As leaders of the executive and legislative arms of government discuss how to interact better as co-equal arms of government, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has said collaborating to serve the people at all times must be put above what he described as “procedural niceties”.
Prof Osinbajo spoke after several sessions at the two-day retreat which reviewed the challenges of the relationship and interdependence between both arms of government.
According to the Vice President while closing the Executive-Legislature Retreat at the Presidential Villa, “…every generation of leadership must understand the context. Law itself must be interpreted and implemented in context. What is the reality of the context that we operate in today? We all know, our nation has millions of extremely poor people, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened unemployment and poverty.
“We have huge deficits in infrastructure, many children are out of school. If that is our context, we will be callous and irresponsible if we don’t come together, work together to sort out these grave life-threatening problems our people have to confront every day. The dogmatic emphasis on procedural niceties is a luxury we cannot afford.”
Emphasizing the need to always uphold service to the people above procedures that could hinder progress and the delivery of the people’s welfare, the Vice President said “…it is time to focus on what we have been elected or appointed to do. This is the welfare of our people.”
Professor Osinbajo added that “the law and practice as between parliament and executive is a means to an end not an end to itself. The means must not jeopardize the end. Our people just want food on their table, shelter over their heads, clothing on their bodies, healthcare, and education for their children & themselves.”
Making reference to practices in other climes to which Nigeria’s system is often compared to, the Vice President said “…there is no pure practice of the doctrine of separation of powers.”
Said he: “The Anglo American traditions that we hold on to in support of the separation of powers are not pure. For example, the US Vice President serves as the president of the Senate and presides over the Senate’s daily proceedings. In the absence of the Vice President, the Senate’s president pro tempore (and others designated by him) presides. As one of the Senate’s constitutional officers, only the Vice President has the authority to cast a tie-breaking vote.
“So, even in the country that has the most advanced jurisprudence on the separation of powers, they are wise enough to provide for a concrete bridge between the executive and the legislature.
“In the UK, the convention is that every Minister must be a member of the House of Commons or the House of Lords and every Minister must be a Legislator. So, if that were in Nigeria, all the Ministers would be either Senators or members of the House of Representatives. So, these countries we look up to, recognize that any strict separation of powers will impede development, impede governance, and shortchange the people.”
He said an effective system is one where “the good legislator or good minister is not the one who is waving the law, and procedure, and doctrines, it is the one who says the spirit of our Constitution is that we secure the maximum welfare, freedom, and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity.”
Continuing, the Vice President said, “the good legislator and minister is the one who will do all in his or her power to serve the needs of our people, even if it means walking the fine lines between the law and reality.”
President Muhammadu Buhari had at the opening of the retreat called for an effective synergy between the various arms of government especially between the executive and legislative arms of governments, in order to deliver good governance, in the interest of the people.
The two-day retreat featured a number of panel discussions with participants drawn from both the private and public sectors, including former federal legislators, serving State governors, and members of the Executive and Legislative arms of the Federal Government.