Tasks Ahead, As Federal Lawmakers Return to Work

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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 Elmore and Udora Orizu write that resolution on crucial legislative items await Nigerian senators and members of the House of Representatives as they resume plenary on February 9 after the Christmas and New Year holidays

Members of the House of Representatives in the 9th National Assembly who have been on Christmas holiday will resume Tuesday, February 9 to commence the 2021 legislative calendar.

The lawmakers who were initially billed to resume plenary on Tuesday, January 26th postponed their resumption by two weeks to enable members of the All Progressive Congress (APC) party participate in the registration and revalidation of its membership, scheduled to commence 25th January, 2021.

The House had a very rocky 2020, primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic which is still ravaging countries world over. In the view of current realities occasioned by the pandemic, the lawmakers in June last year resolved to update its agenda to guide its operations in the next three years, (2020-2023). In the agenda, termed ‘Our Contract with Nigerians’, the legislators agreed to prioritise passage of key legislations.

As another legislative year is about to commence, expectations are high that the lawmakers will continue their legislative duties and attend to several unfinished business.

Growing Insecurity

There has been several security challenges such as banditry, kidnappings among others in the last few weeks. So, upon resumption, the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, is definitely aware of what had happened prior and in the course of the Christmas break.

Security issues have been the crux of discussion on the floor of the House, as several security-related motions were passed by the lawmakers with nothing much coming out of it. However,, the worsening security situation of the country is expected to be the main agenda of the House in kick starting the 2021 legislative year. Several security-related motions and Bills are expected to pop up as the federal legislators esume work.

The rise in security challenges facing the nation may also receive the attention of the Red Chamber which had in the past impressed it upon President Muhammadu Buhari the need to overhaul the nation’s security apparatus. The Senate may revisit the issue upon resumption of plenary as kidnapping and banditry are still very rampant in some parts of the country.

Maintaining the January to December Budget Cycle

The lawmakers are also expected to maintain the budget cycle of January-December. Recall that the 9th National Assembly upon inauguration promised Nigerians it would normalize the budget cycle which had suffered disruptions due to delays in the budgetary process.

The House had on December 21, 2020, after many weeks of budget defence sessions with various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), passed the 2021 Appropriation Bill, increasing the budget from N13.08 trillion presented to them by President Muhammadu Buhari to N13.588 trillion. This makes it the second budget to pass the January to December cycle since the Buhari administration reverted to the old practice.

Also as the 2021 Appropriation Act is taking effect, the various committees of the Green Chamber are expected to carry out their mandatory oversight on government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with a view to ensuring the full implementation of the budget, unlike previous fiscal years when budget performance was usually low.

Constitution Review

Review of the constitution is also expected to be a top priority of the legislators as they resume work. Nigerians are hopeful that the 9th leadership will break the jinx this time of finally reviewing the constitution.

After months of delay, the House, finally hit the ground running with the inauguration of its special ad hoc committee on constitution review on October 15, 2020.

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.

Soon after the inauguration the exercise was yet again stalled, as it was learnt that money was not released to money 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.

The House Spokesman who confirmed that the committee met recently and were working on the programme of action, however, said that a thorough review will not be sacrificed on the altar of speed, as the members of the committee will ensure an effective job to harness the desire 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.”

Also this year, the review of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) will be a major focus of the Senate. Although nothing much has been achieved by the 59-man Senate committee on the review of the constitution headed by Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege since it was constituted last year, the committee is expected to move fast in the new year if the June, 2021 target set by the committee to amend the constitution will be realisable.

The Senate had last August called for memoranda from the general public for the review of the 1999 constitution. In a statement, the upper chamber called on “the general public, Executive and Judicial bodies, Civil Society Organizations, professional bodies and other interest groups to submit memoranda or proposals for further alteration(s) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) towards promoting good governance and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom”.

The statement further clarified that the memoranda being expected should focus on any of the following 13 thematic areas: gender equality for women and girls; federal structure and power devolution; local government and its autonomy; public revenue, fiscal federation and revenue allocation; Nigerian Police and Nigerian security architecture as well as comprehensive judicial reforms.

Others are: electoral reforms; socio-economic and cultural rights as contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution; strengthening the Independence of oversight institutions and agencies created by the constitution or pursuant to an act of the National Assembly; residency and indigene provisions; immunity; National Assembly and state creation.

Pending Key Bills