The Lawan, Gbajabiamila Leadership in the Ninth National Assembly

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Deji Elumoye, Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu, X-Ray the leadership of the Ninth National Assembly in the last one year

Unlike in 2015 when the plans of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to micro zone principal positions in the National Assembly did not materialise resulting in the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as the President of the Eighth Senate and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the choice of leadership of the National Assembly in 2019 was a smooth sail as the ruling party had it its way save for former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume that insisted on contesting against Senator Ahmed Lawan for the coveted seat of the President of the Senate, other lawmakers elected on the platform of the party towed the party line because they didn’t want to be seen as going against the party zoning arrangement in the legislative arm.

Eventually, the party’s micro zoning led to the emergence of Lawan, a ranking Senator who has been a member of the National Assembly since 1999 as the President of the Senate and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker of the House.

There is no gain saying the fact that the emergence of the principal officers in the National Assembly exactly as it was envisaged by the ruling has led to a cordial relationship between the legislative and the executive arms of government.

While no one was expecting the legislative arm of government to be a torn in the flesh of the executive, it appeared that the principle of checks and balances may have disappeared in the lexicon of the Ninth Assembly.

For instance, before the world was invaded by the Coronavirus pandemic, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cautioned Nigeria from taking any further loans especially from China, considering the ever rising debt profile of the country since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed power in 2015.

However, the Federal Government has failed to heed the advise. Recently, the National Assembly approved another $5.5 billion loan request from President Buhari.

The President’s loan request came weeks after the National Assembly approved a loan of N850bn for the federal government and another $22.79bn loan.

In the recent loan request for $5.513 billion to finance 2020 budget deficits which the National Assembly had since approved, President Buhari had informed the legislative arm that the revised budget draft proposed by the executive for 2020 has a higher deficit and in order to finance the deficit, the federal government plans to raise funds from both domestic and external sources.

In the letter dated May 19th and read on the floors of both chambers, by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House, Hon.Femi Gbajabiamila, the President explained that the loan would be sourced from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, African Development Bank, Export, Import Bank of Brazil and the African Export, Import Bank.

According to the President, ”For the external component, the government is negotiating with multilateral institutions for funding on concessionary terms. A total of $3.4 billion will be borrowed from International Monetary Fund, $1.5 billion from World Bank, $500 million from African Development Bank and $133 million from Islamic Development Bank, totalling the amount to $5.513 billion.”

”In addition to the financing required for the revised 2020 budget, financing is also required for some priority projects of the federal government to address the covid-19 pandemic and improve Nigeria’s food security. The Islamic development bank has indicated that only one hundred and thirteen million dollars of financing will be available to the Federal government in the 2020 fiscal year to finance the government’s covid-19 response, which will come from restructuring of previously approved but inactive facilities for Nigeria.”

”For facilities for projects to support state governments in their fight against covid-19 pandemic, comes under ”State fiscal transparency accountability and sustainability program to provide fiscal support to the states”, Covid-19 action recovery and economic stimulus program to support state-level efforts to protect food security and stimulate economic activity”.

The Ninth Assembly in the last one year has, however, made some giant strides in terms of laws, motions, and even its timely intervention in issues of national importance.

By Tuesday, June 11, 2019, the Ninth Senate under the leadership of Lawan, took off. The Yobe North Senator, after polling 79 votes, emerged as President of the Senate, defeating his only opponent Ali Ndume, who garnered 28 votes in the secret ballot election held at the Senate chamber.

Soon after the inauguration, the Ninth Senate rolled out its legislative agenda of enhancing stability in the legislative activities and foster national development. It said the agenda would be framework that would guide Senate operations in the next four years.

The Senate in the agenda resolved to return Nigeria to the January-December budget cycle, approve legislative frameworks to curb increasing youth unemployment, alleviate poverty and the menace of out-of-school children in the country, creation of special health centres in the six geopolitical zones, fast-tracking the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, electoral reform, blocking revenue leakages, Open National Assembly Policy and cutting down Federal Government’s agencies.

Others include; security of lives and property, national unity and progress, fight against corruption, eradication of ethnicity and religion, as well as, general development of infrastructure.

Since the commencement of the Ninth Senate scores of bills have been presented in the Senate, with few of them passing second reading and the lawmakers as well adopting motions at the plenary. In the past one year some of these bills and motions have either garnered praises or criticism for the lawmakers.

Some of the actions taken by the Lawan-led Senate upon resumption of office include the speedy passage of the 2020 budget, the Finance Bill, the Public Procurement Act, Sexual Harassment Bill, Social Media Bill, Hate Speech Bill, Move against Gender Discrimination in Police Bill, Zonal Commission Bills, Electoral Amendment Bill, CAMA Bill, National Health Emergency Bill, 2020 Appropriation (amendment) Bill 2020 and so on.

On motions, several Senators had sponsored and adopted several motions including those condemning extra-judicial killings, ban on textile importation, motion on 20 trillion unremitted stamp duties, averting blindness, motion calling for the resignation of service chiefs over rising insecurity, motion for stiffer penalty for rape just to name a few.

The Ninth senate also made efforts and interventions in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic by donating half of its March salary and faulting the Executive on the implementation of the Social Investment Programme (SIP).

Also the Lawan-led Senate moved to curb electoral offences and create a special court with the passage of the second reading of the bill to establish an electoral offenders commission.
The ninth Senate has also been notorious for introducing Social Media Bill and Hate Speech Bill which has been passed for second reading. Expectedly, the bill was condemned by Nigerians, saying its provisions will infringe on fundamental human rights of the citizenry. For now, the bill is as good as being consigned to the refuse bin.
The Senate in the last one year has not been able to resolve the impasse in Edo state House of Assembly despite the fact that it intervened at the initial stage last July. The Senate had then threatened to take over the Edo State House of Assembly if the Governor of the State, Goodwin Obaseki, refused to issue fresh proclamation for inauguration of the state parliament. Senate’s move then was based on the strength of recommendations made to that effect by the Ad-hoc Committee it set up to investigate the crisis.

The Committee led by the Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, had in its report, recommended that Governor Godwin Obaseki, should issue fresh proclamation for inauguration of the 7th Assembly in Edo State. It added that “in the event that a new proclamation was not issued by the Governor for proper inauguration of the 7th Assembly of the State within a week, the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly should invoke the provisions of section 11 (4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended .”

Senate President Lawan had said then “The Senate and by extension, the National Assembly cannot afford to shy away from doing the needful on the Edo State Assembly crisis as constitutional empowered”.

Nothing came out of the Senate intervention as the Edo Assembly crisis still persists till today almost one year after the National Assembly waded into the matter.

The issue of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which appears to have been jinxed also comes to mind as Lawan had vowed that the bill will be passed this year. The Senate President had said last year while inaugurating the 69 standing committees of the Senate vowed to break the jinx of inconclusive legislation on the Petroleum Industry Bill ( PIB) treated in the Eighth Senate as Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB).

Lawan had stated: “Our petroleum industry is almost stagnant and for long needing profound reform. Our oil and gas related committees, are therefore expected to work hard to take the lead in our determination to reform this vital sector. It is the desire, indeed the design of this Senate that, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is passed before the end of 2020”. How realistic is this especially with year 2020 about seven months to go. It is now left for the Lawan-led National Assembly to ensure that everything is done to ensure that the bill is actually passed this legislative year.

At the Green Chamber, following the emergence of Hon Femi Gbajabiamila with wide acceptability, he promised in his inaugural speech to do away with business-as-usual attitude, shake table, bring about a House of reforms while sticking to nation building.

While Gbajabiamila’s exemplary leadership skills, diplomacy in handling controversial issues and his experience as a seasoned lawmaker in the Green Chamber has undoubtedly set him apart, he has, however, not been able to shake any table as promised in his inaugural speech.

One of his early interventions was visiting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Zamfara, Katsina and Borno States to see the situation on the ground with a view to taking decisive legislative action, while also prioritising citizens security- engagement with Service Chiefs, Inspector General of Police and other security agencies over high level of insecurity across the country.

In order to ensure the smooth take off of legislative activities in the House, the Speaker constituted the Standing Committees of the House on July 25, 2019. He expanded the number of committees from 95 to a little over 100 for efficiency while also accommodating members of the opposition parties.

At different times, Gbajabiamila had intervened in the planned strike by different bodies of health workers, namely the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Joint Health Sector Union JOHESU (FCT chapter), ends accreditation rift between ABU, NMCN, as Council restores accreditation of ABU’s Nursing Sciences Department. His intervention brought amicable resolution to the issues at hand, leading to the suspension of planned strikes at various times.

The Speaker equally ensured that the House took a definite stand when Nigerians suffered xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Moreso, the Speaker has sponsored critical Bills such as the Physically-challenged (Empowerment) Bill 2019; Criminalisation of Estimated Billing System Bill 2019; Students Loan (Access to Higher Education Bill), 2019, among others.

The Speaker also organised and hosted a special programme for the Persons Living With Disabilities (PWDs) on December 4, 2019, in commemoration of the International Day for Persons Living With Disabilities. He also Convinced his colleagues to set aside a day to debate and find solutions to the age-long problem of out-of-school children

Gbajabiamila equally ensured that the presentation of the 2020 Appropriation Bill on time and its unprecedented early passage by the House.

One of his interventions during Covid-19 pandemic was sponsoring the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020 and the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020.

The Speaker went further to convince his colleagues to donate their two months’ salary for the fight against the pandemic and constituting an ad-hoc committee to coordinate the House response and oversight the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, including monitoring the expenditure arising from donations made.

Gbajabiamila didn’t stop at that, he met with different officials from the Executive over concerns raised by Nigerians at various points during the lockdown as well as to address certain issues observed by the leadership of the House.

He further met with the Chinese Ambassador on the status of Nigeria at the outbreak of the pandemic in Nigeria, while also intervening/meeting with Health Ministers on the issue of the arrival of Chinese doctors as well as demanding a stop to the inhumane treatment meted out on some Nigerians in China.

The Speaker equally held a meeting with Minister of Power over better electricity supply for Nigerians during the lockdown in response to a Nollywood actor’s complaint, while also leading the charge for two-month free electricity supply to Nigerians during lockdown although the two months free electricity for Nigerians was never achieved during the lockdown.

The Speaker initiated discussion on how the Executive could support the organised private sector during the pandemic, and also advocated for a convenient way of reaching the vulnerable and the needy among the citizens ‎with palliatives through the Social Intervention Programme (SIP) of the Executive as well as having a legal backing for the SIP.

With the second legislative year of the Ninth National Assembly commencing on June 11, this year, one hopes the leadership of the two chambers will churn out people friendly bills and motions that would have positive effect on the live of an average Nigerian.

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The Ninth senate also made efforts and interventions in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic by donating half of its March salary and faulting the Executive on the implementation of the Social Investment Programme (SIP).

Also the Lawan-led Senate moved to curb electoral offences and create a special court with the passage of the second reading of the bill to establish an electoral offenders commission.

The ninth Senate has also been notorious for introducing Social Media Bill and Hate Speech Bill which has been passed for second reading. Expectedly, the bill was condemned by Nigerians

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Some of the actions taken by the Lawan-led Senate upon resumption of office include the speedy passage of the 2020 budget, the Finance Bill, the Public Procurement Act, Sexual Harassment Bill, Social Media Bill, Hate Speech Bill, Move against Gender Discrimination in Police Bill, Zonal Commission Bills, Electoral Amendment Bill, CAMA Bill, National Health Emergency Bill, 2020 Appropriation (amendment) Bill 2020 and so on. On motions, several Senators had sponsored and adopted several motions including those condemning extra-judicial killings, ban on textile importation, motion on 20 trillion unremitted stamp duties, averting blindness, motion calling for the resignation of service chiefs over rising insecurity, motion for stiffer penalty for rape just to name a few