Issues Before National Assembly as 2022 Legislative Session Begins

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GAVEL

Udora Orizu writes that daunting tasks await members of the National Assembly as they resume plenary on January 18 after their Christmas break

Members of the National Assembly who have been on Christmas and new year holidays will resume on Tuesday, January 18th to commence the 2022 legislative activities. While the lawmakers were able to pass landmark legislations such as the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), Climate Change Act, and so on, however there are several key legislations and unfinished business which Nigerians expect them to prioritise as another legislative year commences.

Amendment to 2022 Budget

The lawmakers had on December 21, 2021 passed the sum of N17.127 trillion budget for 2022 fiscal year, against the sum of N16.391 trillion proposed in the budget estimates submitted to them by President Muhammadu Buhari in October. The Appropriation Bill which was eventually signed into law by the President in December, was rocked with insinuations of budget padding following complaints by him. The President had, while signing the 2022 Appropriation Bill and the 2021 Finance Bill into law expressed strong reservations on what he described as “worrisome changes” made by the National Assembly to the budget estimate. Buhari lamented the reduction in the provisions for many strategic capital projects to introduce empowerment projects. He accused the National Assembly of reducing provisions for about 10,733 projects and introducing 6,576 new projects, which increased the budget from N16.39 trillion by N735.85 billion to N17.13 trillion.

He also expressed concerns on the inclusion of new provisions totalling N36.59 billion for National Assembly projects in the Service Wide Vote, which negates the principles of separation of powers and financial autonomy of the legislative arm of government. The president explained that he signed the budget to enable its implementation from January 1, announcing that he would send a supplementary budget to the lawmakers to amend the alterations.

Worsening Insecurity

Following the rate at which insurgency has spread in the three northern zones, with increasing frequency of killings, kidnapping of innocent citizens by terrorists, escalation of herders/farmers conflicts, armed robbery in various parts of the country, Concern about insecurity bedeviling the country will be one of the major issues that will dominate discussions on the floor of the House in 2022. In the past year, security issues have been the crux of discussion at plenary. In response to various security breaches which led to the loss of lives and properties of citizens, the lawmakers reviewed security related laws and enacted legislations. As a matter of fact, no plenary day goes by without a security-related motion or bill being passed by the lawmakers.

Some of the notable legislations include, the Armed Forces Bill which seeks to establish the Armed Forces of Nigeria Trust Fund, to provide special financial support for the Armed Forces, makes provision for regular training for personnel and the provision of security/defence equipment for effective defence of Nigeria’s territories and the fight against insurgency, and the Police Service Commission Reform Bill to aid the ongoing total police reform, to ensure effective policing.

Aside bills and motions, the House last year held a two-day National Security Legislative Reform retreat where participants were expected to review seven bills with overlapping mandates on security, intelligence and the related agencies.

The Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila had while declaring the retreat open noted that the initiative was part of the commitment of the Lawmakers to doing what is required to ensure the country overcomes the serious national security challenges.

The bills include the Armed Forces Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021; Police Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021; National Security and Civil Defence Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021; Customs and Excise Management Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021; ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, The Ammunition and Other Related Materials (Ratification and Enforcement) Bill, 2021; Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021; and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

The House also in May 2021 held security summit, and presented the report to President Muhammadu Buhari in July for possible implementation of its recommendations. Despite all these efforts nothing much has come out of it. On resumption, as expected several security-related motions and bills are will pop up, however the lawmakers should aggressively lead the discussion on how to quickly end the spate of security crisis.

Rejected Electoral Act Amendment Bill

The long awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which is believed to transform the country’s electoral system for good, was in December rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari, who cited issues with direct primaries provisions in the Bill.

Despite the resolve and threat by many senators to overrule President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto, the senate however backed down from its resolve. Before embarking on Christmas break, in place of the move, which had seen the collection of signatures for the proposition, the upper chamber resolved to liaise with the House of Representatives on how best to handle the president’s rejection of the electoral reform bill. The senate also agreed to involve their constituents in the consultation process during the Christmas break before taking a final decision by January.

In a recent interview, President Buhari assured that he will assent to the Bill if the National Assembly removes the clause indicating that political parties election primaries should be only conducted directly.

His words, “Personally I don’t support direct primaries, because I want people to be given a choice, you can’t give them one option and think you are being democratic. Let them be given the three options which are direct, indirect and consensus. If you could recall, ACN, APGA, ANPP, CPC and another party we came together. PDP was over confident and thought they will rule Nigeria to the end of time. But the opposition we came together and overthrew them. We didn’t overthrow PDP because of direct primaries but because of the opposition coming together and fighting the PDP. We must not insist that it has to be direct primary, it should be consensus and indirect. Once that’s done I will sign the electoral bill. There should be options, you can’t dictate to people and you say you’re doing democracy. Allow them to have options to make a choice.”

As the lawmakers resume plenary, Nigerians expect them to prioritise reworking the Bill and send it back to the President for assent or overrule the President’s veto.

Probe Audit Queries by Auditor General

Aside the investigations carried out by various committees of the House, one which the lawmakers are expected to give utmost priority as soon as they resume is the audit report submitted to the National Assembly by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation.

Referenced AuGF/AR.2019/02, the report dated 15th September 2021 and signed by the Auditor General of the Federation, Adolphus Aghughu, indicted several MDAs and as well the National Assembly.

The AuGF indicted the management of the National Assembly and the National Assembly Service Commission of embarking on an unexplained expenditure amounting to N9.424 billion in the 2019 financial year. He also among others, disclosed that about 178,459 different types of arms and ammunition got missing from the police armory in 2019 without any trace or formal report on their whereabouts.

On resumption, the Public Accounts Committee of the both the Senate and House of Representatives are expected to grill the affected agencies or persons mentioned in the report, in a bid to recover the missing funds, others.

Constitution Review

Assuming office in 2019, the lawmakers in their legislative agenda assured Nigerians to review the 1999 constitution. Last year, as both chambers held zonal public hearings nationwide on the review of the 1999 Constitution, during which clamour for creation of state police, restructuring and fiscal federalism dominated presentations made by stakeholders.

However, amid push from most quarters in the country to decentralize policing, President Muhammadu Buhari in a recent interview restated his opposition to state governments having their own police. He alluded to the propensity for governors to abuse their powers as his argument against state police.

“State police is not an option. Find out the relationship between local government and the governors. Are the third tier of government getting what they are supposed to get constitutionally? Let the people in local government tell you the truth about the fight between local governments and the governors,” he said.

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in his closing remarks shortly after the end of plenary in December, declared that the National Assembly would commence work on the report of the Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution once the lawmakers resumed from the Christmas break in January.

As proponents of federalism argues that in a true federal structure, states should control their own security agencies to complement that of the federal government, Nigerians are anxiously waiting to see the decision of the lawmakers in that regard.