Going Back to Work after a Six-Week Holiday

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. President Muhammadu Buhari addressing the Lawmakers during the presentation of 2019 Budget at a joint session of the National Assembly in Abuja

Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale report that expectations are high as federal legislators resume plenary tomorrow after its Christmas break to confront pressing legislative duties

Members of the two chambers of the Ninth National Assembly who have been on an unprecedented six-week Yuletide vacation will resume tomorrow, Tuesday, January 28 to commence the 2020 legislative calendar. Expectedly, there will be exchange of banters among themselves at the Chambers, before the federal legislators settle down to serious business with the Chief Whips of both the Senate and House of Representatives calling the lawmakers to order for business of the day.

In starting the business of the day, both the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan and House Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, will not be oblivious of what had happened in the course of the long Christmas break. There were several security challenges including the attack on the Emir of Potiskum and other killings by Boko Haram insurgents, including the decapitation of Rev. Lawan Andimi from Michika council of Adamawa State. There was also the dastardly Christmas orgy of beheading of Christians by the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) and kidnappings among other security challenges.

So, the mounting security challenges across the country which have overwhelmed the police as well as other security agencies in the country should be the main agenda of the National Assembly in starting off the 2020 legislative year. The nation is waiting to hear what the federal legislators will say on the security initiative by governors from the South-west of Nigeria, known as, Amotekun.

Also, more than seven months after its inauguration, the National Assembly is yet to constitute its Ad-hoc committee on Constitution Review. At the moment, several constitution review bills that have passed first reading are currently unattended to in both the Senate and House because there is no constitution review committee in place to carry out further legislative duties.

In the Senate alone, there are 10 bills awaiting further legislative action by the yet to be constituted Senate committee on constitution review which include Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 109) sponsored by Senator Baba Ahmad (Katsina North), Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 75), sponsored by Senator Istifanus Gyang (Plateau North) and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 48) sponsored by Senator Rose Oko (Cross River North).

Others include Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 184) sponsored  by Senator Uche Ekwunife (Anambra Central), Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 204), sponsored by Senator Gabriel Suswam (Benue North East), Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 218), sponsored by Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (Ekiti North) and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 240), sponsored by Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West).

Others are Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 247) sponsored by Senator Ajibola Basiru (Osun Central), Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill 2019 (SB.74) sponsored by Senator Gyang lstifanus (Plateau North) and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2019 (SB. 259) sponsored by Senator Bamidele Opeyemi (Ekiti Central).

It appears the issue is likely to be attended to by the National Assembly leadership if the assurance of the Senate spokesman, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, is anything to go by. He had given an assurance at the weekend that the Senate President will set up the committee once the recess is over.

According to Akwashiki, the issue of Constitution amendment is very important now that various sections of the country are clamouring for a review of the nation’s laws to tackle insecurity and other social and economic challenges.

He said, “The Senate President has promised to address the issue of Constitution amendment when we resume from our current break. I believe that he will honour his words by announcing the committee once we resume because of the enormous work it is supposed to handle.

“There are issues that needed to be addressed by amendment to the constitution. Hence the committee is very important to us in the Senate,” he stated.

The expectation is that that the House Speaker will follow suit and also do the needful in this regard.

There are several bills pending before the National Assembly but two are very important and will require quick legislative intervention which the Assembly leadership had promised. The Bills are the Petroleum Industry Bill and Electoral Reforms Amendment Bill.

The Petroleum Industry Bill was first introduced in the National Assembly in 2007 but is yet to be passed in its entirety. Chairman of the National Assembly, Dr.  Ahmad Lawan, speaking at a forum in December, hinted that the National Assembly will, this time around, adopt a different approach to make the passage of the PIB a reality.

According to him, “We want to see a situation where the Legislature and the Executive work very closely to have a PIB that will attract investment into the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. We want to create an investment climate that will be competitive. We know some other countries have this product, therefore, we have to be competitive, we have to create an environment where the businesses make profit. This is a journey that involves everyone. We want both government – and that includes the legislature and executive – on the one hand and other relevant stakeholders in the sector, particularly the IOCs (International Oil Companies), to work together to ensure that this environment we are trying to create is an environment that will work for all of us.”

The Electoral Reforms Amendment Bill, Lawan explained, will be given priority this year due to the urgent need to improve the nation’s electoral processes and secure the democratic gains of the Fourth Republic.

He further stressed that, “We want to pass the Bill well ahead of the next electoral cycle in 2023 and avoid the political heat and pitfalls that imperiled the efforts of the eight National Assembly which passed the same bill close to the last general elections.

We are not oblivious of the interest and concerns some of these bills have generated from the public. But we must not forget that lawmaking is a rigorous process that allows for all sides of the argument to be heard and the true will of the people established before a bill becomes law.”

A total of 40 private member bills have passed through second reading at the Ninth Senate between October and December, 2019 and are expected to undergo further legislative work this year. Some of these bills are the controversial anti – social media bill titled, ” Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 sponsored by Senator Uba Sani (Kaduna Central), the bill seeking for establishment of the National Assembly Budget and Research Office sponsored by Senator Rose Oko (Cross River North) and the bill seeking for establishment of National Rice Development Council of Nigeria sponsored by Senator Bima Mohammed Enagi (Niger South). Others are the bills seeking for an Act to prevent, prohibit and redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central), Freedom from Hunger Bill sponsored by Senator Theodore Orji (Abia Central), National Health Insurance Commission Bill 2019 sponsored by Senator Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe (Kwara Central) and the bill seeking for an Act to provide for Constituency Projects in the annual budget of the Federation sponsored by Senator Stella Adaeze Oduah (Anambra North).

Meanwhile, the Ninth House of Representatives prides itself as the ‘House of Reformation’ and with its performance so far, it may be difficult to fault the declaration. To give credence to the claim, the Green Chamber had initiated a number of bills which if things work according to plan would be passed into law in 2020. Some of the bills have the tendency of propelling the country into greatness if passed, enforced and implemented where applicable.

The House passed a Bill seeking to provide 40 percent of the country’s annual budget for capital projects in the next 10 years was slated for second reading before the end of 2019.

The bill sponsored by the Speaker, Hon Gbajabiamila, is known as the Economic Stimulus Bill and it allows the lawmakers to use their legislative instrument, having been empowered by the Constitution, to support the Federal Government to improve on the nation’s infrastructure and drive the economy for the next 10 years. The proposed legislation is expected to tackle the issue of abandoned projects all over the country, which was caused by the paltry sum allocated for capital projects. The Speaker said the issue of how the Federal Government would generate revenue to meet up with the 40 percent target to fund the projects is ‘very simple’, inasmuch as the Executive plugs all the loopholes, funding the projects won’t be a problem.

According to him as a result of the, “The current economic challenges confronting us as a people, coupled with the decaying state of infrastructure across the country, we cannot undermine the importance of this Bill which seeks to provide 40 percent of our annual budget for capital project for the next 10 years.” The Bill consists of five sections with Section 1 seeking to provide 40 percent of the nation’s budget be earmarked for capital project for the next 10 years.

Section 2 of the Bill creates some form of monitoring process to ensure implementation and enforcement by providing that upon commencement, the Accountant General of the Federation shall submit quarterly reports to the National Assembly on the performance of the capital budget and must be submitted within two weeks after the end of a corresponding quarter.

Under sub section 2 of section 2, the National Assembly shall within two weeks consider the report of the Accountant General of the Federation and if not satisfied shall pass the necessary resolution to ensure implementation and performance by the President.

Section 3 provides that the Bill shall be in force for a period of 10 years after which there shall be a review by the National Assembly.

Section 4 makes provision for penalty of five years imprisonment or a fine of N50 million or both for violation or any attempt by any person to frustrate the implementation of the Bill when passed. This stringent punitive measure suggests that the current state of infrastructure and economy are not to be handled with kids gloves. Under section 5, the Bill is cited as ‘Economy Stimulus Bill’.

Also, a Bill that seeks to separate the office of the Attorney General of the Federation from that of the Minister of Justice has passed the second reading in the House. The Sponsor of the Bill, Hon. Mohammed Monguno, who is also the Chief Whip of the House, said the powers vested on the Attorney General by the constitution are judicial in nature and when exercised to the fullest could affect the rights of the people and therefore should not be subjected to political interference. Like what is obtainable now, the proposed legislation provides the President the opportunity to appoint the Minister of Justice, but the appointment of the Attorney General would be based only on career progression.

Similarly, a bill to alter Section 7 of the 1999 constitution has passed the second reading in the House. The Bill seeks to, among other things,  alter Section 7 (1) of the Principal Act by substituting Section 7 (1) with new sections 7 (1) (a) (z): to provide for the office of the Chairman and Vice Chairman of Local Government as stipulated in the Bill. The Bill also seeks to provide as follows: Qualification and disqualification of Chairman; Declaration of Assets and Liabilities, Oaths of Office; Election of Chairman; Nomination and Election of Vice Chairman; Removal of Chairman or Vice Chairman from Office: Tenure of Office of Chairman and  Election of Councilors. The bill seeks to provide for election and tenure of office for local government Chairmen/Councilors and also prescript mode of exercising legislative powers of the local government council. The proposed legislation further seeks to provide for democratically elected local government councils and as true representatives of the people, adding that the need to alter this relevant provision of the Constitution cannot be over emphasized.

The House has also promised to reintroduce the Electoral Act Amendment Bill that President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to during the Eighth Assembly.

In the Eighth Assembly, 12 Bills seeking to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 and the Electoral (amendment) Act 2015 sponsored by members were passed. The National Assembly passed the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2018 and forwarded same to the President for his assent pursuant to section 58 (4) of the 1999 Constitution amended, but the President, however, declined assent due to some lacuna or drafting issues in some of the clauses of the Bill and advised that those observations be addressed.

The chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, Hon. Aisha Dukku, stressed the need to reintroduce the bill in order to ensure important amendments that would improve the country’s electoral process. She stated, “As it stands, the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill is still hanging; hence there is need for this Committee to bring it up because there are several important amendments that will improve our electoral process.

“It also requires that a number of fundamental shortcomings are still to be addressed for the legislative framework to be fully in line with universal and regional standards for elections.”

Moreso, a constitution alteration Bill seeking to include and place free, compulsory and Universal Basic Education under Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution as amended has passed the second reading in the House. The Bill proposed legislation  to make free compulsory Universal Basic Education a fundamental right under the Constitution,  considering various reports relating to the rate of illiteracy in Nigeria. House Chief Whip, Hon Mohammed Monguno, who read the bill on behalf of the Speaker, said a country cannot develop when a chunk of her population still wallows in illiteracy. He said sadly, various statistics show that the level of illiteracy in Nigeria is still very alarming, adding that it is therefore widely believed that high rate of illiteracy accounts for the low level of development in Nigeria, and that the development of any nation depends largely on the quantity and quality of all segments of its population.

He expressed concern over a recent declaration by the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC), as reported in THISDAY publication of April 12, 2019, that 35 per cent of the nation’s adult population is illiterate despite the launch of Universal Primary Education (UPE) about 33 years ago, and the huge amount of money invested in education.

The Chief Whip noted that the country cannot remain relevant in the world of business and politics if the government cannot secure or guarantee basic education for the people. He said the best and fastest way of achieving this is to make free, compulsory basic education a fundamental right of every Nigerian. Monguno explained that there is already in existence the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act 2004, stressing that ordinarily, free compulsory basic education is not a fundamental right under that Act.

With the National Assembly back to legislative duties, it is hoped that the leadership will remember the teeming Nigerian populace in whatever they do and ensure that they adhere to the principle of separation of powers and checks and balances as entrenched in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). With the 2020 Appropriation Act taking effect from this month, the relevant committees of the two chambers of the Assembly should ensure that they carry out their mandatory oversight on government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) with a view to ensuring the full implementation of the budget unlike in previous fiscal years when budget performance was usually 65 percent or less.

QUICK FACTS:

*The 2020 legislative year begins tomorrow, Tuesday, January 28 as federal legislators in the two chambers of the Ninth National Assembly resume work from an unprecedented six-week Yuletide vacation

*While, the National Assembly was on break, there were several security challenges including the attack on the Emir of Potiskum and other killings by Boko Haram insurgents, including the decapitation of Rev. Lawan Andimi from Michika council of Adamawa State. There was also the dastardly Christmas orgy of beheading of Christians by the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) and kidnappings among other security challenges

*Mounting security challenges should be the main agenda of the National Assembly in starting off the 2020 legislative year

*The nation is waiting to hear what the federal legislators will say on the security initiative by governors from the South-west of Nigeria, known as, Amotekun

*Seven months after its inauguration, the National Assembly is yet to constitute its Ad-hoc committee on Constitution Review. There are 10 bills awaiting further legislative action by the yet to be constituted Senate committee on constitution review

*Two of the most important bills pending before the National Assembly and require quick legislative intervention are the Petroleum Industry Bill and Electoral Reforms Amendment Bill

*The House passed a Bill seeking to provide 40 percent of the country’s annual budget for capital projects in the next 10 years was slated for second reading before the end of 2019. The bill sponsored by the Speaker, Hon Gbajabiamila, is known as the Economic Stimulus Bill

*A Bill that seeks to separate the office of the Attorney General of the Federation from that of the Minister of Justice has passed the second reading in the House. The Sponsor of the Bill, Hon. Mohammed Monguno is also the Chief Whip of the House

*A constitution alteration Bill seeking to include and place free, compulsory and Universal Basic Education under Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution as amended has passed the second reading in the House. The Bill proposed legislation to make free, compulsory Universal Basic Education a fundamental right under the Constitution

*The 2020 Appropriation Act takes effect from this month, the relevant committees of the two chambers of the National Assembly will begin to carry out their mandatory oversight on government ministries