10th Assembly and burden of getting Nigeria out of the woods
After its inauguration on June 13, the 10th Senate adjourned until July 4. The resumption of legislative activities, earlier in the week, however, saw the emergence of new principal officers, signaling that the Red Chamber was now in full swing.
The immediate past ninth Senate passed over 500 bills, the highest number of Bills passed in the history of legislation in Nigeria. Of the lot, 131 were signed into law. But when it came to one of its major functions of being the watchdog over other arms of government, the Senate is widely believed to have suffered a huge setback in legislative oversight.
Key among some perceived gaps in oversight by the ninth National Assembly was how it enabled former President, Muhammadu Buhari to amass a record-breaking debt burden in eight years, while still granting approval for more in his last days in office. The Debt Management Office (DMO) put the total national debt at N46.25 trillion by December 2022.
With the Godswill Akpabio-led 10th Senate now off to work, Nigerians expect the members to get down to the onerous task of exercising supreme political authority on behalf of the people. The consensus among respondents was that the 10th Senate must not be a rubber-stamp for all actions and intents of the executive, especially arbitrary loan approval requests, in the national interest.
Nigerians yearn for a National Assembly (NASS) that can ensure economic recovery because of current hash economic realities. Having been through, perhaps, the worst in terms of insecurity, they want a National Assembly that will prioritise security so they can sleep with their two eyes closed.
The 10th Senate is not expected to go the way of the ninth in being exactly on the same page with the Bola Tinubu-led administration at all times, but to be serious in exercising its mandates for the benefit of the people. This is in addition to being able to hold the executive accountable in all its policies and actions
“They are supposed to exercise control over those who run the government as decisions cannot be taken without the support of the parliament. The legislature is the highest forum of discussion and debate on public issues and national policy in any country, as it can seek information about any matter,” a policy analyst said.
One of the major setbacks observed in the Senate is the high turnover of senators, as a large percentage could not return to the 10th Senate, a development which respondents noted poses grave danger for institutional memory.On the other hand, one good thing that may work in favour of the 10th Senate, they observed, is the fact that the present executive may not be like its predecessor, given that President Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima, the Chief of staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila and his deputy, Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia are all former parliamentarians, hence they have the knowledge of the workings of the parliament.
A chieftain of the ruling APC, Senator Alex Kadiri differed on the rubber-stamp label of the ninth Senate, saying that Nigerians must understand democracy and how it works.
Senator Kadiri, who represented Kogi East from 1999 to 2003, noted that, “The outcome of every election has repercussions. If you elect idiots, you will get idiotic representation. If you elect capable legislators, you will get good legislation. The party struggled to win majority of seats in the Assembly for a purpose; it is so that when the executive bring its bill, it will not have any difficulty in getting the bills passed. That is what people are calling rubber stamp, and it is a wrong nomenclature. The party controlling the executive will also control the majority of the House of Reps, the Senate and even the state Assemblies.
“When Bukola Saraki was Senate President during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first tenure, Buhari could not push through all the things he wanted to do. But Akpabio and Tinubu are on the same page. I particularly like Akpabio because apart from being a senator he has been around for a very long time, he has been governor and minister; he has experience. I am sure he will do a good job.”
Executive Director YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, on his part, opined that aside from its core function of lawmaking, legislative oversight and representation, the 10th National Assembly needs to be citizen or people- centered, and ensure that public interest takes precedence over personal, political or partisan interest.
“When you talk about lawmaking, Nigerians want to see the 10th National Assembly pass bills that will do three things; one to ensure economic recovery because Nigerians are going through hash economic conditions and so bills that will fix our economy are part of the priorities that Nigerians want to see.
“They want to see a National Assembly that responds through legislative instruments to address issues around the economy. What do these entail, they entail proper scrutiny of the national budget; that it cannot adopt the approach that the 9th National Assembly adopted where there was no rigour and independent scrutiny of the budget of the executive. In that way, it can support the economy.
“Tied to that is the need to address issues around budget padding, so we can stop waste of public funds. Second, the 10th National Assembly needs to prioritise its legislative oversight that holds the executive to account for the promises, prioritise security and refuse to be a rubber stamp of the executive.
“Separation of powers is not separation of government but this 10th National Assembly has a duty to ensure that the Tinubu administration acts within the law; and in cases where they act ultra vires, they hold them to account.
“A situation where resolutions of the National Assembly are not respected or not implemented should stop; legislative compliance have to be taken seriously. Often, we see the National Assembly pass resolutions and motions and you hear the members of the executive say, they are mere persuasive resolutions and that they are not bound by those. No, they are bound by resolutions of the National Assembly. In cases where you have things like confirmation of appointment or invitation of ministers or government officials, the 10th National Assembly will need to ensure that any minister or any executive member that is summoned, must honour the summons and they must enforce their decisions,” Itodo said.
Itodo frowned at situations where National Assembly members act in a way that does not put them in a good light with the executive. He cited such situation when they go cap in hand or instituting investigative hearing just as a way of blackmailing or getting members of the executive to play ball.
“It needs to stop. If the 10th National Assembly needs the respect of the executive, it has to respect itself. This is why the National Assembly should fund its oversight functions. The executive, institutions, MDAs and parastatals should not be approached by the legislators to fund oversight.
“On the issue of constituency development fund, the 10th National Assembly also needs to prioritise citizens engagement in defining and shouldering what constituency project goes to them.
“The NASS must also be transparent with the Nigerian people; it must start by sharing with the public, how lawmakers vote on bills, that will be critical in inspiring confidence in the 10th National Assembly.
“The legislators are employees of the people. The people need to know how they vote on issues. We need transparency on the voting records on every bill passed at the National Assembly so that constituents will know how their legislators are making decisions and if the decision and vote by legislators are consistent with their will and aspirations. The public will also want to know how things like public hearings ensure public participation.
“The late notification of public hearing should stop. That is why the National Assembly needs not just a policy framework but rules; standing rules for the conduct of public hearings, time frame must be announced, a standard communication infrastructure that ensures that there is an official mechanism for submission of Memoranda and the committee needs to carry the people along.
“We need a more open and accessible 10th National Assembly. If they do all of these, they will not just elevate legislative governance, but contribute in no small measure to advancing democracy in Nigeria,” he stressed.
For Executive Director, HallowMace Foundation Africa, Sunny Anderson Osiebe, the 10th National Assembly will carry on its shoulders enormous expectations from the people, hence, the need for the legislature to hit the ground running. “This is rightly so because Nigeria is currently positioned in such a way that its national unity is hanging on a thread.
“The 10th NASS is coming at a time when Nigerians are facing excruciating economic situation, a time that the only subsidy known to Nigerians has been yanked off, a time that every part of the country is burdened by one security challenge or another, and a time when our religion instead of taking us closer to piety and humility, is seen as the root of our disunity.
“The 10th NASS has happened on a Nigeria where the strength it should have derived from its diversity is rather being dissipated on self-immolation; it has come when Nigeria needs redemption, an urgent redemption! All these are coming against the backdrop that the ninth National Assembly was perceived as a rubber stamp of an uninspiring executive. Whatever achievement the ninth National Assembly made was unfortunately drowned in the disillusion of the perception of a rubber-stamp parliament.
“The 10th National Assembly has on its hands, its destiny. We have heard of legislative agendas in the time past, and the failures that followed the so-called agendas indicate that there is no such thing as a legislative agenda beyond the constitutional responsibility vested on parliamentarians and the parliament.
“This is so because the only agenda that the people’s parliament has is the welfare, progress and protection of the people, and we all know that we are in a fast-paced, dynamic and unpredictable world that requires equal dynamism from lawmakers.
“To this end, the 10th National Assembly will serve Nigeria more effectively if the unity of Nigeria, the welfare of Nigerians can form the central point of its legislative responsibilities and focus.
“It is to be noted that, yes, the three arms of the government are interdependent and partners, but it’s also pertinent that the 10th National Assembly stamps its feet on the ground, and on the side of the people of Nigeria.”
Osiebe noted that in the previous assemblies, there were series of legislations that had raised the expectations of Nigerians and dashed same.
He highlighted such legislations to include the Electoral Act 2022 (as amended), the Whistle Blowers Bill still pending and several others, which he said must be revisited in the interest of Nigeria’s survival.
“Others like the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) and other such high-impact laws must be further fine-tuned for the benefit of Nigerians and integrity of our economy.
“It is important to note that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is reputed for his patriotism and economic planning prowess. However, the 10th National Assembly must necessarily reactivate its oversight responsibilities to ensure that Nigerians are not shortchanged for the benefit of the few or group,” he said.
He added that Nigerians would appreciate a knowledge-driven parliament, a parliament rooted in scientifically-proven and sustainable parliamentary solutions to desert encroachment and other existential environmental issues that fuel insecurity in Nigeria.
“Nigerians will appreciate and applaud a parliament that will get our security agencies to be alive to their duties in line with standard security protocols. Nigerians will appreciate a parliament that will work with other arms of government to fine-tune and create laws that can jump-start our economy in line with world best practices. Nigerians will indeed appreciate a 10th National Assembly that will make Nigeria a more liveable clime where the young people can see a future. These are four major priorities that the 10th National Assembly needs to address.”
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