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NASS: Back to work amidst economic, governance challenges

By Leo Sobechi
18 September 2016   |   4:30 am
Rest is good, but not when it translates to rest in peace. For the members of the National Assembly, the return to plenary after recess could be likened to coming back to life.


Rest is good, but not when it translates to rest in peace. For the members of the National Assembly, the return to plenary after recess could be likened to coming back to life. But there are some issues that refused to rest in peace while they took a walk for a deserved (?) rest.So this week when the legislature wing of the Three Arms zone begins to pulsate with the signs and sirens of the honourables and distinguished senators, Nigerians would get distracted or attracted by the events from the National Assembly. There are a plethora of issues that would engage the attention of the lawmakers, both at the Green and Red chambers.

INSIDE the Red Chamber, the issue of leadership instability could rear its head once again. The State has a case against the President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, bordering on some discrepancies in his asset declaration form dating back to when he served Kwara State as its governor.
The progress of the Senate president’s trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) had been as sluggish as it had been theatrical. Most of those who thought the belated trial of the chairman of the National Assembly would pave the way for immediate change of guards in the leadership of the senate must have seen through the frivolity or futility of their action.

So, as the 109 members of the upper chamber of the federal legislature returns to their seats and offices, Nigerians would see whether the lawmakers have been roused to responsive behaviour by the socio-economic travails of their constituents to put power politics aside and focus on nation building and legislation.Eight months shy of its two years in office, would the leadership of the federal ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) come to terms with the reality of the missing links in its service delivery based on its electorate mandate to turn a new leaf? That is the poser which the events in the National Assembly, especially within the Red Chamber, where the party was peeved at the emergence of Saraki as most senior floor functionary would answer.
Next to Saraki’s travails is the sore position of his deputy, who sneaked from the opposing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to emerge as the second in command in the senate. Senator Ike Ekweremadu has remained a political enigma to the APC ever since President Buhari proclaimed the Eighth National Assembly on June 9, 2015.The fourth term senator has reminder to the ruling party and federal government of the seeming poor political judgment that trailed its first days at the zenith of Nigeria’s political power. It was partly based on the pains of PDP’s effrontery to share that power with it through the election of an opposition element as Deputy President in a Senate dominated by APC, that the criminal case of forgery of the Senate Rule Book was instituted against Ekweremadu and others.
But against the intricacies of mixed facts and law, particularly the fact that the National Assembly possesses institutional license, would the parties to the trial see the distraction it poses to the legislature and cease from further pursuit of the forgery trial? What makes the trial puzzling, is that, at the time of putting together the revised rule book, neither Ekweremadu nor Saraki had the powers conferred by their present offices to make them culpable. Moreover, for forgery to be proved, proof would go farther than the mere distinction between the 2007, 2011 and 2015 editions of the rulebook. For instance, could prosecution produce a manuscript in either Saraki’s or Ekweremadu’s handwriting to show that the revised rulebook was a reproduction of their ideas? Has the APC controlled Senate been chasing a red herring in the past fourteen months? These are questions that must be answered.

Unfinished Rapprochement
FEW weeks before the senate went on recess, Saraki embarked on what many observers of the 8th senate saw as possible fence mending and peace building in the Red chamber. Prior to preceding on recess the senate president had undertaken a straw recalibration of the headship of some viable committees, a move that was perceived as pacifist carrot.
Details of the reshuffle revealed that the major naysayers to the process that brought about the senate leadership, were recognized. It was within that framework that Senator Kabiru Marafa, the man who blew the whistle on the ‘fictitious’ rulebook; was made Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream). Wife of the APC ‘national leader’, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, another opponent to Saraki’s presidency, was also ‘elevated’ to the Senate Committee on Environment as its chairman.At the resumption of plenary, it would be seen how far the rapprochement had gone to quell the animosities in the Red chamber, especially against the background that further fence mending was pursued at the party level.

Another area the search for peace was carried out in the NASS before the lawmakers went on vacation was the ruptured relationship between the Senate President and the Clerk of the National Assembly (CNA). Hot air was blown between the Senate President and the NASS bureaucracy when the chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission, Mallam Adamu Fika threw tantrums in cross correspondences over the appointment of a new CNA.But Saraki had in a dramatic show of accommodation accepted the appointment of Mohammed Sani Omolori as the Clerk of the National Assembly. With that, it would be expected that the relationship between the senators and the bureaucracy would set the needed culture of understanding to deliver a different National Assembly.

Matters Of Possible Urgent Attention
SENATE President Saraki has given indication that the Senate would begin plenary by hitting the gavel over deliberations on some serious national issues, particularly the economic recession. Speaking during an interactive session with journalists, Saraki disclosed that issues of the economy would occupy the business of the Red chamber, wondering why in spite of budgetary provisions,  the social well-being of Nigerians have gone under the poverty line.

It would be interesting to see how the senators would probe the economy without setting off a new round of crisis with the executive arm, particularly as it pertains to “making tough recommendations to the president on needed changes and formulating necessary legislative framework for economic recovery.”The Senate President had said: “We need to know why the promises of external borrowing have not materialised, why devaluation has not helped to strengthen the naira, why inflow of foreign currency has continued to dry up and interest rate is still very high? Doing this will help us understand where we are so that we can determine where exactly we want to go from here.”
While the senate’s intervention in the economic morass facing the country might interest Nigerians, the part that may not be so pleasant could be the aspect of recommending some ministers for sack. The senate president told his constituents that senators would upon resumption from recess recommend the removal of ministers and other appointees of the president who do not measure up in the Federal Government’s efforts to take the country away from economic recession.The other contentious and outstanding issue awaiting the lawmakers’ attention is the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, who attributed the delayed passage to the disagreement over the host community clause in the document, disclosed that the framework would be settled when they resume from their recess.
Senator Abdullahi stated that many experts have been urging the Senate to revisit the bill, stressing, “by the time we come back from recess that issue will get a front burner attention because it’s key to whatever changes we want to see done.” Tackling the alleged plans to raise the pump price of the premium motor spirit would also feature prominently in the early actions of the well-rested senators.

Green Chamber And Budget Hangover
THE setting may not be too welcoming for the members of the House of Representatives. Speaker Yakubu Dogara would need more than his knowledge of law and legislation to drive the proceedings in the Green Chamber away from troubled waters.Without doubt, the lawmakers may revisit the padding tantrums of its former chairman of Appropriation Committee, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin. Cleaning its image soiled by the errant member would dominate the early days of plenary in lower chamber.

Although the allegations of budget padding looks much like the trial of Senate President and the deputy for forgery, the House of Representatives may likely attempt to suspend Jibrin from plenary in the guise of looking into his many acts of legislative rascality. But that action could also heat up the Green Chamber further and distract it from the urgent business of collaborating with the Red Chamber to bring about the legislative framework to better the living conditions of Nigerians.
However, while the hoopla over the budget padding wanes, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, which the lawmakers received, would supervene to make them take a serious posture.It is not likely that a change of leadership in the House of Representatives would be contemplated, but there are indications that the environment in the Green Chamber would be charged within the first few days of their resumption.Whatever happens, all eyes would be on the National Assembly, particularly the veiled attempt to render the legislature redundant. That is one area where the much talked about executive bill on economic emergency, would task the lawmakers.
As the lawmakers return from their recess, they should note that Nigerians’ estimation of their relevance have gone so low. That knowledge would rouse them to better behaviour and openness, especially in the face of an aloof executive arm that seems held down by the non-cooperative attitude of the legislators.