After eight weeks of recess, the House of Representatives will resume sitting on Tuesday. In this report, Onwuka Nzeshi looks at some of the issues that are likely to engage the attention of the lawmakers…
It’s been so long a recess and so dull a season in the last two months but at last, the hallowed chambers of the House of Representatives will come alive again on Tuesday, September 18, 2012. The lawmakers will on that day resume plenary after their annual vacation. Many of the lawmakers had travelled overseas to spend the holidays with their families while some were in their constituencies, devoting time to attend to the needs of their constituents.
The legislators, on resumption, are expected to return to the numerous unfinished businesses they left behind in the chamber and their various committees. It could be a long shopping list based on the various assignments pending at the desks of the over 80 Standing Committees. However, the focus in this piece will be on the key issues of national importance.
No doubt, the lawmakers will renew their agitation for the full implementation of the 2012 Appropriation Act, commence consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and resume work on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution. The legislators are also expected to confront the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over the proposed restructuring of the nation’s currency and the introduction of the N5000 note. THISDAY also learnt that the House will renew its agitation for the Federal Government to approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a possible review of the court’s judgement on the Bakassi Peninsula.
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Victor Ogene, who confirmed the Tuesday resumption, debunked speculations that the House was considering an extension of the holidays for another one week. In a statement made available to the House of Representatives Press Corps, Ogene disclosed that while the recess lasted, the various committees of the House and individual members were not idle but had been usefully engaged in legislative activities outside the chambers. According to him, the lawmakers have been carrying out constituency outreach programmes where they interfaced with their constituents on the proposed constitution review process, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as well as oversight on the 2012 budget. Ogene hinted that these three issues among others would likely engage the attention of the House in the next couple of weeks.
Already, House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal has instructed all standing committees of the House to undertake a through appraisal of the status of implementation of the 2012 Appropriation Act and report their findings on or before resumption.
“This directive is in tandem with the unyielding desire of the 7th House of Representatives to ensure appropriate and timely implementation of the budget, so as to not only fast-track infrastructural development in the country, but also to re-flate the national economy currently bogged down by official lethargy,” Ogene said. The leadership of the House had earlier in the week ordered a fresh audit of the 2012 budget. In a letter addressed to the chairmen of all Standing Committees, the House directed the committees to ascertain the level of implementation of the budget in the respective Ministries, Departments and Agencies under their purview. The one-page letter signed by the Deputy Leader of the House, Hon Leo Okuweh Ogor, read in parts: “In this regard, you are to request all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that you oversight to submit the status of all releases of funds; how much has been accessed; contracts awarded and general implementation status of the 2012 Appropriation Act.
“The above requested information should, after collation, be submitted to the office of the House. Leader on or before September 18, 2012.
“You are to ensure strict compliance as the information collated will form the basis of the decisions of the House on resumption.”
The House had at its last plenary, before embarking on the recess in July, passed a resolution urging President Jonathan to direct the Minister of Finance to ensure the release of all funds due to the MDAs in respect of the 2012 Budget and ensure full implementation of the budget by September. The resolution was the product of a controversial motion that saw some members of the House threatening to consider “drafting articles of impeachment” against President Jonathan if the budget did not hit a hundred per cent level of implementation by the time the lawmakers resumed from their annual vacation. Although the impeachment threat was not part of the prayers of the substantive motion, the mere suggestion of the move has propelled the executive arm of government into taking several actions geared towards fast-tracking the implementation of the 2012 budget.
Besides the implementation of this year’s budget, the lawmakers would also be looking forward to receiving the 2013 Appropriation Bill. Under the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, the President is expected to lay the estimates of revenue and expenditure of the following year before the two chambers of the National Assembly by the end of the third quarter of the current year. Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had pledged the commitment of the executive arm of government to lay the budget before the National Assembly before the end of this month. However, some critics have raised issues on the procedure, describing it as putting the cart before the horse. This is because the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) which ought to be presented before the budget is yet to get to the National Assembly.
During the break, the House Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review demanded from President Jonathan the timely transmission of executive bills on the amendment of the constitution to the National Assembly. This, according to the committee, will enable the parliament do a thorough job on the amendment process before 2015 general elections.
Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the House Committee on Constitution Review, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, gave the advice while speaking at the presidential retreat for civil society organizations and professional associations on the ongoing process of amending the 1999 constitution.
Ihedioha, said by the second quarter of 2013 the House is expected to have concluded work on the constitution review. He disclosed that the House would ensure the participation of the greater majority of Nigerians on any issue that would be brought up for possible amendment so as to build consensus on such issues. The Deputy Speaker said plans were on the way to organize public hearings across the six geo-political zones while a central public hearing would be held in Abuja to bring the process, as close as possible, to Nigerians. Ihedioha said at the last count, the House Committee on Constitution Review had received over 124 memoranda from the public bordering on various burning national issues including national security, devolution of powers, structure of the federation, fiscal federalism, indigeneship and residency rights as well as, justice sector reform.
The legislators are also expected to confront the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over the proposed restructuring of the nation’s currency and the introduction of the N5000 note.
The House had in the wake of the policy announcement summoned CBN Governor Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to appear before the committee and explain its plans . Chairman, House Committee on Banking and Currency, Hon. Chukwudi Onyereri, who issued the summon said the lower chamber would not take a position on the currency restructure proposal until it had been fully briefed on the policy. He said though the House fully respects the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the constitution, the autonomy of the Central Bank as provided by the Central Bank Act 2007 as well as the Banking and Other Financial Institutions Act, the Banking and Currency Committee had a responsibility to the Nigerian People to engage the executive arm of government on issues that may have far-reaching consequences on the populace and the national economy. According to him, the Nigerian people deserved to know whether there is a short, mid-term and long-term strategy that will bring any benefits to the system as a result of the introduction of the N5000 note.
“We will keep an open mind while engaging the management of the Central Bank to have a full picture and understanding of the thinking at the Central Bank and the reasons for this action. Our constituents have already inundated us with reports, petitions and write-ups with arguments on both sides of the policy divide, but we believe that at this time the most effective and prudent response for the committee would be to get a full briefing on the policy from the Central Bank after which we will take a position,” he said.
On the other hand, the Senate Committee on Banking, Currency and Other Financial Institutions had opposed the proposal and directed the CBN to suspend the project. According to the upper chamber, the project was a wastage of resources and would neither benefit the Nigerian people nor the economy.
There are also indications that the House will renew its agitation on the need for the Federal Government to approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a possible review of the court’s judgement on the Bakassi Peninsular. Just before the recess, the House passed a resolution demanding a review of the ICJ judgement ceding the Bakassi Peninsular to the Republic of Cameroon.
The House charged the Federal Government to commence the process of the review of the judgement as well as prevail on the United Nations to conduct a plebiscite on the disputed territory to give the people of Bakassi an opportunity to self determination.
The Bakassi territory was ceded to Cameroun ten years ago in controversial circumstances. As part of the implementation of the ruling of the international court, Nigeria and Cameroun signed a treaty known as the Green Tree Agreement. In a motion of urgent national importance sponsored by Hon. Essien Ekpenyong Ayi, member of the House representing Bakassi/Calabar South/Akpabuyo Federal Constituency, Cross River State, the lower chamber of the parliament cautioned that time was fast running out on the matter as the ten-year window allowed for reviews of judgements passed by the ICJ would elapse on October 10, 2012. Ayi argued that the ICJ ruling delivered on October 10, 2002 was unacceptable to the natives of Bakassi as the court did not take into consideration all the issues at stake.
“We the people of Bakassi, up till today, reject the International Court of Justice judgement whose focus was on oil and not the people. We reject the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment meted out on us by the omission of the Federal Government of Nigeria to exhaust all remedies open to Bakassi.
“New facts have emerged showing that the ICJ reached its judgement in error. One of these facts is that the 1913 Anglo-German Treaty relied upon by the ICJ to cede Bakassi to Cameroon is in breach of Article 6 of the General Act of Berlin Conference that enjoined European powers ‘to watch out over the preservation of the native tribes and not to take over or effect transfer of their territory’.
Although, the suicide bomb attacks by the Boko Haram appear to have subsided save for the recent attacks on telecommunication equipment and facilities across some states in the North-east and North-west zones, the lawmakers may reopen discussions on the emerging threats to national security. During the break, the Bakassi imbroglio sparked off a near violent reaction from the natives of the disputed territory. A group that called itself the Bakassi Liberation Front claimed it had declared the Peninsula an independent territory with its own national flag, anthem and a radio station.
About the same time, a similar declaration of autonomy occurred in Ogoniland, Rivers State. These wranglings against the Nigerian state are potential threats the lawmakers cannot ignore as they return from their recess.