Despite its many challenges, the eighth National Assembly remains one of the most effective federal legislatures in the nation’s political history. Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo report
Despite the drama and intrigues associated with the emergence of Dr. Bukola Saraki, as the President of the eighth Senate on June 9, 2015, the legislature had struggled to carry out its core constitutional function of churning out good laws for the betterment of the nation.
Saraki, a two-time former governor of Kwara State, who is also the Chairman of the current National Assembly, alongside the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has been able to give quality leadership to the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Although the duo faced some challenges especially from some of their colleagues, who were opposed to their emergence, they were however able to quickly put that behind them to face the legislative duties ahead of them.
The Assembly had succeeded in passing several bills in the last three and a half years with President Buhari refusing to assent to some of them. A case in point is the 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which was transmitted by the National Assembly to the President but refused assent in a record four times
The Eighth National Assembly however recorded huge successes, particularly in actualising their mandate as a legislature in a country, where the people expect much from every level of governance.
As a mark of carrying out legislative duties for over three years at the National Assembly, Senate President Saraki had recently emphasised that federal lawmakers deserved some kudos, having performed well, noting that the Eighth Senate worked “assiduously and diligently to meet the demands of Nigerians.”
According to him, “In this time, we have passed 213 Bills, cleared 138 petitions submitted by the public. We are happy to say that this Senate is the most productive since 1999. It has surpassed the fifth Senate with 129 bills in four years, as against the sixth Senate with 72 bills, and 128 passed by the seventh Senate.
“The number of petitions we have successfully treated to the satisfaction of Nigerians, who filed them dwarfed those treated by the sixth and seventh Senate respectively.”
He was particularly excited that through legislative activities, the present Senate has contributed to growing the economy by passing Bills like the Companies and Allied Matters Act Bill; the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Bill; the Credit Bureau Reporting Bill and the Warehouse Receipts Bill; Nigerian Railways Authority Bill and National Transportation Commission Bill, which according to him, were aimed at providing significant reforms to the business environment and strengthening Nigeria lending legislative frameworks.
He further said, “We are particularly glad that the impact of the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act and the Credit Bureau Reporting Act became apparent immediately after they were signed into law as they formed the basis for which the World Bank upgraded the rating of Nigeria in its Annual Ease of Doing Business rating.
“We expect that when the new CAMA, which we just passed, becomes law, it will yield even more significant results in helping small and medium scale entrepreneurs to access capital, grow and multiply”.
He recalled also that the eighth Senate passed bills like the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill (FIUB); the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill; the Witness Protection Bill; the Whistleblower Protection Bill and the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill to support the fight against corruption.
Saraki further named the Constitution amendment bills, the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ bill, the Financial Autonomy for Local Government Bill, Financial Autonomy for Houses of Assembly, among other bills aimed at improving governance and ensuring that government serves the people better.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazaq Namdas, said what the House achieved in the past three and a half years surpassed previous assemblies.
According to him, the House successfully passed 222 bills and referred 284 to relevant committees. He added that over 1,473 bills were altogether introduced on the House floor with 90 bills for constitution amendment while 519 others were awaiting second reading.
Namdas disclosed that 112 bills were awaiting consideration, adding that 22 bills died naturally while 23 others were withdrawn by the leave of the House.
Since the inception of the National Assembly, no assembly has achieved this success,” Namdas said, particularly elated that the House was able to work with the executive to lead the country out of recession. Also notable was the passage of the North-east Development Commission (NEDC), for which the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, took credit.
There appears however to be a lot before the lawmakers. There are still 546 bills pending before the National Assembly as it gradually winds down. Though at the last count, the Eighth Senate has so passed about 219 bills, including Senate bills, concurrence bills and constitution amendment bills, pending bills at committee stage are 167; those awaiting first reading and second reading at both chambers of the federal legislature are 95 and 236 respectively, while pending bills for concurrence are 48.
President Buhari, however, assented to 32 out of 78 Bills transmitted to him.
Another task that the lower chamber may not be able to accomplish is addressing several petitions before it. The House has so far received a total of 1100 petitions out of which 127 were treated between January and December 2018.
In line with the provisions of Section 88(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Order 18(5) of the House of Representatives Standing Orders I, the Public Petitions Committee has been engaged in fact-findings/investigations of the 127 petitions.
The Public Petitions Committee chaired by Hon Uzo Nkem Abonta listened to allegations from individuals, collated information and made recommendations to the general House.
Talking about the achievements of the committee, Abonta said the committee had achieved a lot.
“I must say we have done very well in the last one year, because the committee has received more than 1,000 plus petitions. We have also considered many and I believe our efforts have also changed a lot of lives and situations;
“Several agencies have written to us conveying the implementations of our recommendations. So, yes it is worth the while serving Nigerians,” he said.
Abonta added that, “For instance, Nigeria National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC) is one of those agencies that wrote to the committee not too long ago to inform us of complying with our directives of reinstating some persons whom were sacked.”
As the federal lawmakers begin to wind down their activities, they are now saddled with the onerous task of working on the 2019 Appropriation Bill before them.
President Buhari had presented a N8.83Trillion budget estimates for the 2019 fiscal year to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 19, 24 hours short of when the lawmakers adjourned plenary till January 16, 2019.
The 2019 total budget estimate is N300 billion short of the 2018 budget of N9.1bn with N4.04trn being earmarked for recurrent expenditure while N2.03 trillion was earmarked for capital projects. N492.36bn was set aside for statutory transfers; N2.14trn for debt servicing and provision of N120bn as sinking fund.
The 2019 budget proposal is based on an oil benchmark of $60 and production estimate of 2.3 million barrels per day and an exchange rate of N305 to a dollar.
The real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 3.01 per cent and inflation rate of 9.98 per cent were presented to the lawmakers.
President Buhari presented projected revenue of N6.97trn, which is three per cent lower than the 2018 estimate of N7.17trn and the expected income consisted of oil revenue projected at N3.73trn, and non-oil revenue estimated at N1.39trn.
The estimate from non-oil revenue consists of N799.52bn from company income tax; N229.34 billion from value added tax, and customs duties of N302.5bn and expectations from independent revenue was reduced to N624.58bn.