Two years after inauguration, scorecard of 8th National Assembly
As entrenched in advanced democracies all over the world and as stipulated in the constitution of Nigeria, the National Assembly’s roles in the democratic space is mainly to legislate for good governance, peace and welfare of the people while also serving as a check on the executive arm of government.
While the performance of these constitutional roles of both the Senate and the House of Assembly in the last two years is a subject of controversy, the leadership has been beating its chest for having recorded some successes in Nigeria’s journey towards proper representative governance.
With the bicameral chambers of the federal legislature marking the second anniversary of their inaugurations today, the major thing that stood the Eighth Assembly from previous ones in the current dispensation, is the recent disclosure of their expenditure profile as contained in the 2017 budget proposals.
For an Assembly that has been suffering negative public perception because of the alleged jumbo pay of its members, the political shenanigans under which its leadership emerged and the continued graft charges on their necks, the disclosure of the budget has improved its image.
The Assembly gave a line-by-line detail of its expenditure taking a radical departure from previous years when the public only had knowledge of the total sum as one line item in the whole national budget.
For the Senate which President, Bukola Saraki doubles as the head of the National Assembly, the 8th session was one borne out of the many politics and controversies associated with the new administration put in place by a political party largely constituted by what many called a group of strange bed fellows.
The suspicion and rancour within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that could not be resolved before the National Assembly was inaugurated produced the kind of bitterness generated within the Senate and particularly against the leadership in the early stages.
The fact that the leadership was able turn the rancorous and disquiet atmosphere into that of peaceful co-existence among Senators within the first legislative year, went a long way in laying good foundation for the Senate to face its core mandate.
A review of the last two legislative years in the Senate showed that of the 503 bills introduced, 48 were passed while 140 are still at committee stage. Records also showed that 79 bills are awaiting first reading while seven executive bills were received.
On motions, it is on record that 187 motions were sponsored and 369 petitions received. Also, some of the legislations are being processed to facilitate economic revival processes of the country.
According to Saraki, “With the support from our international development partners and the organised private sector, we commissioned an expert report which identified 54 extant laws that must be reviewed and brought in line with international best practices in order to open up our economy for private investments and businesses.
“This legislative intervention yielded about 15 major economic reform bills and seven business environment bills. Prominent among those passed include the Electronic Transaction bill 2015; Debt Recovery and Insolvency bill 2015 and; the Railway Bill, which is being considered at the final lap. All these bills represent a watershed in economic and business legislations in our country.
“The Electronic Transaction Bill 2015 for example, will be the first legal framework in the country that provides the legal foundation for electronic signatures and guarantees predictability in contracts made electronically. Once signed into law, this bill will offer full protections to contracts entered into via emails, and transactions conducted with online shops, electronic commerce and services platforms, which are currently not provided for in our laws.
“Another obvious benefit of this bill is that it will reduce the cost of doing business by eliminating transportation and other logistics cost. By passing this bill, the Senate has given legitimacy and local application to the United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 23rd November 2005.”
On the Railway reform Bill which is considered as one that could bring revolution to Nigeria’s rail sector and also serves as a catalyst for economic advancement, Saraki said passing the bill would have a huge impact on the nation’s economy. He made the remark while declaring open a public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Land Transport on the bill.
On the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, which seeks to reform the country’s oil and gas industry that has been bogged down by decades of lack of transparency and corruption, the Senate leadership described it as another serious issue that enabled the Upper Chamber to boost its image.
And as the House of Representatives which also rolls out the drums in commemoration of the second anniversary of its inauguration today, the Speaker Yakubu Dogara-led lower legislative chamber believes it has achieved many firsts as far as the business of lawmaking in the nation’s history is concerned.
The House which holds a special session today where an appraisal of its Legislative Agenda would be made, points at the passage of 159 Bills, the introduction of 1,055 and the fact that 500 other Bills are currently being processed for deliberations, as landmark achievements.
The House legislative agenda adopted on the 4th of August 2015 stresses, among others, the need to ensure the improvement of the internal operations of the House, a review of the budgetary process, legislation to achieve reforms in the national economy and development, tackle poverty, unemployment, confront the scourge of corruption, terrorism and other security challenges in the polity.
The agenda includes the need to operate a House that responds to citizens’ demands for greater transparency and accountability in the way the legislative activities of government are conducted.
The Deputy Chief Whip, Pally Iriase who bared his mind on behalf of the principal officers ahead of today’s anniversary, remarked that much has been achieved within the period under review as the 8th House of Representatives has honoured the request of Nigerians for a transparent legislature by publishing the details of National Assembly Budget when the 2017 budget was passed recently.
He said, “In this Assembly, we feel there is nothing to hide. And we demonstrated it. We show what we would get from the budget through statutory transfer and we are happy that analysts have gone through it and there is now full understanding of the House. You can see that we do so much in the House with so little.”
He also likened the introduction of electronic voting system in the affairs of the House as the icing in the cake of the inroads achieved by the House to ensure openness and transparency.
Prior to the passage of the 2017 budget, the House, in conjunction with the Senate lived up to its promises by ensuring the involvement of stakeholders comprising members of the executive arm, civil society groups and the media to ensure openness and participation of all segments of the society in the budgeting process.
The initiative was also aimed at averting a reoccurrence of the controversy that dogged the passage of the 2016 budget, which pitted the House against the former Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumini Jibrin who alleged that principal officers padded the document.
Of the bills passed to impact positively on the socio-economic life of the citizenry, the passage of the North East development commission (NEDC) to cushion the effect of the violence unleashed by the defeated Boko Haram Islamist insurgency group, stands out.
The NEDC bill which was re-presented to the House recently, entailed the setting up of an NEDC commission charged with the responsibility of receiving and managing funds from the federation account and international donors for the purpose of reconstructing roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency.
Sponsored by Speaker Dogara, the NEDC bill specifies that the commission will also be responsible for tackling poverty and illiteracy as well as environmental and developmental challenges confronting the region.
Attempt by lawmakers from the Southeast geo-political zone to introduce a similar bill, the South-East Development Commission (SEDC), met a brick wall as it was rejected in controversial circumstances, and the lawmakers from the zone felt let down by their colleagues mainly from the northern part of the country.
Of the barrage of public hearings aimed at exposing waste and corrupt practices in the system, the most recent was the one anchored by Abdulrazak Namdas, which aimed at unearthing how the sum of $17 billion was allegedly stolen from undeclared crude oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) accounts between 2011 and 2014.
And among the numerous motions passed by the House, Babatunde Kolawole sponsored one that was of national security significance last year, which stressed the need for the declaration of emergency by security agencies to combat the spate of kidnapping in the country.
Though the House assured that it would preoccupy itself with the task of ensuring the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), questions have been asked as to why it did not deem it fit to ensure the passage of such an important legislation which aimed to reposition the oil and gas sector of the economy in the past two years.
Chairman of the Committee on Petroleum, Victor Nwokolo however assured that the House would pass a much more comprehensive PIB as against that of the Senate wing which was restricted to issues relating to governance of the petroleum industry.
The lawmaker who represents Ika North/Ika South federal constituency of Delta State said the PIB, which had already scaled the second reading, would surely be given accelerated attention. He said the bill would surely address issues relating to the protection of the interests of the host communities in the oil-producing states as well as non oil-producing communities in the country.
According to him, “In the case of House of Representatives, we are taking it holistically because we have dealt with petroleum industry governance bill, we have also gone through the physical and the host community bill. So we are taking it holistically so that no section of it would be left out.
“The essence of it is that we have taken into cognizance what happens in other jurisdiction. If you go to Alaska, Venezuela and Mexico, the host communities are all stakeholders. Coming home here, have you ever heard that the LNG has been shut for one day? It is because it took care of the host communities. This is what we want to address.”
Asked about his assessment of the performance of the House, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani expressed satisfaction with the lower chamber within the period under review.
He said, “We can see clear efforts by the House to carry out their legislative functions even though there are areas that require improvement. Some of them are just there doing nothing but warming their seats at public expense. They are more pro-people, pro-Nigerians than the much more conservative Senate despite the challenges they face in the discharge of their duties.”
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