8 months ago


Vanguard Newspaper 15 April 2018


PAGE 30 — SUNDAY VANGUARD, APRIL 15, 2018 Buhari: The limits of his powers A dams Oshiomole, former President of the Nigerian Labour Council (NLC), and immediate past governor of Edo State has called on the Federal Government to “deal ruthlessly with looters” of the national treasury. The reports of Oshiomole’s statement carried in the Nigerian newspapers variously led with this headline “Buhari should deal ruthlessly with looters.” My problem is, I do not know exactly if Oshiomole is actually conflating the president with the Federal Government of Nigeria. The president is Head of the executive branch of the federal government, and thus head of state, since the executive is that branch of government that is constitutionally mandated to manage the executive functions of the state by the act of the federation. The executive is however not the “Federal Government of Nigeria.” It is a branch of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The powers of the Federal government of Nigeria are distributed to three institutions of government: the Executive branch, the Legislature, and the Judiciary, which when constituted jointly, is the Federal government. The Federal government is joined, according to the principles of Federalism, by 36 states and a Federal Territory, each with its separate government, to constitute the federation of Nigeria. Under military rule, the institutions that constituted the republic were whittled down, and extreme power was concentrated on the executive power of the Military Head of state. The constitution that restored democracy apparently did not fully restore the “republic” as the president was endowed under what Nigerians must see as a transitional constitution with enormous, perhaps in fact extraordinary powers which has made the office seem almost an absolute authority. But even given all that, the basic frame of the constitution restored the sovereign will of the federation to the Legislature or Parliament of the land, constituted in Nigeria under the National Assembly, which is empowered to make all laws, including appropriation and spending laws, and approve all budgets, including all extra-budgetary spendings, to the extent that it is considered treasonable act for the executive to violate the finance laws as enacted by the National Assembly. And if the president breaks that law, and spends outside of the budget act, he is liable for impeachment and prosecution. That is what actually is called “corruption.” To break the laws as enacted or as amended by the constituted Assembly of the land, which has the constitutional power and obligation to scrutinize and query the president on the conduct of the state, especially on the financial conduct of the state, and the conduct of war, or the use of emergency powers. The president has no powers under the law to deploy the military anywhere in the federation, or commence war, without the authority of the National Assembly. That is why the military operation “operation Python Dance” in the East, which was conducted without the authority of the National Assembly is an act in defiance of the constitution, and of the Legislature of the land, and this president must be sanctioned for it. In any case, the Legislature is possibly the most powerful institution of the state, for unless the Legislature says to the executive, “spend” can it spend, and failing which an impeachment proceeding, and prosecution. It is actually within the powers of the National Assembly, to strip the president of his powers and his immunity, and to enact a law, permitting a Public Prosecutor to investigate the office of the President of the Federation, or constitute a committee of the Senate to examine the conduct of the president within the given ambit of the law. The most powerful security apparatus of the land is not, and should not by law be, the office of the National Security Adviser. That office is only part of the Presidential advisorate, and functions under the budget of the presidency. It is not designed to be an operational body. The most powerful security outfit of the Federation ought to be the Nigeria Police, properly established, funded, and motivated. Policing is the means by which democracies survive. It requires institutional authority of the kind that makes its leadership loyal to the constitution, and not to the president. It is the police, properly established, recruited, and trained that secures the republic. It is the Police through its Criminal Investigations Directorate that anticipates the onset of a crime – including such high crimes as financial crimes – investigates, gathers unimpeachable evidence, and prepares a case for the prosecutorial arm of government, the Department of Public Prosecution of the Ministry of Justice. The function of the Police is to enforce the acts of parliament, not the orders of the president. This is the fundamental contradiction of the Nigerian state. And this is why there have been massive looting and corruption in the The function of the Police is to enforce the acts of parliament, not the orders of the president. This is the fundamental contradiction of the Nigerian state. And this is why there have been massive looting and corruption in the state system state system: the Nigerian police enforces the order of the president, not the acts of parliament. Corruption in Nigeria emanates from the Executive authority, and the enormous powers that has been vested to it by this transitional constitution, makes it dangerous and unaccountable. It threatens the national security of Nigeria. That the Nigerian National Assembly has not exercised its powers, adequately, and appropriately in their defence of Nigeria, since the return of democratic government makes it complicit in the corruption of Nigeria. It began with President Obasanjo’s intrigues in 1999 to impose leadership on the National Assembly “from the throne.” When the late Chuba Okadigbo finally became president of the senate, and tried to establish legislative independence and control, it threatened Obasanjo’s own agenda, and he had to be schemed out. Nigerians kept quiet. The weakening of the Nigerian parliament began from that moment and it is the greatest tragedy of the transition to democracy. Nigerians fought for democracy in order to re-establish the parliament, the symbol of the republic, and of the power of the people to regulate the functions and operations of their elected government, and that is why it is a little heartening that the Saraki-Ekweremadu-Dogara National Assembly is securing a little more backbone for the lawmakers. Last week, news reports claimed that the President had “approved” $1 billion for the procurement of arms at a National Executive Meeting. Perhaps the president still imagines himself running an Armed Forces Ruling Council, where he could just come out with a number, and get approval, and “ba kwomi!” This, however, is an elected, constitutional government, where the president’s job is not to approve spending. He “proposes” expenditure, and sends it to those whom the constitution have given the power of the purse of the Nation: Legislators, who debate, cut, or decide to approve or not approve any further military procurement to that tune. It is not within the rights of the president to approve expenses. Those fall under the schedule of the National Assembly. And I am glad that the president of the senate reminded him that precisely. He cannot direct the Treasury to release money that he does not have. The finance committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the National Security Committee, and the general committee of both Chambers of the National Assembly will have to debate, and ascertain by their own methods, whether that money would be approved or not, and the means by which bidding for the procurement of arms to that tune would proceed. It is not military rule, Mr. President. Under democracy, the president’s power is limited. And so, again, when Oshiomole says the “President should deal ruthlessly with looters,” one should ask, under which powers can the president deal ruthlessly with looters? The president does not have the power to sentence alleged looters to jail. The president should never even have the power to order the arrest of any citizen. A judge of a properly constituted court should have the power to issue an arrest order and warrant to the police – not a president or a governor, or even the Inspector-General of Police! The Ministry of Justice could prepare a case against alleged looters, and argue it in a properly constituted court, which should then “deal ruthlessly” with whoever is found guilty of “looting” Nigeria’s treasury. It seems Mr. Oshiomole needs to be educated about these little nuances of power, even though as he has claimed, he has “interacted vertically and horizontally with power.” I agree with Oshiomole that looters of the Nigerian treasury should be treated ruthless by law. The question however is: How far should the past go on those who must be dealt with “ruthlessly?” The looting of Nigeria did not afterall begin with the Jonathan administration. Many experts in fact say what happened with Jonathan is a mere tip of the iceberg. The National Assembly must enact the law that would establish the powers of an Independent public Prosecutor to investigate suspected looters. Should they be found to have participated in the looting of Nigeria must be dealt with harshly by the law. No one should be above or beneath it. Only the rule of law can save Nigeria from this quandary. Can Big Brother Russia Save Syria From The “West”? We all know the feeling when we have the assurance of help of a big brother in times of need or troubles. The confidence of knowing that someone is somewhere ready to take on your fight can be very tempting to want to put oneself in crazy situations. I am sure every reader of this article can relate to the peace of mind you have when there is assurance that someone has got your back covered. As individuals, this assurance can and do make us make avoidable mistakes. We cannot deny the fact that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sound and look like a confident leader. However, it will be a wrong assumption if we put the confidence, arrogance and perhaps the suppression of the rights of his people down to his tall or lanky posture. He is a handsome, well-groomed leader, but these are not the reasons why he thinks he can take on the world and win. Al-Assad is confident because he has a big brother Diaspora Matters, with Morak Babajide-Alabi who always fights his corner and making sure the "West" does not ride roughshod him or his country as they would have wished to. The big brother - Russia, led by the hardcore and no-nonsense President Vladimir Putin. This big brother has stood by him in all his fights with the western powers. Unlike the other Arab countries that fell easily to the conspiracy of the West, Syria has managed, through the help of Russia, at least, to temporarily ward off any clearcut conquest. After the Arab Spring revolution a few years ago, and the Western powers were in the quest for more “territories", the spotlight fell on Syria. The “book of remembrance” was opened for Al- Assad and in it were the historical atrocities committed by him and past generations. He was properly scrutinised and according to “western standards” found wanting. To be honest, Al-Assad deserved a permanent seat in the “naughty corner” for what he had done to his people all the years, of which they could not speak out against. Buoyed by the support from the West, a faction of the population found their confidence and started a “revolt”. The uprising, prompted, galvanised and sponsored by the West has claimed many lives without achieving the objective - to depose Al-Assad. It has, however, done irreparable damage to the once peaceful country. As a result, Syria is balkanised among various groups, from religious fanatics to ethnic militias, all fighting to get a strong foothold in their chosen areas. In this melee, the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) sneaked in to claim a territory. The “West” can be much unforgiven when they have their eyes set on a “prize”. Al Assad is the prize in contention right now and there seems to be no respite for him. The Western powers know “when” and “how” to fight, including engaging psychological tactics to achieve victory. They know when to kick below the belt for maximum impact. Now the vultures are circling over Al-Assad, waiting for the right moment to swoop. His overconfidence, as a result of the backing of big brother Russia, could be equated with arrogance. He did not realise the fact that there are times and seasons for everything. The “West” only needed a slip to pounce on him. It is said that who the gods want to destroy they first make mad. The gods got into The “West” can be much unforgiven when they have their eyes set on a “prize”. Al Assad is the prize in contention right now and there seems to be no respite for him Al-Assad’s head last week and prompted him to “gas” his people in Douma, just outside Damascus, with a chemical weapon. It was an opportunity the “West” had been waiting for to go in. The big brother - Russia rose to Syria’s defence, by accusing the “West” of assuming the role of a “global policeman” and also being the “investigators, prosecutors and executioners.” Against reasoning, Russia decried the news of Syria’s chemical weapon as “fake”. Interestingly, a few days after the initial response, still playing big brother, accused the United Kingdom of “masterminding” the chemical attack in Douma. An allegation the British government has described as ridiculous. Right now big brother Russia has a lot of “personal” issues to worry about. Russia’s antics of throwing the spanner in the wheel of global progress has now attained a new low in international diplomacy. The country is battling to clear its name on the attempted murder of double agent Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia on the streets of Salisbury. Although the accusation against the state on the use of a chemical agent to poison the two seems to be falling apart, the reverberating effect on the country’s image has been gargantuan. Putin, elected for a record six-year as President a few weeks ago, has more on his mind than victory celebrations. He has his back against the world as a number of countries, led by Great Britain expelled his diplomats as fallout from the Skripals’ poisoning. On Syria, the US President Donald Trump in his blunt manner warned - “get ready Russia because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart,’” in reaction to a Russian diplomat’s threat to the US, after the Syria gas attack on Douma. If the various expulsions and condemnations are not clear signs to the Russians that they are doing something wrong, then they surely need a total "overhaul" of their senses. Seriously, if Putin and his men (women) have any atom of shame, they should have offered themselves as sacrifices to their gods for being foolish to thread the path of isolation in this day and age. Who is going to save Syria? Who will stand up for Al-Assad? The “West” realises Russia’s big Brother influence is weakened, as they have managed to distract it. Therefore there is no better time to go for Al-Assad’s jugular than now. The country is on fire, as Trump ordered air attack on Al-Assad’s “chemical weapon bases”. He said: “I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” in an address at the White House. He continued: "The nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshalled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality." Britain and France confirmed their participation in the commencement of the air strikes on Syria yesterday. UK Prime Minister Theresa May summoned her cabinet on Thursday to decide on what to do with Syria. No decision was made public, but as it turned out, she probably got a go-ahead to join in the bombardment. She justified her action by saying there was "no practicable alternative to the use of force", but emphasised it was not all about regime change. Big brother Russia condemned the attack, warning that it was an "act of aggression" that will exacerbate humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.” It has warned of consequences, as another big brother, Iran, added its voice of condemnation to the strikes. Is Syria on course to becoming another failed nation like Libya? Will the west, as usual, go in, “break” it down, and leave it on its knees? Will this be an unending circle in diplomacy? Are these allies thinking of the humanitarian catastrophes (refugees, homelessness etc), as warned by Russia? For the US and allies, there is the reason to act on the side of caution. C M YK

SUNDAY VANGUARD, APRIL 15, 2018, PAGE 31 By Yetunde Arebi She bestrode the world of labour journalism like a colossus. For three decades, Funmi Komolafe’s professional career won her awards from the labour movement. However, the Zenith came recently when, in a ceremony to mark its 40th anniversary, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) recognised Komolafe’s distinguished contributions to union activism. Sunday Vanguard spoke to the former labour editor on the award and the state of the labour movement in Nigeria You have been recognised by the Nigerian Labour Congress alongside other people. What was the award for? Funmi Komolafe: The award was in recognition of one’s contributions to the emancipation of workers’ rights, working women’s rights, child and maternal issues and general workplace issues. I was the only journalist that was given the award and this is the first time the NLC has ever given that kind of award to anyone. It was organised to mark the 40th anniversary of the NLC. It came as a surprise because if it had come to me when I was working full-time as a journalist, it may have been insinuated that I had been compromised. But it is coming after I left full-time practice. So, I find this very significant and very special. However, I must say that before this award, I had got many others, from Benue State NLC; Food and Beverages Senior Staff Association; PENGASSAN, etc. But this coming from the central labour organisation makes it very unique. An award was also given to Tunji Oyeleru posthumously. Oyeleru was Vanguard’s ace photo journalist who died in a road accident while on a labour assignment. Looking back, I want to acknowledge the fact that I worked in a place where one was allowed to work to the best of one’s ability. In other words, kudos also goes to my employers because I believe that this award came more as a reward for the work I did. This feat couldn’t have come cheap. What would you say were your peculiar challenges while on the job? Funmi Komolafe: There were so many challenges. I am sure you will remember that I was almost killed by irate workers in Lagos State during a strike. I give God the glory that I did not get the award posthumously. Journalism itself is quite challenging. It is not the best of job for women, but it is also a very interesting job. You must be committed to the profession; you must keep your integrity; that is very important. Let me say that while reporting, most of the time, sources want to use you to achieve their own objectives. As a journalist, you must be able to distinguish between fact and fiction; you must be able to save yourself from being used by people with selfish interests. Once you do that, you are able to keep your professional integrity. And it makes people respect you more. When you begin to ask for ‘brown envelope’ or gratification or anything from anybody, you lose respect from your sources and compromise your professional integrity. I give God all the glory because working and covering labour for 30 years, I never had a single libel case against me. Someone once took us to court for a story I wrote but Irate workers nearly killed me during a strike — Funmi Komolafe, award-winning former labour editor • Says Nigeria left her flanks too open •Funmi Komolafe’ the court asked, ‘What is the business of Vanguard in this case? Somebody issued a press statement and Vanguard published it. So, what’s the issue?’ And the case was struck out. I never went to court and I never caused the newspaper to be sued for libel. But it leads me to an important point, and it is important to journalism too. These days when I read some stories in newspapers, I ask myself, ‘Did these stories pass through a news editor? Did they pass through an editor?’ I think journalism should not be an all-comers’ affair. I believe that anyone who must practice journalism must go to a school of journalism even if only for one year. Because people don’t seem to appreciate the laws of libel, they think because you are a journalist, you can publish anything. No, it is not in all cases that you publish and be damned. You may be the damned if you don’t adhere to the rules of the profession. I also found out that a lot of people are ignorant. They don’t know where to draw the line between what is libellous and what is not. You can’t be in a hurry to make headlines. If you make headlines today and your paper is sued for N20m tomorrow for libel, what is the gain? Apart from your reputation being put on the line, you also put that of the paper. But I must say that covering labour was not easy, it was not a tea party affair. Labour is some kind of politics on its own. Different perspectives have split the labour movement ideological camps. You have to weigh the two sides to the story before taking a position; and you must take the position based on principle and not what benefits you as what benefits you as a person may not be in the interest of the people you are protecting or the employers. It was very tough as you have to work with colleagues in the newsroom. And some editors are very hostile to labour. But I think the case of Vanguard is special. Vanguard remains the top paper as far as labour reporting is concerned because I know that the publisher believes in a vibrant trade union. He believes that trade unions are among the pillars of democracy; otherwise you will have a government that would take people for a ride. If you remember the many strikes of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole: the anti-deregulation strike, the fuel price hike strike, these were not strikes based on wage issues but on economic issues; they were based on political decisions that had economic impact on workers and their families. So, covering labour gives one a wide perspective. But, again, you have to read the history of labour movement, apply it, take your time studying labour leaders, their ideologies, and when they go wrong, you will be able to say they are wrong. Let’s look at things from the female angle. Given your 30 years’ experience in labour reporting, how far will you say the Nigerian woman has gone in labour struggle? Funmi Komolafe: Oh, they have gone a long way. It could be better though. Nigeria is one of the countries that have ratified conventions to end discrimination at work. In other words, what is takes to be a man is what it takes to be a woman in Nigeria as long as you are doing the same job. We have also signed the Maternity Rights Convention which entitles the woman to go on maternity leave and still earn her pay. I remember the position labour took when First Bank decided to sack couples working for the bank. The bank had given couples working for it the option that one of them must resign. The organised labour took it up. I remember that I discussed with some of the then labour leaders: Who would be the victim? It is the woman because the man would say ‘let me go on, you stay at home’. But for the fact that the organised labour fought against it, First Bank would have gone ahead to do it. NLC rose against it to say that these are individuals who may have met in the bank and got married. ‘You may keep them at different branches, but not to say one must resign for the other. Considering the type of society we are, it is the woman that will be affected’. So far, I think we have done well. Nigeria is a respected member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). We have ratified the Child’s Right Law, we are not in support of child labour and you can’t find anybody under 18 years employed in public institutions. Neither will you find such in private institutions. Nigeria has done well, but we can do better. A lot of people believe that labour unionism is dead or lost its poignancy with the exit of Comrade Oshiomhole. What is your take? F u n m i Komolafe: I won’t say so, although I must admit that d u r i n g Oshiomhole’s time, labour was very vibrant. But, again, it depends on t h e government of the day and the leadership. Different people have different styles. Some people prefer the I am sure you will remember that I was almost killed by irate workers in Lagos State during a strike. I give God the glory that I did not get the award posthumously military style. In this present administration, the strike embarked was not successful because it was a new government. However, sectorial strikes have been going on. They may not evolve into national strikes, but then discussion on the National Minimum Wage is on-going. So, we will see how it goes. If government behaves responsibly, then there will not be need for any strike. We need to explore other avenues before a national strike is declared. So, I insist that the union is not in sleeping mode but things could be better. Presently, there are no issues to necessitate a national strike. Maybe that is why we have relative peace. But unionism is not only about strikes. Apart from the National Minimum Wage, what else does the labour union do for Nigerian workers? Funmi Komolafe: Don’t forget that the primary responsibility is to union members and not to the general public. So they have their machinery. Workplace issues are being discussed. Recently, NLC put pressure on President Buhari not to sign the African Free Trade Agreement. And I support it wholeheartedly. I think what the president did is right. If the agreement was signed, more people are going to lose their jobs here and we will be creating jobs elsewhere. This is what happened when Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was introduced and our borders were thrown open and all sorts of imported goods came in and our factories died. We have never recovered from that. We are all patronizing goods from abroad, some of which are not necessarily better than ours. I think the problem is that the cost of production in Nigeria is very high compared to so many African countries because our companies cannot produce at optimal levels. I think labour acted very well to protest and the protest made the president to abandon the agreement. That is why I am surprised that the manufacturing industry is asking the president to review it when it is not in the interest of workers and business. We must put our house in order to protect jobs. For instance in China, foreigners are not allowed to open retail shops. If you open a retail shop, you must not be seen there. You must hire a Chinese who will be doing the business. There are some Nigerian restaurants there but the people serving the food are the Chinese. We have left our flanks too open. C M Y K