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The eighth assembly and inconclusive bills

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[FILES] National Assembly (NASS)


It is not gratifying to note that the poor working relationship between the executive and the federal legislature, which began when the latter was inaugurated with curious election of its presiding officers in June 2015 continues to affect pace of development up and until now – the end of a tenure.

For instance, at a plenary session the other day, the Senate adopted the report of a Technical Committee that looked into the bills on which President Buhari declined assent and resolved to commence process of overriding the Presidential veto by having the bills passed by the constitutionally required two-thirds of the members in both chambers.

The Senate also announced that it has redrafted some of the provisions in some of the bills, based on the points raised by the President. This seemingly conflicting situation highlights the need for a cordial working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, in the interest of the nation in the next session of the National Assembly and President Buhari’s next four years.

What were the criteria used by the Technical Committee for selecting six out of 34 bills rejected by the President? The seven bills are for Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, Amendment to Stamp Duties Act, Establishment of National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism, Establishment of National Research and Innovative Council, Establishment of National Agricultural Seeds Council, Amendment of Agricultural Credit Guarantee Fund Act, and Amendment to the Independent National Electoral Commission (2010) Act.

The Budget Time Limit Bill requires the Executive at the Federal and State tiers to submit budgets 90 days before end of the year and for the Legislature to approve, so that the budget would run from January to December. In rejecting this particular bill, the President stated that clauses 2(b) and 3(b) of the bill did not take due cognizance of a constitutional stipulation in Section 58 (4) requiring the President to signify rejection or assent within 30 of receiving a passed bill from the Legislature.

However, the comment of the Senate on this cannot be considered valid and applicable in the circumstances.As this newspaper had called for improved cooperation between the two arms of government, it was commendable that the Senate considered the President’s observations and redrafted clauses in some of the bills. In the case of the PIGB, the Senate agreed with the President’s reservation and reduced the revenue generated by the regulatory commission from 10 per cent to 5 per cent. Also, it expunged the Petroleum Equalisation Fund from the bill.

Will the Senate make the same effort to painstakingly look into the other bills sent back by the Executive? As the Upper Chamber has rightfully led the effort, is there a corresponding activity in the House of Representatives? Is there sufficient time for the 8th Assembly to consider the President’s objections on the other bills, which are important for the progress and development of the nation?

If the experience with the Petroleum Industry Bill is anything to go by, then it is a long journey ahead. That bill was initially an Executive Bill by the Yar’Adua administration in 2008 to the 6th Assembly (2007-2011). It was not passed. It was re-presented by the Jonathan administration to the 7th Assembly in 2014. A few hours to the end of their tenure, only 47 members of the House of Representatives were present for the Second Reading and passing of the Bill in 2015. There was no concurrence by the Senate. Recognising the benefit to the nation, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Upstream, Tayo Alasoadura resuscitated and introduced is as a Private Member Bill.

The situation is the same with the Federal Roads Authority Establishment Bill that was first presented to the 7th Assembly in 2008 by the Yar’adua administration, which approved the White Paper from a Stakeholders Workshop in June 2008. It was the culmination of a long journey that started with the Road Maintenance Initiative in 1993 and the Road Vision 2000 that produced a 1998 Draft Decree for the establishment of a National Road Fund and a Federal Roads Authority. The Abdusalami regime relegated the task to the civilian government of Obasanjo administration, which excised the Maintenance Division and passed a Law establishing the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency. In continuation of the Yar’adua policy concerning roads, the Jonathan administration also supported the proposed Road Agency to end the duplication in the administration of federal roads.

In the 8th Assembly, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Works, Kabiru Gaya has been at the vanguard of the effort to pass the bill for setting up the agency, which experts and all stakeholders have adjudged as the only permanent solution to the challenges of funding and administration of roads in Nigeria. The road network is a major casualty of the failure to pass a law for the establishment of a road agency. It is the longest standing government intention in Nigeria’s development as it was initiated in 1972 by the Federal Military Government. Since that time, each of the other transport modes has had its own semi-autonomous agency.

At this time when members of the National Assembly rounding off, is it unlikely that both houses will accomplish the grand idea of getting two-thirds of both chambers to pass any bill and thereby make it law without the President’s assent? The specific duty is being passed to the incoming 9th Assembly. The leadership must apply he lessons learnt from their predecessors.

Specifically, the Majority Party must make effective use of its caucuses for bridging the communication gap between the Executive and the Legislature, especially in managing critical national assignments such as bills. It is shameful for instance that the PIGB, a very important bill to the health of the economy has always been left to suffer for more than a decade.

The work of the Senate’s Technical Committee on rejected bills, offers a ray of hope; based on due consideration and incorporation of the points raised by the President. The individual members must take their calling seriously and rise up to become statesmen who place the interest of the nation above partisan and personal considerations. So, both chambers of the National Assembly should not leave these selected bills as inconclusive again, lest we enroll them in a Hall of Shame too.


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