The 9th House of Representatives under the leadership of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila hit the ground running right from its June 11, 2019 inauguration day – there is a robust Legislative Agenda, encapsulating deliverables in the 10 core areas of healthcare; education; economy; security; agriculture and food security; sustainable power; environment and climate change; human capital development and social development; governance; and House reforms.
Legislation passed by the House and other decisions taken in the last two and a half years all aim to achieve this document that truly represents what a People‘s Parliament should be.
Yet, 2021 stands out for the House, nay the National Assembly; a year lawmakers wind down, beating their chests that they raised the ante of legislative accomplishments. Why? The answers are within reach, loud and clear in the two top bills (one is already an Act) that succeeded in both chambers where they failed to do so in previous attempts (particularly for ‚problematic‘ clauses that passed).
The Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), 2021, takes the lead here. While it kept coming and being thrown out of the House in earlier assemblies, the then PIB‘s journey lasted some 20 years before the current legislature successfully passed it on July 16, 2021. The bill berthed at the Presidential Villa on August 9, 2021, and received presidential assent on August 16, 2021!
It was a major win for the 9th National Assembly that President Muhammadu Buhari indeed signed the bill to make the PIA an Act of Parliament.
Here is why the law is so significant. In everyday language, the PIA is about Nigeria‘s economy and how to manage through appropriate investments, its mainstay -oil and gas – to the advantage of Nigeria and Nigerians. It is about unbundling the omnibus Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation; it is about resolving the host communities‘ question; it‘s about securing more oil and gas revenues for Nigeria and much more.
Taken the delicate issues that surrounded the PIB, which scuttled its survival in previous attempts, it called for celebration and glass-clinking by lawmakers in the 9th House that history will remember them for making this a reality. No one knows it better than Speaker Gbajabiamila, the 5th-term legislator, who made it from being a floor member to becoming the speaker.
His joy knew no bounds when he spoke memorably on the day of attaining the „landmark achievement.“
Next comes the Electoral Act (amendmen) Bill, 2021. It was successfully passed by the National Assembly. Yes, indeed; from the perspective of the legislature, where it was thought some problematic clauses would never pass, they passed and the whole bill passed in both chambers.
Why the special mention of this 2021 Bill, one may ask? After all, this was not the first electoral bill that attempted to improve on its 2010 version. As recently as the 8th Assembly, there was one, which scaled the hurdles of the legislature but ended its journey at the Aso Rock bills graveyard.
However, this 2021 version is getting many reviews because of the „courageous“ steps taken by the legislature to accommodate new amendments such as the unfettered powers given to the Independent National Electoral Commission to determine the mode of transmission of election results, especially electronic transmission, a method that catches the fancy of Nigerians. Does INEC have the capacity to implement what is on paper? The electoral umpire has been shouting to the point of losing its voice, that electronic transmission is doable.
It means that when it becomes a law with this provision, Nigeria would have gained some mileage in achieving transparency in the conduct of polls.
There is a bigger one -political party primaries! And it‘s a race between Direct Primaries, which engenders equality of political party members, transparency and control by the majority of stakeholders in picking candidates for elective positions, and Indirect Primaries, which gives a few powerful forces, known as ‚godfathers‘ in popular parlance, to hand-pick or manipulate the process leading to the emergence of candidates, to their own advantage of course.
The Gbajabiamila-led House examined the scenarios critically and came to the conclusion that election or ultimately, democratic governance, starts from when the choices of party candidates are being made. It implies that the more the power to make those choices is far-removed from the people, the more they will be alienated from governance; moreover, the candidates decided by godfathers don‘t see themselves as being accountable to the people.
This was the reason, Gbajabiamila, in July, courageously proposed the amendment to the bill to have direct primaries as the mode of picking political party candidates for elective positions. His colleagues, convinced by his arguments -mass participation and transparency, didn‘t blink an eye in passing the amendment. Good a thing, the Senate too, concurred, making direct primaries a joint decision of the National Assembly.
The speaker also believes that it‘s not enough to sing about youth empowerment or political participation by the leaders of tomorrow without taking the necessary steps to make it a reality.
Admittedly, there is a momentary hiccup for the bill‘s journey. It came when Mr President withheld his assent, citing the cost of conducting direct primary elections, security challenges and possible manipulation of electoral processes by political actors among other reasons.
But, is that the end of the road for the bill and all the lofty innovations contained therein? No! There are windows of possibilities to rescue it – one is to re-commit the piece legislation to the floor and axe the disputed provision on direct primaries for Mr President to sign or – two, to override Mr President‘s veto, an option requiring the votes of 73 senators out of 109 and 240 members of the House of Representatives out of 360 to succeed.
Speaker Gbajabiamila, in his closing remarks to wind down the House on December 21, spoke much of the preparedness of the legislature to adequately address the President‘s decision when the House resumes in January.
This was captured in his not „throwing away the baby with the bathwater“ reassurance, an indication that the entire bill will not just be allowed to go down the drain.
On resumption in January, it is hoped that the victory dance on the electoral bill, stopped by Mr President‘s refusal to sign, will be resumed and concluded when the legislature and Aso Rock would have realigned their differences.
There are other noteworthy bills that secured passage in 2021. One of them is the National Agricultural Development Fund (Establishment) Bill, which seeks to establish the National Agricultural Development Fund to provide funding for agricultural development. It was passed by the House on October 13, 2021.
Others on the list include Climate Change Bill 2021; National Roads Fund Bill, 2021; and the passing for second reading of „A Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to Provide for Inclusion of Young Persons and Persons with Disabilities in Appointments in Nigeria; and for Related Matters.“ It was sponsored by Mr Speaker, securing the overwhelming support of his colleagues. The House also passed the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill which was sponsored by the Speaker and two other lawmakers.
No gain mentioning the obvious ones -Passage of 2021 Supplementary Budget of N984.8bn; early passage of 2022-2024 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP); and the early work on, and speedy passage of the 2022 budget of N17.12 trillion to ensure that the House keeps to the January-December cycle.
On insecurity, the House deliberated, passed and forwarded to Mr President, the report of its Special Summit on National Security, making far-reaching recommendations on how to tackle the protracted security challenges in the country.
Of course, it will be remembered that in 2021, Mr Speaker intervened and saved the nation another round of strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the same way he intervened to have the National Association of Resident Doctors reverse its threat to resume the industrial action the members earlier suspended.
It is a bumper year for the House, no doubt. Mr Speaker and colleagues also hope that their recommendations on how to resolve the Twitter ban and a proposal to establish a Transportation Security Administration to harmonise airport operations in Nigeria will be the huge addenda to the wins of the year ahead of 2022.
Ameh, is the Special Assistant, Media (Research/Documentation) to the Speaker, House of Representatives.