NASS: A Critical Assessment of One-Year Legislative Activities

By Abubakar Jimoh

assessement

The recent celebrations of Nigeria’s Democracy Day marked exactly one year since the emergence of the 8th National Assembly with a solemn declaration asserting that the Assembly under the new legislators shall make relentless legislative effort to resolve Nigeria’s problems.

Apparently, critical performance assessment of the Assembly has become essential to understand how the legislators are faring in their trend towards fulfilling their electoral mandates.

Legislature as a law-making body of a political unit has power to enact, amend, and repeal public policy. Just as the legislature has the mandate to control through legislation all economic, social and political activities of the nation, it also scrutinizes the policies of the executive and provides the framework for the judiciary to operate.

The core mandates of the legislature are explicitly stated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is on this note that the Constitution outlines the powers of the Federal legislature, which is divided into two Chambers: the Senate (Upper Chamber) and the House of Representatives (Lower Chamber).

This piece takes critical assessment of performance by the legislators in accordance with those key constitutional functions identified by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) such as law-making, oversight, representation, financial control, confirmation of appointment, and constitution amendment.

Law-making

Section 4(1) of the Constitution provides that the “legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.”

Among the first year appreciable legislative efforts by the 8th Assembly were the passage of significant Bills such as Appropriation Bill 2016, Criminalisation of Sexual Harassment Bill, North East Development Commission Bill, Electronic Transaction Bill, Debt Recovery and Insolvency Bill 2015 and the Railway Transformation Bill.

The House has constituted a standing Committee on Refugees, Migrants, Internally Displaced Persons and Initiatives on the North East Zone. It passed a Resolution on Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Recovery and Development of the North East of Nigeria. In addition, a request was made to President Muhammadu Buhari to set up machinery for the establishment of a North East Development Commission and to facilitate the convening of an International Donor Conference or Summit as soon as possible to actualise the Resolution.

The Upper Legislative Chamber has passed no fewer than 300 Bills and 162 motions.  In collaboration with international partners and the private sector, it researched into the ways and means of improving the business environment to attract investment which led to the identification of 54 laws that must be brought in line with international best practices in order to open up the business environment for private investment and business, and the subsequent 15 major economic reform bills and seven business environment bills that would help to jump-start the economy and improve the living conditions of Nigerians.

Similarly, within the period, the House received a total of 685 bills and considered over 530 motions compared to 123 bills passed and 115 motions considered by 7th Assembly in four years. While 130 bills were passed for the First Reading on a single day in 2015, the Speaker compared these achievements with the 591 bills introduced in the Seventh National Assembly in four years.

Also, in terms of legislation, Nigerians would not fast forget the egocentric attempt by the Upper Chamber to hasting the passage of proposed amendment to the law setting up the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), with a view to whittling down the agencies’ powers.

This triggered public debates on need for persistent checks and balances over the constitutional power of the legislature. For instance, a group of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working to promote justice and good governance in Nigeria described as “betrayal of public trust, total disregard for administration of justice, and utmost conflict of interest”, the attempt by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to hasten the passage of the proposed amendment to the law setting up the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

The group, which consists 23 CSOs in a press conference held recently in Abuja noted that it was monitoring with consternation, “the undemocratic, self-serving, and dubious effort of the Senate”. It said it was clear that the underhand moves in the Senate were aimed at whittling down the powers of the agencies, and not about making it better to strengthen the anti-corruption fight.

Besides, despite public criticisms against the Assembly’s huge budget as contains in the 2016 Appropriation Act, the original sum allocated was retained. Indeed, attempt by the executive arm to halt the overburden cost of governance in the legislature resulted in needless delay in the passage and assent to the 2016 Appropriation Bill. The legislature’s high cost of governance in the face of the nation’s austere financial challenges had received serious criticisms from the public.  For instance, Robert Awokuse, a public affair analysis wrote: “It is pitiable that many political office holders are not ready to make necessary sacrifices that will enhance speedy development. The latest situation at the National Assembly indicated that many of the federal lawmakers may not be ready to make some sacrifices as being predicted by many political watchers.

“If indeed the lawmakers, as representatives of the Nigerians, refuse any possible reduction of their salary and allowances, their actions may be said to contrast the role of a responsible father, who is expected to prioritise the needs of his family over his own sentiments. Many have fumed at the swelling ranks of lawmakers who accrue so much to themselves, particularly the situation where they are alleged to collect huge salaries and allowances, running into billions of naira without addressing the legitimate concerns of the workers.”

Another attempt of the Nigerian Senate to regulate the social media platforms through a Bill entitled “Frivolous Petitions Bill” received serious response, mostly condemnations both within and outside the country. Many questioned the significant of “Social Media Bill” to speedily command intensive legislative support of the Upper Chamber and scaled through the second reading within short time, unlike other important Bills that would have served the best interest of common Nigerians like National Health Bill (now Act) which laid dormant in the Assembly for more than a decade before it was successfully passed into law by the 7th Assembly; Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB); Protection of Persons with Disabilities Bill; Anti-torture Bill; 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill; Whistle-blower Protection Bill; Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill; among others. The Bill was later withdrawn following persistent public outcry.

Oversight function

Oversight function of the National legislature is provided under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended in 2010), which empowers the legislature to carry out investigations within its competence to prevent and expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws.

As part of its oversight efforts, worried by paucity of funds in many states of the federation to carry out developmental projects, in April 2016, the National Assembly summoned 26 states over the expenses incurred on the federal roads projects executed in their respective states, with a view to ascertaining the facts and figures for a refund. The meeting was reportedly called at the instance of the House Committee on Works so as to assist the committee to verify all claims submitted by the states affected by non-payment of funds incurred on some of the federal roads projects.

The Assembly had summoned key players in the petroleum industry over the state of the country’s refineries and N1trillion oil revenue fund reportedly missing the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI). The House Committee on Privatisation at the same summoned Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu to explain reasons behind the decision of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) rather than the Bureau of Public En­terprises (BPE) opening bids for the sale of the three refineries in Warri, Kaduna and Port Har­court.

The Senate and the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Appropriation had summoned the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun and her budget and Planning counterpart, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma to appear before it and explain the reasons behind the 2016 proposed budget mess. Concerned by the present economic situation in the country, the Senate summoned the Minister of Finance and the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele to appear before it and brief the Upper chamber on the Monetary and fiscal policies adopted to salvage the current economic situation. The House also summoned the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, to explain the policy directing commercial banks to reject foreign currency deposits.

The House as well summoned the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Mr. Solomon Arase, and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, over the AGF’s directive to the IG to disregard the National Assembly’s resolution to seal Kogi State House of Assembly pending the resolution of the crisis that engulfed the Assembly.

Representation

Representation is an important function of the legislature. The legislature has the primary mandate to carry out representative functions on behalf of the people who in our case, are demarcated in 360 federal constituencies. The legislators have a duty to represent the interests of their individual constituencies. Apart from servicing the needs of constituencies, for legislators to be effective, they must listen to their constituencies, brief them about legislative and policy issues, aggregate the demands of these constituencies into legislative agenda and project these demands on the floor of the legislative chambers.

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) opines that as representatives of the people, legislators not only derive their mandate directly from the people but also have to render accountability to the people. In the analysis of CISLAC, there are three dimensions of legislative accountability: Information accountability—the extent to which representatives provide information to their constituencies; Representational accountability—the extent to which actions and deliberations of legislators informed by the actual issues that their constituencies want addressed; and Governance accountability—the extent to which legislators ensure that the executives over which they oversight utilize public resources to promote the welfare of the people and to generally develop the society.

Within the year under review, legislative activities were dominated by the procurement of 108 brand new Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles by the Senate in spite the financial challenges confronting the country and the public clamour for reduction in cost of governance, resulting in extensive public debates on what should constitute legislative mandates and core democratic values. The legislative time and resources geared towards the baseless struggles for possession of the vehicles became a shocking development; as the citizens began to question the quality and interest of the legislators who were primarily elected to serve common goal. Nigerians did not hid their ill-feelings against the legislators’ sudden clamour for exotic vehicles at a time when the country is confronted with a chronic public finance challenge characterised by inability of many states to pay salaries and the inability of the Federal Government to raise sufficient revenue amidst declining crude oil prices.

This to a large extent raises a critical question on whether the citizens have fair representation in the legislature and if they do, how accountable and transparent are legislators in the legislative issues. The extent of public dissatisfaction in the legislative representation was explicitly stated in a statement by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, when he said it was “morally despicable and shameful” that the lawmakers embarked on such acquisition when they were supposed to occupy themselves with issues that would benefit the people.

“We consider appalling, insensitive and greedy the decision of the Senate to acquire 108 Toyota Land Cruiser jeeps (one for each member less the Senate President) after collecting car “loans” in August last year for the same purpose,” Wabba said.

Similarly, Olalekan Adigun, a Political Risk Analyst, in a recent published piece titled “Wither the Senate?” bemoaned: “Since current Senator are former governors, ministers, Representatives and other political office holders, who are on in one way or the other on public financed pensions, we propose withdrawal of monetary packages for these previous political officeholders in the Red Chamber. Legislative bodies are not money-spinning institutions. The legislature is a chamber of reflection, not luxuries.”

The legislators have a duty to represent the interests of the public. Apart from servicing the needs of constituencies, for legislators to be effective, they must listen to the citizens, brief them about legislative and policy issues, aggregate the demands of these constituencies into legislative agenda and project these demands on the floor of the legislative chambers.

Despite the intensity of the destructions recorded in the on-going face-off between the Presidency and Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), who are allegedly involved in the destruction of oil pipelines, the Assembly has not publicly communicated its position to mitigate or avert the crisis.

Constituency outreach

Strengthening the linkages between a legislature and the people is a necessary step for promoting peace and stability in a democratic system. In the words of Nikhil Dutta et al, these linkages are two-way phenomena—top-down and bottom-up communication. That is, legislators represent the people`s interests, while simultaneously providing feedback and information to their constituents on the political processes.

In this case, when citizens feel that their views are represented in government and their representative bear constituents` interests in mind, they are not only encouraged to participate in legislative process, but also accept the legislature to enact legislation and the executive to implement and enforce it.

So far, constituency outreach by the 8th Assembly has poorly communicated, requiring improvement due to lack of structure for feedback. The Assembly must explore various feedback mechanisms to ensure full participation and involvement of the constituents in the legislative process.

Confirmation of Appointment

The power of the Assembly to confirm appointments by the executives is contained under 147 (2) of the constitution which states: “Any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate, be made by the President.”

Within the first year, several nominees for appointments were screed and confirmed by the Assembly. These include the appointment of ministerial nominees forwarded to it by President Muhammadu Buhari. The nominees were Nigerians drawn from across the states and different professions.

In line with section 18 (1) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap A 20 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Senate confirmed the appointment of the new Service Chiefs. They are Major-General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin as Chief of Defence Staff along with Major-General Tukur Yusufu Buratai as Chief of Army Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas as Chief of Naval Staff and Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar as Chief of Air Staff.

The Senate witnessed the consideration and confirmation of Engr. Prof. Umaru Garba Danbatta for appointment as Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). It confirmed the appointment of Management Directors of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) including: Ahmed Lawan Karu as Managing Director, Kola Adeyeye as Executive Director, Eberechukwu Fortunate Uneze as Executive Director, Aminu Isma’il as Executive Director.

The Senate approved the appointment of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with five other commissioners—Mrs.  Amina Bala Zakari (North West), Dr. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbile (North Central), Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo (North East), Dr. Mohammed Mustapha Lecky (South-south), and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi (South West).

Also, the Senate screened and confirmed the nomination of Mr. Abdullahi Kaugama as the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Jigawa State, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in accordance with Section 143 of the third schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as Amended.

Constitution Amendment

Amendment of the Constitution is another fundamental function of legislature. The power and requirement by the National Assembly for constitutional amendment is laid down in Section 9(1) of the 1999 Constitution, which states: “The National Assembly may, subject to the provision of this section, alter any of the provisions of this Constitution.”

It would be recalled that the Senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, had urged members of the State Houses of Assembly in the 36 states to collaborate with the National Assembly in ensuring the timely amendment and passage of the 1999 Constitution this year.  This raises a question on how many times would fruitless effort be made to amend the Constitution. During the past administration, over N2billion expended on the amendment of the Constitution, which was later rejected former President Goodluck Jonathan, just like the one that was also not concluded after millions of naira had been spent.

Financial Control

It is the core of democracy that legislature controls the finance. That is, no money could be spent or raised by the executive without the previous consent and approval of the legislature. Also, no money can be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund of the state without authorization of legislature. Annually, budget containing the estimated expenditure and income of the ensuing year is placed before it.

The legislatures must ensure effective control over public resources (the budget legislation). Section 80 lays the powers of the legislature with respect over budget.

In the wake of New Year, confusion had trailed the N6.08trillion 2016 Appropriation Bill earlier submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, following his outright rejection of some line items, leading to the subsequent withdrawal of the Bill for adjustment.

In a letter addressed to the Assembly, the President officially called for withdrawal of the Bill for adjustment. The call for its withdrawal by president Buhari was not unconnected to the discovery of some exorbitant figures not in tune with the current dismal economic realities in the country.

Following the return of the Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly by President Buhari, relevant joint committees of the Assembly were charged to subject the Bill to rigorous scrutiny to ensure holistic compliance to the fundamental principles of the proposed Zero-Based Budgeting.

However, on its passage to the executive for assent, President Buhari had refused assent to the Bill upon misgivings that a number of critical projects notably, the Calabar-Lagos rail line, were removed by the Senate and House Committees on Appropriation, led by Senator Danjuma Goje and Abdulmmumin Jibrin respectively. Pressures by the Presidency on the need to rewrite the Budget and include critical projects left out in the appropriation bill as passed slipped into another crisis with the threat by the National Assembly to veto.

More importantly, the Joint Committees also slashed funding of routine immunisation for sustainable polio eradication from N8 billion to N4 billion, forgetting dare dreadful consequences of such decision. In response, in a press conference held in Lagos, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Community Health and Research Initiative (CHR) under the aegis of Partnership for Advocacy in Child and Family Health (PACFAH) seriously frowned at the slashed funding for routine immunisation.

After weeks of wrangling over the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the National Assembly and the presidency finally reached a compromise on the finer details of the budget. Part of the negotiation was to retain the main underlining figures and parameters of the budget with the executive giving some room to the National Assembly to alter, where necessary, up to 20-30 per cent of the budgets of federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Standing on this principle, the joint committee of the National Assembly and the executive reviewed the subheads of the MDAs to ensure that where budget cuts or additions exceeded the 20-30 per cent threshold, they were amended in line with the agreement reached on the budget. Through this process, the slashed funding for routine immunisation was also returned.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s