For N’Assembly, Lessons From 2018

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As National Assembly reconvenes this week to consider the 2019 Appropriation Bill presented to it by President Muhammadu Buhari last December, Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo write that the experience of the lawmakers in 2018 should come handy in their projections into the New Year

Despite the fact that Senators and House of Representatives members, who won their respective parties’ tickets are currently busy in their various senatorial districts and federal constituencies, canvassing for votes, the eighth National Assembly will resume plenary this Wednesday after about a month adjournment.

During the four-week legislative break, some of the lawmakers were actively involved in both national and local campaigns of their respective parties.

For instance, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, were both in the forefront of the campaign by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.

Saraki as the Director-General of the Atiku Campaign Council led other party faithful including Dogara to campaign for PDP and Atiku in Lafia, Nasarawa State and Jos, Plateau State, among other places.

The Senate President also took time off to campaign for his re-election as Senator representing Kwara Central Senatorial District as well as the election of the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice, Hon Rasak Atunwa, as governor of Kwara State on the platform of PDP.

With the federal lawmakers returning to their legislative duties this week, priority is expected to be given to the 2019 Appropriation Bill before the Assembly.

The Appropriation Committees of both the Senate and House of Representatives headed by Senator Danjuma Goje (APC Gombe) and Hon Mustapha Bala (APC Kano) respectively will need to do everything possible towards ensuring that all the Ministers and heads of extra ministerial departments appear before the relevant committees to defend their respective budget quotations.

The speedy passage of the Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly is of the essence while not forgetting that President Buhari was late in presenting the proposals unlike in 2017, when the 2018 Appropriation Bill was laid before the Assembly as early as November 7.

The forthcoming general election scheduled to begin on February 16 through to March 2 may also slow down the consideration of the budget estimates, because most of the lawmakers will be actively involved at the polls and it may not be until mid-March that the full complement of the two chambers of the National Assembly will be able to fine-tune the budget estimates for this fiscal year.

As the nation awaits the passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill by the Assembly, the 2018 legislative year was associated with a lot of things happening within and outside the two chambers of the National Assembly and which could give force to the 2019 projections.

Take for instance, 2018 was a year characterised by unending disputes between the President Muhammadu Buhari-led executive and the two chambers of the legislative arm of government. It is however worthy of note to identify the fact that in the year that just ended, the no-love-lost relationship between the federal government and the lawmakers, dates back to June, 2015, when the duo of Dr. Saraki and Hon. Dogara assumed office as Senate President and Speaker respectively without the approval of their former party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

There is however a great deal of possibility that the rivalry would continue this year, not only because they are now in different parties but because this is an election year.

Issue of Budget Padding

Budget padding gained a place of prominence in the Nigerian political lexicon in 2016. Though it is something that had been on over the years, the face-off that emanated between the executive and the legislature brought it to fore that year and it resurfaced again in 2018. Just a few days into 2018, President Buhari raised the alarm that the National Assembly was tampering with the 2018 budget sent to the Assembly by cutting essential projects and inserting non-essential ones.

Expressing discontentment when he was signing the 2018 budget into law, Buhari said: “I am concerned about some of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the budget proposals that I presented.

“Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and cost and will therefore be difficult to execute.”

According to President Buhari, federal lawmakers reduced N347 billion in the allocations of 4, 700 projects submitted to them and injected 6, 403 projects of their own, which amounted to N578 billion.

The allegations were collectively denied by the two chambers. The chairman, Senate committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, and his House of Representatives counterpart, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas, faulted the submission of President Buhari.

The 2018 budget will go down in Nigeria’s history as one that was haphazardly padded and has remained largely unimplemented to date. Perhaps, the 2019 budget would walk away from this stigma.

Gale of Defections

Call 2018 a year of defections and you will not be far from the truth. The gale of defections that hit the National Assembly reached its climax when 37 members of the House of Representatives and 14 senators dumped the APC for the PDP.

There is no doubt that the APC equally profited from the defections with some lawmakers, including PDP members, joining the ruling party (one of such was former Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio) but it was glaring that the defection of both Saraki and Dogara to the opposition PDP unsettled the APC.

In what was more the fallout of the party primary, the APC continued to lose its members to the PDP, even till the end of last year, 2018 and in spite these defections, the APC maintained that it has a comfortable lead in terms of number in the National Assembly.

But to ascertain how true that is may require more than mere census, because just like Williams Shakespeare once wrote, “There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face,” so also, it may be impossible to say where some lawmakers stand, even though the last may not have been heard of defections.

The DSS Invasion

The sack of a former Director-General of the Department of State Service (DSS), Lawal Daura by then acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), when masked DSS operatives took over the premises of the National Assembly, shortly after thugs invaded the Senate chamber and stole the mace while plenary was ongoing remains one of the dark spots of 2018.

The understanding among the lawmakers and many Nigerians was that following Saraki and other APC members’ defections, the leadership of the ruling party opted to embark on kangaroo impeachment of the Senate President, using security operatives to pave the way for pro-government lawmakers to carry out the illegal act.

Unfortunately, the outcry generated by that thoughtless decision from the corridors of power changed many things in the executive/legislative diatribe in 2018. Indeed, the international community was worried and disturbed by that development, the reason many reckoned Osinbajo sacrificed Daura.

Thus, looking into the new year with the fear of such misadventure of 2018 is natural but that is no longer in fashion and might have died with last year.

A Turbulent Year for Saraki

When Saraki and his supporters were heaving a sigh of relieve after the two-man panel of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) led by its Chairman, Danladi Umar, discharged and acquitted him of the 18-count charge of false asset declaration and other related offences, Saraki was again entangled in yet another crisis.

He was said to have questions to answer over his alleged relationship with five armed robbery suspects, who were involved in the April 5, 2018 heist of some banks in Offa, Kwara State. Over 30 people, many of them police officers, were killed.

Police Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, said “The gang leaders namely, Ayoade Akinnibosun, Ibikunle Ogunleye, Adeola Abraham, Salawudeen Azeez, Niyi Ogundiran and some of the other 17 suspects arrested for direct involvement and active participation in the Offa robbery admitted, confessed and volunteered statements that they were political thugs of Saraki and the Governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed.”

Both Saraki and Ahmed maintained their innocence, saying the allegation was politically motivated. The case is not yet closed, even though the principal suspect, Michael Adikwu had reportedly died in police custody amid suspicion of murder.

Nothing however says it is uhuru yet for Saraki. By occupying a preeminent place in the scheme of things, it does appear he would remain a factor that the ruling party would chase after, moreso as Atiku’s campaign DG.

Omo-Agege’s Suspension Drama

Another unforgettable episode of last year in the legislature was when the lawmaker representing Delta Central senatorial district on the platform of the ruling APC, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was suspended on Thursday, April 12, 2018 during plenary over his remarks that the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act was targeted at President Buhari.

He was suspended for 90 legislative days for rescinding on his apologies over his support for President Buhari. He was however pardoned by the Senate leadership after the Senate Committee on Ethics had recommended that the senator be suspended for 181 legislative days.

The issue later took a new dimension on Wednesday, April 18, when thugs allegedly on the prompting of the suspended lawmaker stormed the Senate Chambers, caused confusion and made away with the mace, the symbol of authority of the legislature.

Although the mace was recovered later in the day around the Abuja National Stadium, where it was allegedly abandoned by the invaders, nothing had since been heard about the suspected mace thieves, who the police later claimed were arrested.

Lawmakers, Police Cold Tie

Obviously, the slogan, ‘Police is your friend,’ may not be applicable to the relationship between the federal lawmakers and the Police High Command. Two thousand and eighteen was indeed a year of several face-offs between the lawmakers and the police authority.

A lawmaker representing Bauchi Central Senatorial District, Senator Isah Misau, alleged that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, impregnated a serving deputy superintendent of police (DSP), Esther, an act which he said contravened the Police Act, adding that the IGP was also having affairs with two other policewomen whom he allegedly gave special promotions.

That aside, lawmakers vehemently condemned the police boss over wanton killings nationwide and his inability to stop it and the Senate was particularly disenchanted about what was considered the witch-hunt of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Dino Melaye, who the police succeeded in arresting last week after police personnel had kept vigil at his Maitama residence in Abuja.

Several attempts to summon the IGP to appear before the lawmakers fell on deaf ears, making the Senate President to tag the IG the most partisan police IG ever. In fact, the Nigerian Senate ended up declaring IGP Ibrahim Idris unfit to hold public office.

Buhari and the 2019 Budget Drama

President Buhari will not in a hurry forget the experience he had in the hands of the lawmakers, when he presented the 2019 budget to a joint session of the federal lawmakers last December.

The President, no doubt, got a shock of his life when he was booed with screams of “no”, “no”, “lies” each time he made reference to the achievements of his three and a half years administration.

Apparently taken aback by the open display of disdain for him by the lawmakers, at a point the president left his prepared speech, and told the lawmakers: “Distinguished members, let us conduct ourselves properly.

The world is watching us; we are supposed to be above this.”

Eventually, the President laid the document before the lawmakers, and he equally got a huge support from APC members, who shouted ‘Sai Baba,’ to subdue the chants of ‘Freedom come by struggle,’ by the opposition PDP.

Toying with Parliamentary Idea

While there were several bills presented in the course of 2018, a bill to amend the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria to reintroduce a parliamentary system of government, which passed first reading in the House of Representatives last December, was of particular interest.

The bill was sponsored by 71 lawmakers, who sought to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary and have the government run by the parliament.

One of the major differences between these two systems is that in a presidential system, the President is directly voted into power by the people while in a parliamentary system, the legislature is supreme and elects a prime minister from among members of parliament as head of government.

There is also no clear separation of powers in the system between the legislature and the executive as the ministers are also appointed from the parliament, thus, it is collective responsibility. It was the British-styled parliamentary system that Nigeria practiced until the collapse of the first republic on January 15, 1966, when the military took over power.

It is not clear if the lawmakers were genuinely committed to pursuing the constitutional amendment bill to a logical conclusion, it is however a move already enjoying the support of many leaders and so, it would be on the watch list of a lot of observers of the legislature. Perhaps, the move would be reenacted in the new year.

Death in the House

Sadly enough, many lawmakers lost their lives in the year under review. In March, the Deputy Majority Leader of the House, Hon Umar Buba Jibril, who represented Lokoja/Kogi federal constituency died. The cold hands of death also snatched two Senators.

Senator Ali Wakili representing Bauchi South senatorial district died in March while Senator Mustapha Bukar, who represented Katsina-North senatorial district also died in April. Another House member, Hon. Funke Adedoyin, a vibrant lawmaker, who represented Irepodun Isin/Ekiti/Oke-Ero federal constituency of Kwara State also died in 2018. Just some few hours to the end of 2018, the death of another House member, Hon. Abayomi Ayeola, was announced. He died on December 30 at a private hospital in Lagos, after a brief illness.

The two-term lawmaker had clinched the APC ticket at the party’s primary in October to seek a third term in the House in 2019. He was until his death the leader of the Lagos caucus at the House of Representatives.

The 2019 Projections…

Now that election is around the corner, the Senate President and the Speaker belong to the opposition party, PDP and are working closely with Atiku Abubakar, PDP’s presidential candidate to unseat President Buhari. There is however no sign that peace will return between the executive and the legislative arms of government.

The interpretation of this is that the National Assembly and the Presidency will only be able to relate just as they have been relating till May 29, when a new government comes on board and if President Buhari is re-elected, he would only be able to condone the lawmakers until the 9th National Assembly is inaugurated on June 9.

The PIGB and Oil Politics

In August 2018, President Buhari refused assent to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), but going by the position of Saraki that the National Assembly would not hesitate to mount necessary pressure to get presidential assent to the bill, it would be expected to resonate before the expiration of the time of the eighth National Assembly in 2019.

According to Saraki, the resolve by the legislature to mount pressure to ensure that the bill gets presidential assent is necessary, given its importance to the development of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.

Confronting the General Election

After all said and done, the lawmakers who succeeded at winning their respective party tickets to return to the National Assembly will face the electorate in the February 16 presidential and National Assembly elections.

Already, there is going to be about 85 per cent turnover among the current crops of lawmakers as many were unable to pick their parties’ tickets, therefore, the National Assembly will receive some new set of lawmakers come June, 2019 and the learning process will continue for an all-critical institution of state.