After claiming authority to order the states to heed his directives on reopening the country, President Donald Trump of the United States on Thursday pulled back in seeming realization of the limitations of his powers.
President Trump, who has been generally reputed as the most imperious president in recent American political history, had last Monday at a press briefing at the Rose Garden, said: “I have the ultimate authority.”
Trump was subsequently forced to explain himself, saying, “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be. … It’s total. The governors know that” the president said.
His assertion immediately raised eyebrows not just from the fiercely independent governors but also from constitutional advocates who saw President Trump’s assertion as a violation of the constitutional relationship between the states and the Federal Government.
After two days of savage attacks, even from his normally loyal praise choir in the Republican Party, the president was forced to have a rethink on Thursday.
At the evening press conference, he said he would work with the governors towards reopening the country.
President Trump’s desperation to reopen the country was well understandable. Until the coronavirus attack, he had repeatedly boasted about the economic successes achieved by the country, which he laid as the handiwork of his economic blueprint.
President Trump’s realization of his helplessness in ordering the governors around would, however, come as strange to many Nigerians who see the governors as errand boys of the Nigerian president.
Nigerian Governor And Presidents
With the notable exception of some few governors in recent times, Nigerian governors have almost always pandered and submitted to the whims and caprices of the president.
The exceptions in recent times have been Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who stood up to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nyesom Wike and Ayodele Fayose who separately stood up to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Governor Wike for instance last February in the midst of his fight with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, openly declared that he stopped attending the National Economic Council, NEC meeting that is presided over by the vice-president.
Before Wike, Fayose and Tinubu had also shown similar contempt for Abuja by not attending statutory meetings. Instead, they sent surrogates, especially deputies, to stand in for them.
But they were the exceptions in a country which is believed to have the most powerful president in the world even compared with the United States president.
Wike Doesn’t Take Orders From Abuja
Governor Wike may have underlined his position as one of Nigeria’s most independent governors with the recent arrest of the crew and cabin of a Caverton helicopter which violated his executive order against movement into the state.
The arrest and prosecution of the men was despite the assertions of the minister of aviation, Haidi Sariki that the men would be freed.
Wike on Thursday went on to further buttress the powers of a state governor on Thursday with the arrest of officials of Exxon Mobil who entered the state despite his executive order.
Speaking to journalists yesterday on the brewing crisis between him and Abuja, the governor said:
“I don’t take order from Abuja but from Rivers people. If they want to work with me they should come, I will not go and beg them. If they want war we will fight and I will make sure people of Rivers State are protected from coronavirus.”
Wike seems to be an exception among Nigeria’s governors who across political persuasions are almost always ready to succumb to the entreaties of the president.
POWER OF THE PURSE
Just over two years ago, President Trump looked askance as the United States Congress under the leadership of the Democrats closed down the government for a record 33 days between December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019.
It was the longest government shut-down in American history.
The close-down was because the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives did not reach an agreement with President Trump on funding the government.
Faced with similar situations in Nigeria, presidents over time from President Obasanjo to President Buhari have ignored the National Assembly and drawn funds for whatever they liked.
Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, the minister of humanitarian affairs, Hajiya Saadiya Umar Farouq, looked federal lawmakers in the face and said she could not disclose the details of the Conditional Cash Transfer of the Federal Government.
The CCT is part of the N2 trillion expended by the Buhari administration on its social policies, which the lawmakers have said cannot be traced.
The difference between the United States president and his Nigerian counterpart is that whereas the Congress, in reality, holds the purse, the Nigerian National Assembly only stamps its approval for the president to do what he wants.
It is against the law of the United States for money to be expended without Congressional approval. It is the same in Nigeria. But in Nigeria, it is observed more in the breach.
Another area of the helplessness of the United States president is in the area of access to the press.
In November 2018 the White House expelled Jim Acosta of CNN after an altercation he had with President Trump during a press conference.
CNN went to the court and won a relief which the White House promptly obeyed.
In Nigeria, the reverse is the same. Last month, the Presidential Villa expelled all but one reporter from the independent press from the Presidential Villa giving as its excuse the need for social distancing. The move was, however, seen as a way of sanctioning the reporters from the media houses that were seen as critical of the presidency.
Faced with the same condition, the White House moved its regular briefings from the press room to the Rose Garden.
The interaction with the press is another distinction between the United States president and his Nigerian counterpart.
Whereas President Trump is almost always savagely attacked by the United States press, he nevertheless has almost on a daily basis since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic hosted press briefings where he has informed Americans on developments.
Nigerians, on the other hand, have been gifted two appearances by President Buhari with no option of questions from the press.
Even before then, President Buhari had won the reputation as the least accessible of all Nigerian presidents refusing interviews and press conferences.
Email us @ info[at]nigerians.news