By George Oji
On July 9, the current Nigeria’s 8th National Assembly, which was inaugurated on June 9, would have spent its first one month in office. Incidentally, out of the one month, the lawmakers would spend only five days of working plenary as a parliament.
Just two days after their inauguration and the symbolic election of the presiding officers, the two arms of the parliament proceeded on their first break. The official explanation provided for that early recess was to enable the bureaucracy of the National Assembly, sort out the issue of office accommodations and other logistics for the lawmakers.
When the legislators resumed on June 23, they managed to hold mere three day plenary sessions before again adjourning to resume on July 21.
What was perhaps more instructive was that for the last three days the lawmakers sat in plenary after their first break, little was achieved by way of real legislative work.
For those three days of inactivity, all that the lawmakers engaged themselves in; both in the House of Representatives and the Senate, was merely to bicker over the choice of members to be nominated to fill the remaining vacant positions of the principal offices of the two arms of the parliament.
In the senate, after series of political scheming and strategic alignments and re-alignments, members of the red chamber were able to come up with three out of the four officers, who together with the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, would form the class of principal officers of the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly.
Those who emerged in the senate were Senators Ali Ndume – Senate Leader, (Borno South), Bala Ibn Na’Allah – Deputy Leader (Kebbi West) and Francis Alimikhena – Deputy Chief Whip (Edo South).
The emergence of the three officers in the senate was the outcome of the game of wit between two major groups in the senate, comprising Senators of Like Minds (senators who backed the emergence of Bukola Saraki as the Senate President) and the Senate Unity Forum (senators who unsuccessfully lined up behind Senator Ahmed Lawan for the office of the Senate President).
In the House of Representatives, members of the green chamber, expended the three plenary days also politicking for who becomes who in the exclusive club of principal officers.
Matters boiled over on Wednesday, June 25 in the House, when the lawmakers threw all cautions to the winds and engaged one another in a free-for-all physical combat.
What has happened so far in both arms of the National Assembly in the first one month in office is very instructive here. First, it demonstrates that the lawmakers are yet to come to terms with the onerous burden on them as elected representatives of the people.
Secondly, it also shows that the lawmakers are ignorant of the critical importance of the parliament as a key component of the three tripods which sustains every democratic jurisdiction.
Thirdly, it means that the legislators are yet to imbibe the political philosophy of nation before self.
The truth of the matter is that Nigerians voted the lawmakers into office as part of the larger change mantra, represented by President Muhammed Buhari. What does that then mean? It means that Nigerians expect the legislators to join hands with the President to make laws that would change our old ways of governance.
The laws that Nigerians expect from our elected representatives are those that would reinvent good governance; through probity, accountability, rule of law and respect for human rights.
If we go by the election promises of President Buhari, the first draft bills expected from the President are likely to be the ones that would equip him (Buhari) in his fight against corruption and insurgency in the country.
If the President meets that expectation, what it means is that the lawmakers are required to put aside their differences and work with the president to ensure that the draft bills are passed into law expeditiously.
The 7th National Assembly unfortunately expended the initial parliamentary years of their tenure, legislating on laws that added values more to themselves rather than the electorates. That was why such laws as the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the Constitution amendment bill and similar other public interest draft bills suffered so much injurious damages.
Moving forward, rather than bicker unnecessarily over such self interest-serving issues like membership of prime committees and principal offices, Nigerians expect the lawmakers to quickly adorn their thinking caps, roll up their sleeves and get down to serious business of lawmaking.
Such pending legislations as the PIB draft bill, 1999 Constitution amendment draft bill and their likes, should be accorded priority because of their impacts on good governance and the lives of Nigerians.
From the research conducted by Friends in the Gap Advocacy Initiative (FGAI), there were well over five hundred draft bills from both the senate and the House of Representatives that expired with the 7th National Assembly. Those draft bills were at various stages of legislative progression before the life of the lawmakers terminated on June 4 this year. As a result of the provisions of section 64 of the 1999 constitution as amended, those pending bills suffered collateral death.
Rather than begin to voyage into fresh bills, public expectations are that the 8th National Assembly should dust up and research into those pending bills from the 7th Assembly, with a view to conclusively birthing the critical ones amongst them.
Besides that, rather than dissipate resources on new bills, the lawmakers need to engage and research more into the existing laws in our statute books. The sole purpose for such enterprise will be to repeal and re-enact some of the laws, the essence of which, is to purify those bills and eliminate the bottlenecks, which in the past, impeded their smooth operation.
A lot was said in the past about the need for the legislators to engage more with the executives, particularly in the area of over-sighting the activities of the executives. Unfortunately, such concerns were observed more in breach than reality.
There is no over stating the fact that the responsibilities of the lawmakers lie more in the area of over-sighting the activities of the executives. If the legislators are alive in this area, no doubt, the issue of corruption, abuse of public office, misapplication of public funds and general wastages will be greatly degraded.
Unfortunately, the practice in the past has been such that instead of acquitting themselves honourably, the lawmakers rather abused themselves in the course of their oversight activities.
This is one area the public expects so much from the 8th National Assembly. How well the lawmakers discharge their oversight responsibilities will determine in no small measure, how far the President can progress in his avowed war against corruption.
As representatives of the people, so much is expected from the legislators. As is the global best practice, Nigeria’s lawmakers must approach the business of lawmaking with the seriousness, commitment and sacrifice the job imposes.
The business of lawmaking is not for the ill-prepared, weak and avaricious persons. The work requires so much commitment and sacrifice. It can longer be business as usual.
The National Assembly should no longer be perceived as avenue for enrichment. This is where the civil society and the media need to partner; to engage the lawmakers more.
The measurable indices for the 8th National Assembly performances must be scaled up reasonably. This is our 16th unbroken year as a democratic nation.
As a frontline nation in Africa, regional, continental and global expectations are huge in Nigeria. The country must not fail the world. It must take its prime place in the comity of nations. We cannot afford to be continually labeled as, “nascent or budding,” democracy.
Nigeria’s parliament must step up and acquit itself creditably if we must attain this global expectations and vision.
Oji, is the Executive Director, Friends in the Gap Advocacy Initiative (a parliamentary advocacy, monitoring and lobby group)