Emodi, these hardliners have been uncomfortable with the National Assembly's continued hostility towards President Goodluck Jonathan and his cabinet. They, however, differed on the best approach to tackle the challenge.
Emodi's insistence that persuasion, dialogue and mutual respect was the way out, certainly, did not go down well with some cabinet ministers and presidential aides. They regarded her approach as a weakness and had consistently mounted pressure on Jonathan to do away with her. They believe that Jonathan needs a “fiery politician” who would go public on any issue and crush anyone who stood on the way of the executive. They believe that such a combative posture would enable the president bring the parliament under control.
Emodi may have lost out in the power game, but she leaves behind a legacy of hard work, dialogue and diplomacy.