With the kick off of campaigns, the outlook on legislative activities at the National Assembly seems bleak as legislators strive for a comeback. KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL writes
With the 2019 general elections just a few months away, legislative activities in the National Assembly continues to stagger due to constant suspension of plenary by both chambers. While these adjournments have been ascribed to various reasons which may seem tenable on the surface, there is a likelihood that in the coming days and months, it will get worse as campaigns for the 2019 elections kick-off, this will see those who won their party primaries spend more of their time in the respective constituencies campaigning.
It would be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Sunday, November 18 lifted ban on campaign for 2019 presidential and National Assembly Elections scheduled for February 16, 2019.
The senate last week, adjourned plenary for a week citing its inability to garner the required number of senators to form a quorum to continue with the business of the day. At the commencement of the session, Sen. Philip Aduda called the attention of his colleagues to the almost empty chamber which he ascribed to ongoing oversight functions they had embarked on at the time.
“We are less than 10, Mr. president; I want remove that since we have not formed quorum, we may therefore adjourn but in doing so I want to say that the senate is empty because various committees are all carrying out oversight functions all over the country, ensuring that the budget is performing. On that note, the senate may wish to extend the period of oversight functions if the so senate so wish by another week till Tuesday, November 20”, Aduda said.
Similarly, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu while seconding the motion, pointed out there were over ten lawmakers present but added that the required quorum was not formed. “I rise to second the motion moved by Senator Aduda but let me add that we are more than ten but certainly not up thirty-eight. We are somewhere between fifteen and twenty; just for the record, we are not less than ten but less than twenty”.
In ruling on the motion, Senate President, Bukola Saraki urged his colleagues to speed up and conclude their oversight functions and resume plenary on November 20. “It is important that our members who are not here be communicated to.; we should communicate to them- those on oversight to finish what they have during the week – in the area of oversight. Some of the findings from the oversight are important and it is important that the exercise is done diligently but we should ensure that it is completed by the end of this week. That is in line with Order 10(3)”.
The adjournment makes it the second time the senate would suspend sitting for the same reason since resuming from its annual recess on October 9. On October 24, it adjourned plenary for two weeks to allow its standing committees to embark on oversight of Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
Section 54 of the constitution states that the quorum of the Senate o the House of Representatives shall be one-third of all the members on the legislative House concerned. According to Order 4(1) of the House rules states that “the quorum of the House shall be one-third of all the members of the House”. Order 4(2) also states that: “If any member draws the attention of the speaker to the fact that a quorum of the House is not present, or if, fro, the number of members taking part in a division, including those who declined to vote, it appears that a quorum is constituted, the speaker shall cause members to be summoned as if for a division. At the expiration of fifteen minutes from such order, the speaker shall count the House and, if a quorum is not constituted, shall adjourn the House forthwith”.
Meanwhile, in the green chamber, plenary was also adjourned to November 21 over a faulty communication system. The microphones attached to seats were malfunctioning but replaced with wireless ones which also developed problems causing the lawmakers to suspend the session a second time in two weeks.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara during the first adjournment had explained that the problem with the microphones which were installed in 1999 was as a result of the power which had affected the panels of some of them, adding that it would take three weeks for the problem to be fixed given that the panels to arrive Nigeria from china. It is however unclear if the problem will be fixed by November 21.
Although the reason behind these string of adjournments seems excusable tenable, it is important to note that there have been days in the past when plenary sessions were held even when the number of legislators did not form the required quorum in both chambers as was the case in the senate on October 18 2017 when only eighteen senators were present.
But besides the campaigns, the oversight duties and technical hitches in the chamber, the outcome of party primaries which saw about 300 federal legislators loose tickets to return to the legislature has played and, may continue to be a major factor in the low turnout of members to plenary sessions which may prompt further adjournments if the last reason cited by the senate is anything to go by.
In the House of Representatives, the over 250 members that were mostly unable to clinch tickets back to NASS or outrightly refused to contest, represents 70 percent of the total number of the 360 lawmakers. These lawmakers particularly those that lost out at primaries may adopt a lackadaisical attitude and choose to stay away from sessions. If all of the above factors come together, the it is safe to say that legislative activities may very well be relegated to the background through adjournments in the meantime even as very crucial proposed legislations like the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill, the Company and Allied Matters Act, the Police Reform Bill amongst others will suffer delay in their passage in spite of the assurances given by President of the Senate that it would not happen.
Saraki on Monday in a statement, assured Nigerians that legislative duties in the National Assembly would not suffer saying in part, “It is very important to emphasize that as far as we are concerned, we will follow through on the key bills. We will continue to work on these bills because they are priorities to the 8th National Assembly-these are bills that were initiated by the legislative arm of government.
“Despite the fact that campaigns have started, all the important bills will receive the desired attention from us to ensure that government does not suffer and we can still make the lives of all Nigerians better”.
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