To the 8th N’Assembly, It’s Goodbye!

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Legislators of the 8th National Assembly, last Thursday, at their valedictory session, reminisced on their four years legislative tour of duties, report

Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

The Eighth National Assembly, inaugurated on June 9, 2015, last Thursday adjourned sine die but not without the federal lawmakers taking stock of their four years legislative activities.

The day began with showers of blessings as the heavens opened up, resulting in the late take-off of the valedictory session as both Senators and House members took their time to arrive the two chambers of the Assembly.

From the lobby, one could see the aides and relatives of the lawmakers itching to be part of the last day of their principals.

At the Senate, the session witnessed a large turnout with many Senators, who had been absent since the last February general election turned up and stood to be counted as part of the last session of the Assembly. Those in this category included former Senate President, Senator David Mark and former governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume.

Conspicuously absent at the session was the Senator representing Ogun East, Kashamu Buruji, who contested the March gubernatorial election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party ((PDP) in Ogun State and lost as well as the former governor of Plateau State, Senator Joshua Dariye, who is serving a 10 year jail term in Kuje Prisons since June, 2018 after being convicted of financial impropriety as governor of Plateau State (1999-2007).

With the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, saying the opening prayer and after welcoming the Senators to the session, the floor was now open for the legislators to give their valedictory speeches. The Senators took their turns to speak about their legislative experience in the Eighth Senate.

On his part, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who is returning to the upper legislative chamber legislative chamber, expressed happiness that he was able to work with the calibre of lawmakers in the 8th Senate. He said the 9th Senate will work on other legislative areas not covered by the outgoing legislative body.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Dino Melaye, who is also re-elected showered encomium on Saraki, saying, “You will recall severally, Mr. President, I addressed you as the irremovable President of the Nigerian Senate, when cankerworms and caterpillars arose against thee, when the seat of power took you to Code of Conduct Bureau, when the state petitioned you and took you to the courts and established a case of forgery against you.

“Today, Mr. President, you are not just completing your term but you are going to have a glorious exit against the machinations of some demons. I congratulate you. And to my surprise, many of those who orchestrated your removal, downfall on this floor, called you their mentor. Mr. President, it is your time to laugh.”

He recalled his travails as a Senator since June, 2015 and thanked God for seeing him through all tribulations.

His words: “When the governor of Kogi State and his allies took on me and planned a recall exercise, I was in police custody, when the recall failed woefully. I am here to thank God, because in 2017, I was arrested eight times. In 2018, I was arrested 18 times and out of 365 days in 2018, I spent 124 days in police custody.

“I campaigned only four days to the 2019 election. I have every cause to glorify God, who is above every other man. Last year, I was arraigned in 12 different courts but here I am standing and returned undisputedly as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And I say to God alone be the glory forever and ever”.

Melaye advised his colleagues, saying once you take the oath of office, you cease to represent your political party, religious organisation or a cabal on this platform.

“We must know that in the Ninth Assembly, fortunately or unfortunately, some of us are going to be there. We will continue to ask without fear or favour that Nigeria shall be ahead of any political permutation, presidential or gubernatorial, party permutation. Nigeria shall come first before any selfish interest. And we will stand by that and continue to speak the truth not minding whose ox is gored.

“I congratulate my colleagues, who are coming back. You have another opportunity to prove that you are truly a Nigerian, because no Nigerian is more Nigerian than any other Nigerian. We must prove that we are here on behalf of the people.

“And we must continue to do only those things that will promote the unity and prosperity of Nigeria. Enough of presidential orders; enough of party directives! Any order that is contrary to the progress, unity and prosperity of Nigeria should not be entertained on the floor of the Senate,” he further said.

On his part, former Senate Leader and another returning Senator, who is eyeing the 9th Senate Presidency, Senator Ali Ndume emphasised that notwithstanding his disagreement with Saraki, they were able to forge ahead in the interest of not only the legislative body but the nation at large.

“We have been together for the past four years in the 8th Senate. We have at lots of time had cause to disagree with you (senate president), but I respect him for one thing and that is his unequal resilience and standing for what he believes in. Perhaps, that was why he and I had some differences, because I also stand for what I believe in, just as I try to take it to the end.

“In the course of that, there would be disagreement, because you are Saraki and I am Ndume. But all I want to add is that throughout the four years, I’ve never had differences with anybody consciously on personal basis. It is either what I think is right, ran in conflict with the view of another person, but definitely not as a result of personality or the person involved”.

To him, the concern principally is about the independence of the legislative arm of government.

He went further to say “My greatest concern is the independence of this institution, which is not to say that we should not work in harmony with the other arms of government; but it is incumbent on us not to compromise independence of the legislature, which I see as the most dangerous thing coming our way in the next senate.

“The only difference between the rules of the military or any form of tyrannical rules is this institution or legislative arm of government. We need to support other arms of government but must avoid doing so by acquiescing or compromising the principle governing independence of the legislative arm of government.”

For the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, who came late to the valedictory session there was need to build a strong relationship between the executive and the legislature, without necessarily compromising the independence of the legislature!

Lawan, who is a strong contender for the 9th Senate Presidency, recalled that his experience as Chairman of Senate Committee on Defence taught him that the Nigerian military officers and men are very courageous and determined to fight the insurgency.

Going down memory lane, Lawan said his group led by Senator Barnabas Gemade cooperated with Saraki after inauguration on June 11, and expressed happiness that the 8th Senate was ending on a very good note.

Rounding off the session, Saraki, who at various times interjected his colleagues speeches with jokes thanked all and sundry for a successful outing by the 8th Assembly.

Reading from a prepared text, Saraki declared: “Distinguished colleagues, as we come to the final plenary and the last few days of the eighth Senate, it is a victory in itself that we are seeing the journey to its momentous end. That I am here today, that you are here today, is a victory for democracy. It is a testament to what people can do when they come together for the greater good. This is also one of those occasions when the Supreme Creator reminds us once again, that power does not reside in any one person.

“Before I proceed, let us pause to honour the memory of colleagues with whom we started this journey but who sadly are not here with us today. We lost Senators Ali Wakili (Bauchi South), Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke (Osun West) and Bukar Mustapha (Katsina North) in the line of duty in this Senate. I ask that we observe a minute silence for the continuing repose of their souls. May the Almighty grant them eternal rest!

“Distinguished colleagues, let me thank each and every one of you for your contributions towards making this the historic Senate that it is. When I think of the many trials and tribulations we have faced as an institution, and my personal travails particularly at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, I am humbled, because none of our achievements would have been possible without the support and cooperation of the entire members of this chamber.

“The invasion of the National Assembly by armed security operatives in August 2018 will live in infamy. This way down the line, however, I realise that the day of that invasion was the saddest – but in many ways it was also a good day for asserting the independence of the legislature and the triumph of democracy.

“It also turned out to be a showcase of the special relationship between this chamber and the House, as Honourable Members stood in unison with their Senate colleagues in defiance of the invaders. I thank the House of Representatives for the remarkable unity of the two chambers of the 8th National Assembly, for it was only in unity that we could withstand the storm.

“The pieces of legislation we passed in the crucial areas and arenas affecting the daily lives of citizens – on the economy, in education, security, anti-corruption, health and so on – will remain a benchmark. Working together, we clocked many firsts in the 8th Senate, and we should rightly be proud of these, especially as they are imperishable legacies we are leaving for the people.

“Our many firsts include the National Assembly Joint Public Hearing on the Budget, which we started with the 2016 Appropriation Bill. The engagement of the private sector and other stakeholders in crafting the economic legislative agenda was a watershed.

“For the first time, there were meetings and interactions with members of the public, which were not previously the norm. One such interaction was the Public Senate, which gave youths the opportunity to spend a day with me as President of the Senate. I have pleasant memories of my reading to an audience of small children inside my office, where – in the true spirit of Children’s Day, the kids themselves were the dignitaries.

“It was during this Senate that we patented the concept of the Roundtable. This was groundbreaking. We left the centre of power in Abuja to tackle pressing social issues at the very heart of the communities most affected.

“Notable among these was the Senate Roundtable on the Drug Use Crisis held in Kano in December 2017, and the one on Migration and Human Trafficking held in Benin City in February 2018. At both events, we not only dialogued for solutions with the relevant government agencies, international partners and community leaders – we heard from the victims themselves.”

Saraki also did not fail to comment on the frosty relationship between the Executive and the Legislative arm of government saying, “It is also important that I make some comments about Legislature-Executive Relations. My own take is that if the Executive sees the National Assembly’s work on the budget as interference despite the provision of the constitution, then there will continue to be problems between both arms of government.

“If the presidency refuses to have engagements and consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly before the President submits the budget to the legislature, then, there will continue to be frictions. If the Executive sees the failure of a few of its appointees to secure confirmation by the Senate as a disagreement, then, the relationship will not improve. If the Executive encourages its appointees, who fail to secure Senate confirmation to remain in office, then, there will continue to be disagreement.

“If the Executive believes the Legislature is a rubber stamp without the right to question its actions, then, it will be a subversion of the Principles of Separation of Powers and Checks and Powers. My advice is that both arms of government have a role to play in our quest for good governance and their leadership should work for co-operation and fruitful engagement.

“There is no way I can end this speech without recalling a certain injunction which goes thus: If we speak the truth, we will die; and if we lie, we will die, so we might as well tell the truth. I am, of course, paraphrasing the inimitable Dino Melaye, whose flamboyance, catchy turns of phrase and songs meant that the 8th Senate was never in danger of becoming staid. Dino and Senator Kabir Marafa made sure that there was always just enough colour and exuberance to keep us chuckling now and then. They kept us from taking ourselves too seriously, and that too, had its place.”

At the Green Chamber, the Speaker of the House, Hon Yakubu Dogara asked for forgiveness from those he might have offended in the course of his duty as presiding officer in the last four years.

“I, and perhaps many of us, might have made one mistake or another and caused offence among ourselves these four years. This is expected since we are human. May I therefore implore everyone I might have wronged to forgive such wrongs!

“On my part, I hold no grudges against anyone, and I plead with everyone to forgive his brothers and sisters. Let us leave here today without any resentment or bitterness in our hearts.”

Giving account of his stewardship, the Speaker emphasised that with 382 bills, the House he led surpassed records of all previous assemblies. He also bemoaned the growing rate of insecurity in the country and advised incoming assembly to spare no effort in ensuring that the anomalies that usually characterise Nigerian elections are corrected through their legislative efforts.

“I want to charge the members-elect of the 9th National Assembly to be determined to raise the bar of the records of the 8th National Assembly. One sore point that is a must-cure in our democracy is the issue of flawed elections.

“We must ensure the conclusion of the ongoing legislative processes on Electoral Reforms in a way that will make electoral fraud near-impossible, if we are to enjoy true democracy. We may have done much, but the work of democracy still remains undone,” Dogara stated.

The Speaker, who reiterated that “The parliament was not designed to be an altar of praise for the executive but a co-equal branch to serve as a check on executive power,” reiterated his concern over the future of Nigeria, because of the alarming rate of insecurity across the country.

He declared that to address the spate of insecurity in the country, leadership must jettison partisanship and put the best of human and material resources to work in confronting the menacing level of the activities of criminals in the country.

“It appears we are losing the fight against violence and as if that is not bad enough, the situation is so dire that known statesmen are becoming petrified and speaking up in ways that may further rend our national fault lines. It is like we refused to hear the whispers and now the screams are threatening our ear drums.

“This is a national problem that we can only solve if we pull ourselves together and not apart regardless of political persuasions or creed. The challenge is to get the leadership that throws out politics and partisanship out of the window – leadership that reins in all our best human and material resources to confront these menacing challenges. Yet, instead of uniting to confront this very danger, all one hears are sermons of divisiveness and permutations for 2023 elections. I wonder daily if this is not how the bottom looks like,” he stated.

Highlighting the success of the 8th House, which he attributed to the unity and cooperation among members, Dogara noted: “This wonderful cooperation, no doubt, enabled us to have a very stable and peaceful 8th House of Representatives and to set records that have no parallels in our history of lawmaking as a nation. On your behalf, I make bold to say that the 8th House of Representatives, and the National Assembly as an institution, has been a huge success.

“This is without apology to whoever may hold a contrary opinion. The stubborn facts are out there for every commentator to see. We took off amidst head winds and turbulence but on stabilising, we have witnessed book throwers and table climbers transform into solid leaders. We have seen mace grabbers wrestled until they surrendered to the dictates of the Rule of Law, true friendship and brotherhood.

“We have witnessed the transformation of those, who struggled to move mere motions to eloquent debaters and to crown it all, those who, at inception did not understand themselves, working together, in spite of whatever differences, for the national good. This is the spirit that defines us as legislators – the institution of the legislature and I am happy we embraced it fully.

“The 8th House holds the record as the most persecuted and harassed parliament, ever in Nigeria’s history. Some of our members bear the scars of reckless deployment of institutional prerogatives. We witnessed sieges and invasion by state operatives. Some members suffered witch-hunts, house arrests and false accusations.

“We are also witnesses to barrage of uncharitable criticisms and assessments bandied on daily basis in the media by hired mercenaries, who masquerade as analysts. Most of these analysts are ignorant of the fact that the parliament was not designed to be an altar of praise for the Executive but a co-equal branch to serve as a check on Executive power.”

Dogara however expressed satisfaction with his achievements as the leader of the 8th assembly, particularly because the assembly sustained the legacies of previous parliaments by ensuring that the House was not compromised or exploited.

“The job of parliaments all over the world is to escalate constructive conflict. It is our job to search for the truth and without the clash and compromise of ideas, the truth can never be found. Everything loses its meaning in the absence of the truth. Anyone who sees disagreement or conflict as inherently bad has no business leading a democracy, because we are not likely to ever see any healthy democracy that is not productively noisy.

“This House and indeed the legislature, must always engage in debates about both pleasant and unpleasant issues, if it must continue to do the work of democracy. Progress ceases the very day we cease to disagree. Every invention, every innovation has always come from someone who disagreed with the status quo.

“That is why the Athenian lawmaker, Solon, undoubtedly one of those who cradled Democracy, once decreed it a crime for citizens to shrink from controversy. No Parliament anywhere can win a popularity contest and Parliaments are not meant to receive praise. Any Parliament that receives praises, especially from the Executive, must be an assemblage of enablers, who have abandoned fidelity to their oath of office.

“To the chagrin of some, I am happy that this Assembly, just like others before it, did not allow partisanship to erode our system of checks and balances,” Dogara stated.

Reeling off the major achievement of the 8th House, Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Edward Pwajok (SAN) said “In the first session, 685 bills were introduced and 68 were passed. In the second session, 379 bills were introduced and 41 were passed. In the third session, 446 bills were introduced and 94 were passed. In the fourth session, 143 bills were introduced and 63 were passed. The total I repeat, 1643 bills that we presented and 352 were passed.

“For motions, 1413 were resolved, 1137 were referred to various committees, 17 were withdrawn and one was deferred leaving a total of 1588. Petitions, the House received and laid on the table, 1192 petitions, laid and yet to be considered, 22; considered on the floor of the House 205, and rejected two,” saying “108 of the bills came from the Senate,” and that “1465 of the bills were private members bills.”

Pwajok added that “This 8th assembly made history by altering our constitution. Given our history and circumstances, it is not an easy thing to do. From the second to the third republic it is only the 6th Assembly that succeeded in amending the constitution with the first, second and third alterations. This Assembly successfully altered many sections of the constitution, including giving the state legislature and judiciary financial autonomy.

“We also lower the age limit for those contesting in the not-too-young to run bill, which opened up the space for our younger citizens to offer themselves to be voted for offices. We also amended the constitution so that if there is any vacancy or something happen to Mr. President, the Vice President will not only step in but retain power and the same thing too for governors.

“It is through this Assembly that private members bill changed democracy day from May 29 to June 12. It is this Assembly that increased the minimum wage to N30,000 as against the 27, 000 proposed by the executive. There are many progressive bills passed, which are awaiting assent. There is one to remove age discrimination, because we have earlier declared state of emergency on unemployment so that our employed youths and graduates will receive favourable attention by the public service.

“Abolition of first degrees and HND dichotomy, granting married women in the public service options of citizenship – either citizenship of their father or husbands, repel and enactment of new company and allied company act which has not been amended since 1990 to ease doing business in Nigeria. Prohibition of estimated billing by electricity distribution companies, establishment of the North-east Development Commission and also we have passed the South East Development Commission bill.

On his part, the House Leader, and a major contender for the speakership of the 9th House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said: “We have come to the end of another phase of our legislative year, we are about to start another one. My prayer and my hope is that whosever God has destined or willed to take the authority of the gavel would take the 9th assembly and make it even a better assembly than the 8th because it is our prayer that every successive assembly should be better than the previous one.

Commenting on his relationship with Dogara, Gbajabiamila said, “We went into an election together four years ago; you were an underdog; I was the party’s candidate, you came from behind, you had a good race and you became the Speaker of the House. On that faithful day, we were all seated here and God gave me the grace to walk up to you right in front of the whole world and raised your hand as my speaker. Four years thereafter I never looked back and I commend you for your leadership. I commend you for what you have been able to do and I commend you that together, we have been able to stabilise this House.”