- Seek continuation of investigative hearings
- Reject intermittent closure the parliament
Thirty-nine civil society organisations (CSOs) have faulted the leadership of the National Assembly for suspending investigation into various sovereign loans obtained from the Export–Import Bank of China and spending of the Interim Management Committee (IMC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), among others.
The CSOs, therefore, lamented the intermittent closure of the parliament in the wake of COVID-19 outbreaks while asking its leadership to, as a matter of urgency, direct all ad-hoc and standing committees that suspended investigative hearings to resume their oversight functions in national interest.
They expressed this concern in a three-page statement at the weekend, describing the decision of the parliament to suspend hearings at this critical time as ill-advised, ill-timed and absolutely unhelpful.
The groups that signed the statement include Femi Falana Chambers, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP), Zero-Corruption Coalition (ZCC), Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA), among others.
The parliament had initiated investigations into the mismanagement of public funds by various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) including the terms of various loans obtained from China, breach of the procurement process and recovery of stolen public assets.
On August 19, however, the House of Representatives suspended activities of its standing and ad hoc committees, including panels investigating finances of the federal government, thereby sparking protracted controversies and suspicion.
In their joint statement, the CSOs condemned the decision of the parliament to drop legislative activities at a time when its role is more critical than ever before.
They observed that citizens, who were rattled by the revelations coming out of those hearings, were waiting with keen interest for their conclusions and outcomes.
The CSOs said it was good to see these activities continue even into the vacation of the lawmakers.
They said it was shocking to read the directive by the leadership of the parliament to suspend all legislative activities including those investigative hearings that had captivated the nation.
They observed that the legislative leadership relied on established global practice of suspending legislative activities while the institution of the legislature is on break.
On any ground, the CSOs said, there was no justification or reason given for the illogical step taken by the House of Representatives to suspend committee activities.
They also emphasised the need for the National Assembly to expedite action on reform of electoral laws; review the 1999 Constitution; consider the 2021 Appropriation Bill, and attend to numerous other pending legislative assignments.
The CSOs observed: “Even if this decision was taken with good intentions, it is ill-advised, ill-timed and unhelpful. It fuels all forms of conspiracy theories and interpretation of collusion and attempts to cover up fraud.”
Already, the CSOs claimed that the National Assembly “is already plagued by a lack of credibility or public trust. The National Assembly cannot afford another bad press given its already negative image and perception by citizens.”
They, thus, urged the lawmakers “to treat these as matters of urgent national and public importance, rescind this decision and allow various committees to carry on with legislative and oversight activities, including concluding the suspended investigative hearings.”
They, also, asked the lawmakers “to ensure that the reports and outcomes of these investigative hearings are made publicly available and that all those who are found to be culpable should be brought to justice.”
The CSOs, equally, called on all anti-corruption agencies “to live up to their responsibilities by following up on these investigative hearings to gather actionable evidence to prosecute those who have violated various anti-corruptions laws and regulations.
“There is already an enormous amount of information in the public domain and it baffles the imagination that anti-corruption agencies are sitting helplessly and tight-lipped at a time when they should be busy filling criminal charges against those already indicted by the evidence that emanated from the legislative hearings.”
With the COVID-19 outbreak, the CSOs charged the National Assembly not only to join the executive in finding solutions to the unprecedented challenges facing the country, but also ensure that there is no executive overreach as emergency powers are being invoked to implement a range of measures, ostensibly to check the spread of the virus.
They lamented that the legislative year “is June 2019 to July 2020, two months vacation, 56 days public holiday, 6-week Yuletide vocation, 42 days, 7-week coronavirus break, 49 days in addition to 62 days for Saturdays and Sundays, this means 216 days out of 365 days in a year.”
By implication, the CSOs noted that the National Assembly sat for only 149 days instead of the 181 days prescribed by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
The CSOs said due to the intermittent closure of the parliament in the wake of the pandemic and given the critical issues requiring legislative attention, the lawmakers could have devised means of extending their plenary sittings and meeting the constitutionally mandated 181 sitting days in a legislative year given the disruptions caused by the pandemic.