As the National Assembly reconvenes today, five weeks after the two chambers adjourned plenary to enable the nation contain spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, SUNDAY ISUWA writes on issues that might dominate deliberations in the federal legislature.
As the world battles the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is believed that women and children are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus, especially the economic hardship that comes with the lockdown in most parts of Nigeria.
While a Legislative Action on COVID-19 from a women and child-inclusive perspective might be in the offing, it would however seem like the challenge has gone beyond that stage as the impact of virus has shattered initial projections and estimations on a broad spectrum.
Nevertheless, lawmakers both at the federal and the state assemblies have been providing succour for their people.
Many of them have been sharing palliatives to their constituents to cushion the efforts of the coronavirus crisis, following the lockdown order by various states and the federal government.
In the National Assembly, senators have donated half of their salaries to combat virus while members of the House of Representatives, donated two months of their salaries to help in the fight.
Even though the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, decried the lack of coordination in the utilization of donated funds, he and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, met with President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking a review of the ongoing palliative programme to Nigerians.
Their intervention had raised questions over the distribution of the palliatives which became a major national discuss in light of the revelations that came out of the engagement between the National Assembly leadership and the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19.
Not enough, the two chambers of the National Assembly are set to resume plenary today to enable them attend to some national issues bordering on the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the House of Representatives have announced it will start plenary Tuesday, some Senators also announced they will follow suit.
Senator Ajiobola Bashiru from Osun State, said the Senate would also resume today, just like the House of Representatives. He posted on his verified tweeter handle at 11.55pm on Sunday that the Senate would resume Tuesday.
This is after five weeks of break to enable the containment of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate and the House of Representatives went on break on March 24 before President Mohammadu Buhari announced lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states.
It was however gathered that the leadership of the House decided to resume to consider the review of the 2020 budget as requested by the president and other emergency requests.
The federal government had cut down the 2020 budget by over N320 billion and proposed a new budget of N10.27 trillion against the N10.59 trillion passed by the National Assembly. This is based on the global economic realities as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic as well as recent crisis in the oil market.
Reportedly, the new budget proposal has been sent to the National Assembly for consideration, detailing the content of the proposal. The new budget proposal reduces the oil benchmark from $57 per barrel to $30 per barrel while the oil production volume was reduced from 2.18 million barrels to 1.70 million barrels, Leadership gathered.
The revenue projection for the 2020 budget was also reduced by N3.3 trillion (about 39 per cent) from the initially approved amount of N8.41 trillion to N5.08 trillion. The exchange rate was, however, increased from N305 to N360 to a dollar. This is based on the devaluation of the naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
As they concretize issues surrounding the budget, they are likely to deliberate on the palliative measures by government and the continued lockdown in light of recent protests by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
But while the federal lawmakers resume work to tackle these issues, lawmakers in the states, especially the female folks have not been idle.
In a webinar hosted by Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement with six female legislators from state houses of assemblies to discuss taking legislative action on COVID-19, the women shared their experiences and what they have been doing in the states.
The meeting provided an opportunity to get insight into the actions taken by female legislators and the importance of a balanced gender perspective amid the Coronavirus crisis.
Female lawmakers at their respective assemblies supported passage of legislations to protect its citizens and state from the spread of COVID-19.
One of such decisions is the closure of borders to prevent entry into or exit out of the state. They also embarked on massive sensitisation of their constituents and distribution of hand sanitisers, washing buckets and detergents while some lawmakers took step further by reaching out to elderly and vulnerable with food and monetary palliatives.
Speaking during the meeting hosted on Zoom video conferencing, Hon. Binta Mamman from Niger State made a clarion call, saying, “we are representative of the people; they came out to vote for us. This is the time we need to show our constituents that we care about them.
“Lawmakers need to provide relief materials for constituents before even commencing sensitsation because citizens have been violating the social distance regulation due to need to make ends meet. She called for collective effort between both legislative and executive arm of government to provide support for citizens while also calling for legislations that will improve lives of citizens.”
Hon. Nwachukwu Chinwe Lillian also shared the effort made by the legislative arm of government in Ebonyi State saying legislators have passed a law to backing all the COVID-19 precautionary measures and regulations to combat the pandemic. The law also criminalizes artificial hike and hoarding of essential food and services to stem the economic effect of the pandemic.
“This is in addition to submitting our April salaries to the fight against the pandemic,” she enthused
Similarly, Hon. Regina Anyogo revealed that the Cross-River State House of Assembly had also passed similar legislation to provide legal backing to regulations by National Centre for Disease Control and World Health Organisation. This is amongst other efforts to reach out to constituents with relief materials and sensitisation activities.
For instance, Hon. Atinuke Christianah Bello, Chief whip of Ogun State House of Assembly went back to her community to sensitise them on precautionary measures and distributed T-shirt with education messages inscribed to create awareness. During the meeting with Yiaga-Africa, she said, “I raised a billboard in my constituency with information that Covid-19 is real, showing symptoms, precautionary measures and numbers to call for information. I also distributed a total of 4,000 pieces of sanitisers to market, churches, mosques and individuals.
“I have identified elderly as vulnerable people and gave them at least 10,000 to stem the effect of economic hardship,” she said.
Some of the female lawmakers with support from the executive were able to provide foodstuffs like Rice, beans, yam, noodles among others to as many as 500,000 households as revealed by Honorable Atinuke Bello of Ogun State.
The tale is similar with the only female lawmaker in Ondo State House Of Assembly, Hon. Tomomewo Favour Semiloore, who revealed that all members of the state assemblies returned to their constituency to sensitise them on the dangers of the pandemic. According to her, state lawmakers distributed face masks and hand sanitisers to communities within their constituents.
Not too Young To Run strategy team members led by Yiaga Africa’s director of programs, Cynthia Mbamalu, urged the lawmakers to document and amplify the impacts they have made in this period. The female lawmakers were also urged to distinguish themselves by being intentional in their interventions especially targeted at women as women remain more victims of the pandemic.