Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The United Kingdom yesterday advised the National Assembly not to relegate legislative duties to the background as the political campaign for the 2019 general election in Nigeria gathers momentum.
The acting British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Harriet Thompson, who gave the advice in Abuja at a close-door meeting with both the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, emphatically told the National Assembly leadership not to relegate legislative duties to the background with the outset of campaigns for the 2019 general election in the country.
The envoy, who spoke with journalists at the end of the one-hour meeting, said: “We met with the Senate president and the Majority Leader of the Senate in order to talk about a very important legislative business that the National Assembly should undertake even before the elections and with the start of the official campaign period at the weekend.
“We are very pleased to hear from both the leader of the majority party and the Senate president that there is a great commitment to continue their important work.”
Thompson said she specifically told the NASS leadership on the need for the assembly to speed up action towards the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance (PIG) bill, the Police Reform bill, the Community and Non Allied Matters bill, the Gender Equality bill and the Disability bill. “There are bills in which we have key interests because we firmly believe that these bills are in the interest of the Nigerian people both in terms of their rights and in terms of their opportunities for economic development,” she further said.
Justifying her visit to the National Assembly, the High Commissioner said: “We are here at the National Assembly to draw attention to the statement released yesterday by the international community, including the UK, on the occasion of the beginning of formal campaign season.
She said: “We drew attention to the fact that as friends of Nigerians as well as maintaining our resolutely, objective position, we do not support any particular candidate or political party.
“We are strongly in support of a process that will be free, fair and credible, and that leads to the right outcome for Nigeria.
“We look forward to seeing the electoral parties set out their campaign issues and leading to transparent play so that the people of Nigeria can choose the candidates that will be best for them.
And they will campaign on the issues that matter to them, and they will then go out to exercise their democratic rights to vote based on their own understanding of what the different political parties and their candidates would do for them and for Nigeria.”
The envoy therefore called on the security agencies to remain impartial and not interfere in the electoral process, saying: “As far as we are concerned, intimidation and vote-buying that we saw in the recent governorship elections and the violence that we saw during party primaries should be refrained from.”
She also advised the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “to ensure that these elections are generally fair and will lead to the outcome that the Nigerian people choose.”
Earlier, Saraki assured Nigerians that legislative duties in the National Assembly would not be relegated to the background in view of the commencement of the 2019 political campaigns.
The Senate president, who made the assertion while responding to comments by Thompson, stated that “despite the fact that campaigns have started, governance will not suffer, and we can still make the lives of all Nigerians better.”
According to him, NASS will follow through on the key bills “and we will continue to work on these bills because they are priorities to the eighth National Assembly. These are bills were initiated by the legislative arm of government.
“For example, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) has never gotten this far in its history. However, both chambers of the National Assembly worked very hard to come up with a unified position and sent it to the executive arm. Unfortunately, it came back with some minor issues that we feel should not have affected the progress of the bill. These were issues that could have been easily addressed,” he stated.
According to him, “Both the executive and legislative arms of government must see that the most important thing is for us to get the PIGB going because it has a lot of impact on the industry in terms of transparency, accountability and ensuring that the revenues of the petroleum sector are well managed.”
On the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities bill, Saraki stated that the bill would soon be on its way to the president for assent, while emphasising that he was still hopeful that the Gender bill would be passed before the end of the eighth Assembly.