A Week of Melodrama at the National Assembly

In a week mired by a protest embarked upon by federal legislative workers, the National Assembly commenced moves to make June 12 a national holiday, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

Unlike in 2017, when President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2018 Appropriation Bill in record time on November 7 to the joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives, less than three weeks to the end of 2018, the Executive was yet to bring the 2019 Appropriation Bill before the legislature as at the close of work last week.

There are indications however that President Buhari may present the budget to the National Assembly this week with the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja on Friday to fine-tune and approve the budget proposals. President Buhari is therefore expected this week as a guest of the National Assembly to lay the 2019 Appropriation Bill before the lawmakers.

Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udoma, had given an insight into the 2019 Appropriation Bill on October 18, at the consultative forum on the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) and fiscal strategy paper (FSP) 2019 to 2021, when he said the federal government intended to submit the 2019 budget proposal to the National Assembly before the end of November, which did not materialise.

According to him, government projects achieving 2.3million barrels per day with production currently going up to 2.15 million barrels per day.

The federal government equally proposed an oil price benchmark of $50 per barrel in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). Udoma said with a rise in the price above $80 per barrel currently, the government moved the oil price benchmark to $60 a barrel and N305 was proposed as the naira-dollar exchange rate, while the projected target gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate for the 2019 budget was put at 3.01 per cent, reduced from 4.5 per cent in the ERGP; 3.6 per cent in 2020 and 3.9 per cent in 2021.

“Growth is expected to increase from 0.8 per cent in 2017 to 2.1 per cent this year and 3.01 per cent in 2019 with the continued implementation of the ERGP in 2019 and an improved outlook for oil prices,” he said.

On revenue, Udoma said based on the oil price and oil production assumptions, the government expects to generate about N3.6 trillion from oil, N500 billion more than last year’s earning. And N6.9trn revenue is projected to be available to the budget in 2019.

Meanwhile, June 12 of every year may soon become a National Holiday in the country if the current steps being taken by the National Assembly are anything to go by. Last week, the House of Representatives adopted the report of its Committee of the Whole to officially make June 12 a national holiday.

The legislative work titled: “A bill for an act to amend the Public Holidays Act, Cap. P40 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, was co-sponsored by Hon. Edward Pwajok (Plateau, APC) and Kayode Oladele (Ogun, APC) and adopted at Thursday plenary.

The Bill was designed to update the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari had on June 6, 2018, declared June 12 as a national holiday.

The Bill was referred to the Committee of the Whole on November 22, 2018, by the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara after passing second reading. While debating the bill, Pwajok noted that countries set aside some days to commemorate special events such as independence, religious festivals, and some heroes.

The Senate is also expected in the coming days to debate and pass similar Bill so that the two chambers can then harmonise their positions on the June 12 holiday after which the Bill would be transmitted to President Buhari for assent. And if signed into law by President Buhari, June 12 anniversaries will henceforth become public holidays to commemorate Democracy Day celebration, while 29 May will only be celebrated every four years when there is the inauguration of a new president.

Again, last week, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who had on several occasions failed to honour the invitation of the Senate to appear before it over the myriad of killings across the country put up a surprise appearance at a public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Police Affairs.

Idris, who stormed the venue of the public hearing with over 100 policemen including senior officers, did not spare the upper legislative chamber in his presentation. He expressed reservation over moves by the Senate to subject the appointment and removal of Inspector General of Police to confirmation of the Senate.

Representing the Nigeria Police Force at the public hearing, he also kicked against the move to reduce serving Deputy Inspectors General of Police ( DIGs) from seven to one as proposed in an amendment bill for the enactment of the Police Act, 2018 sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (Kebbi South).

Idris, who commented on the draft bill, which has 85 sections, however, aligned with a proposal for five-year tenure for Inspector-General of Police.

“The proposed bill will help in reforming the Police and reposition it in its key role in the administration of justice. There are a few observations by the Police Force. The confirmation and removal of Inspector General of Police by the Senate should be expunged from the bill. Appointment of the IGP as recommended by the Police Service Commission and nominated by the President without Senate confirmation is desirable to Police to avoid politicisation of the whole process”.

On the proposal for one DIG as against existing seven DIGs, Idris said it would be counterproductive as unbearable pressures administratively and operationally would be put on IGP and the only DIG.

“Presently, I have seven DIGs working with me at the Force headquarters. Reducing them to just only one DIG will be retrogressive considering the enormity of administrative and operational responsibilities attached to the office of the IGP”.

Also speaking at the public hearing, the Chairman of Police Service Commission (PSC), Alhaji Musiliu Smith, a retired Inspector General of Police, said the Commission agreed totally with the majority of the recommendations made in the bill, stressing that, if passed into law and effectively implemented, would improve the police service.

He, however, noted that the Police Affairs Committee could recommend adequate accommodation of officers and men of the Nigeria Police within police vicinity for efficient service delivery.

According to him, more policemen should be accommodated in barracks nationwide while more living quarters should be provided for officers.

“More men should be in Police environment, barracks for the junior ranks and officers’ quarters for senior officers. This will make them behave well and be well-disciplined police”, he said.

On his part, the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, in his submission advocated improved welfare for policemen and one of the ways of doing that, according to him, “is for the federal lawmakers to drastically cut down their monthly jumbo pay.”

In his opening address, Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, represented by the Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, said the Police in the country should be up and doing in securing lives and properties of the citizenry.

According to him, the 75-year-old colonial laws under which the police operate need to be repealed and new laws enacted to put the Force abreast of modern-day policing in line with global best practice.

Saraki said the new law, when enacted would guarantee better performance of police and adequate protection of citizens’ fundamental rights and privileges under the law just as he advocated a comprehensive review of funding framework for the force.

Na’Allah, who is the sponsor of the bill, said Nigeria police, which was in the past as one of the best Police forces in the world, has regrettably had its credibility eroded, adding that the police force has suffered in the hands of politicians and even the general public.

“Every attempt to insulate the police as a responsible institution has failed. There are so many allegations against the police. Police need to be insulated from politics and politicians,” Na’Allah further said.

In other news, however, workers at the National Assembly, last week, shocked both the management and leadership of the legislature, when they made good their threat to picket the Assembly over unpaid salary arrears and outstanding promotion.

The workers under the aegis of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), on Tuesday, barricaded all entrances to the chambers and denied the legislators chance to carry out legislative duties for that day.

PASAN had penultimate weekend threatened to picket the National Assembly if the management failed to accede to its demands, including outstanding workers’ salaries and promotions. The workers, in their hundreds, amassed at the foyer of the National Assembly as early as 8.am barricaded the entrances to the two chambers thereby preventing Senators and House members from carrying out their legislative duties.

The federal lawmakers including the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who arrived for plenary, were prevented from gaining entry into the Chambers by the angry staff, who insisted that there wouldn’t be sitting in the National Assembly until the payment of their Consolidated Salary Structure (CONLESS).

The protesting workers, who chanted several anti-Clerk of the National Assembly (CNA), Mohammed Sani-Omolori songs, displayed placards with inscriptions such as: “Executive, fund National Assembly now”, “Omolori must go”, “Our Mumu Don Do”, “CONLESS has been approved since 2010”, “Promotion is our right, say no to consultancy”, etc.

Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki in company with Speaker Dogara, at about 1.55 pm, addressed the workers and sought their co-operation in resolving the issues at stake.

Saraki, who told the aggrieved workers to give the National Assembly leadership up till Friday to find a lasting solution to their demands, was however halted with shouts of ‘No Alert, No Sitting, No Alert; No Sitting’.

Later, Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan and his House Counterpart, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, told reporters that the leadership of the National Assembly decided to intervene “in the matter between the workers and Assembly management so that matters will not get out of hand”.

He, however, cautioned the workers against disrupting the sitting of the two chambers of the Assembly, saying “much as the workers have the right to complain, they should not prevent Senate and House from carrying out their legislative duties”.

Chairman of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), Hon. Bature Musa had earlier justified the picketing saying the intention of the protesting workers was not to have a faceoff with the lawmakers but to drive home their request for the payment of their outstanding salaries.

Though Musa, who spoke with reporters during the protest initially promised that lawmakers would not be prevented from accessing the red and the green chambers, when they arrived, that was not to be as Senators Kabiru Marafa, Ben Bruce, Ekweremadu, the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon. Alhassan Doguwa, among others, were prevented from entering the respective chambers.

According to him, “the word picketing does not prevent anybody from working; it is a message passed to the leadership of the National Assembly and don’t forget, it is for a duration of between 9.am and 2.pm then after that everyone will return to work.

“What we had at the back of our minds when we set out for the picketing was that when the legislators come around, they would definitely find out what is happening, because we have written to them almost eight months ago, and nothing seems to be happening.”

In his reaction, Sani-Omolori blamed the non-payment of salary, which led to the agitation by PASAN to the non-release of the 2018 budget by the federal government, saying it was not within the powers of the legislature to facilitate the payment the workers were requesting for.

“I still insist that they need to be a bit patient with the system. Like I said, in my reply to their letter; in an unprecedented manner, the presiding officers acceded, without hesitation to their requests for this increment.

It was bargained with them and they captured it in the budget.

“So, how is it in their (lawmakers) powers, if the money is not released? And in any case, the reality on the ground is that it is not only the National Assembly that is suffering from non-release of funds. That is the reality of the Nigerian situation. So, I think we all have to be patient.

“It is a matter that has been on for some time now and we have tried to explain to them.

We approved a salary increase for them, which was captured in the 2018 budget, but as it is today, it is common knowledge that the level of implementation of the 2018 budget, especially, the new addition to the National Assembly, which has not been implemented – that is where we had hoped that the addition would be paid. So, to the extent that the money has not been released and that there is no way we can make the payment.”

On the protest, Sani-Omolori noted that, “We told them it is wrong and we tried to prevail on them to try to see through things in the correct way. As a matter of fact, I wrote a letter to them and I also had series of formal and informal consultations with their leadership to make them back out of what is clearly an act that is not in tune with their own rules”.

Asked if he was worried by the action of the workers, the CNA said: “I am worried that in an institution that you think people should be able to look at things properly and then they are not looking at it.

That is why I am worried.”

The Assembly leadership later held a closed-door meeting with the National Assembly management as well as officials of PASAN, which the Assembly management was given up till last Friday to resolve all issues pertaining to the outstanding salaries and promotion of the parliamentary staff.

This appears to be a tall order as the Assembly management as represented by the Clerk of the National Assembly as at weekend was yet to meet the demands of the aggrieved parliamentary workers.

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