National Assembly Complex
As the National Assembly reconvenes today for a new legislative year, Omololu Ogunmade tasks the lawmakers on the need to restore credibility and add more value to the business of lawmaking
Today, full-fledged legislative activities will resume at the National Assembly. But beyond the ceremony that may accompany the resumption of the lawmakers, a pertinent question that comes to mind is whether or not their resumption actually elicits any measure of excitement as it were.
This, however, is against the backdrop of pervasive insinuations that the lawmakers' earnings do not necessarily correspond with the volume of services they render. This is also bearing in mind the running battle between the lawmakers and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in 2010 when the latter alleged that the lawmakers consumed 25 per cent of the nation's recurrent expenditure.
Needless to emphasise that the pay package for members of the National Assembly has been one of the most contentious issues in the polity in recent times, the package, usually referred to as “jumbo pay,” has been insinuated to imply that members of the National Assembly are probably the highest paid parliamentarians in the world.
But the lawmakers have often dissociated themselves from this insinuation of jumbo pay and had at different times, described it as a mere figment of the proponents' imagination.
On the other hand, some Nigerians often debate the quality of services rendered by members of the National Assembly because of the conviction that such do not correspond with their pay. There is yet another growing belief that a large percentage of lawmakers usually stay away from plenary sessions. This perception is strengthened by the sight of empty seats in the chambers that are shown on the television during sittings in both chambers.
There is also the belief that the National Assembly, at times, does not meet the minimum number of days required for it to sit. Section 63 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that “the Senate and the House of Representatives shall each sit for a period not less than 181 days in a year.”
A recent report, however, revealed that in the last one year, the Senate sat for only a total of 100 days in the year that just ended, implying that Nigerians were shortchanged by 81days, adding also that the senators went on break for as many as 158 days. Same report further accused the House of Representatives members of allegedly holding plenary sessions for only 107 days and spent as many as 140 days pursuing personal agenda last year.
By schedule of the National Assembly, both the Senate and House of Representatives are duty bound to hold plenary sessions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, while committee sessions hold everyday.
The report did not, however, mince words when it said: “After the first legislative year which runs from June to June, House of Representatives’ members went on a two-month annual vacation. For Easter, the House took two weeks break after which they took another two weeks for constituency outreach.
“Another 19 days were taken off for Eid-el Kabir celebrations while for Christmas and New Year, the House took a 21-day break. The situation is almost similar in the Senate as they took the end of the year break the same time as the House of Reps,” the report stated.
Furthermore, the report noted that: “There are also some other holidays that are normally observed, one of them was the 13-day break the House took to mark the first anniversary of the inauguration of the seventh House of Representatives. Last year, the annual vacation of Nigeria’s representatives ran from July to September and it lasted 62 days!
“Findings have also shown that a good number of the lawmakers spend more time outside the Federal Capital Territory than they do within it. Some are already preparing for the 2015 elections while many of those who stay in Abuja are merely extending their business frontiers,” the report noted.
But as the lawmakers reconvene today, a vast majority of Nigerians who have hitherto developed a sense of apathy towards the activities of their representatives hope that they will turn over a new leaf by performing their duties with patriotic sense, putting the interest of the society above theirs.
This, they believe, the representatives can demonstrate by affirming the maxim that "punctuality is the sole of business."
Besides, the lawmakers are expected to shore up their profiles in the New Year by deliberately overcoming the routine wave of scandals arising from the institution almost every year since the advent of democracy especially in the House of Representatives.
The disturbing spate of scandals in the legislature, as some would contend, had made the esteemed job of legislation undesirable and therefore designated as nothing but "job for the boys", almost stamping a comment by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, last year that "members of the National Assembly are rogues."
Therefore, concerned minds have reasoned that it is up to the lawmakers to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the lawmaking business this year as against the entrenched perception that it is nothing but a platform to amass wealth.
Eyes are also on the lawmakers to carry out major assignments lying before them this year with dignity and devoid of bias, ethnic or religious sentiment. Such assignments include the ongoing constitution review, passage of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), oversight functions and controversy revolving around the 2013 budget, among others.
Although, there were reports that the Northern lawmakers had vowed to frustrate the smooth passage of PIB because of beliefs that it would be beneficial only to oil producing regions in the South, it is expected that such mindset do not colour their sense of patriotism as they resume activities today.
In summary, many Nigerians hope that the lawmakers would uphold decorum, decency and dignity befitting their status in the new legislative year.