NASS’s many probe reports gathering dust in Presidency
President Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence on retaining the nation’s service chiefs despite opposition to it is just one out of the many instances the executive arm of government undermine efforts by the National Assembly to contribute to the security and wellbeing of Nigerians. The House of Representatives had, in February, asked the president to declare a state of emergency on insecurity and sack all the service chiefs for not living up to expectation.
The Deputy Speaker of the House, Mr. Ahmed Wase, who spoke on the vexed issue of insecurity, expressed regrets that in spite of the vote-of-no-confidence passed on the service chiefs, they were yet to be sacked, just as the security situation keeps getting worse in communities and states across the country.
“How do we survive as a nation when insecurity has become the order of the day?” he asked during the debate on a motion of urgent national importance sponsored by Hon. Sada Soli last June.
The Rep’s Deputy Whip, Mrs. Onyejiocha Nkeiruka, expressed anger on the issue, when she said, “It is only in Nigeria that you fail and remain in office. We should not celebrate failure and we should be bold enough to tell those who have failed that they have failed, even if that person is your father.”
Till date, cases of terrorism, kidnapping, and banditry remain a daily occurrence in Niger, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina Kaduna, Kogi, Plateau, Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, and other parts of the country. A similar scenario where the executive displayed lukewarm attitude played out in the 8th Assembly, when Senator Bukola Saraki held sway, as Senate President.
At the end of an emergency session that lasted over four hours, the two chambers of the National Assembly reaffirmed a vote-of-no-confidence earlier passed on Mr. Ibrahim Idris, then Inspector General of Police. The lawmakers had accused the police chief of doing “nothing other than preside over the killing of innocent Nigerians and consistent framing up of perceived political opponents of the president and outright disregard for constitutional authority, both executive and legislative.”
They urged Buhari to adhere strictly to the rule of law, show sincerity in the fight against corruption, and quit harassing “perceived political opponents, people with contrary opinions, including legislators and the judiciary”.
The 12-point resolutions at the time included the call for the security agencies to be given the marching order to curtail the sustained killings of Nigerians across the country and protect life and property as the primary duty of any responsible government. Unlike the 8th Assembly, whereby Buhari was subtly threatened with impeachment proceedings over alleged constitutional breaches, it’s unlikely if the Senator Ahmed Lawan-led 9th Assembly, which is conciliatory in nature, would be able to toe same path.
The Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, had observed that the refusal by the executive arm to implement a series of recommendations by the National Assembly was tantamount to encouraging impunity in the polity. The pro-democracy activist, however, stated that the conduct of some of the lawmakers in the course of over-sighting the executive arm leaves much to be desired.
According to her, “The executive has no reason or justification to do that because it actually defeats the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances. Without implementation, the National Assembly is being turned into a toothless bulldog. The National Assembly has not also helped itself with consistent allegations of grafts and influence-peddling facing it by the executive.”
Among the deluge of probe reports was the one on the legality or otherwise of the sack of the Managing Director, Chief Executive officer of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Adebayo and 11 other top management officials, which saw the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige have an open altercation with the Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, Mr. James Faleke. The House, in a bid to protect the rights and liberties of citizens by curbing the excesses of the executive arm, ordered the officials’ immediate reinstatement.
Adopting the report of the Miriam Onuoha-led ad-hoc committee, the House declared that the procedure leading to the suspension of the NSITF officials was in breach of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund Act. The lawmakers urged President Buhari, through the office of Secretary to the Federal Government, to reinstate the officials and ensure that due process is observed in line with laid down rules.
The House further urged the Minister of Power, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, to review disciplinary action against the chief executives of Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) and Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).
A member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Mark Gbillah (representing Gwer East/Gwer West Federal Constituency of Benue State) heaped the blame of non-execution of probe reports and recommendation on President Buhari. He accused the executive arm of treating the National Assembly with disdain. Gbillah claimed that over-indulging the executive arm in alleged corruption practices was solely responsible for the executive sidetracking the activities of the legislative arm of government.
Gbillah, who was Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Upstream in the 8th Assembly, further contended that the situation has been worsened due to the emergence of the Ahmed Lawan/Femi Gbajabiamila leadership of the National Assembly, considered to be mere appendages of the executive arm.
According to him: “Under this administration, it is clear that the anti-corruption fight is a fallacy; it was just propaganda, because under this president, there were several probe reports thrown under the carpet with no concern being expressed either by the president or anybody under him.
“You can see that even the anti-corruption boss himself is being probed. The attorney general himself, who is the one who raised the issue of the acting EFCC boss, is being accused of corruption. So it’s corruption galore in this administration.
“And I will also want to emphasise the fact that Nigerians should now understand where corruption thrives in this country. They keep castigating and maligning the National Assembly, but they don’t realise that every year the budget of this country is shared in a manner such that the executive is always in custody of about 97.8 per cent. The entire budget of a whole legislature is about 1.2 to 1.4 per cent of the annual budget while the judiciary is one per cent or 1.2 per cent. The executive, where only one man actually operates, sit on majority of the funds.
“That is obviously where corruption thrives. And it is important to also note that under President Buhari’s watch as minister of petroleum, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is rife with a lot of fraud allegations from Ibe Kachikwu’s time till date, and nobody has addressed that issue. Nigerians should be aware that NNPC does not bring its budget to the National Assembly, and so it operates with impunity. Now, that is not a government that claims to be transparent or fighting corruption.
“The National Assembly has also abdicated its responsibility. That is why Nigerians, including some of us in the House, were concerned about what we perceived might be a lame duck legislature. Here, you have individuals handpicked by the executive. This is a defining moment for them on the issue with Festus Keyamo, which till date, they have not been able to address. The National Assembly was harassed from doing its work. There is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) issue. The report has come out and Mr. President has practically kept mum over it and several other issues. Recently, a committee has to petition the president for lack of response from NNPC, which believes it is larger than life.
“So, maybe when we initiate an impeachment process against the president, if we have the leadership that has the balls to do so, then maybe the executive would rise up to its responsibility, because that is what Nigerians elected us for: to hold the executive accountable, which we are not doing. So ministers and heads of agencies treat the National Assembly with complete disregard and odium and that is why we shirk in our responsibilities.
“The issues of NDDC should have been unearthed by the National Assembly, the issues in EFCC should have been unearthed by the National Assembly. The National Assembly was appropriating funds for an acting EFCC chairman, which is unheard of. We should have stopped funding that agency until the president did what was necessary. And we should stop funding the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Army until the service chiefs are changed.
“Everyday we raise motions on change of the service chiefs, pass votes-of-no-confidence and we sit back and do nothing. It’s a shame on the National Assembly, which I am part of. It’s a shame on us, a shame on the leadership that doesn’t seem to have the balls to hold this executive accountable.”
However, another member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Olajide Olatubosun, disagrees with Hon. Gbillah that the National Assembly has become a rubber-stamp of the executive arm. The lawmaker, representing Atisbo/Saki East/Saki East Federal Constituency of Oyo State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), argued that the conciliatory nature of the 9th Assembly should not be mistaken for weakness.
“Resolutions by their nature are not laws or acts of the National Assembly that must be implemented and that if you don’t, there would be penalties that are stated in the law,” Olatunbosun countered. “Resolutions are advisory, to the best of my understanding, and when they get to the executive, they have to study them and take decision in the best interest of the country.
“On the NDDC report, it was recently adopted in the Senate. I want to believe that it is still being studied. That of the House is not yet completed. Also on call for the sack of the service chiefs, it was just advice to the president. The president is the commander-in-chief. The buck stops at his table. We advised him and he has refused to take that advice till today.
“On talks that we have become a rubber-stamp, my take is, we are not. What we have is more of cooperation and collaboration with the executive arm for good governance. It doesn’t mean it is when we antagonise the executive that we will be seen to be doing our work. You can see that, successfully, we reverted to the January to December budget cycle.
“That is part of the benefits of the cooperation. For almost 16 years, Nigeria was doing June to May cycle. So for the first time, within three to four months, that was achieved. So I hope and pray that such collaboration will be sustained. That notwithstanding, there should be checks and balances to avert tyranny. But I don’t subscribe to the fact that the Assembly is a rubber-stamp.”