On Wednesday, June 3, 2015, the outgone 7th Senate led by Senate President David Mark at the eve of its exit shocked Nigerians when it passed unprecedentedly 46 bills in just 10 minutes without legislative procedures! That singular action, to say the least, provoked the ire of Nigerians, who described the passage of the bills as a “reckless path to lawmaking”. The bills had earlier been passed by the House of Representatives and transmitted to the Senate for concurrence.
The senators, in an unusual move, had also invoked Order 79 (1) (b) of theSenate Standing Order 2011 (as amended) to adopt a special process on the pending bills for concurrence. The Senate Standing Order allows the lawmakers to pass the bills without the draft laws going through first, second, and third readings on the floor of the upper chamber! More irksome is that some of the bills so passed are sensitive and when assented to by the president and implemented as passed could have tremendous undesirable impact on Nigerians.
The passage of the bills becomes more vexatious where it is said that the National Assembly spent over N600 billion in four years and could only pass 106 bills. This is aside not passing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has been with them since 2008 and proposes to completely overhaul Nigeria’s petroleum industry. The delay in passing the bill is said to hold back investments in the sector. Again is the amendment of the 1999 constitution that has remained a subject of dispute and the perception of Nigerians about the unpatriotic disposition of the lawmakers.
It is in the light of the aforementioned that the newly inaugurated 8th National Assembly needs to be alive to its onerous responsibilities of making impactful laws, increasing its legislative output and taking its broad oversight functions more seriously foreffective and quality representation of Nigerians.
The most topical issue in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry today is the PIB. It is expected to re-write the country’s decades-old relationship with its foreign oil partners and alter everything from fiscal terms to the structure of the state oil firm. The non-passage of the bill, industry experts say, created uncertain regulatory environment which has slowed down investment that would have boost oil production and develop the country’s huge gas resources. This newspaper thinks it is imperative that the 8th National Assembly strives to pass the PIB, even if not as a whole, in bits, and later collate as a whole. The bill when passed will end corruption and revolutionise the oil sector and definitely redeem the image of the National Assembly seen as a waste pipe of the country’s scarce resources.
We also urge the National Assembly, regarded as one of the most expensive in the world when measured against the standard of living of an average Nigerian, and the government’s total revenue and spending, to be sensitive to the yearnings of the people and liveby the realities of the countryby cutting its cost. There is the perception that a substantial part of the nation’s resources are being used to take care of the members of the National Assembly without commensurate output.We are miffed that the annual N150 billion first approved for the National Assembly in 2011 as its running cost, except for 2015, in 2013 was 3% of the entire federal budget, while in the United States the Congress spent only 0.17% of the country’s budget in the same year. This newspaper urges the parliament to emulate states like Kaduna and Adamawa that have slashed salaries of public office holders as sacrifice until, perhaps, the fiscal situation of the country improves. It also calls on the parliamentarian to avoid or reduce ostentation and begin to be transparent and modest if it wants to remain relevant.
From 1999 to date, the National Assembly could be said to have passed only run-of-the-mill laws. This 8thparliament must of necessity, especially with the experience garnered over these years, write and vote out-of-the-way laws that can radically move the country to enviable heights economically, socially and politically.
Again, the mantra of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government is ‘change’. It is imperative that the parliamentarians key into this catchword so that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will not have excuses to put up if it performs below expectation. We urge them to refrain from executive-legislature bickering and see the dividends of democracy for Nigerians as above their personal and group interest.It is important that the National Assembly sees itself as partner in progress with the executive rather than trying to outdo it to score unnecessary political capital. If they work in harmony there will be reduction in undesirable political gridlock which normally stalls development, transparency and accountability.
It is also important for the National Assembly to vanquish the culture of impunity inherent in its activities. In the exercise of its oversight functions it should not pose as a burden to government departments but contrive ways that will help them to be effective and relevant to the nation’s governance structure.
It is imperative that the National Assembly avoids the pitfall and others like them, which characterised the 2012 House of Representatives’ probe of the capital market meltdown, where the former Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunmah Oteh, accused the probe panel of asking for bribe and the $3 million bribery scandal involving members of the lower chamber’s ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy. These kinds of scenarios wither hope and confidence of the population on the parliament.
This newspaper also thinks the 8th parliament should not abandon the National Conference report of 2014.It should treat the report dispassionately. Understandably, some of the resolutions of the National Conference are not in tandem with current realities in the country, but others if implemented will engender the necessary change that the country needs.
It is pertinent that in the months ahead we should be seeing a new, invigorated parliament making laws that will lead to economic and political reforms than the flaccid parliaments before it.