- Senate passes 319, House 382
- Saraki to release books chronicling his stewardship
- Kudos, knocks for legislature
Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Shola Oyeyipo, Alex Enumah and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
As the Eighth National Assembly winds down its legislative activities today, with a valedictory session scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., THISDAY’s findings revealed that the Senate passed 319 bills within four years.
However, President Muhammadu Buhari vetoed no fewer than 65 of such bills.
Apart from the number of bills, which surpassed those passed by the Fifth to Seventh Senate, the upper chamber of the nation’s legislature also treated 219 public petitions brought before it.
The House of Representatives, however, had more hauls in bill passage, clocking 382 bills, 1,588 motions, and 1,192 petitions
The acting Clerk, House of Representatives, Mr. Patrick Giwa, made this known in a letter informing the federal lawmakers that the Special valedictory session to end the Eight House holds on today.
At the session this morning, Senate President Bukola Saraki, who doubles as the Chairman of the National Assembly, is expected to give his valedictory speech as well as make public some books chronicling his stewardship.
However, mixed reactions from different groups and professionals have greeted the legislative activities of the outgoing federal lawmakers.
Some of the bills passed by the legislature include the Nigerian Railway Bill 2015, Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act CAP B2 LFN 2011 (Repeal and Re-enactment) 2015; National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (est, etc.) Bill 2015, Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (est., etc.) Bill 2015; Electronic Transaction Bill 2015; Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme Act (Amendment) Bill 2015; Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (Est., etc.) Bill, 2015 and Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2015.
Others include, the North East Development Commission (NEDC) (Est., etc.) Bill 2015; Erosion Control and Prevention Commission (Est., etc.) Bill 2015; Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous provision) Amendment Bill 2015; Federal University of Petroleum Resources Effurun (Est, etc) Bill 2015; Food Security Bill 2015; Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (Establishment, etc) Bill 2015; Environmental Managers Registration Council of Nigeria (Establishment, etc) Bill 2015; Nigeria Institute of Soil Science (Establishment, etc) Bill 2015 and Nigeria Football Federation (Establishment, etc) and others Bill.
In the last six months alone, the Senate passed no few than 60 bills, including the National Minimum Wage Bill, which pegged the least salary of a worker at N30,000. Forty of such bills were passed within the last three weeks.
However, despite the large number of bills passed by the Senate and by extension, the House of Representatives, Buhari has in the last four years refused assent to no fewer than 65 bills.
Some of the rejected bills by the president included the controversial National Housing Fund Bill; Ajaokuta Steel Company Completion Fund Bill; Nigerian Aeronautical Search and Rescue Bill; Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency Bill and National Biotechnology Development Agency Bill.
Others are the National Institute of Credit Administration Bill; Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria Bill; the Chartered Institute of Training and Development of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill and the four versions of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
The legislative interventions of the upper chamber of the National Assembly since June, 2015 include, the first-ever National Assembly Joint Public Hearing on the budget, which gave the public, civil society organisations and stakeholders such as labour an opportunity to weigh-in on the 2017 Appropriations Bill.
The Senate also intervened in the Abuja Airport closure in 2017, saying the closure would affect businesses operating in the capital and pushed for alternatives to the closure of the Abuja airport.
In September 2016, the Senate constituted an eight-man Ad-hoc Committee on North-east to ascertain the total amount of funds released to the Presidential Initiative on the North-East and to probe spending by the Federal Government on the humanitarian crisis in the geopolitical zone.
The committee later indicted the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, for allegedly misappropriating about N200 million.
Other legislative interventions by the Senate include allocation of N10 billion in March 2016 to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-east in recognition of the dire situation.
The Senate also submitted a 21-point resolution on executive actions that the executive needed to take to shore up investors’ confidence, create jobs, increase revenues and get Nigeria’s economy back on track.
The last legislative intervention of the Senate was the N10 billion it added to the N8.916trillion 2019 budget passed last month by the National Assembly, to tackle humanitarian crisis in Zamfara State.
This followed a request by Senator Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara Central) in a motion moved to that effect on the floor of the Senate.
But in his assessment of the outgoing Senate, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, Senator Adebayo Ibrahim (Kwara South), told THISDAY that the upper chamber has performed creditably well.
He said he was fulfilled as a member of the outgoing Senate, going by the achievements recorded.
He said: “I’m proud to be a member of the Eighth Senate because from the leaders to members, we upheld the tenets of democracy despite all odds and executive intimidation.
“Up till the last sitting, we were still passing bills and also concurring with the House of Representatives on some of their bills. The Senate stands tall as we handled many petitions in the interest of the public.”
Also, the Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce (Bayelsa East), said the Senate did a good job in the last four years “in spite of the difficulties we had with the Executive.’’
He expressed concern that senators were at times divided along party lines, which affected the legislative work at the Red Chamber.
Murray-Bruce advised the executive not to interfere in the choice of leadership of the Ninth Assembly billed for inauguration on Tuesday.
“The legislature should be left to choose its leaders. This is my candid advice as most of the fighting and distractions of the Eighth Senate were caused by executive interference,” he said.
On his part, the National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said the Eighth Assembly deserves the commendation of Nigerians for preserving the tenets of democracy.
According to him, “They came in at a very trying moment for the Nigerian democracy; when we stand to have what would be an elected dictatorship. Even under the military administration, we had judiciary.
‘’But under this administration, we were going to have only an executive arm of government where the other arms would have been subservient to the executive.
“But no matter what we may have against the National Assembly as presently constituted, we must give it to the Dogara and Saraki’s House of Representatives and Senate respectively.
“They did their best in ensuring that they cooperated with the executive, when required. They stamped the authority of the legislature where necessary at all times and that was what gave us some semblance of democracy in this country; otherwise we would have had a full elected dictatorship in Nigeria.”
CAN: Eighth N/Assembly Plays Noble, Patriotic Role
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) also lauded the outgoing legislature for discharging its constitutional roles.
The Special Assistant (Media and Communication) to CAN President, Pastor Oladeji Adebayo, while assessing the performance of the National Assembly members, said they were able to pass many bills.
Adebayo who responded to THISDAY’s enquiry yesterday, said the legislators had exhibited understanding and patriotism in the discharge of their functions.
He said: “We congratulate the leadership of the Eighth National Assembly for their patriotic roles while the four years lasted. By our records, they have passed more bills and motions than any of their predecessors.
‘’We commend them for their roles while President Muhammadu Buhari was sick abroad; they showed understanding and patriotism. Even when there were disagreements between them and the executive, there was never a time they failed to perform their constitutional roles.”
Raji: Frosty Relations with Executive Major Setback
However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Ahmed Raji, identified the frosty relationship between the legislature and the executive arm of government as the major setback of the Eighth legislature.
He expressed confidence that with good understanding on the part of the two, there can be improvement in their relationship in future.
He called for a modified parliamentary system of government, which he said would adequately address issues of insecurity and development in the country.
“Perhaps a lasting solution will be better achieved with an adoption of a modified parliamentary system, which is less expensive and inclusive.
“Unnecessary friction between the executive and the legislature with its negative consequences will be a thing of the past. No longer shall the system be saddled with a set of dictators masquerading as governors who are holding the system and people to ransom.
“Presidential system is excellent in America and I commend the Americans; but it is not working for us. We lack what it takes to wield so much executive powers without abusing it.
“Even our traditional system of Obaship or Emirship mirrors the parliamentary more than any other system. We should adjust before it is too late”, he said.
Raji, however, commended the spirit of cohesion and unity that pervades the outgoing National Assembly, noting that it was a great improvement when compared with previous legislature.
Also, Hon. Rotimi Agunsoye, representing Kosofe Federal Constituency of Lagos State in the House of Representatives, said the Lagos agenda was not actualised 100 per cent in the Eighth Assembly. He blamed the situation on the no-love-lost relationship between the legislature and the executive.
According to him, “I will tell you that it was due to the problem between the executive and the legislature. The relationship was not that cordial. Just to give you an example, when the budget was brought to the House and was not passed for seven months, that wasn’t good for the system because the reason why we are in government is to ensure the security and the welfare of the people we are governing.”
In his assessment, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), rated the Eighth National Assembly below average.
Agbakoba said all over the world the legislature is the engine room of national development, but in Nigeria the reverse is the case.
He lamented that the National Assembly that was supposed to check the excesses of the executive was always pushing its selfish agenda and bickering over what to get.
He, however, tasked the incoming legislature to chart a different course from its predecessors.
Even though he partially held the executive arm responsible for the late passage of the budgets each year, Agbakoba equally frowned at the lawmakers for constantly passing the budgets late year with no hope of improvement.
He also faulted the calibre of members of the National assembly, saying over the years, they have not shown knowledge or expertise in any particular subject or field.
“I can’t identify any member of the National Assembly, whether in the Senate or House of Representatives, that is an authority or has shown vast knowledge over a particular subject such as health, foreign relations, defence, education, etc.
“In America, there are so many lawmakers that are experts and authorities with in-depth knowledge in the committees they oversee. Here, I cannot identify any. We do not have such here,” he said.
However, the incumbent NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), gave the National Assembly a pass mark, saying that the lawmakers did well within the limitations facing them.
Usoro said nothing better could have come out of the National Assembly when it was distracted by an overbearing executive.
He also advised the incoming lawmakers to learn from the mistakes of the Eighth National Assembly in order to move the country forward.
“All over the world, lawmakers perform well where the executive arm of government is not overbearing. That cannot to be said. I will say the National Assembly did well within the limitations of what they can do.
“Because of the climate in which we operate, they were distracted by the overbearing nature of the executive. But the new assembly can do learn and improve from their mistakes,” Usoro said.
In his evaluation, an Abuja-based lawyer and founder, Egalitarian Mission for Africa, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, said the relationship between the National Assembly and Buhari negatively affected the performance of the government in the first term.
“The relationship between the National Assembly and the federal executive ought to be based on the principle of separation of powers, check and balances as enshrined in the constitution and as propounded by Baron de Montesquieu.
“In other words, instances of constructive friction between the three arms of government are permitted under the Constitution. The current situation as it is in the country is uncharitable, the issue of personal and individual frictions based on political and personal interests,” he added.
Also reacting, the Executive Director Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Head of Transparency International (Nigeria), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the outgoing legislature performed averagely in some aspect and badly in others.
Rafsanjani assessed the legislature on the four cardinal legislative work which include, representation, law making, accountability and oversight.
Rafsanjani said: “The Eighth Assembly amended the Electoral Act to ensure electoral transparency, and the president as you know very well did not assent to that. For me, the Eighth Assembly has done one good thing for amending the Electoral Act.”