8th NASS:One stormy year after
When President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), were pitching the message of change to Nigerians in 2015, part of the strategy was to also prop up change agents in the National Assembly.
Working on the internal contradictions that were eating up the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the APC politburo managed to entice a good number of ruling party lawmakers to its fold.
In the House of Representatives, things got to a head when APC started the narrative that from the contrived defections, it had mustered the required number of members to become the majority party in the House. Next, Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who had always been APC in character, moved over to where he belonged from the PDP.
That audacious move, which effectively meant that the number four position was in the hands of the opposition, angered the Jonathan Presidency. The consequence of that daring political move from Tambuwal was the invasion of the National Assembly by the Police, precipitating a crisis, which had serious implications for the time-honoured doctrines of the rule of law and separation of powers.
It was only natural that the stormy and intriguing exit of the 7th Assembly, would throw up dynamics that would shape the emergence of the leadership of the 8th Assembly. For the lawmakers, who worked assiduously for the historic triumph of Buhari in 2015, the main interest after the proclamation of the National Assembly on June 9, 2015 was the election of the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
In the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who had, all the while, entrenched himself to become the helmsman, was suddenly told that he had to shelve his desire for the party’s anointed candidate, Ahmed Lawan.
These vibrations, which had clear undertones about the supremacy of the party, did not resonate with Saraki. He went on to outwit his entire party to emerge Senate President. Perhaps, to demonstrate that his ambition was made of sterner stuff, Saraki had to cut a deal with the PDP, which still had some form of numerical strength, despite being minority in the Senate. The Machiavellian style, with which Saraki clinched the prize, has riled the APC leadership to no end.
As if to rub the party’s nose further in the dust, Saraki surrendered the plum job of Deputy Senate President on the lap of PDP’s Ike Ekweremadu. While the doves in the Senate have hailed the bi-partisan composition of the leadership, the hawks who insist the party line must be toed, are yet to forgive what has been described as a move that has watered down the change in the National Assembly.
These resentments have thus been played up on the pro and anti-Saraki camps in narrating the Senate President’s ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. In terms of public perception, the Senate suffered early reversals with its attempts to regulate social media, and fiddle with the Acts setting up the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal. Also, the angst was palpable when exotic cars were being distributed to Senators at a time of severe national cash crunch. Added to these is the growing public resentment fuelled by the conclusion that the legislature is taking too much from the national till. This is manifesting in current demands by civil society that the National Assembly should disclose the details of its budget.
These realities have, however, not stopped the National Assembly from scoring itself high in the last one year. The Senate President, for instance, enthuses about how the legislative intervention in the Senate has yielded about 15 major economic reform bills and seven business environment bills.
According to him, Chief among the bills passed include; the Electronic Transaction bill 2015; Debt Recovery and Insolvency bill 2015 and the Railway Bill, which is being considered through the final lap. Saraki also talks about how he has led the open- NASS Initiative, which is aimed at opening the National Assembly to greater public engagement and scrutiny. In this regard, the Senate helmsman talks of the expanded opportunity created by the Senate for greater interaction with the public.
In the House of Representatives, the astute Yakubu Dogara, who found some common ground with his party, has been moving smoothly. Even though he went for the position of Speaker against the wish of the party elders, Dogara managed to accommodate the interest of the party by making his opponent for the Speaker position, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila House Leader.
Speaker Dogara has managed to build bridges, notwithstanding the grumbling from within his party that the constitution of House Committees critical to the change agenda favoured the opposition.
Without the albatross of a CCT trial hanging over his neck, the Speaker has moved quickly to implement a robust legislative agenda, which was drawn up to give the House a strategic direction. Interestingly, the agenda drums up issues, which if pursued would go a long way in alleviating the problems faced by the ordinary Nigerian.
On budgetary matters for instance, the commencement clause of the 2016 Budget reflects important suggestions made by the House. One of these suggestions has it that in line with the provisions of Section 318 of the 1999 as amended, the appropriation bill will run for a course of 12 months starting from the date it is assented into law.
On Legislative initiative on the Northeast, the House constituted a standing Committee on Refugees, Migrants, Internally Displaced Persons and Initiatives on the Northeast Zone.
Compared to the Senate, the House of Representatives has been more prolific, having received 685 bills in the last one year. Of this number, the Speaker enthuses that 85 have been passed.
According to the House, the number of Bills introduced in the last one year represents the highest annual consideration of bills by the House since the return to democratic governance in 1999.
All the bills presented to the House have passed through first reading. A meticulous review of the laws of the federation by a Committee comprising renowned experts, jurists, lawyers, civil society advocates and other stakeholders is said to be responsible for the high number of bills being considered by the House.
There is also the adoption of e-voting for House proceedings, which has been touted as the sure way to modernise the work of the House by creating a paperless and more efficient parliament. It is reckoned that the system of e-voting would capture records of each member’s punctuality and voting patterns can easily be accessed by constituents and members of the public.
As the chamber of the legislature that tends to be more receptive to ideas that give youths a voice in the democratic process, the House to the admiration of youth activists has resolved to amend sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution in a bid to reduce the age qualification for the Office of the President, Governor and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The alteration call was at the instance of Bill sponsored by Hon. Tony Nwulu during plenary session on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. Already, a civic organisation, the Youth Initiative for Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) has taken up the task to sensitize young people to get behind the legislation with the “Not Too Young To Run Campaign.”So far, it was one year of commendable work, despite distractions.