Constitution Review, Water Resources Bill Top Agenda as N’Assembly Resumes Plenary
Udora Orizu writes on issues at the front burner in the National Assembly as members resume plenary today after a three-week christmas break
Members of the Ninth National Assembly who have been on Christmas holiday Resumes today, Tuesday, January 17, to commence the 2023 legislative calendar. The federal lawmakers who would be rounding off their tenure by early June are are expected to pick up from where they left off on December 28, 2022 when they proceeded on Christmas break.
Both chambers before embarking on the holidays, passed the 2023 appropriation bill after raising the N20.51 trillion proposed spending presented by President Muhammadu Buhari by N1.32 trillion, to N21.82 trillion. The lawmakers also approved the President’s request of N819.54 billion domestic loan meant to fix infrastructure destroyed by floods.
Issues to be Addressed on Resumption
As the lawmakers resume legislative activities, they are expected to reconsider the President’s proposal to securitize the Federal Government’s outstanding Ways and Means balance at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, who disclosed that the lawmakers will reconsider the President’s request after he (Buhari) signed into law the 2023 Budget, along with the 2022 Supplementary Appropriation Bill, however, said the legislature will only do so based on adequate information available to the legislative committees concerned.
The National Assembly will also need to return to the Constitution review process of the 9th Assembly which is yet to be concluded. Just like the past Assemblies, lawmakers in the 9th National Assembly had while assuming office in June 2019, promised to repeal the offending provisions encumbering the country’s democracy by reworking and giving Nigerians a progressive document.
Last year, both the Senate and House of Representatives voted on the 68 proposals as recommended by its ad-hoc committees on the review of the 1999 Constitution, and 44 bills were adopted. The adopted proposals were thereafter transmitted to the States Houses of Assembly to get concurrence of at least two-thirds which is 24 states, as stipulated in sections 9(2) and (3) of the 1999 constitution.
However as at October, 2022, only 11 states have voted on the constitution amendment bills. The states whose houses of assembly have voted on the bills are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Ogun and Osun states.
The remaining 25 states that are yet to consider the bills have threatened to take no action on the bills unless four more constitutional amendment bills are considered and passed by the National Assembly.
The four bills are bills to, establish State Police; State Judicial Council; Streamline the procedure for removing Presiding Officers of State Houses of Assembly and institutionalize Legislative Bureaucracy in the Constitution. Their demands were contained in a letter from the Conference of Speakers to the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitutional Review.
Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who disclosed the States’ position while addressing journalists, accused state governors of trying to stall the process of further amendment to the nation’s constitution.
Omo-Agege who doubles as the Chairman, Senate Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review, described the refusal of the state assemblies to vote on the bills as disheartening and worrisome.
While he said the National Assembly is not averse to acting on any proposed bill appropriately tabled before it, the ranking Senator said it is legally inappropriate for the Conference of Speakers to use the four bills as a quid pro quo to act on the 44 bills.
Corroborating Omo-Agege stance late last year, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila accused the state Houses of Assembly of obstructing the process of amendment to the 1999 Constitution.
Gbajabiamila who spoke in Abuja at the second edition of the distinguished parliamentarian lecture series organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), said the ninth National Assembly might not be able to complete the on-going amendment process before the expiration of its term.
Controversial Water Resources Bill
Another pending issue which the lawmakers are expected to deliberate on is the controversial Water Resources Bill which has been resurfacing for about seven years in the 8th and the current 9th assembly.
The Bill which scaled through first reading on June 29 in the House of Representatives, had a slight drama playing out as concerned lawmakers frowned at the reintroduction.
The bill, which was initially introduced and rejected during the 8th Assembly, following public outcry, is believed by many to be Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) in disguise. Specifically, the Bill seeks to empower the Federal Government to control all water resources in the country such as rivers, streams, lakes and underground water in all parts of the country.
At the plenary, on June 29, shortly after the Bill was reintroduced and presented by Chairman of the Committee on Water Resources, Hon. Sada Soli (APC, Katsina), a member Hon. Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue) raised a point of order, reminding the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila that the bill generated lots of controversies in 2021 and shouldn’t be brought back.
Responding, Gbajabiamila said the sponsor, Hon. Soli had assured him that contentious issues in the former bill which bothered many last year has been addressed in this new bill.
But, Gbillah countering the Speaker’s advise said whatever the Governors may have agreed on is not acceptable, adding that he’s very sure his State Governor, Samuel Ortom, didn’t agree to this.
Corroborating, another Benue lawmaker, Hon. John Dyegh, said Governors can’t decide for lawmakers, and must consult them before taking a decision on the Bill.
Agreeing that every voice must be heard regarding the Bill, Gbajabiamila directed the Chairman Committee on rules and business, Hon. Hassan Fulata, to ensure every lawmaker gets the copy of the bill to study ahead of the second reading debate.
Commenting after the Speaker’s ruling, Sada Soli said he will attach needed information for his colleagues to read through, vowing that if issues arise again he will withdraw the Bill.
Since then nothing has been heard on the Bill, as lawmakers resume this week the proposed legislation is expected to be presented for second reading, during which all the members will debate and air their view on the Bill.
After that the presiding officer will rule based on the majority voice votes. If it scales through second reading then a public hearing will be held for stakeholders to make their inputs. If it doesn’t, it will be stepped down, either way, only time will tell if the passage of the bill will be successful this time.
Like in previous years, the lawmakers as part of their mandate, commenced several investigations in 2022.
At the lower chamber, the major probes embarked upon in the course of the year, include investigation into ecological fund utilization, abandoned government property, duplication of functions by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), state of petroleum refineries, fuel subsidy, daily Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) consumption and importation of substandard fuel.
Other probes include investigation into N600bn extra- budgetary expenditure by MDAs, incessant collapse of the national grid, billion dollar debt owed the government by oil and gas companies amongst others.
Months, weeks later, Nigerians are eager to know the outcome of those probes, as most of them are yet to be concluded months after the respective standing and Ad-hoc Committee saddled with the responsibility commenced their assignment.