The federal lawmakers returned from a 25-day recess on Wednesday, January 16, with the leadership charging members to be prepared for more legislative duties in the New Year, write Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

Upon resumption of plenary on Wednesday, January 16, Chairman of the National Assembly, who also doubles as the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, drummed it into the ears of their colleagues that more work needed to be done as the 8th National Assembly, which was inaugurated on June 9, 2015 began the final lap of its four-year legislative race.

But the plenary on January 16 was however adjourned by the two chambers of the National Assembly as a mark of honour for one of the lawmakers, Hon. Abayomi Ayeola (Ibeju Lekki federal constituency), who died on December 30, 2018.

In line with the tradition of the Assembly, the two chambers adjourned plenary till Thursday, January 17 but not until both Saraki and Dogara had formally welcomed their colleagues back with strongly-worded speeches.

Saraki used the occasion to note that going by the anticipatory mood of an average Nigerian, the nation has a date with destiny this year. Saraki emphasised that “as evident all around us, the New Year has met our countrymen and women in an anticipatory mood.

“Spirits are high, because in this year 2019, Nigeria has a date with destiny. But we also know that despite all of this, the work of leadership must go on; governance must not suffer. We must trudge on and fulfill our mandates as legislators subject to the Nigerian Constitution and the will of the people.”

He, however, urged his colleagues not to be distracted from their legislative duties, adding that, “We must have our eyes firmly fixed on the unfinished business of the 8th Senate and that is to bring the legislative agenda to a fitting close and cap our endeavours of these four years with success as we cannot relent or lose steam on this last lap. We must remain focused and finish strong.”

According to him, the 8th Senate had by the end of 2018 passed an unprecedented 257 bills, many of which are groundbreaking enough to change the game to meet the needs of Nigerians, with the potential to radically transform their lives for the better.

“Nigerians expect us to continue in this vein, and we owe it to ourselves to meet their expectations. The legacy of the 8th Senate will be written in the legislative footprints that we leave, and the foundation that we lay”, and therefore urged his colleagues to ensure that they continue to address issues affecting Nigerians, and which they seek legislative intervention.

“Issues such as unemployment, lack of economic opportunities, insecurity and so on – these still require the attention of the National Assembly. Every action that we can take to address these issues through the legislative function, we must take. Everything that we can do, we must do. We must ensure that we conclude work on all outstanding bills and petitions; and bring successful conclusion to all issues and investigations brought to the attention of this Senate.”

On the forthcoming general election, Saraki advised his colleagues to rise above partisanship as they go about their legislative work.

His words: “In our work in this chamber, we are expected to rise about the partisan paradigm. We should address our minds to, and always channel our efforts to how we can move our country forward. Nigerians want to see leaders, who will not succumb to the partisan instinct in lawmaking. They want to see leaders, who will bring new ideas to bear on the challenges confronting the country.”

He stressed the need for all to ensure that everything must be done and every sacrifice must be made to ensure free and fair 2019 Elections.

“INEC is encouraged to engage the parties and be transparent in its decision-making. It is important that the people are assured of the Commission’s resolve and commitment to credible elections.

“To all Nigerians, I say this: we must have a country after the elections. We all still have to live among ourselves when the polls have closed and the elections are over. The rhetoric leading up to the elections must therefore be mindful of the need for moderation, decorum and respect.”

The Senate President also advised leaders not to heat up the polity saying, “leaders should help reduce the tension in the polity by contributing to an atmosphere of moderate and measured political conversations.

“Expectations of the Executive are also palpable, particularly with regard to the need to uphold the Constitution and its tenets especially, as they guarantee the minimum basic requirement of Separation of Powers; the unity of the country and the welfare of the citizens,” he said.

Saraki further stressed the role of the judiciary in promoting justice saying if the Judiciary was violated or eroded or otherwise brought to ill repute, so do the values attached to its role in a democracy.

“Everyone in the political value chain should therefore do nothing that could raise tensions in the country. Nigerians are looking up to leaders, who will douse flames that have the potential to threaten the peace and wellbeing of our country”.

On his part, Dogara, while welcoming his colleagues back was emphatic that the lawmakers were ready to commence the second reading of the 2019 Appropriation Bill.

In fact, he initially promised that the House would start work on the 2019 budget after the valedictory session held on Thursday in honour of Ayeola and the late Second Republic President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

His words: “I hope copies of the budget have been circulated? If copies of the budget have been circulated, we may have to start the second reading of the budget tomorrow.”

Although listed on the Thursday Order Paper to be considered for second reading as promised Wednesday, Dogara told the House that the second reading had to be postponed because members were yet to get copies of the budget.

“We will not take the debate on the second reading of the budget until members have copies (of the budget). So, we will fix a new date,” he said but candidly, the Speaker has shown more than a passing interest in facilitating a quick passage of the 2019 budget. He pleaded with his colleagues to ensure a quick passage of the budget.

Aside that, Dogara also made some instructive observations on some issues bordering on national security and his expectations on the fast approaching 2019 general election.

Primarily, Dogara was not pretentious that the end of the tenure of the eighth National Assembly is about five months away so, he said there was no better time than now to reflect on the journey that started in June, 2015.

While he was certain that members of the House can confidently beat their chests that that they have done appreciably well as lawmakers, Dogara said: “We must realise that the remaining period demands of us to work assiduously and expeditiously so that we can dispose of the huge legislative assignments that still lie ahead of us.

“This will enable us to sustain to the very last day the unsurpassed record of legislative outputs we have this far achieved thus finishing as strongly as we started and have fared.”

Dogara, therefore, called for an accelerated passage of the 2019 budget appropriation bill so that the business of the federal government, which ends on May 29, 2019, is not negatively affected.

On the 2019 Appropriation Bill, the Speaker said it was a major assignment “we have to discharge as quickly as possible so that Government business will not be impeded as the life of the federal government draws to a close.”

According to him, “It is imperative in this regard that we accelerate our pace of work in all the legislative processes involved in the Bill so that it could be passed in good time.”

The Speaker also lamented the continuous deteriorating security situation in the country especially, in the North-east, North-west and some parts of the North-central, calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to overhaul the Nigerian security architecture.

He implored members seeking elective offices to commit time to completing their legislative duties, stressing that “We all know that the process for the 2019 general election is at its peak. The demand of the current political campaigns on our time is obvious to all.

“While this is not new to many of us, I wish to remind us to strike a good balance between our commitment to our legislative duties and our participation in the campaigns. In particular, those of us who are contesting elections should streamline our political timetable and schedules to make room for our attendance to our legislative duties as much as is expected of us.”

He also noted that there were some other bills under consideration, which were critical to the development of Nigeria and that must receive the concerted attention in the days ahead, saying “We must resolve to conclude work on as many of these bills as possible for the advancement of the country and the wellbeing of our people”.

On the poor state of security in the country, Dogara said: “Only three days ago, scores of people were killed in Sokoto State and elsewhere,” adding that “hardly any week passes without reports of mass killings and bloodletting either by terrorists or armed bandits.

“This calls for drastic, urgent and concerted action and efforts to bring to a quick end. Our citizens are looking up to us and we can’t afford to fail them, because security of lives and properties is the primary purpose of government. The fight against unbridled violence is one we cannot afford to lose as we can’t do so and still keep our civilisation.

“The symptoms of the malady afflicting our national security architecture are in plain sight. It is therefore imperative for the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces to take a hard look at our national security architecture with a view to fixing the malady in order to secure lives, national pride and prestige.”

Dogara regretted that President Buhari declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 despite painstaking efforts of the National Assembly, which he said was aimed at giving the country a more acceptable electoral system.

“It should remain a thing of pride for us that the National Assembly has done its best by taking steps to guarantee the successful and rancour-free conduct of the 2019 general election by passing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill for the third time after Mr. President had declined assent to it twice.

“Lack of passage into Law of the amended Bill means that the impending general election will not benefit from the innovative mechanisms crafted in its collaboration with international and Development partners.

“Consequently, the palpable fears of well-meaning Nigerians and the international community of the possibility of some forces working to manipulate the coming elections by exploiting the identified loopholes in the current Electoral Act may become a reality if proactive steps are not taken by critical stakeholders.

“We had intended through this Bill to minimise the risk to the survival of our hard-won democracy through responsive and timely legislation aimed at ensuring free, fair and transparent elections. Nonetheless, as Parliament, we have done our best to guarantee the stability and growth of our fragile democracy, and I have no doubt that history will be very kind to us.

“Under the present circumstance, we have no choice than to take INEC and the police by their words and give them the benefit of doubt in their recent assurances to be impartial, efficient and truthful in the conduct of the coming elections. This is the minimum that the country deserves from them at this auspicious time. Nothing short of complete openness, a level playing ground and strict adherence to extant laws will be acceptable to Nigerians.”

But on the sideline of all that happened in the two days that the National Assembly held plenary last week, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) added one more lawmaker to its rank in the House of Representatives on Thursday when the lawmaker representing Okitipupa/ Irele federal constituency of Ondo State, Hon Mike Omogbehin, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Dogara read Omogbehin’s defection letter dated January 16, 2019 at plenary.

Omogbehin wrote in the letter “I wish to inform you that I have formally resigned my membership of the People Democratic Party (PDP) in an earlier letter to the chairman of my ward.

“My over seventeen years of unflinching loyalty and passion, as well as the passion of overwhelming majority of the good people of my constituency for the party is dead.

”I am therefore very pleased to inform you that I have decided to agree with my people in pitching my tent with the All Progressives Congress (APC) in continuation of my political journey.”

The passing of former President Shagari also received the attention of both the Senate and the House of Representatives with the lawmakers taking turns to eulogise the virtues of the late elder statesman.

The Senate urged the federal government to immortalise Shagari by naming a national monument after him. This was sequel to a motion moved by Senator Ibrahim Danbaba (Sokoto South) and co-sponsored by eight other Senators on the demise of former President Shagari, who died on December 28, 2018 at the National Hospital, Abuja.

The co-sponsors of the motion were Senators Tijjani Yahaya (Zamfara North), Bala Na’Allah (Kebbi South), Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto East) and Aliyu Wammakko (Sokoto North). Others were Senators Adamu Aleiro (Kebbi Central), Ahmed Yarima (Zamfara West), Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara Central) and Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North).

Many Senators including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over Thursday’s plenary, eulogised the virtues of Shagari, who died at the age of 93.

While observing a minute silence in honour of Shagari, the Senate also resolved to send a high-powered delegation to condole with the family of the deceased as well as the people and government of Sokoto State.

Earlier, some Senators had described the December, 1983 coup that ousted the second republic government of Shagari as a cog in the wheel of development of the country.

The senators, who spoke while contributing to a motion, titled “The Demise of Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari”, lamented that Nigeria would have improved tremendously in all facets of life if the administration of the first executive president elected on the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), was not overthrown by the military.

They noted that the late former president had a clear vision for Nigeria’s development and lived a life worthy of emulation by the present leaders and young politicians so as to restore the old glory of the country.

Leading the debate, Senator Danbaba, said Shagari promoted national unity in the country and executed many projects in the agricultural sector under his government’s Green Revolution programme, housing and industrial development.

According to him, Shagari had a distinguished and unblemished public record spanning over a period of 30 years, adding that “he was forthright, a nation-builder, a distinguished statesman that contributed greatly to the growth and development of democracy in Nigeria”.

He therefore lamented that Shagari’s government was overthrown in a military coup in 1983, thereby terminating the Second Republic democratic rule barely after four years, noting that the deceased remained a political colossus after he was toppled from office.

Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (Abia North), said the 1983 coup took Nigeria backward by 20 years.

Describing him as a detribalised Nigerian, Senator Ohuabunwa said the late second republic president would be remembered for his selfless love and commitment to the nation’s unity.