EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE appraises the agenda of the seventh House of Representatives and writes that the Lower Chamber covered significant grounds in the past one year.
Therefore we seek to do things differently and reverse the notion of business-as-usual approach that has been a source of worry to our people. We will be sensitive to what the Nigerian people want and increase our public sensitivity quotient”.
With these words, 360 members of the Seventh House of Representatives adopted the National Legislative Agenda, opening what informed watchers say is ‘a new episode in parliamentary administration in the country’.
In part, the ambitious legislative agenda of the House aims at reviving and diversifying the economy, generating employment, strengthening our national security, curbing corruption, tackling electricity crisis and general infrastructural decay that confront us, improving our health and educational sectors and work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The House Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal promised that the legislative agenda will be people – centered and correspond to the expectations of Nigerians.
Lofty as the objectives may sound, the seventh House is already making good its promises on many fronts.
The people’s house
In perhaps the most significant posturing by the House on the side of the people, the position of the Lower House on the contentious January 1, 2012, removal of fuel subsidy endeared the Lower House with large segments of Nigerians.
Representatives meeting in an emergency session turned against the President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to end government fuel subsidies that kept petrol prices low, ahead of a week-long labour strike that paralyzed the country.
Also, with many Nigerians demanding cuts in the cost of running government, the Lower House has taken the lead. In July 2010, the House cut its overhead cost by 67 percent.
Indeed, the Seventh House has passed early tests on its credibility and independence bothering on sensitive issues that played out in the early months of the Lower House.
For the Speaker, the political astuteness and mastery of the balancing act required in the leadership of Nigeria’s green chamber has been evident in his stewardship till date.
Worthy of note, when the three-way face-off played out between the National Judicial Council (NJC); former President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Salami; and the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, the neutrality and objectivity displayed by the Lower House remains exemplary.
The Lower House neutrality has similarly played out in several other issues. Debates surrounding a touted Bill from the President proposing a single term regime for the executive arm of government remains a striking example.
A popular speaker
A strong advocate for Nigeria’s unity, Tambuwal have severally acted his unshaken support for the Nigerian project. July last year, while receiving a delegation of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), he said that the pursuit of peaceful means in resolving crises was important if the country was to achieve its development goals. “Nigeria’s Unity is Not Negotiable” was his message for the visiting delegation.
This was coming against the backdrop of fatal ethno-religious clashes recorded in many parts of Nigeria. Local and international observers have severally warned that if the intractable knots that define what has come to be known as “the Nigerian factor” are not speedily untwined, the sustainability of the Nigerian Project might be in jeopardy.
However, the gloom painted above when put against his unshaken belief in the Nigerian project, provide Nigerians a sure hope of a unified country in the future. “As a people, it is our responsibility to build on what God has given us. I call on Nigerians to live in harmony with others.
“Peace is an essential element for attaining development. We are aware of our diversity and differences. The challenge is in understanding them.” He said.
It has not gone unnoticed. Under his speakership of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, the Seventh House have not failed to mention and act likewise that it and not external elements will determine how its affairs are run.
It will be recalled that an intriguing power play, led to his emergence as speaker. Historians were full of praises for the lower chamber for entrenching what they call ‘independence of the Legislature’.
Tambuwal’s emergence was popular, with support cutting across political party lines. In one, Honourable Opeyemi Bamidele, a Representative from the opposition, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) said his emergence was in consonance with the popular feelings of Nigerians through their representatives in the parliament.
“Three hundred and sixty elected members of the parliament, I believe, should be able to determine who their leaders would be.
The position of the Speaker is one of primus inter pares, so you must have the confidence of the members of the House that you want to lead, for you to be able to play such a role.” Bamidele confirmed Tambuwal’s wide appeal.
The whistle blower
The Lower House has pointed to Nigeria’s fiscal recklessness, soaring debt profile and Jonathan’s indiscriminate withdrawals from the country’s Stabilization Fund. In April, federal lawmakers gave Jonathan 60 days to implement the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which makes provisions for a national debt ceiling amid concerns over rising foreign debt.
As at December 31, 2011, Nigeria’s external debt stood at US$5.7 billion, from US$4.5 billion in 2010 and US$ 3.9 billion in 2009, according to the Debt Management Office (DMO).
A recent request by the president for $8 billion in four years raises Nigeria’s total debt accumulation to $14 billion - a new high since the country exited the Paris Club debt in 2004.
Lawmakers also launched an investigation into perceived ‘indiscriminate’ withdrawals from the federal government’s Stabilization Fund by the president. It directed its Committees on Appropriation and Finance to investigate the issue and ascertain the actual amount of money so far withdrawn by the president.
Federal lawmakers fear that a continued indiscriminate withdrawal is increasingly converting the account “into a mere slush fund instead of its original mandate”.
The stabilization fund is expected to protect annual national budgets by providing a last resort cash source during periods of fiscal deficit resulting from a sustained fall in oil prices. Nigeria’s 2012 budget is predicated on a crude oil price of $72 per barrel bench mark even though the crude oil prices have continued to rise.
A House of probes…
But for a N44 million corruption tale that rocked the sacked Herman Hembe-led Lower House probe into the near collapse of Nigeria’s capital market, there have been many positives before and after that.
With the Green Chambers battling to shake off a history of several bungled probes in the past, the seventh House has recorded some concluded probes with wide reaching results.
An Ibrahim El-Sudi led Ad-Hoc committee was detailed in place of the tainted committee to oversee the capital market investigation. Its report is being awaited.
A Lower House sanctioned inquest into a controversial concessioning of a key import and export clearing documentation services contract to Single Window Systems and Technology Limited, by the Federal Ministry of Finance on behalf of the Nigeria Custom Service yielded visible results.
The concession deal awarded in secret under the watch of former Finance Minister and current Minister of Trade and Investment Olusegun Aganga, which stood to rip-off the national treasury by over $30 billion was cancelled following damning revelations in the Leo Ogor-led panel.
The release of the Farouk Lawan-led House of Representatives probe into the management of petroleum subsidy regime report ended weeks of speculation on the fate of the widely indicting report.
After the report’s presentation was repeatedly rescheduled, the more than 200-page document was presented in April amid concerns that the Lawan-led committee which carried out the investigations, had come under severe pressure to soften its position. Analysts have severally expressed fears of high level moves to doctor the report.
“The committee believes that if the Petroleum Subsidy Fund was properly managed, N1.07 trillion would have been available to the three tiers of government.”
The foregoing captures the extent of rape that the federal government’s petroleum subsidy programme was subjected to in the hands of Nigeria’s state run oil regulators and dubious oil marketers. At least, this forms part of a deluge of cases of subsidy funds theft contained in the report.
The indictments were wide and the scale of fraud scandalous. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) management and board, senior officials of the Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and fraudulent oil marketers are to refund N1.067trn to the coffers of the Federal Government for illegally drawing subsidy funds running into billions of naira without importation.
The committee also recommended the prosecution of errant officials found wanting for violations that cost the nation trillions of naira.
According to the breakdown of the report, the NNPC will be made to refund to the federal purse N705 billion; PPPRA N312 billion; oil marketers N8.7 billion. Firms that refused to appear during the investigations are also to repay N41.9 billion. This brings total refunds to N1,07 trillion.
The report recommended the unbundling of the NNPC to make its operations more efficient and transparent. According to the report, this can be achieved through the passage of a well drafted and comprehensive Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). It directed the auditing of the NNPC to determine solvency.
For 2012, the subsidy committee’s report recommended to the federal government that petrol subsidy should be fixed at N557 billion as well as a provision of kerosene subsidy of N249 billion. According to the report, the true consumption level of petrol in 2011 was 31.5 million litres per day, recommending 33 million litres per day for 2012.