8th National Assembly: The challenges, feats

Inaugurated on June 9, 2015, the 8th National Assembly will function until June 9 when President Muhammadu Buhari’s issues a proclamation letter for the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly.

Nigeria operates a bi-cameral legislature, comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives that functions as the nation’s highest legislative body.

The National Assembly is empowered to make laws by the provisions of Chapter I, Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution.

The Senate consists of 109 elected senators and the House of Representatives has 360 elected members.

The present legislative work in the House of Representatives kicked off with the emergence of the Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara while Dr Bukola Saraki is the President of the Senate.

But political analysts note that the 8th National Assembly has been shrouded in political intrigues and controversies since its inception, the development they describe as a threat to democracy.

The threat became a reality when Saraki and Dogara decided to defect to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2018 even as member of the opposition PDP attempted to impeach them.

Analysts observe further that the leadership tussle in the National Assembly has impacted negatively on governance as policies and programmes of the government are affected.

They cite the instance of the approval of most key appointees of Buhari being delayed by the lawmakers and the foot-dragging debate on budget bills, among others.

Acknowledging some shortcomings of the 8th National Assembly, Buhari said that he looked forward to a mutual and effective working relationship with the 9th National Assembly.

According to him, such effective working relationship will improve the budgetary process and restore the country to the January-December fiscal cycle.

The president recounted how the delay in the passage of budgets hindered timely execution of some projects across the country.

Buhari, nonetheless, expressed confidence that more work would be done to improve the efficiency of the budgetary process with the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the general elections.

He also recalled that the 2018 budget proposals submitted to the National Assembly on Nov. 7, 2017 was passed after seven months.

In spite of this, however, observers note that the outgoing House of Representatives has been able to initiate and pass milestone bills within the legislative years.

They note that out of 1, 516 bills so far treated at the House of Representatives between June 2015 and January 2019, members of the House of Representatives sponsored not less than 1, 380 bills.

One of the outstanding bills passed by the lower chamber is a Bill for an Act to Alter the Provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and for Other Matters Connected Therewith sponsored by Rep. Tony Nwulu, otherwise known as the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill.

The bill, which drew local and international attention, was signed into law by Buhari on May 31, 2018 at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa in the presence of some young Nigerians, the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Movement.

The law reduces the age qualification for president from 40 years to 35 years, governor from 35 years to 30 years, senator from 35 years to 30 years; House of Representatives membership from 30 years to 25 years and State House of Assembly membership from 30 years to 25 years.

Another outstanding bill passed entitled: “Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2018’’ is meant to cater for the more than 25 million persons living with disabilities in the country.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ochiglegor Idagbo and was signed into law by Buhari on Jan. 23, few days to 2019 general elections.

The Act, which guarantees right to maintain civil action for damage by the person injured against any defaulter, prohibits all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability and imposes fine of N1, 000, 000 for corporate bodies and N100, 000 for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment for violation.

It also provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobile are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs.

The Act, which stipulates that all public organisations are to reserve at least five per cent of employment opportunities for these persons, also establishes in Section 31 the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities with Executive Secretary as the head.

The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill is another important bill the lower house deliberated on.

The bill, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila and Rep. Kayode Oladele, seeks to facilitate and encourage the disclosure of improper conduct by persons, public officers and corporate bodies whether private and public.

It is also to ensure adequate protection of whistle blowers from reprisals, victimisation, isolation and humiliation which are said to be some of the consequences of whistle-blowing.

Other bills passed include the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, 2016, Terrorism Bill, 2015 Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, 2015, National Minimum Wage Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015, National Broadcasting Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015 and North East Development Commission Bill, 2015.

Fiscal Responsibility (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Appropriation Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015, National Council of Traditional Rulers Bill, 2015, Utilities Charges Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015 and National Identity Management Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015 are also passed.

Similarly, the House of Representatives legislated on National Inland Waterways Authority Bill, 2015, Pension Reform Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016, Nigerian Postal Service Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016, National Agency for Albinism and Hypo-Pigmentation Act (Establishment) Bill, 2016 and Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

It is also worthy of note that within the 2015 and 2019 legislative calendar, some members have had many bills to their credit.

For example, Rep. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta sponsored not less than 62 bills in the House; Rep. Ossai Ossai sponsored no fewer than 50 bills while Rep. Edward Pwajok had no fewer than 31 bills.

These are few among many members who contributed to the legislative proceedings of the lower chamber within the year under review.

Besides carrying out its legislative function on executive bills brought before it, the House of Representatives also concurred on bills emanating from the Senate.

For instance, one major bill from the executive to the lower house was the National Minimum Wage Bill, 2019.

Because of its importance to the nation’s workers, the bill was given accelerated hearing.

The National Minimum Wage Bill, 2019, which was deliberated upon and passed by the lawmakers less than a week, was transmitted to the Senate for concurrence.

Some of the bills sponsored by the executive include: News Agency of Nigeria Statutory Appropriation Bill, 2016, Federal Capital Territory Statutory Appropriation Bill, 2016 sponsored by the executive, Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act (Amendment) Bill, Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency Statutory Appropriation Bill, 2016, among others.

Also, bills emanating from the Senate to the House include Nigerian Railway Authority Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2016, Public Procurement Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016, Defence Space Administration Bill, 2016, Federal University of Agriculture, Kabba (Establishment) Bill 2017 and Federal Collages of Education Act (Amendment) Bill, to mention but few.

Although the 8th House of Representatives’ bill progression chart shows that the lawmakers had performed well in their legislative calendar, not all the bills, whether private member bills, public bills or executive bills, sailed through the legislative drills.

Some bills died at the first reading, some at the second reading, while others at the third reading.

Besides, there were bills which got the lawmakers’ nod but which the executive declines assenting and one of such bill Petroleum Industry Bill.

Rep. Abdulrazak Namdas, the Spokesperson of the House of Representatives said that members, within the years under review, had been able to sponsor several bills for the socio-economic and political development of the country.

According to him, law making is the principal job and duty of a legislator and each lawmaker should have key areas of interest he or she wants to specialise on.

Namdas said that a legislator must have the capacity and the knowledge and do research on particular areas he needed to sponsor any bill or a motion.

“You must be conversant with the laws as some of the laws could be in different forms; the bill could either be amended or you want to repeal the law or you want a fresh law, depending on which area of interest.

“But if you don’t have the knowledge, you may not be in the position to even amend or sponsor the amendment.

“The president does not assent to some of the bills that is why you will see some bills in the fifth assembly recurring,’’ he explained.

He admitted that there might be some instances when the executive might not be on the same page with the legislature for some reasons.

“When the executive has a feeling that a bill is trying to subvert it or trying to undermine the executive power, even as good as it may be, it will not be signed into law.

“These are some of the challenges, there are bills that the legislature has been able to put in place but they have not been assented to,’’ he said.

Namdas also cited the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill which the president declined his assent to, assuring Nigerians that the re-elected members would take the bill up from where it stopped.

“For some of us, who have been re-elected, we will still have to go back and work to ensure that the bill is fully assented to in the 9th National Assembly.

“The 9th National Assembly will ensure that its leadership is on the same page with the executive since majority seats in both houses were from the APC.

“In the 8th National Assembly, we had a lot of hiccups; the experiences are not good enough and we don’t expect that in the 9th National Assembly,’’ he said.

All in all, the Executive Director, Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA AFRICA) and convener of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Movement, Mr Samson Itodo, commends the lawmakers for the feats achieved in passing the famous bill.

Similarly, the Executive Director, Foundation for Persons Living with Disabilities, Mrs Pat John-Oseh commends the legislators for a good work done on the Disabilities Act.

The 9th National Assembly, which will be inaugurated June 9, has majority members-elect from the APC.

In the Independent National Electoral Commission’s list, APC has 211 members-elect in the House of Representatives; the PDP has 111, while 20 seats have yet to be declared due to the elections that were declared inconclusive in the affected constituencies.

Other political parties that will be represented in the lower chamber include: All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) with six members; Action Democratic Congress (ADC), three members, Action Alliance (AA); two members and People’s Redemption Party (PRP); two members.

The African Democratic Party (ADP), Allied People’s Movement (APM) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) won a seat each and out of the over 300 seats declared so far, only 10 are women.

Although many members in the 8th National Assembly will not return to the chamber having lost their re-election bids, Nigerians hope for an improved relations between the Executive and the House for the development of the country.