By Usman Usman, SkyTrend
The news broke like wild fire about the Nigerian President’s plan to seek sweeping powers to tackle the economy.
This according to what we are meant to believe, is coming at the instance of the recommendation by the economic team headed by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo.
According to a publication in the Nation Newspaper of August 22, 2016
“In the bill, the executive will be asking for the President to be given sweeping powers to set aside some extant laws and use executive orders to roll out an economic recovery package within the next one year.
Buhari will be seeking powers to:
⦁ abridge the procurement process to support stimulus spending on critical sectors of the economy;
⦁ make orders to favour local contractors/suppliers in contract awards;
⦁ abridge the process of sale or lease of government assets to generate revenue;
⦁ allow virement of budgetary allocation to projects that are urgent, without going back to the National Assembly.
⦁ amend certain laws, such as the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Act, so that states that cannot access their cash trapped in the accounts of the commission because they cannot meet the counterpart funding, can do so; and
⦁ to embark on radical reforms in visa issuance at Nigeria’s consular offices and on arrival in the country and to compel some agencies of government like the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the National Agency for Foods Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and others to improve on their turn around operation time for the benefit of business.”
It has been argued that the aim of the proposed bill was to help shore up the value of the naira, boost foreign reserves, create more jobs, improve power supply and revive the manufacturing sector.
As sound as these arguments appear it will not be out of place to state that the existing laws as presently constituted can also effectively turn around the economy if proper effort is made towards implementation.
If the existing laws are the clogs in the wheel of our economic progress, a solution may be to give such laws accelerated amendments where necessary.
Granting sweeping emergency powers to the president to empower him to take policy decisions without reverting to the National Assembly can be detrimental to the checks and balances for which a democracy is known.
If anything, it renders the national assembly redundant and powerless in the face of any abuse in office as a result of such emergency powers.
This paves the way for a dictatorship.
Another area of concern is whether Nigerians actually trust the patriotism of President Muhammadu Buhari so much so that they can willingly allow him wield such powers, what happens after the tenure of his presidency.
Will Nigerians be willing to grant such powers to future presidents on demand?
Those who are conversant with Marxism will tell you that the economy which Marx referred to as the super structure tends to be the determinant of all other structures in the society.
He who controls the means of production and by extension the economy, controls every other aspect of the societal life.
The fear here is that only cronies, family and friends close to the seat of power will benefit from the power of the president to say, grant contracts without recourse to due process or other requirements all in the name of trying to speed things up.
Nepotism and corruption will likely continue to hold sway in such circumstance because one man has the enormous power to dictate everything without any form of the badly needed checks and balances from other arms of government.
The previous governments especially the Obasanjo Administration tried to stabilize the economy and recorded some successes without having exceptional powers beyond the extant laws.
These laws have been carefully crafted to give an air of fairness and equity to all concerned and taking that privilege away under the guise of tackling the economy amounts to some form of injustice or unfairness.
The existing due process and procurement laws are sufficient for us for the time being.
A close look at the areas for which the emergency powers are being sort does not reveal any attempt to reduce bank interest rates or even revive comatose federal and state owned industries or investments in order to tackle unemployment and reduce crime rates.
It does not also reveal any attempt to compel government ministries and agencies to purchase only cars manufactured or assembled in Nigeria nor does it reveal any attempt to speedily extract and mine other mineral resources beneath our soils for our benefit.
The opposition party PDP is yet to put her house in order and the internal crises facing the party renders the party incapable of presenting a formidable opposition to the proposed bill.
The hope of the ordinary Nigerian now rests on the National Assembly to thwart the bill which may manifestly appear good to Nigerians but latently encourage dictatorship in a democracy.
With the National Assembly also engrossed in leadership and budget crises, and in an attempt by the principal officers to please the executive in hopes of getting softer landings, they may choose bow to pressure from the executive and pass the bill.
If this happens, the National Assembly will be indirectly passing a message about its irrelevance in the Nigerian Democratic arrangement.
This proposed bill is just meant to test the murky waters for now; to gauge the reaction of Nigerians.
If the National Assembly bows to the executive by surrendering some of its powers and aggregating more to the executive, it should expect more demands in the future.
And when the demands come then, the already conceded powers will also act to the detriment of the National Assembly.
It should be noted that the contents of this bill may contain much more salient and hidden proposals craftily hidden from the public domain at the moment.
We should therefore not be carried away by the sugar coated rhetoric making rounds in support of the bill at the moment.
This desire for more powers only hints at the beginning of dictatorship (dictatorships may be good or bad though).
After all, since the coming of this administration, all the policies rolled out so far have only increased the hardship and suffering of Nigerians.
Why should we trust this proposed “Emergency Economy Stabilization Bill 2016” too?