National Assembly: Stabilising after shaky takeoff
Precisely 12 days after the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) led by President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn into office on May 29, the party’s led National Assembly erupted into a leadership crisis when the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Alhaji Yakubu Dogara emerged against the preference of their party.
The leadership of the APC was said to have preferred Senator Ahmed Lawan, who represents Yobe North constituency of Yobe State and Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, who is alleged to be the preferred speakership candidate of the South West zone as president of the senate and speaker respectively. Reverse was the case when Dr. Saraki joined forces with senators of the rival Peoples Democratic (PDP) to emerge.
For the first time in the democratic history of Nigeria and of course, the National Assembly, a lawmaker on the platform of the opposition party was elected as the Deputy President of the Senate, in the person of Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, who also served in the same capacity to the immediate past President of the Senate, David Mark.
Heaps of blame was placed on Saraki as well as the consequent party intrigues and public insinuations that followed the development. This became more serious when Saraki further defied his party’s order on the appointment of principal officers of the chambers.
From both ends of the presidency and the National Headquarters of the APC came conflicting statements. The president and the party sharply disagreed on how to relate with the new leadership of the National Assembly.
Buhari on his part expressed his readiness to work with the elected Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives but the party declared their emergence unacceptable and vowed to discipline its members involved in the process.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina later issued a statement saying President Buhari did not have any preferred candidate for the Senate and the House of Representatives, and that he was willing to work with whomever the lawmakers elected.
No sooner the dust generated by the outcome of the elections subsided, the leadership of the Senate got entangled in another crisis when the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) docked Saraki for false declaration of assets, a development that was termed to be a continuous determination of the leadership of his party to get rid of him.
Regardless of the shaky beginning, the lawmakers irrespective of their party affiliations were able to put their acts and thoughts together and settled down to carry out their real legislative business.
FOR the Saraki led senate, unlike the seventh Senate, which tended to pass fundamental bills for national development towards the twilight of the session, the eighth Senate after its inauguration has exhibited courage and leadership by ensuring harmonious relationship between it and the executive arm of government.
In keeping with his campaign promises, Saraki did ensure a transparent leadership by opening the books of the National Assembly for public scrutiny.
This became an issue against the backdrop of demands by Nigerians that the National Assembly should open its books for the public to see. In line with the senate president’s campaign manifesto of transparency, the eighth Senate was the first to state what the budget of the National Assembly looked like.
It was the first time that the books of the Senate and House of Representatives were opened. Since then, whatever the National Assembly embarked upon has remained an issue in the court of public opinion. It is on record that due to the campaign promise of the senate president, Nigerians have come to know that N105.4 billion has been set aside for recurrent expenditure and N9.6 billion is for capital projects.
The eighth Senate was the first organ of government to respond to the plight of Nigerians living in the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps. It was this visit of the members of the upper chamber that opened the eyes of Nigerians to the deplorable condition of Nigerians in the Boko Haram insurgence-destroyed North East.
In the course of its legislative duties, the eighth Senate set up an ad-hoc committee to unravel the names of companies and other commercial outfits that were granted import waivers to the detriment of the national economy.
It also stood by Nigerians on the mandatory fees charged by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission on every prepaid electric metre.
Highlighting some of the achievements of the House during a press briefing yesterday, Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila said since the 8th Assembly was inaugurated on June 9, 2015 it has submitted itself to the will of the people and rule of law.
While he acknowledged the fact that Nigeria was going through socio-economic challenges, which portended a threat to the nation’s progress “as a House we are collaborating with two other co-equal arms of government to arrest the drift. We are collaborating in fighting corruption, insecurity, strengthening of institutions, international parliamentary collaboration, provision of legislative framework for welfare and rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons and provision of checks and balances.”
He noted that the bills and motions sponsored so far are clear demonstrations of the House’s resolve to make laws and embark on legislative activities for the good governance of Nigeria.
Said he, “In the first quarter of 2016, a total of 133 bills were introduced for the first time, 34 out of the 133 scaled through second reading, 20 out of the 133 bills were consolidated, 2 out of the 133 Bills were negative which in our local parlance means ‘killed’, meaning that within the first quarter of 2016 only two Bills and 117 Resolutions arisen from Motions presented by Members of the House were passed in the first 90 days of 2016 after successfully scaling through all the stages of legislation. The Bills passed are the FCT Statutory Appropriation Amendment Bill, 2016 and the Appropriation Bill 2016, which are meant to stimulate the economy and improve lives of our constituents.”
Meanwhile former Minority Leader of the Senate, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora in his observation said the legislative arms of the government have performed averagely in the last one year, saying that as an institution, “I will score it to perform averagely because of the shaky start, the ripple of which it still suffers till now.”
According to him, “If we are to be critical of the present leadership of the National Assembly considering the circumstances through which it emerged in June last year, it would not be out of place to conclude that the crisis of leadership that rocked the institution from the takeoff is still affecting its operations up till now. There are still some vestiges of some misgivings in its operations.
“My argument is this, the National Assembly is a political arm and not a judicial arm of government and elected politicians from across the country were gathered there and there is no way we wont have conflicting interests and politicking. This is why I will say the institutions has not really performed beyond average but nevertheless there is a lot of improvements in its modus operandi in the last couple of months.”
To him, the National Assembly has been able to stay on course in terms of its core functions like oversight, policy incubation, confirmation of executive appointments and legitimatizing rules.
Mamora also commended the legislative arms for its ability to bring to fore the issues that affected lives of Nigerians particularly when you consider its roles and contributions on the electricity tariff and the fuel price hike. “I will say that the National Assembly really stood by the Nigerian masses.”
A former member of the House of Representatives, who represented Epe Federal Constituency, Lagos, Mr. Lanre Odubote said in the first place, whatever may have been the shortcomings of the seventh National Assembly have been taken care of by the present one.
He also scored the legislative arms high for performing beyond the average on its legislative functions pointing to the focus, determination and seriousness it has demonstrated during its deliberation on the 2016 Appropriation Bill. “For instance we have more transparency in this National Assembly on its legislative duties compared to what we had in the past.”