Has GEJ breached the Constitution?

by Adebola Rayo

The past few weeks have caused many Nigerians to raise eyebrows at the actions of the government. It is perhaps time to ask if the Constitution is still the grund-norm, if the country is under the rule of law or the rule of the president and the members of his cabinet.

There are laid down procedures for making most important decisions but the president of the country seems to have thrown away regard for procedure and instead taken to making what are more like proclamations.

From the removal of fuel subsidy, to the declaration of state of emergency in some parts of the country, the deployment of soldiers in other parts and, most recently, the unilateral fixing of the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit by the president, questions have been raised as to the constitutionality of a lot of his recent actions.

Determining who exactly has the power to fix the price of fuel, and in conjunction with who the power should be exercised, is proving to be a bit tricky, with lawyers like Gabriel Giwa-Amu insisting that the President has no power to make the decision alone and others relying on the PPPRA Act , which provides that the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA)  was established to determine the pricing policy of petroleum products and since the PPPRA is under the Minister of Petroleum, it is implied that the power is an executive one.

Some oil and gas experts are of the opinion that fuel subsidy removal is a “necessary evil” because if market prices are not freed, the sector cannot attract investors and the refineries will remain comatose.

That was supposed to be the point of the deregulation of the downstream sector but that aim has been defeated. The government is still setting the price of oil.

Personally, there are two things that concern me and the first is what exactly the president did, how he arrived at the new pump price. Does it mean that fuel subsidy is still in place but the pump price of PMS has been increased? Or does it mean that a certain percentage of the subsidy has been removed? It seems like a bit of abracadabra happened there.

The other concern, which goes to the issue of constitutionality, is the disregard of the president for the National Assembly.

Both chambers of the National Assembly, at separate times, resolved that the price of PMS be reverted to N65 and passed on same resolutions to the president but he ignored them.

This is worrisome. Is the legislative suddenly powerless to the point where its resolutions are ignored by the president? It will be recalled that the issue of the fuel subsidy removal was still before the National Assembly for debate when the president went ahead to announce the removal.

Jonathan is making decisions as though the executive is the only arm of government. Yet, listening to ministers over the last few weeks, one gets the impression that they don’t really know what they are doing.

“I am not aware” and “I don’t know” are two statements that frequently proceed from the mouths of members of Goodluck’s cabinet when asked questions about the ministries they oversee. What then are they overseeing if outsiders know better than they do, what goes on in their ministries. Also, based on what projections or knowledge are they making decisions and giving advice to the president?

Only today, Okonjo-Iweala said she did not know that her ministry was supposed to be a sitting member of the PPPRA, and I am sure Nigerians have not forgotten Diezani’s cluelessness before the Senate committee last year. These set of people should not be trusted to make decisions.

The National Assembly should take a stand, else they will soon find that their resolutions are consistently flouted and the only thing they will be good for is passing laws which don’t really address any need in the country, like the anti-gay bill.

No single arm of government should wield all the power and disregard the others. Jonathan has repeatedly said that he is determined to make a change and earn the trust of the people; the way to go about it is not flouting laws and taking actions that he is not constitutionally empowered to.

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