The 8th House of Representatives, from inception, conducted a Legislative Needs Assessment and drew a very ambitious agenda. Two years into the legislative regime, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO examines the implementation of the agenda.
Although, the 8th National Assembly kicked off its activities on a very controversial note, giving the circumstances which led to the emergence of its presiding officers, irrespective of this factor, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have so far enjoyed a stable leadership structure.
While there was a slight change in the leadership of the Senate, as the former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume was replaced by the current leader of the Senate, Ibrahim Lawan, in a near dramatic manner, the House has succeeded in maintaining its leadership structure.
Irrespective of this, opinions are divided on the performances of the 8th Assembly. While some believe that the lower chambers have stabilised the polity in the last two years, others opined that the Yakubu Dogara-led Assembly is committed to doing the bidding of the executive arm of government, thereby negating its constitutional function of check and balance.
However, the legislative agenda of the 8th Assembly, which encapsulated stipulated goals, can be examined as a yardstick to measure its level of performance.
The agenda drew inferences from experiences of the 7th House of Representatives and seeks to consolidate the gains and achievements thereof.
The 8th House recognises that there remains widespread citizens’ distrust of public institutions and government generally.
It is also recognised that there is a lot of public misconception about the functions and contributions of the legislature to Nigeria’s overall socio-economic and political development.
The agenda therefore seeks to assert its role in providing leadership in the areas of accountable and transparent government, citizens’ engagement, as well as constituency representation.
The House of Representatives, promises to ensure sensitivity to public demands for transparency and accountability not just by the House of Representatives but also by government at all levels.
Its outline indicates that the parliament will, within its stipulated four years period, prioritise oversight and investigative hearings, review the standing orders of the House and introduce a robust Code of Conduct for members.
The parliament also considered E-Parliament, E-Voting, Digitisation, Archiving, and a robust National Assembly Communication as priority.
The House of Representatives considered Internal House Communication, Communication with the Senate, Communication with the Executive, Communication with the Public very important and critical to democratic development, thereby proposing the establishment of dedicated Radio and TV Stations.
It resolved to review the National Budgetary Process, National Economy and Development, Non-remittance of internally generated revenue and leakages, Infrastructure development among others.
The House also committed itself to playing its part in rescuing Nigeria from the clutches of hunger, poverty, disease, social, economic, and infrastructural deficit.
According to the agenda, budgetary process, which had remained one of the major challenges of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999, will be reorganised. To this end, the House pledged to deploy legislative measures to support and implement a proper budgetary process that supports a strong and robust National Economy.
For instance, the Appropriation Bill is often submitted very late in the fiscal year, thereby leaving very little time for the National Assembly to do thorough work.
The House promised to revisit the Constitution Amendment passed by the 7th House mandating the president to submit his Budget proposals at least 3 months before the end of a fiscal year, instead of “at any time” before the end of a fiscal year currently in the Constitution. This is critical in passing annual appropriation bill on time.
The 8th House also promised to examine the efficacy of conducting public hearings on the Budget before legislative approval as this exposes the National Budget to increased citizen and stake holder participation. At the same time, it pledged to ensure proper functioning and operation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, including a possible review of the Act, to streamline budgetary processes and achieve strict adherence to timeliness for budget presentation and passage.
Consideration of Bills
Two years of effective legislative functions, the green chambers tried to keep fate with its promises.
So far, the 8th Assembly has introduced almost 1,055 bills, passed, 159, while about 500 bills are being processed and only 33 were withdrawn. This is considered as the highest in the legislative history of Nigeria and out of the 25 Bills which received presidential assent, 22 emanated from the House.
Besides this, the House set-up a special ad-hoc committee on the review of the 1999 constitution (as amended). The committee, which is headed by the deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun, has concluded on far reaching recommendations, including administrative autonomy for the local government, independent candidacy etc.
Until November 2016, all constitutional related bills sponsored on the floor of the House were, after second reading, referred to the committee.
The Yakubu Dogara-led House introduced a new budgeting process to regulate the time line for budget activities. It introduced a clause in the budget which now extends the time for budget execution to 12 calendar months from the date it is signed into law.
This process was aimed at putting an end to the lingering problem of non-implementation of budgets that has stifled execution of developmental projects since 1960.
Although, the Speaker proposed that full details of the 2017 budget will be scrutinised and passed at plenary, this was not to be, as details of the budget were not discussed on the floor of the House as suggested.
This, will no doubt,have doubled the confidence of Nigerians in the 8th Assembly, after it was enmeshed in an alleged ‘budget padding’ saga, as propounded by the suspended members of the House and former chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumini Jibril.
However, the chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, noted that popular consent of the members had been secured, since two-third of every committee membership signed budget report from their various committees.
“Two thirds of committee members to sign committee budget reports before it can be presented for consideration. Generally, the budget process has been made more transparent and accountable,” he said.
Executive -Legislature Relationship
Leadership of the House managed the Executive-Legislature relationship with high level of maturity. Despite the circumstances which led to emergence of its presiding officers, and the perceived role of the APC and the presidency, the leadership of the House has so far being able to work together with minimal trace of an opposition within.
This has also guaranteed little or no open opposition with the executive arm of government, particularly the presidency.
In furtherance to this, the House also helped with regular interventions to stabilise the polity. For example, during the fuel price crises, the House reconvened on a Monday to discuss the issue and brokered a mediation with NLC and doctors during their strikes. The House also intervened in resolving non-payment of pensioners for three years.
Aside the regular oversight functions carried out by several committees of the House on the ministers or agencies of government under their supervision, many ad-hoc committees were constituted to take a quick look into salient issues.
Although, this generated controversy among members, as chairmen of standing committees often complain that the ad-hoc committees usurp functions of their committees, the ad-hoc has indeed assisted in proffering quick recommendations to issues of urgent national importance.
Also, in order to impact positively on the economy and promote good governance, the House introduced sectoral debates in Nigeria’s legislative history where ministers appeared before the House, to answer questions relating to their ministries and sectors in an effort to diversify the economy.
Communication among members, E-parliament
It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, Nigeria, as a role model in the African continents on many fronts, still relies on voice voting in her parliament.
The E-Parliament, E-Voting, digitalisation and archiving is still being introduced or perfected, as it gives the presiding officer a power of discretionary judgement when voice votes cannot be clearly observed, as witnessed recently during a debate on the bill which sought to create the South East Development Commission.
The during the course of the year set up a technical committee on Economic Recession to proffer solutions, get the country out of recession and diversify the economy. The House also made concerted efforts aimed at giving financial and administrative autonomy to local government councils.
The amendment of the Public Procurement Act to increase mobilisation to contractors so as to hasten execution of projects and check the problems of abandoned projects, and passage of a Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to help check monopoly and manipulation by multinationals, are as well commendable.