President Muhammadu Buhari’s assertion to unruly legislators last Wednesday that the world was watching them was one of the most poignant utterances from him in recent times.
The declaration may at the end of his presidency rival with his inauguration declaration that he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody.
Last Wednesday’s assertion flowed from the most dramatic budget presentation session since the advent of the Fourth Republic.
The presentation saw critics and supporters of the president boo and cheer him as he laid down his financial proposals for the next year.
It was not surprising that the traditional vote of thanks during which the speaker of the House of Representatives compliments the president was cut off as the president was stampeded out of the House. Unfortunately for the president, the unruly legislators who dared to boo him cannot be prosecuted like the rights activist, Deji Adeyanju who had the audacity to carry out a public demonstration and raise allegations against high government officials.
That is because the legislators are vested with parliamentary immunity. The events of last Wednesday were undoubtedly a breach of the traditions that go with budget presentation.
In many democracies, budget presentations are accorded a solemnity that is normally absent during feisty parliamentary proceedings.
In the United Kingdom, it is accompanied with grace and grandeur that sees Her Majesty; the Queen roll out financial plans of her government’s ministers. Nigeria has also aped some of the grandeur with traditional rolling out of the red carpets for the president, mounted troops of the brigade of guards and all such.
That tradition was something that was broken by President Goodluck Jonathan who following the removal of his hardworking special adviser on National Assembly, Senator Joy Emodi in 2013, lost liver to come to the National Assembly to lay the 2014 and 2015 budgets of the Federal Government. Finally, Saraki speaks hours after Buhari presented 2019 Budget Before the Jonathan cabal removed Emodi, she had regularly worked on the legislators to be courteous to the president despite their well-pronounced differences with him.
Just like Jonathan, President Buhari had lately been seriously at odds with the legislators. It is a matter of record that the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government is at its worst since the advent of the Fourth Republic. Unlike Jonathan who lost only the speaker of the House to the opposition party, President Buhari had lost the two presiding officers of the National Assembly to the opposition party.
By tradition, the president is welcomed on arrival for the budget presentation at the foyer of the National Assembly building by the Deputy Senate President and the Deputy Speaker of the House. That is because, at that time, the Senate President and the Speaker are expected to be seated on the dais on his arrival.
Buhari has had the unusual situation of being welcomed by Senator Ike Ekweremadu, until lately, the highest political office holder in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Buhari and his close associates are said to have been embittered by the fact that a PDP chieftain occupies such a sensitive position as deputy Senate President.
Given the bitterness and bad blood between the two branches of government, it had even been reported that the president would not be laying the 2019 budget and would rather dispatch it. Subsidy on, as Buhari presents N8.8trn budget Buhari, however, braved it and not surprisingly ran into the expected storm laid for him by his foes in the National Assembly.
The jury is still out there on whether the legislators who heckled the president were right or wrong. The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, has condemned the action while the opposition PDP claimed it was reflective of what it claims as the unpopularity of the president.
Willy-nilly, Buhari’s bold response in the midst of the jeers was to tell the legislators that the world was watching. The eye of the world on Nigeria is a fact that must be brought to bear on all political actors. Legislators jeering the president of the country in the midst of the most solemn executive session of the year must learn to increase their patience.
For President Buhari, on whose desk the buck stops, the claim is also one that he must bear into consideration as he approaches the most testing period of his life.
The president must know that the focus of the world is on him as he navigates the landmines and temptations to return himself to power. If he goes about it by hook or crook, and by that, despoil the valuable accompaniment of integrity he came with to office in 2015, his legacy would have been greatly messed up.