With the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly last Tuesday, a new phase begins in the business of federal lawmaking, 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 th
The Ninth National Assembly has taken proper shape with the election, last Tuesday, of Dr. Ahmad Lawan and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila as President of the Senate and Speaker, House of Representatives respectively.
After the politicking and horse-trading that characterised the election of the presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly, the federal legislators have begun to settle down to real legislative business even as many of them, the new intakes especially, are full of high expectations.
For Lawan, the immediate past Leader of the Senate, who ran an issue-based campaign before defeating Senator Ali Ndume to become the Senate President, the time is nigh to take the legislative arm to a greater level.
In his post-election speech, Lawan, who is the longest serving federal lawmaker, having been in the National Assembly since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1999, was specific about the shape the Ninth Senate will take.
According to him, “The elections are over and we are all back together in the spirit of one indivisible Senate, united in our commitment to work for the Nigerian people. Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our institution and renewing the Nigerian dream.
“I’ve spent the last 20 years learning the ropes of how to make the National Assembly work better. In this humbling and extremely critical role you have all agreed to assign to me, I pledge to do my best to serve the best interest of the institution, its members and the good people of Nigeria.
“Today’s epochal event is symbolic in many respects. It marks the beginning of another decade in the annals of the country’s federal legislature, recognising that the Fourth Republic National Assembly was first inaugurated twenty years ago, on June 4, 1999. So, as we commence the 3rd uninterrupted decade of our National Parliament, we pledge to remake, reform and revitalise the Senate in line with our constitutional duties, the urgent expectation of our citizens and global parliamentary best practices.”
The Senate President did not forget to stress the independence of the legislative arm as it was one of the contentious issues while the campaign lasted.
His words: “I want to seize this opportunity to tell the entire nation, particularly those that are in doubt, that the Senate and indeed the legislature is going to operate independently in accordance with its own rules, procedures and time-honoured norms and best practices. While working closely with the executive arm to deliver the dividends of democracy to the Nigerian people.”
On the Senate’s legislative agenda, Lawan said “We must focus on enacting laws and strengthening existing laws to facilitate the reforms required to truly take our nation, our people and our economy to the next level.
“Within us as a Senate, our leadership will commit to partnership rather than partisanship and between us and the executive arm of Government, we will choose unity of purpose over conflict and discord while also working towards further strengthening and guaranteeing our independence and that of the judiciary.
“We will sustain and strengthen our institutional working relationship with critical stakeholders especially the Civil Society Organizations, the Media and Development Partners within and outside Nigeria.”
Specifically, he told his colleagues that they must not betray the trust the electorate reposed in them as lawmakers, noting that, “Let it be said that we have come to this chamber conscious of the trust our constituents have reposed on us. We must not betray that trust. To this extent, in the next four years, we must drive a transformative Senate dedicated to serving the people with confidence, courage and patriotism. Indeed, the urgent task towards socio-economic reforms and transformation through legislative intervention has begun.”
In so doing, we are convinced that our past was only a story told while our future can yet be written in gold”.
Senator Ajayi Boroffice, who initially had the ambition of becoming the Deputy Senate President before stepping down at the last minute, captured his legislative agenda thus: “Working in harmony with the Executive under the guidance and leadership of President Buhari to deliver to Nigerians dividends of democracy, guarantee the security of life and property of Nigerians, promote political and economic viability.”
Former governor of Imo State and first time Senator, Rochas Okorocha, stated that he has three-point legislative agenda he intends to pursue.
“I am at the Senate to do certain things that are dear to my heart. One of them is, I have realised that the bridges connecting the South East to the other ethnic groups have been very faulty resulting from the politics we have played in the South-east. There will be need for the Igbos to mend political fences, relate with every Nigerian, play the Nigerian way of politics and get things right and that will help for the development of the south east politically.
“It is a common knowledge that we are neither here nor there politically. We are not with the ruling party neither are we making impact as opposition. So, there is a need for us to get married to the opposition politically.
“My second mission to the senate is what has been dear to my heart that I practised when I was governor of Imo State. I am here to see the possibility of making free education a reality, to see the possibility of the children of the poor going to school. If I do that, I will be glad that I have achieved what I came to do in the senate.
“The third one is, I am worried about the killings and destruction of property in the Northern part of this country, particularly the North East and recently Zamfara and Kaduna States. Whatever we can do on the floor of the senate to help the Executive curb insurgency will be my pleasure and I will be happy to work with my colleagues”.
At the House of Representatives, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, in his inaugural speech promised to be a good ambassador of the Green Chamber.
“I understand that I hold this office in trust for you and Nigerians. Conscious of this sacred trust I hereby dedicate myself to the service of this honourable House and of the good citizens of this great country, with the commitment that I shall at all times strive to defend the constitution of our Republic.
“I equally commit myself to always observe the tenets of justice, equity and fairness in my dealings with my colleagues, and to apply the ideals of transparency, probity and accountability in my management of the affairs of this House”.
Gbajabiamila, who is the immediate past Leader of the House, enjoined his colleagues to put aside all political differences to face headlong the problems bedeviling the country.
He contended that “Our country is presently confronted with a myriad of problems and it is our responsibility as members of this institution to set aside political, ideological and other differences that may distract us from the assignment the Nigerian people have sent us here to perform. There is a lot more that unite us than divide us.
“There is much work to be done and we must now pull together, roll up our sleeves, settle down and attend to the peoples’ business. Whatever political party each one of us may belong, we must be conscious of the fact that Nigerians are truly desirous of good governance and are looking to us to be the agents that will through meaningful legislation combat security, poverty, corruption and other problems and contradictions that have held our country back and stunted our development.
“It is this message of unity and coming together that informed the theme of our campaign…Nation Building a Joint Task. We have decided to carry this theme into the operations of the 9th Assembly. As you can see, the logo, which embodies all parties represented in the House, will be displayed permanently behind the Speakers chair for all to see and as a constant reminder of what this Assembly is all about.
“We must remain one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity. Our vision is very simple, and that is to use the legislative platform and the instrumentality of the law to make Nigeria a better and more perfect union.”
In his assessment of the 8th House, Hon Wole Oke representing Obokon/Oriade federal constituency in Osun State declared that the 8th assembly achieved so much but that the 9th assembly has to learn from the just concluded session.
According to him, “The greatest achievement of the 8th assembly is that it is focused, that operated on a planned series of activities. This parliament came with a legislative agenda, which was conceived and authored by Mr. Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
“He presented it to the entire house on the floor and so, we went through it, we researched it, we discussed it, we debated it and we adopted it. So, it became the Bible and Quran that guided the 8th assembly.
“We achieved so much. Let me start with the last leg. Look at the minimum wage amendment, look at the Electoral Act that we sponsored, look at the constitutional amendments that we made, look at age matter we are discussing about employment, look at the discrimination between HND/BSC holders that we are trying to eradicate, look at the review of the procurement act, which is before the executive but the executive is working with executive orders; so, we achieved so much.
“This is also a parliament that is very proactive. We take petitions from members of the public, we take petitions from every constituency; Mr. Speaker is aware of any development; he receives security report, when there is an issue in your constituency, he draws your attention to it.”
Oke therefore said: “We should position the right persons in the right places. We should put in place a competent person, who has capacity, who understands the rules, who understands the provisions of the constitution, who reads and comprehends what he or she is reading.”
The member representing Arochukwu-Ohafia federal constituency, Hon. Uko Ndokwe Nkole also stated that the 8th assembly did “clearly very well in the aspects of bills and motion.”
He, however, stated that his lowest point serving in the assembly was that the executive arm was not taking “our motions in terms of implementation, which I think is not too good in a democratic setting.
“The constitutional amendment, especially the issue that talked about restructuring that was shot down. It is something that was my lowest moment in the 8th assembly, but I believe going forward, the 9th assembly should as a matter of urgency take it up as a priority and the President also should do all the needful to see that the bill sees the light of the day, because it is going to place the country on a very steady path of progress and prosperity.”
On whether or not laws being made have impacts on the lives of Nigerians, Hon. Beni Lar representing Langtang North/South federal constituency said laws coming out of the parliament directly touched the lives of Nigerians, but stressed the need for more oversight in the 9th Assembly, saying “Without oversight, lawmaking would have little or no effect.
“I think we need to have the legislature and the executive sit down and come up with a more appropriate budgeting system where the budget emanates, not just from the executive alone but from a synergy between the executive and the legislature. That way, we will cut down the time we spend on the budget making process.
“Another thing is, the legislature is not a rubber stamp and we would not be a rubber stamp legislature, because we need to enforce certain rights that Nigerians have and so if you have a rubber stamp legislature, then, you are not going to be an effective legislature and then ordinary man will not feel the impact of the legislature. Judiciary is usually known as the last hope of the common man but it should start from the legislature because it is whatever we cannot resolve that should go there.
“So I think there is need to strengthen the synergy between the executive and the legislature so that even in our budget making process, we will do better; so that we will produce a budget that is within certain time frame and we will produce budget that is implemented and enforced.”
By and large, as the 9thassembly assumes operation, it is worthy of mention that it cannot afford to take anything for granted and indeed, to surpass the record of the 8thassembly, it would do more than just talking; it would do more than relying on the strength of being of the ruling party; it would do more than boasting as having as principal leaders, its choice candidates but be driven by a healthy competitive spirit to beat existing record and succeed.