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Awakening Hope in the Nigerian Project:
The Role of the Executive

By
Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN,
Hon. Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice

It gives me great pleasure to participate in this epoch-making event which marks the formal inauguration of the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF), a non-partisan, non-governmental and development-oriented organization established to bring about attitudinal changes in our society with a view to enthroning justice and improving the quality of lives of our people. The organization also hopes to contribute meaningfully to the awakening of hope in the Nigerian project by promoting changes that can make the county the pride of the black race and the haven of all that is good and decent.

I consider the initiative behind this Foundation not only salutary but also worthy of emulation. A man of profound achievements as Hon. Justice Akanbi (CFR), who has attained the peak of his career and highly advanced in age could have been content with retiring into a private life of ease and comfort. He would have been justified to do so and choose not to do any work for the rest of his life. He would be justified to beat his chest and argue that; “ I have paid my dues to the country”. Even after his official retirement as President of the Court of Appeal, his Lordship was recalled by Mr. President to serve as the pioneering Chairman of the ICPC. His Lordship laid a solid foundation for the Commission and left indelible footprints on the sands of time.

Yet his Lordship is determined to remain in the vanguard of the struggle to build a greater nation and help give succour to all and open up new vistas for the development of Nigeria and the world at large. His Lordship has come up with this Foundation, which is a veritable platform of service to enable him to continue to serve humanity.

I congratulate Your Lordships for this and I hope that everyone here present would support this initiative not only in kind but also in cash. You can be rest assured that every donation towards the MAF is a worthwhile investment in the future of this country.

Let me now speak briefly on ‘The Role of the Executive in awakening hope in the Nigerian project’. The Executive may simply be described as the hub of the wheel of the Presidential system of government. The framers of the 1999 Nigerian constitution deliberately established for the country an executive that is both strong and centrally placed not only to initiate and implement government projects, but also to coordinate the activities of the other arms of government, namely the Legislative and Judicial arms. Whether at the Federal, state or local government level, it is the executive that dictates the tempo of government and the speed with which development occurs.

It is therefore apt to re-examine the extent to which the holders of executive positions at all levels of government understand the enormity of the powers and responsibilities bestowed upon them by the Constitution. By creating this intellectual platform for such re-examination, this inaugural symposium is making an important contribution to the search for good governance and development in our great country.

It is noteworthy that there is no definition of executive powers in the Constitution. This appears to be a deliberate omission because of the difficulty of giving a precise definition to all executive functions under the Constitution.

However, we may briefly outline the specific functions of the executive arm of government thus:

  1. Budget Preparation
  2. Initiation of development projects
  3. Execution and maintenance of the Constitution and laws made by the Natyional Assembly
  4. Preserving, protecting and defending the territorial integrity of the nation, and ensuring stability and security, and
  5. Carrying on the business of governance in all ramifications including conducting international relations.

It is axiomatic that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The surest avenue to bad governance is the concentration of power in any arm of government. It is equally true however, that a weak and powerless executive is the handmaiden of bad governance. Our Constitution provides for a strong executive with controlled powers. Sections 4,5 and 6 of the Constitution ensure clear division of power amongst the there organs of government. There is no doubt however that the executive wields overbearing powers enjoys a huge majority in the legislative assembly. For instance, both the legislature and the judiciary in many states of the Federation have ban rendered impotent by overbearing executive power. This does not augur well for the development of the country.

The reawakening of hope in the Nigerian project demands an Executive that must be well informed and technically competent to perform its functions under the constitution. It must also be ready to work hand-in-hand with the other arms of government in a purposeful and well-coordinated manner. It must eschew every form of lawlessness and abuse of office. While a strong executive may be necessary, for effective administration, care must be taken to ensure that the executive does not become autocratic, particularly in states where the Chief Executive belong to a party with majority in the state assembly. Only the judiciary is therefore left to curtail the excesses of the executive. The extent to which the judiciary is able to perform this Herculean task is dependent on the extent of independence it enjoys. Democracy suffers a serious setback where an Executive Governor who enjoys absolute control over the legislature also has the Chief Judge on his side.

It seems that in addition to the checks and balances provided in the Constitution, the following factors are necessary to ensure the success of the executive arm and help to promote good governance in the country:

  1. Forthright and God-fearing leadership- this kind of leadership puts the interest of the masses above selfish interests and personal ambition. The leader willingly submits to the principles of transparency and accountability.
  2. Cooperation vis-à-vis the other arms of government-Government is carried on as a team. There is cooperation without compromising the principles of fairness and justice. The common aspiration is to promote the welfare of the common man.
  3. Sound knowledge and professional competence- Gone must be the day of ‘professional politicians’ whose only known qualification is ‘party membership’. In recruiting office holders, we must ensure that we put ‘round pegs in round holes’. The remarkable success achieved by the Obasanjo administration is due to the fact that the President deliberately looked out for ‘competent hands’ not necessarily ‘politicians’ or ‘party members’ to occupy important positions.
  4. Courage and sincerity of purpose- This demands that political office holders must be ready to shun cheap popularity and have the courage to pursue tough measures which are sometimes needed to solve national problems; and
  5. Spirit of Constitutionalism - Above all, the spirit of constitutionalism is required on the part of the executive in particular for democracy to thrive and take root. A situation of constitution without the supporting ethos and juridical traditions of respect for the rule of law may be likened to a building without foundation. The sustenance of constitutions and consolidation of democracy is often dependent on the willingness of politicians to adhere to the unwritten principles of statesmanship and constitutionalism without which the letters of the constitution are often of little force.

In order to reawaken hope in the Nigerian project, we must ensure that the above factors are taken into consideration in the election and appointment of office holders in the country. We should never elect or appoint people into positions on the basis of tribal, religions or other sentimental considerations. The Federal character principle should be applied in such a manner that competent people would be chosen from all over the country. When this is done, the nation would continue to move forward and hope would be reawakened in every sector of the national economy.

Let us therefore support the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF), which promises to be an agency for ensuring that governmental power is not abused but utilized to promote justice, good governance and development in the country. On that note, I wish this Foundation a successful inauguration and fruitful symposium.

Thank you for listening.

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