There is growing concern among stakeholders that nothing much would be achieved in terms of the 546 pending Bills in the National Assembly before the legislative calendar ends on June 8, 2019.
This is despite the avowed commitment acting British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Harriet Thompson, said she extracted from Senate President Bukola Saraki that some critical Bills still pending would be passed before the expiration of the 8th National Assembly.
According to them, except the ‘legislative agenda’ principles the 8th Senate adopted to absorb pending bills from the 7th Senate is adhered to, current pending bills will be laid to waste if they are not passed before June 8, 2019.
Stakeholders fear that they may have to start from the beginning by re-initiating the bills and lobbying members of the 9th National Assembly in order to begin fresh legislative process for the passage of the bills.
Statistics obtained by LEADERSHIP Sunday last week indicate that after its inauguration on June 9, 2015, the 8th Senate has so far passed a total of 219 bills, including Senate bills, concurrence bills and constitution amendment bills.
However, pending bills at committee stage are 167; those awaiting first reading and second reading at both chambers of the federal legislature are 95 and 236 respectively, while pending bills for concurrence are 48.
President Muhammadu Buhari has so far assented to 32 out of 78 bills transmitted to him. He declined his assent to 42 bills, just as the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018 and few others are pending before him for assent.
The Senate had last Tuesday re-passed seven of the 17 bills he rejected on October 10, 2018 for onward transmission to him this week.
Stakeholders observed that despite the number of bills passed by the National Assembly so far, the federal legislature began to lose steam in the conduct of its legislative work and, by extension, the passage of these bills during the build up to party primaries, which began on August 18 and ended on October 7, 2018. The National Assembly also deferred its resumption from September 25 to October 9, 2018.
LEADERSHIP Sunday reports that as soon as the National Assembly resumed, it went on two weeks off for oversight function, adjourned for one week due to lack of quorum and adjourned plenary abruptly on Thursday, November 22, to honour the slayed 44 soldiers by Boko Haram insurgents at Metele Army Barrack in Borno State.
It also adjourned on Thursday, November 29, to allow the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senators attend their party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held last week to resolve some grievances and set the stage for the party’s campaigns next week.
The party primaries produced too many casualties among National Assembly members, and more of that is expected after next year’s elections. Most of the lawmakers who lost in the primary elections have not been coming to plenary session.
After her meeting with the Senate President Saraki and the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, at the Senate complex building on November 19, 2018, UK envoy, Harriet Thompson, said that she cautioned the National Assembly against abandoning its constitutional legislative duties to canvass for votes ahead of the 2019 elections.
Thompson who said that she extracted commitment from Saraki and Lawan that they won’t derelict in their duties said she was concerned about some pending bills which are very important for the economic wellbeing and development of the country.
He urged the Senators to complete processes of the passage of the bills before the end of their tenure.
Specifically, Ms Thompson mentioned Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), the Police Reform Bill, Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) Amendment Bill, the Gender Equality Bill and the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Bill, saying they ought to be passed before the end of the 8th National Assembly.
“We are very pleased to hear from both the Leader of the majority and the Senate president that there is a great commitment to continue their important work. These are all bills that we believe would make things better for Nigerians, for their rights, for their opportunities and for economic development. So, we are really pleased that they will continue with their works’’, the UK envoy said.
On Thursday November 22, 2018, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, had led a powerful judiciary team before a technical committee constituted by the Senate to revive 17 different bills that were refused assents by President Buhari on October 10, 2018.
Of great concern to the judiciary and CJN is the Constitution (Fourth Alteration) Bill No 20, which seeks to strengthen the judiciary for speedy dispensation of Justice.
The submission from the judiciary began when the former CJN, late Justice Dahiru Musdapher, set up a 28-man stakeholders’ Judicial Reform Committee with four former CJNs as members.
On December 15, 2012, Justice Musdapher summited to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters a Constitution amendment proposals tagged, ‘Review of Constitutional Provisions on Administration of Justice, Fundamental Human Rights and related Matters’.
By July 26, 2017, the Senate had, by votes of 95 to 2, passed the Bill tagged, ‘A Bill for an Act to alter the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to further strengthen the Judiciary for speedy dispensation of Justice and for related matters, 2017’
The fear of starting that process all over again, according to a source in the Judiciary, was what informed CJN Onnoghen to appear before the technical committee to revive the 17 bills President Buhari refused to sign into law.
Senate committee chairman on Judiciary, Senator David Umoru, had disclosed that President Buhari had directed the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to interface with the CJN to remedy the defects in the Bill to enable him assent to it in order not to render enormous work on it useless.
Aside the CJN, other stakeholders approached the Senator Umoru-led technical committee to resurrect their rejected bills include representatives of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) and Post Master General of the Federation.
They all took turns to explain to the committee why the rejected bills concerning them can be redrafted and forwarded to the president for assent.
Among other 17 rejected bills are the National Research and Innovation Council (Est.) Bill, 2017; National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (Est.) Bill, 2018; National Agricultural Seeds Council Bill, 2018; Subsidiary Legislation (Legislative Scrutiny) Bill, 2018; Chartered Institute of Entrepreneurship (Est.) Bill, 2018; Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) (Amendment) Bill, 2018; Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2017; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2017; National Research and Innovation Council (Est.) Bill, 2017 and the Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
In his letter of rejection read by Saraki at the plenary on October 10, 2018, President Buhari however introduced Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Bill, 2018 to the upper chamber, saying that the bill should be considered and passed into law. He explained that the bill is intended to curtail illegal activities of pirates at sea as well as reduce the incidences of theft in domestic and international waters.
LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that the House of Representatives on November 21, 2018 discharged 16 committees from referrals on 25 bills pursuant to Order 17, Rule 3 (1) (g) of the Standing Orders of the Green Chamber.
The rule states that “any matter referred to any Committee shall be treated within 30 days, otherwise the Committee shall stand discharged after 60 days and the matter committed to the Committee of the Whole for consideration.”
The discharge followed a unanimous adoption of a motion by the chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Edward Pwajok (APC-Plateau) at the plenary presided over by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
Some of the bills are Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Registration Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016; Investment and Security Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015; Inland Fisheries Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016, and Loans (State Development) Act (Repeal) Bill, 2016.
Others are Food, Drugs and Related Products (Registration, Etc.) Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016; Standards Organisation of Nigeria Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015; Communications (Reducing Unsolicited Telecommunications Phone Calls and Text) Bill, 2016 and Unclaimed Financial Assets Bill, 2016, among others.
The committees discharged of the bills are House Committees on Health Services; Capital Market and Institutions; Ports, Harbours and Waterways; Aids, Loans and Debt Management; Industry; Telecommunications; and Commerce.
They also include National Planning and Development; Insurance and Actuarial Matters, and Finance; Agricultural Production and Services; Federal Capital; Special Duties; Justice; Police Affairs, among others.
Pwajok recalled that the bills were read a second time separately between 2016 and 2017 before they were referred to the respective committees for further legislative actions.
According to him, the committees are yet to present reports on the bills contrary to the provisions of Order 17, Rule 3 (1) (g) of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives.
In his ruling, Speaker Dogara discharged the committees of the bills and committed same to the committee of the whole house for consideration.
Reacting to the development, a lecturer at the Agricultural Economics Department of the University of Ibadan, Professor Victor Olugbenga Okorua, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that “although efforts of the 8th National Assembly is commendable, they are found wanting in terms of legislations on matters that go down to address economic and political fabric of the nation.
“They began to lose steam in the conduct of their legislative work and by extension to the passage of these bills during the build up to party primaries which began on August 18 and ended on October 7, 2018. It deferred its resumption from September 25 to October 9, 2018”, he added.
Also, a constitutional lawyer, Barr Alasa Ismaila, who expressed concern about the matter said, “My only fear is whether the leadership of the 9th National Assembly shall be ebullient and pragmatic enough to toe the steps of the Saraki-led NASS. One may not share in his ideals but we should give it to him for initiating ‘legislative agenda’ principles to adopt pending bills from his immediate predecessor (the 7th NASS) which hitherto were laid to waste.
“We must continue to hammer on that; otherwise the current pending bills shall become waste once the 8th NASS winds down”.