As the year 2011 grinds to a halt, Adesuwa Tsan assesses and evaluates the House of Representatives which recently revealed its achievements in the last six months of inauguration.
Like the proverbial agama lizard that fell from the tall Iroko tree and commended itself for landing unhurt, the House of Representatives last week rated itself high for passing ten bills and 35 motions as resolutions in the last six months that the Seventh Assembly was inaugurated.
When members of the Assembly came in earlier in June, they were full of expectations and promises and had an agenda to ensure that the battered image of the House as it was when they assumed office was given an overhaul with a view to repositioning it through dedication to duty and transparency in their operations.
Six months down the road, in what could be described as a stock taking exercise, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Rules and Business, Hon Albert Sam Tsokwa, was optimistic that they are on the right path, because, in his opinion, only a chamber which is utterly devoted to service of the people would introduce 127 bills, pass 10 and adopt 35 resolutions within such period. Ninety two were deferred, 6 were voted against and one withdrawn.
To start with, the lawmakers reviewed and amended their standing orders and rules of the House. Regarding motions and Bills, they amended their laws to allow for bills or motions which are related to infrastructural development and like concerns to be referred to relevant committees instead of debating them without having an informed position on it.
The new leadership of the chamber also set up a special ad-hoc committee on Constitution Review headed by the deputy speaker, Hon Emeka Ihedioha. Seven constitution alteration bills were referred to the committee during six months that it was constituted.
The ten bills passed by the House are Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (Amendment) Act; Office of the Nigerian Ombudsman Bill; Nigerian International Financial Centre Establishment Bill; Dispute Resolution Regulatory Commission Establishment Bill; Transfer of Convicted Offenders (Enactment and enforcement)amendment Bill; State of the Nation Address Bill; Universities (Miscellaneous provisions) Act (amendment ) Bill; Harmonised retirement age of staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Bill, NDDC Statutory Appropriation Bill and Appropriation Act (2nd amendment) Bill.
Many of the motions passed by the Seventh Assembly were mostly investigative, were raised based on happenings in the country. For instance, the House passed a motion to investigate kerosene scarcity in the country, the policy of the Federal Road Safety Corps to issue new driver’s licenses and plates, unwholesome banking practices as well as other concerns.
High profile motions that generated national interest include the motion raised by Hon Samson Osagie on the alleged diversion of four hundred and fifty million naira from the federation account by the NNPC, just as Hon Yakubu Dogara’s was on the alleged illegal concession agreement between the federal ministry of Finance and Single Windows Systems and Technology limited (SWST) which led to the suspension of the project by the federal government as well as another on the need to conduct a comprehensive investigation into waivers, exemptions and concessions granted by the federal government; the motion on CBN’s daily cash withdrawal limit of a hundred and fifty thousand naira for individuals and one million naira for corporate bodies as sponsored by Hon Aliyu Yakubu which led to the appearance of the governor of the CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi appearing on the floor of the chambers of the House of Representatives to give explanations. The motion on impending strike action by the
organised labour over non- implementation of N18000 minimum national wage was also sponsored by Hon Peace Nnaji which led to discussions between the aggrieved parties and the federal government, while the motion on the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities got sponsored by Hon Farouk Lawan.
Other motions whose resolutions also impacted on the nation’s affairs included the motion on the sack of 3000 Nigerian employees by the Indian management team of Airtel sponsored by Hon Tajudeen Yusuf which moved for the investigation of the motive, the motion on the arrest of four senior editors of Vintage Press Ltd, publisher of the Nation Newspapers as sponsored by the chairman of the House committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Mohammed Zakari; and the withdrawal of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and Standard Organisation of Nigeria from Nigerian Ports and borders and its negative effects and implication on Nigerian citizens sponsored by Hon.Uzor Azuibike.
Other important motions passed by the lawmakers include that on the threat of industrial action by University workers which urged the federal government and the unions to as a matter of urgency, re-open negotiation to resolve the outstanding issues in contention. Several motions on flood and other effects of natural disasters were also among those raised and passed by the legislators.
A summary of the entire motions show that 35 were passed as resolutions, 92 were referred to committees, six were not approved, one withdrawn and three deferred, bringing the total to 137.
In reaction to the disclosure of the quantity of bills and motions passed by the House in the last six months, a cross section of Nigerians have argued that the turnout is not commensurate to the amount of money the legislature has consumed since then.
When the Sixth Assembly which was inaugurated on June 5th, 2007 took a bow on June 2, 2011, it had passed 154 bills, out of the 483 bills that were introduced within the four year period. This means that averages of 19 bills were passed every six months.
But the custodian of the Business and Rules of the House, Hon Sam Tsokwa, begs to differ. According to his explanations, they should be judged by the quality of bills and motions that have been passed by the members and not the number.
Another member who is also a member of the committee, Hon Uzoma Abonta shares the view of Tsokwa. According to him, they have done well because in legislatures across the world, “the process of passing the law is usually slow. All bills must pass through first, second and third reading”.
Giving himself and his colleagues a pat on the back, he noted that, “the volume of the bills passed show an eagerness of the legislature to work. We can manufacture or produce 1000 bills in one month but of what use are they if they are worthless?” he queried.