Now That the National Assembly Is Back…

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Lawan...the unfinished business

Perhaps, the two chambers of the Ninth National Assembly are set for serious legislative work after a two-month annual vacation, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

All is now set for both the Senate and the House of Representatives to face the myriad of legislative assignment before them since the inauguration of the National Assembly on June 11.

While the House of Representatives, last Tuesday, resumed plenary after its annual vacation with the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, presiding, the Senate on its part is billed to end its vacation in the next two days specifically on Tuesday, September 24.

In essence, next Tuesday would be a special day at the Red Chambers with the Senators exchanging banter after being away for eight weeks.

One of the major tasks to be carried out by the leadership of the National Assembly is the composition and inauguration of all the standing committees, whose Chairmen and Vice Chairmen were hurriedly announced few hours before the Senate and House of Representatives proceeded on annual vacation in July.

This is necessary so as to allow the committees (69 in the Senate and 105 in the House) swing into action, more than four months after the inauguration of the Assembly.

It is expected that in the next two weeks or thereabouts, Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, would personally inaugurate the committees, stating clearly their terms of reference in line with the legislative agenda of the ninth assembly.

Two other issues will require immediate attention of the Senate upon resumption of plenary this week. These are submission and consideration of the reports of two ad-hoc committees set up to investigate Senator Elisha Abbo (Adamawa North), over an alleged assault on a nursing mother at an adult toy shop in Abuja earlier in the year.

Former governor of Ebonyi State, Senator Sam Egwu (Ebonyi North) had shortly before the Senate went on break last July requested for a week extension to enable the committee complete its report and present at plenary.

Unfortunately, this was not to be due to the consideration of the ministerial list sent to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari, which lasted for about two weeks.

The other issue is that of the Edo State House of Assembly, which the National Assembly in its wisdom said was not properly inaugurated and therefore directed Governor Godwin Obaseki of the state to issue another proclamation for a fresh inauguration of the Edo Assembly.

Rather than comply, the state government headed to court and got an injunction restraining the National Assembly from interfering in the affairs of the state Assembly.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, had in reaction to the judgment said, “All matters and decisions regarding the Edo Assembly crisis will wait until the Senate reconvenes on September 24, 2019”.

As Nigerians anticipate what the Senate makes out of all the outstanding issues two days from now, the House resumed from vacation last Tuesday trying to prove that it might not really serve as an appendage of the Executive.

An indication to this effect was how the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, reacted to the flagrant disregard for the National Assembly by a member of the Executive, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to be specific.

Gbajabiamila showed more than a passing interest in applying legislative interventions in addressing the plights of Nigerians caught up in xenophobic attacks in faraway South Africa even when the House was still on vacation. At a point, he suggested that members of the lower chamber should call off their vacation to address the issue.

Although that did not eventually happen, Gbajabiamila and some other lawmakers addressed a press conference, where he stated that “the leadership of the House of Representatives will shortly invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa, the Chairman of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission and other stakeholders to jointly consider the causes of these latest incidents of organised mass violence and murder of our people.

“We intend not only to determine the causes of these latest events but also to assess and account for the losses in life and property that have occurred.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister, when invited, however ignored the lawmakers. Onyeama’s seeming disrespect for the parliament did not go down well with Gbajabiamila. Thus, at the resumption of plenary last Tuesday, the Speaker vowed to take up the issue of the refusal of the minister to honour their invitation with President Buhari.

The obviously miffed Gbajabiamila, who described the killing of Nigerians as a “nagging problem,” which required urgent and collective efforts of the lawmakers and the executive, expressed his displeasure over Onyeama’s decision to ignore the House invitation on the matter.

While referring ministers in President Buhari’s cabinet to the provisions of Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, Gbajabiamila warned that in the task of nation building in a democratic setting, no Minister has the power to ignore legislative invitation.

“I am speaking directly to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I will be discussing further with Mr. President on the issue. I think if respect is reciprocal; if the House invites any member of the executive in our pursuit of happiness for all, then, I think that should be respected.

“The Minister has been asked on several occasions since this incident broke, by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and once, by the leadership of the House, for a full and proper briefing on what happened – what transpired in South Africa; because it is only when the committee or the leadership see the facts that we can actually address the issues properly.

“It is unfortunate that on all those occasions, the Minister has not responded to the chairman’s invitation. And even when the Chairman wrote on behalf of the House that the leadership needed to meet with the Minister, he did not respond.

“I believe we are one government and I believe we are here to serve the interest on Nigerians. Let me use this platform to send a direct appeal to the Minister of Foreign Affair, and all the Ministers for that matter, that we need to respect the invitation that comes from this House, and particularly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, because of an issue that is so important.

“I would want to refer him to the provisions of the constitution, particularly Sections 88 and 89. And that is all I have to say on that matter; to refer him to the provisions of Section 88 and Section 89,” he stated.

The House also debated a motion by Hon. Musa Bagos on the urgent need to address the killings of Nigerians by South Africans in their country.

Interestingly, while Onyeama got reprimanded by the House over issues relating to the handling of South African xenophobic attacks on Nigerians, another Onyema, this time around, the Chairman, Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema was unanimously nominated by the House for national honours in appreciation of his kind gesture of evacuating troubled Nigerians out of South Africa in the wake of the attacks.

The aviation business bigwig, who appeared before the House a day after warning signal was sent to his namesake, in recognition of the free services offered by his airline to get Nigerians out of South Africa, received standing ovation and commendations from the House.

Chairman of the House Committee on Army, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, who moved the motion for national honour to be bestowed on the aviation mogul, said honouring Onyema would serve as a morale booster for other Nigerians to work in the interest of the country.

According to Namdas, “In view of what a good number had said here and the good works of Onyema, I want to suggest that the National Assembly, do recommend to Mr. President for a national for this great Nigerian. I want to recommend that because Nigerians have been given names.

“If you go out of the shores of this country, you will realise that a lot of people look at us differently. Today, his action has contributed to rewriting the history. I have not come up with a formal motion but with your kind permission that I want to move this motion here to recommend for the award of this great Nigerian so that it can also boost the morale of other Nigerians, including ourselves, so that we can do good for Nigeria.”

When the motion was put to voice vote, the lawmakers unanimously approved the recommendation.

Describing the recognition given Onyema as “one of our epic moments in the chamber – for us to recognise Nigerians, who have risen to the call of patriotic duty,” Gbajabiamila, said the honour was in recognition of his selfless service to Nigeria and Nigerians by the evacuation of citizens faced with the danger of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Noting that he had never experienced such an honour done him by the lawmakers, Onyema restated his commitment to continue to get Nigerians out of South Africa.

“I want to tell you that Air Peace is ready to repatriate Nigerians. We are ready to go into South Africa as long as there is one single Nigerian remaining in that country to be evacuated and we are doing it free of charge, because money is not everything.”

He stated that, “The kind of support we have gotten from Nigerians through your commendations and everything gladden our heart to the extent that my pilot and my cabin crew stood out there for 24 hours, because they were (South African authority) trying to frustrate us. They didn’t want us to evacuate. They pleaded with the Nigerian High Commission not to do it, but they told them that they can’t stop these private citizens.”

Another interesting development in the House last week was the setting up of an ad-hoc committee to investigate and unravel the mystery behind the recent judgment debt of $9.6bn against Nigeria in a United Kingdom court in a matter between Process and Industrial Development (P&ID) Limited. The decision was sequel to a motion on urgent need to investigate the negligence in the handling of the P&ID transaction by the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Petroleum Resources respectfully, moved by Hon. Julius Ihonvbere.

His motion was amended with the House resolving to mandate a 17-man ad-hoc committee, to as a matter of urgency, invite the Ministers of both Ministries as well as, other officials of the ministries, saddled with the responsibility to negotiate the agreement with P&ID and the prosecution of the matter before the tribunal to give situation report on the matter and explain the lapses in judgment of time and due diligence in the mishandling of the case with a view to finding lasting solutions to the avalanche of extant and future cases.

The lawmakers also agreed to recommend appropriate sanctions where necessary “without fear or favour or preference for status in line with Order 14 of the Standing Orders of the House” and also to initiate a process of reviewing all agreements and treaties signed by Nigeria through the appropriate committees to create opportunities to discover anomalies and avoid a repeat in the future.

Suspecting foul play in the transaction that is now threatening to deprive Nigeria and Nigerians a very significant portion of her foreign reserve, Ihonvbere stated in his motion that the recent judgment debt “leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.

“For a country with a foreign reserve of only $45 billion and a sovereign debt profile of over $80 billion, this judgment debt is not only punitive but would devastatingly affect the Nigerian economy.”

Also worthy of note is the promise by Gbajabiamila that the Ninth Assembly would surmount obstacles against the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which many analysts have argued, was capable of repositioning the oil and gas sector to benefit Nigeria better.

Gbajabiamila assured Nigerians that the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) would be reintroduced and passed by the Assembly in the new session.

In his speech at the resumption of plenary, the Speaker urged ad-hoc committees set up at the inception of the assembly to expedite action on matters before them and handover same to standing committees by September 30.

In all, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Benjamin Kalu said members of the National Assembly were familiar with the challenges confronting the citizenry and that the task of nation-building, as such, the agenda to move the country to the next level would top the priorities of the national lawmakers.

Kalu who spoke with THISDAY emphasised that, “The entire membership of the House is refreshed and motivated by the sound and all-inclusive leadership of the House of Representatives. We are all ready to push the nation-building agenda to the next level. We are resuming as a formidable-united house.

“You are aware of the current challenges in the country. They are the trending issues. These issues affect the people we represent and as their representatives, we identify with them, not merely as victims but as solution providers as allowed by the enabling laws establishing our offices.

“Like any other nation, our challenges are more than one, yet some will be prioritised by the House of Representatives on our list of preference in view of its urgency and importance to national unity, peace and progress.”