By Ray Morphy
The 9th National Assembly will be inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari today and the leadership of the National Assembly will thereafter emerge hopefully without rancour.
No drama is expected thereafter in the emergence of the new leadership of the National Assembly. Any untoward drama may have dire consequences on the performance of the National Assembly in the next four years.
We expect a new National Assembly where the emergence of its leadership will not compound problems for the nation at large. Whatever the outcome, the spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie should prevail to ensure a united and purposeful Assembly that can hold the government accountable on behalf of the people. This New National Assembly must dare to be different in a positive and dynamic sense.
The history of the National Assembly since 1999 has not always been salutary. It had been characterized by leadership struggle, backstabbing, budget padding, humongous and unmerited allowances and corruption. Most of the corruption allegations that came to light since the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari administration showed clearly that the National Assembly failed on their oversight function. If the previous National Assemblies had been effective they would have stopped much of the corruption cases that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are currently grappling with today. Aside that , we make bold to say that the failure of the 16 years administration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was also an indictment of the lawmakers that were at the National Assembly during the period.
This is not to say that the previous National Assembly was a total failure, far from it. There were many lawmakers who were not ready to join the chop chop system. These lawmakers stood their ground and ensured the failure of the tenure elongation agenda of President Olusegun Obasanjo who wanted to stay longer than the constitutionally allowed two terms for a President. It was our patriotic lawmakers who investigated and confirmed that the Obasanjo administration had spent a whopping $16billion on power sector, yet to this day Nigerians are still in darkness. It was these lawmakers that saved the country from unnecessary tension when late President Umaru
Yar’Adua was incapacitated as a result of ill health and they came up with what they called the “Doctrine of Necessity” which paved the way for the emergence of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the Acting President.
The previous National Assembly passed some encouraging bills but they also failed to intervene in many critical areas. The poor state of the education and health sectors are partly the failure of the National Assembly. That is why the new National Assembly must rise to the challenge as it assumes the responsibility of making laws for the country beginning from today. It must endeavour to make laws that would improve our education and health sectors and indeed all facets of governance.
According to the UNESCO, countries that want to improve its education sector must devote 26 per cent of budgetary allocations to the education sector. Sadly over the past 16 years and counting, no National Assembly has forced the executive arm of government to meet that threshold. The result is the sorry state of the education sector in the country, where the number one ranked university in Nigeria is number 800 in world ranking. Most of the primary and secondary schools in the country are not conducive for teaching and learning, and this is likely to remain the same unless the new National Assembly intervene to increase the budgetary allocation to the education sector in line with global practice.
Another area the 9th National Assembly needs to intervene is to make law making it compulsory for all state governments to access UBEC Fund to develop education in their various states. Federal government had been frustrated over the years due to the failure of many states to pay the counterpart funds to access UBEC Funds, which has been blamed on corruption. The New National Assembly can amend the UBEC Act to allow the deduction of the counterpart funds from states’ allocation, directly from the source. This would have profound effect on the education sector in the country.
In the health sector, the time has come for the federal government to increase its annual budgetary allocation to the nation’s health sector in line with the Abuja Declaration of 2001. The Abuja Declaration was signed in 2001 in Nigeria by all member countries of the African Union, including Nigeria. It recommended that at least, 15 per cent of annual budget, be allocated to health sector, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended 13 per cent. Nigeria has neither met the Abuja Declaration benchmark nor that of the WHO and the result is glaring to all that have had cause to access health services in the country. The New National Assembly must do what no National Assembly has ever done by increasing the health budget to meet the Abuja Declaration benchmark, which many poor countries in Africa have met.
Another area that should be of concern to the lawmakers is the security of the country. Nigeria is currently enveloped by insecurity caused by bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle rustlers and Boko Haram terrorists and insurgents. It appears that the laws we have presently have not been effective in halting this menace. It is time to revisit the ant-terrorism laws to see how to strengthen it and make it more potent to deal with terrorists, bandits and cattle rustlers among others.
Already the insecurity in the country is posing food security threat, as farmers are afraid to go to farm. And if farmers are scared to go to farms it means that there will be hunger in the land and the federal government’s diversification programme in the agricultural sector will fail. The onus is on the 9th National Assembly to intervene quickly if Nigeria must escape imminent food shortages due to insecurity.
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