Wins, Failures at the House of Representatives

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Udora Orizu writes that while the 9th House of Representatives made some giant strides in achieving items on its updated legislative agenda, it however failed to ensure compliance to some very important resolutions

The 9th House of Representatives shortly after it was inaugurated on June 11, 2019 had rolled out a legislative agenda, promising to bring in reforms that will foster legislative activities and national development. The Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who unveiled the agenda had at the time, asserted that 20 years into the present democratic endeavours, the promise and benefits of democracy are yet to be fully felt in the lives of many citizens, hence the 9th House mandated itself to make the lives of citizens better and bring home the long-promised benefits of democracy.

However in the view of current realities occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic. The House, in June 2020 resolved to update its agenda which was officially launched in July by the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila at a retreat, a copy was formally presented to President Muhammadu Buhari in September.

The agenda which seemed ambitious was explained to be a framework that will guide House operations in the next three years, (2020-2023). In the agenda, termed ‘Our Contract with Nigerians’, the House identified 10 key policy areas, with legislative interventions separated into immediate, intermediate and long-term action. The priority areas include; Health, Education, Economy, Security, Agriculture and Food Security, Sustainable Power, Environment and Climate Change, Human Capital Development, Governance and House Reforms.

Also, fast-tracking the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), electoral act amendment, restoring the January to December budget cycle, constitution review were featured in the agenda. As part of the general principles of the new agenda, the legislators in the green chamber will identify and target passage of priority legislation within an agreed framework.

Unveiling the updated agenda, the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said the new agenda is in line with the current realities occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, which came with unimaginable consequences. He also said the spate of insecurity in the country has made vast swathes of the country uninhabitable for citizens and unattractive to investment, hence the new agenda commits the lawmakers to a plan of action over the next year, and for the rest of their tenure.

While the House was able to achieve or kick start some of the mandate listed out in the agenda, however on several occasions, the legislative arm of government got blatant disregard from the Executive to some its resolutions reached, following the adoption of several motions on national issues.

Major Achievements of the House in 2020

Timely Passage of 2021 Budget

With the recent passage of the 2021 budget, the lawmakers were able to restore the January-December budget cycle.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on October 8, presented N13.8 trillion 2021 Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly for consideration and approval. Buhari urged the lawmakers to expedite action on the passage of the budget.

Responding, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker of the House Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, assured the President and the people that the budget would be passed by December.

Thereafter, both chambers on October 20 adjourned plenary to November 24, 2020, to enable lawmakers hold budget defence sessions with various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government.

After month long budget defence sessions with various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) the Senate and the House of Representatives on December 21 passed the budget, increasing the size from N13.08 trillion presented to them by President Buhari to N13.588 trillion.

The passage of the 2021 budget followed consideration and adoption of harmonised reports separately submitted to them by their Committees on Appropriation.

In his remarks after the passage of the budget, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, noted that the January-to-December budget cycle was necessary to ensure the effective implementation of the country’s annual budgets to meet the nation’s development challenges.

He assured that this standard would be maintained throughout the tenure of the present legislature.

Constitution Review

Since the return of democratic rule in 1999, several failed attempts had been made by the previous assemblies to amend some provisions of the 1999 Constitution, allegedly foisted on them by the military. It seems the jinx will be broken this time as both chambers of the 9th National Assembly as part of their legislative agenda agreed to set up a constitution review committee to give Nigerians a Constitution they can call theirs.

Although there was a lull in kick-starting this all-important assignment, however, several months later, it seems the Green Chamber hit the ground running with the inauguration of its special ad hoc committee on constitution review on October 15th.

Speaking at the inauguration, Chairman of the Committee and the Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Ahmed Wase, said the House would consider the creation of states, state police, true federalism, local government and judicial autonomy in the review of the 1999 constitution.

He said already, over 15 constitution alteration bills have been referred to the committee, touching on these broad thematic areas.

Soon after the inauguration the exercise is yet again stalled, as it was learnt that no money has been released to the two committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives out of the N1 billion approved for the exercise in the revised 2020 budget.

Sources close to the committee told THISDAY that the N1 billion allocated for the constitution review programme for the two chambers was yet to be released by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning.

However, in an interview with THISDAY later on, the Spokesman of the House, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, said that due to paucity of funds stalling the activities of the Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, certain adjustments will be made to the expenses of the National Assembly to make sure that the objective is met.

Kalu said constitution review is one of the 9th Assembly’s top legislative agenda, which Nigerians are looking forward to adding that the lawmakers will ensure it comes to pass.

He said: ”Like you know, paucity of funds has always been the problem of National Assembly. Expectation is high, but I’m sure that because of its political will, the 9th Assembly is placing the constitution review on the front burner. Certain adjustments will be made to prioritize this particular objective and adjustment will be made to the expenses of the National Assembly to make sure that the objective is met. Because It’s one of the top in our legislative agenda, Nigerians are looking forward to that and we will put our money where our mouth is in funding this.”

The House spokesman who said the committee met recently and are working on the programme of action, however said the review is not going to be compromised by speed, as the members of the committee will ensure a thorough job to harness the ambitions and desires of Nigerians.

According to him, ”The committee is under a serious minded, well experienced chairman, that’s the deputy speaker, Hon. Idris Wase. If you know him very well, you know that he operates with the speed of light when he’s handling responsibilities. So I can assure you that he’s the right person for this all important committee. He has the leadership skills to be able to advance the constitution review expectations of Nigerians. So June or July 2021, whatever it is, it’s going to be fast, as fast as possible.”

Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)

It seems the much-sought sanity in the petroleum industry may soon be found, as the lawmakers at the resumption of plenary on November 24, passed for second reading the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). The Bill which failed overtime in previous assemblies, was passed without varying views from members.

The Leader of the House, Hon. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa who moved for the second reading of the Bill, leading the debate said that the PIB has been a very important piece of legislation that has been in the works since the 5th Assembly but he expressed optimism that the 9th Assembly will be able to achieve history that has eluded the Nigerian people.

Ado-Doguwa stated that the passage of the Bill will ensure an unprecedented institutional reform to enable international best practices in the Nigerian oil sector and bring it at par with others globally. He said that the new PIB makes room for both the oil downstream and upstream sectors to be ideally regulated via well-structured commissions. He also identified the new innovations in the bill aimed at ensuring that Nigeria derives the maximum benefits and profits of the sector.

Also, the Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Upstream, Hon. Musa Sarkin Adar stated that the Bill is coming at a time when Nigeria can ill afford to keep losing scarce financial resources, especially as a direct fallout of the covid-19 pandemic. He stated that with the discovery of oil in different African countries; Nigeria needs to operate an oil sector that will ensure maximum profitability that can ensure wealth for Nigeria and Nigerians, this he said will reduce social inequality.

The minority leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu stated that the Bill is long overdue as it seeks to institutionalize good governance and the ease of doing business, as well as the expunging of sharp practices in the oil sector.

The Deputy minority leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu called on the leaders and stakeholders in the oil sector to show strength of character, commitment and patriotism and support the passage of the PIB so that the nation can begin on a track of industrial progress. He reiterated the fact that a working PIB would expunge indigenes’ agitation, insecurity and youth restiveness, as the indigenes and youth will be meaningfully engaged in the oil sector and will see themselves as stakeholders with all to lose from the disruption of the activities of the sector.

The Chairman, House Committee on Defence, Hon. Babajimi Benson said that it is high time scarce resources are channelled where there is a sure and abundant expectation for high returns, he stated that the PIB as it is structured now will ensure a prosperous, wholesome and sane Nigerian oil sector.

Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha said that the passage of the Bill is long overdue and hoped that the issues that made the Bill not receive presidential assent in the past have truly been dealt with so that the process can be completed this time. She wondered why some stakeholders, especially external forces are bent on frustrating the Bill.

The Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila assured Onyejeocha that the differing interests will not be able to frustrate the process this time, as the 9th Assembly is keen on seeing the Bill is passed and receives presidential assent.

The Bill was passed and referred to the adhoc committee on PIB.

Wasting no time, the next day, the Ad hoc Committee on Petroleum Industry Bill, held an inaugural meeting, during which the lawmakers called on Nigerians to make inputs on by submitting memoranda, assuring them that the bill will be passed by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Mohammed Monguno, said the committee has taken liberty to create a website which will serve as one of the platforms where stakeholders and interested members of the general public can download the text of the Bill and also upload comments, inputs and memoranda to same.

Monguno said: “Under our watch as a committee, which I am privileged to chair, it is a general consensus that the passage of this Bill is long overdue. We are taking time to review what has been done by the previous Assemblies and what we need to do differently. Prior to the referrer of the Bill, the leadership of the House, the Senate and the relevant committees of the National Assembly have been briefed by the Hon. Minister of Petroleum with his team, wherein most of the concerns and controversies contained in the previous drafts have been significantly addressed with this present draft.

”Going forward, the committee will do its best by engaging various stakeholders, civil societies and general public by subjecting the Bill to detailed and public scrutiny to ensure that Nigerians are carried along. We are confident that this piece of legislation will stand the test of time. In as much as we are eager to pass the bill, we will not circumvent legislative process, it is our hope and belief that the Bill will be passed by the end of the first quarter of year 2021. The website is particularly important because, it enables all Nigerians so long as you have internet access, irrespective of where they might be or leave, to participate in the legislative process. The address of the website is www.hrpib.org. ng. We are by this notice calling on the stakeholders and interested members of the general public to visit our website, for updates on the committee‘s activities, to download the text of the Bill and also upload memoranda to same.”

Electoral Act

Ahead of 2023 general election, the House, as part of its priorities in the updated legislative agenda passed for second reading the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2020, which seeks to reduce excessive campaigns’ expenses, ensure the strict use of card readers, ban the substitution of candidates by political parties, and end late releases of polling funds to the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC).

The legislation entitled, “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Electoral Act N0. 6, 2010 (As amended 2015) and enact the Independent National Electoral Commission Act 2020, to regulate Conduct of Federal State and area Council Elections and for related matters, 2020,’’ was sponsored by Hon. Aisha Dukku.

Dukku, leading the debate at the plenary on November, 24 said the amendment has become necessary because of the flaws observed in the electoral system.

She explained that Act when amended, the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at the presidential election shall not exceed N5 billion; governorship, N1 billon; senatorial, N100million; House of Representatives, N70 million; state assembly, N30 million, chairmanship for area councils in the case of the FCT, N30million and councilors, N5 million.

In his contribution, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said that there must be a strict usage of the card reader, without the application of other technological devices in all polls.

On his part, the Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu also canvassed strongly, for the reduction of statutory campaign funds for councillorship, chairmanship and House of Assembly candidates, if the candidates for those offices were found to be cerebral and resourceful.

Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, in her contribution expressed concern that 48 hours might be too short for a political party to substitute a candidate that dies in a bye-election with a credibly vetted replacement.

The House Spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu called for the treatment of all local governments as equal, despite their sizes, while Hon. Ibrahim Obanikoro sought for the capturing of Nigerians in diaspora when they have been duly identified with their passports and that more explicit penalties should be laid down for defaulters of election laws.

The Bill was voted on, passed for second reading and referred to the Committee for Electoral Amendment.

Failures of the House

Insecurity (Sack of Service Chiefs and President Buhari’s Invitation)

Every legislative day, since the inauguration of the 9th House on June 11 2019, security issues have been the crux of discussion on the floor of the House. Several security-related motions have been passed by the lawmakers with significant resolutions. Among the resolutions, include call for President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the Service Chiefs and invitation to the President to explain to security situation of the country. But so far, not much has come out of the many motions.

On January 29, the lawmakers while debating a motion on the need to curb the incessant attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents moved by the Chief Whip, Hon. Mohammed Monguno, asked the Service Chiefs to resign or be sacked by Buhari.

However, the President didn’t heed to the Parliament’s call for their resignation or sack.

Again in September, adopting a motion
on the need to curb the rising cases of banditry, killing, and kidnapping in Niger state, sponsored by Hon. Shehu Barwa Beji and Hon. Saidu Umar Doka, the House asked President Muhammadu Buhari to give effect to subsisting resolutions of the House bordering on the removal of Service Chiefs.

The lawmakers said the unjustifiable retention of the service Chiefs may be the cause of the lingering problem as their defensive strategies seem to be obsolete and must have outgrown further learning.

But their resolution was once again ignored by the President.

The latest resolution of the House on security was the invitation of President Buhari to appear before it, to explain efforts being made curb the rising insecurity across the country, especially in the North East.

The House, on December 1, had considered a motion, moved by Hon. Satomi Ahmed, on behalf of 10 other Borno State federal lawmakers, to summon Buhari, and to amongst other things, declare a state of emergency on security matters.

The motion was informed by killing of over 43 rice farmers in Zabarmari village, near Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.

Ahmed Satomi, who led debate on the motion, prayed that the President to amongst others things, declare a state of emergency on security matters.

He said there was need for the Federal Government to listen to the voice of reason and adopt new strategies in combating insecurity in the country.

But, Hon. Ahmadu Jaha, one of the co-sponsors of the motion raised a point of order saying that a prayer was omitted.

Jaha said that in the original motion, all the sponsors agreed that Buhari should be invited brief the House on the true state of the security of the Nation was removed, adding that he’s shocked by the removal.

While his amendment got overwhelming support from other lawmakers, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and the majority leader Hon. Ado Doguwa opined that it was not necessary as security issues can’t be discussed openly, pleading for the understanding of his colleagues not to summon the president.

Their contributions were greeted with shouts of ‘Noo’, from majority of the lawmakers, who insisted that the President appear on the floor and address the security situation in the country.

Gbajabiamila, in an attempt to calm the very rowdy session ruled that plenary be suspended and members go into an executive session to resolve the matter.

Reconvening from the closed door meeting, Hon. Ahmad Jaha who earlier insisted on the invitation as the key prayer of the motion, was asked to formally move the motion for the President’s appearance.

The Speaker, after leading a delegation to a meeting with the President the next day to convey the resolutions of the House, said Buhari has pledged to honour the invitation.

Also, the House spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, briefing newsmen, expressed optimism that the President will show up, saying that Buhari had ignored previous invitations from past legislatures because they withheld his budgets.

He added that they eventually reached an agreement with the President on the date he would appear before them. This was concurred by the Presidency few days later.

But, a day before his commitment to honour the invitation by the House to address lawmakers on what his administration is doing to combat rising insecurity, President Muhammadu Buhari walked back on his promise.

The Presidency cited the constitution, which the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), said does not confer the power to summon the President on the National Assembly, for Buhari’s change of mind.

Reacting, the lawmakers faulted Malami for querying its power to invite President Muhammadu Buhari, insisting the constitution empowers it to invite the President.

They also said the House is still awaiting official communication from the presidency to know why the president backtracked after agreeing to appear before the House.

Regardless of the Parliament’s insistence, we all know the President is no longer coming.

Proposed Two Months Free Electricity for Nigerians

Back in April, the House resolved that the federal government grants Nigerians two-month free electricity supply to cushion the excruciating effects of the nationwide lockdown occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19.

The Discos, under the aegis of the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), had supported the scheme but on the condition that the federal government should pick the bill for the two-month free electricity supply.

The minister of power, Alhaji Saleh Mamman on its part said that the privatised nature of the electricity sector could not guarantee the free supply.

The House in its response reiterated its position on 2 months free power supply to Nigerians.

Spokesman of the House, Hon. Ben Kalu in a statement issued on April 30, said though the lawmakers were conscious of the challenges, they however, cannot abdicate on their promise to the Nigerian people.

However till today, the federal government is yet to implement that resolution.

Directive to Curtail Increase in Transport Fare During Festive Season

Another resolution of the House which hasn’t been complied to, is resolution directing the Ministry of Transport to as a matter of urgency put modalities in place to curtail the arbitrary increase in transport fare by transport operators in the country during festive periods.

The resolution followed the adoption of a motion of urgent Public importance sponsored by Hon. Chinedu Martin Emeka.

The House also asked the Federal Government to sanction operators who engage in such obnoxious increase.

But, since the directive was given at the plenary on December 21, it’s yet to be implemented as transporters increase the fares on a daily basis, thereby compounding the hardship situation of Nigerians across the board.

QUOTE

Every legislative day, since the inauguration of the 9th House on June 11 2019, security issues have been the crux of discussion on the floor of the House. Several security-related motions have been passed by the lawmakers with significant resolutions. Among the resolutions, include call for President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the Service Chiefs and invitation to the President to explain to security situation of the country. But so far, not much has come out of the many motions