Our Federal lawmakers are expected to resume for full legislative activities today, January 10 at the National Assembly after their Christmas and New Year festivities. The resumption, which marks the second and final leg of their second year in office, perhaps provides yet another opportunity to review the activities and chart a new course for members of the 8th National Assembly, who assumed office on June 9, 2015.
By the end of last year, the total number of bills passed separately by the two chambers of the legislature since 2015 totaled collectively over 100, a very significant record by any basic standard and measure. However, the what is worrisome is that these bills bear very little socio-political impact or relevance on the lives of Nigerians. For instance, the bulk of the bills were merely existing acts that were reviewed and amended. There were very minimal number of fresh bills passed. At the end of last year, the President had assented to 17 of such bills. An examination of some of the bills signed into law by President Buhari so far attests to the insignificance of the imports of the bills to the lives of the people.
The following were the eight bills signed into law by the President: National Judicial Institute Amendment Bill , 2016; Advertising Practitioners Registration Amendment Bill, 2016; Utilities Charges Commission Amendment Bill, 2016; Quantity Surveyors Registration Amendment Bill, 2016; Small and Medium Scale Industries Development Agency Amendment Bill, 2016; Treaty to Establish African Economic Community Relating to Pan African Parliament (Accession and Jurisdiction) Amendment Bill, 2016; University of Abuja Amendment Bill, 2016 and the Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers Amendment Bill, 2016.
As the lawmakers resume, Nigerians expect the National Assembly to actually match Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s promise that the senate would upon resumption this year quickly pass 11 selected economic stimulus bills to end the nation’s current economic recession with action. The lawmakers are also expected to expedite the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) because of the anticipated impact of the bill on the hydro carbon sector of the nation’s economy. The PIB is one very significant bill to the economy of the country, which unfortunately has been so badly politicized that its passage into law out-lived the 7th Assembly and now is threatening to also out-live the current 8th Assembly.
Similarly, Nigerians expect the National Assembly to prioritize the passage of the anti corruption bills to support the present war against corruption by the Federal Government. One of such bills is the Whistle Blowers bill, which just passed second reading before the end of last year. Unfortunately, it is on record that the body language of the 8th National Assembly is not in synch with the Federal Government’s avowed war against corruption. The hasty and controversial amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act and the Code of Conduct Tribunal Act, the controversy surrounding the protracted screening and eventual rejection of the confirmation of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu, the threat to amend the DSS Act etc are some of the pointers that this National Assembly is not showing enough support for the prosecution of the war against corruption by the Federal Government.
Also, Nigerians expect the lawmakers to, as a matter of urgency expedite action with the current constitution amendment processes it began last year to ensure that this 8th National Assembly does not end up in the same disgraceful way the 7th Assembly did without completing the constitution amendment exercise it began. Our fact checks reveal that the leadership of the National Assembly last year gave the constitution amendment committees of the two arms of the National Assembly June 30, 2016 as deadline for the submission of the first draft of the bill. Unfortunately, both chambers of the parliament inexplicably could not meet that deadline.
This is quite worrisome especially given that the committees are already armed with the draft of the amendment bill carried out by the 7th Assembly, plus the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, which white paper was forwarded to the National Assembly by the last administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The constitution amendment process as contained in section 9 of the 1999 Constitution of the country is very painstaking, thorough, rigorous and unwinding, which does not only involve the National Assembly but as well as the State Assemblies of the 36 States of the federation. The constitution amendment exercise is one that the entire country can ill afford to be bungled again, especially given the crying gaps contained in the current constitution.
Shortly before the commencement of their festive break in December last year, the lawmakers received the 2017 Appropriation Bill from President Buhari at a well attended joint session of the National Assembly. Upon resumption this week, the general expectation is that the lawmakers must commence prompt and full scale deliberations on the 2017 budget proposal to ensure its early passage into law for early implementation. This is in addition to giving priority attention to the other critical bills before it. In summary, our charge to the lawmakers is that they must act in consonant with the executive to ensure that Nigeria exits the current economic recession and end the long suffering of the electorate before this year ends.