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Reps haunted by rubberstamp toga in two years of lawmaking

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ED, CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani

The rubber stamp toga has continued to hang on the neck of the House of Representatives despite modicum work it has recorded midway into its four years tenure with Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila at the helm.

The House, which espouses the doctrine of parliamentary diplomacy adopted a legislative agenda of security, open governance, transparency and accountability, anti-corruption, social justice and economic growth, development and job creation.

Within the period under review, the House announces it had among others ensured a fixed budget cycle of January to December, passed several long awaited legislations and reforms of the federal government public procurement system. That includes the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act, the Physically Challenged (Empowerment) Bill 2019, the Industrial Revolution Plan Bill, and the Raw Material Research and Development Council (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill aimed at placing the country on the path to industrial self sufficiency and economic growth.

Besides wading in to resolve labour conflicts such as between government and resident doctors, judiciary workers, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) the House passed the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill in response to the outbreak of the deadly Corona Virus pandemic in the country, leading to the granting of referrals on loan payments owed government institutions and lifting of tax restrictions on the importation of essential medical goods required to tackle the infectious disease.

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Aside the establishment of an adhoc committee on COVID-19 and COVID-19 response strategy team (CRST), the lawmakers contributed two months salaries, not only to inspire Nigerians contribute to the fund but to tackle the pandemic in the country.

However, observers insist that the lower legislative chamber has not lived up to its responsibility to Nigerians in ensuring good governance and accountability.

The failure by the House to call the executive to order on the recent ban on the use of Twitter by Nigerians, the delay by the House to pass the Electoral Amendment Act, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the Fiscal Responsibility (amendment) Act, constitution of the National Council on Public Procurement (NCPP) is seen as instances of the House abdicating its responsibility.

The Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, while identifying the problem said it was unfortunate that the current National Assembly has primarily become a rubber stamp, exercising unusually weak oversight over the executive arm.

She said: “The National Assembly currently does little oversight on Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA). To date, we are yet to hear any update on the inquiry into the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). However, the fundamental problem for most citizens is the electoral reform, which is currently pending despite several promises.

“Now, Nigerians are exercising little hope on the electoral act, let alone the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which has been in the National Assembly all these years, inclusive of this 9th National Assembly. One would have thought that now that they finally have the oversight, all would be well. I am still optimistic that the National Assembly in which every Nigerian has a representative will rise and manage the country’s social cohesion challenges.”

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The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr Auwal Musa Rafasanjani, while lamenting the situation called on the House to put its foot down as an independent arm of government.

The rights activist expressed worry over the non-passage of the Special Crimes Courts Bill for speedy trials of offences, including economic and financial crimes, money laundering, corruption offences and other related matters.

Arguing that the performance of the House of Representatives leaves much to be desired, he said: “While the House of Representatives may blame this poor performance largely on paucity of funds, one is left to ask how judiciously they have used the “little” they have been given. When weighed against the backdrop of their mandate, no matter how much can be claimed to have been done, the socio-economic and all other relevant indices suggest a significant failure, to say the least.

“It will be grossly insensitive, given many citizens we have lost, the bereaved, those whose livelihoods have been lost to insecurity and environmental conditions, the ever-increasing poverty-stricken population, the unemployed youth and the millions whose enshrined rights and liberties have been stripped with impunity, to even suggest otherwise.

“The general consensus on allegations made against the House of Representatives ranges from legislative corruption, insensitivity to constituents’ problems, flamboyant lifestyles despite the daunting recession rocking the economy, flagrant disregard for people’s agitations, self-centeredness and dereliction of duties, among others.

“National Assembly should improve on its work, particularly in the fight against corruption and enthronement of good governance. The House of Representatives needs to throw its weight behind calls for the amendment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act towards the promotion of transparency and accountability in fiscal resource management.

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“More than seven years after the statutory establishment of the National Council on Public Procurement (NCPP), the body is yet to be constituted. The NCPP is to ensure that the Bureau of Public Procurement carries out its functions based on transparency, competition, integrity, and ensuring best value for money. Also it should serve to help check fraudulent practices in the award of public contracts through inflation of contract costs, poor project prioritization, poor budgeting process, and other manipulations of procurement and contract award processes. For this reason, it is imperative for the House of Representatives to sustain its pressure on the President to validate the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) by setting up a National Procurement Council, in line with the law.”

“Therefore, the 9th Assembly must put as its primary target for the next foreseeable years, the primacy of recovering and restoring popular confidence in the National Assembly as its most important and overarching priority and urgently find creative ways of making this a cross-cutting target throughout law making responsibilities, oversight and every other duty.”

Emmanuel Onwubiko

Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko of the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) while recalling the role allegedly played by the executive arm in the emergence of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, contended that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had been rendered prostrate.

He said, “so what we now have in the House of Representatives are stooges of the Speaker and those of the executive arm of government, thereby denying the House of Representatives of any modicum of decency and independence.

“The Federal House of Representatives has so far in the last two years failed to make top quality people friendly legislations, moreso because the Senate is headed by a weak Senate President who often defers to the President on any decision to be adopted by the National Assembly.

“We now have both the Senate and the Federal House of Representatives that do not represent the people of Nigeria and therefore the current ninth session of the National Assembly is a rubber-stamp of the executive arm of government.

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“The House of Representatives has so far not provided the needed oversight to ensure that federal ministries, parastatals and agencies carry out their functions in compliance with the principles of rule of law and this abdication of function by the Federal House of Representatives means that the implementation of the yearly budgets lacks transparency and accountability.

“The Federal House of Representatives has also not made any kind of legislation to check the excesses of the President who often go to the Senate to seek approval for foreign loans, which has now put Nigeria in a very precarious stage as a heavily indebted nation; and most of these foreign loans are dubious and criminally negotiated to ensure that Nigeria is short-changed at the end of the day.

“The House of Representatives through the Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila told Nigerians that they are happy to become stooges of the President than become antagonists. So when you have persons with this slavish mentality, as leaders in the National Assembly, then what becomes of high priority to them are their personal interests, therefore the national interest of Nigeria is not on their cards. The House of Representatives that we have since the last two years is not vibrant and energetic enough to stand and defend the interess of Nigerians.

“The members are mostly contractors who are in the parliament to boost their private business interests. The parliament has not done anything to ensure compliance by President Buhari to the federal character principles and what we now have is a President that is nepotistic because the House of Representatives lacks independence, it can not stop these unconstitutional practices by the President.”

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