The attention of the country was recently drawn to some bills passed by the sixth National Assembly, which were awaiting presidential assent before the end of that legislative session on June 5 last year. They include National Assembly Service Commission Bill, Chartered Institute of Capital Registrars Bill, Nigerian Council of Food Science and Technology Bill, Personal Income Tax Amendment Bill, Discrimination Against Persons Living With HIV Prohibition Act 2011 Amendment Bill, State of the Nation Address Bill, River Basin Development Authority Amendment Bill, Nigerian Integrated Water Resources Management Commission Bill, Federal Capital Territory Water Board Bill, and the National Tobacco Control Bill.
Asked recently about the fate of those bills that had scaled through the rigorous legislative process of the country’s bicameral legislature before being held up on the President’s table, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, said the constitution had constrained the 7th Senate from continuing action on the bills. He said the current assembly could not override the President’s veto or decision to withhold assent to the bills because they were not passed by it. Though, Enang said members were free to reintroduce any of the old bills on the floor of the Senate for a fresh process of enactment and that some had already been reintroduced.
The National Assembly, unfortunately, is still affected by the old tradition of lack of continuity and abandoned projects. That is the obvious statement from the custom of abandoning bills arising from the previous legislature. Some of the bills in question had given certain hope to citizens affected by the expected laws. Their abandonment and return to what has become Nigeria’s proverbial “drawing board” will only increase despair and lack of faith in democratic procedure. Democracy in Nigeria has been associated with undue delay in decision-making and various man-made obstacles that impede progress. Such unnecessary hiccups are often behind the recourse to self-help, with its negative consequences for society. The frustration of the citizens who stood to gain from the expected laws from bills that had been mid-wived through the National Assembly and now abandoned at the presidency can only be imagined.
The custom of abandoning bills from the previous legislature is replete with countless ills. One is the encouragement of destructive filibusters. A legislator or group of legislators who, for their own selfish reasons, hate a legislation may deliberately obstruct its passage until such a time when they know it can no longer progress, just to frustrate those who stand to gain from the expected law. The President, too, who knows the end of a legislative session means the death of any bill emanating from the session can also employ political delay tactics to hinder legislations he does not like. The brunt in both cases is borne by the masses – the same people the executive and the legislature are supposed to be serving.
The end of a legislative or executive session cannot mean the expiration of the relevance of a law in the lives of the people for whom it is meant.
Nigeria is plagued by the menace and mentality of abandoned projects. In June, Vice-President Namadi Sambo lamented that about 12, 000 federal projects worth nearly N7.8 trillion were abandoned nationwide. Add this to the ostensibly far greater number of abandoned state government projects, and what do you get, a country of abandoned projects.
Those who wield power in trust for the people must decide to change this orientation. The legislature should take the lead, and there is no better window than that offered by the ongoing constitution amendment process. It’s about time the National Assembly denounced the tradition that says bills passed by the previous assembly cannot be continued by the subsequent session except they are introduced denovo. This step would help to awaken the President to his duties to the citizens, motivate the people, and extinguish the often held notion of democracy as a system in which things hardly get done.