On Tuesday, January 30th, 2018, the President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, delivered a lecture at the National Defence College, Abuja on ‘Separation of Powers and National Security in Nigeria.’ Saraki explained why Nigerians need to understand the doctrines and principles behind ‘Trias Politica’ — otherwise known as separation of powers, as it directly affects the way that they are governed.
These are 10 major highlights from his speech.
1. ON HIS PERSPECTIVE OF THE DOCTRINE OF ‘SEPARATION OF POWERS’ “I may have a fairly involved perspective on Separation of Powers in Nigeria at this historical moment. Therefore, I take it as a point of duty to share my insights on the broad theme, and then – with any luck – to anchor those insights in the intersection between the doctrine as applicable in Nigeria, and the hot button issue of National Security. It is my hope that this lecture will serve as a timely reminder regarding the core principles of Separation of Powers. For it does appear, on occasion, as though we are in need of reminding, in order to better appreciate just how pivotal the doctrine is to our system of government, to democracy – and crucially in these testy times – to national security. I say this because we seem to be labouring under a serious misapprehension on that front.”
2. ON THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY NOT BEING A ‘RUBBER STAMP’ “For one, it jars when the National Assembly strives to carry out its legislative functions as mandated by the Constitution, only to be met with discordant tunes or administrative intransigence. I am not certain that we are sufficiently mindful of the simple fact that the National Assembly is not some rubber-stamp of executive action. Quite the contrary, the Legislature is a co-equal of the Executive and the Judiciary.”
3. ON THE RULE OF LAW “…our Presidential system has at its core the principle of ‘Trias Politica’ – otherwise known as Separation of Powers, the corollary of which is the Rule of Law. We hear the Rule of Law cited often enough – many like to pay lip service to it but only a precious few demonstrate the commitment to truly uphold it. But what exactly is the Rule of Law? What does it do, what does it include, and what does it occlude?”… we must do everything in our power enthrone the Rule of Law, whatever the dispensation.
4. ON CHECKS AND BALANCES “…each organ of government can only act within the ambit allowed by the Constitution. As the 19th century English politician, Lord Acton, declared, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No self-respecting secondary school student of Government will ever forget that immortal line. But, I am saying, this is precisely the reason why we have Separation of Powers: to ensure accountability, prevent autocracy and dictatorship; and to uphold freedoms. For where there is autocracy or dictatorship, there can be no freedom. In view of the corrupting nature of power, therefore, it becomes necessary for power to be checked by power in order to enthrone freedom and liberty.”
5. ON WHY CHECKS AND BALANCES ARE IMPORTANT IN NIGERIA TODAY “Separation of Powers and the concomitant Checks and Balances enable the Legislature to ensure that national security is properly maintained for peace and development – and for the public good. I make bold to say that this function of the Legislature becomes even more of an imperative at the present time in which restiveness and agitation seem to be omnipresent. Through its interpretation of laws and administration of the system of justice, the Judiciary also exercises Checks and Balances on the other two arms of government – just as the Judiciary itself is subject to similar from its co-equals.”
6. ON THE CONFIRMATIONS OF EXECUTIVE NOMINEES “The refusal of the Senate to confirm certain nominees of Mr. President has drawn undeserved ire in many quarters; these are people who misconstrue the role of the legislative arm, because we are perfectly within our bounds under the Nigerian constitution. In any case, if the Senate confirms two nominees and rejects one –should we be seen as attacking the Executive? Or, should we not ask whether there are weighty questions to answer on the part of the nominee? Why is the Legislature vilified when the occasional nominee fails to scale through?”
7. ON WHY POWER IS VESTED IN DIFFERENT ARMS OF GOVERNMENT “We really should ask ourselves the tough questions, rather than parroting the fallacy about the Legislature not playing along with the Executive. Ask yourself what kind of democracy we would have if all powers resided solely in one arm of government. That is why I sometimes marvel at the hypocrisy of some vociferous voices who claim that they are fighting for democracy and yet they keep quiet when one arm of government repeatedly imposes its will on the judgement of a co-equal arm of government.”
8. ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE LEGISLATURE AND THE EXECUTIVE “The joint presentation of the Budget to both Houses, now done for two years in a row, is evidence of cordiality between the two arms of government. This is the way forward. After all, when there is a cold war between two arms of government, who loses out? The country loses out – in terms of stability, governance, development, peace and security. We must also always keep in mind the fact that the ultimate Check and Balance is exercised by one party – the people – at the ballot box.”
9. ON GOVERNANCE BEING ABOUT INSTITUTIONS, NOT INDIVIDUALS “I repeat, it is not about the individual; it is about the institution if we are to ensure the survival of our democracy. Therefore, the constitution itself has made provision for the process of the removal or appointment of the leadership of these institutions, in order to ensure that the integrity of the institution remains inviolable. The key purpose here is not the protection of the individuals who occupy these offices temporarily but rather, the protection of our democratic norms.”
10. ON WHY HE WILL CONTINUE TO FIGHT FOR THE SEPARATION OF POWERS “We cannot have it both ways. I always say that, today, we have an honest and transparent President – but it is no reason not to defend the principles of Separation of Powers – for who is to say what the next occupier of that office will be like? We fight today with an eye on posterity, in order that the future may be more assured. Therefore, I charge you all to go and learn as much as you can about the doctrine of Separation of Powers and its implications for leadership, governance, democracy and national security.”