Eighth Assembly:Many controversies, little impact

image

Bukola Saraki, Yakubu Dogara

Since the inauguration of the Eighth Assembly
about a year ago, it has been largely trailed by one
controversy or another
and Nigerians have
questioned if its productivity has been
commensurate with its budget, GBENRO ADEOYE
writes
Lawmakers are revered in many nations of the
world and the buildings where the lawmaking
process takes place are often at the pinnacle of the
countries’ tourists destinations. Such is the history
of lawmaking to most nations. And because of the
important role lawmakers play or are expected to
play, their chambers are often referred to as
hallowed.
But it is a height that the National Assembly has
arguably found difficult to attain in Nigeria’s brief
period of democracy. Over the years, the Senate
and the House of Representatives have had a hard
time convincing the public that their huge budget
have had a semblance of proportion to their
output.
It was these sentiments that the current Eighth
Assembly inherited from the seventh assembly.

However, it has to be noted that the sentiments are
not entirely unfounded as they date back to 1999,
when legislators demanded for outrageous
“Furniture Allowance” and lived ostentatious
lifestyles that were not in sync with the economic
realities of the Nigerian state.
Since then, there have been gales of scandals
sweeping through the Senate, leading to
unceremonious removal of former Senate
Presidents, including the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo
and Senator Adolphus Wabara.
In the House of Representatives, former Speakers
like Patricia Etteh and Dimeji Bankole were also
allegedly at the centre of corruption cases.
In all of these and through the years, legislators
after legislators become subjects of ridicule in the
public eye with occasional scuffles that were not
devoid of drama and fisticuffs, thrown punches,
flying chairs, and broken or missing maces.
On November 20, 2014, the whole world saw as
“honorable” members of the House of
Representatives in the Seventh Assembly scaled
fences and gates following a political move that led
security operatives to lock the gateways to their
complex.
Therefore, when in July 2016, when the Nigerian
Senate in the Eighth Assembly had a rowdy
session after Senator Dino Melaye reportedly
threatened to beat up and impregnate Remi
Tinubu, a fellow senator, on the floor of the
Hallowed Chamber, some Nigerians were not
utterly shocked going by the antecedents in the
National Assembly.
It must, however, be noted that earlier, Tinubu had
reportedly referred to Melaye as a “dog” and a
“thug”.
With the Eighth Assembly, it has been about one
controversy or another since its inauguration on
June 9, 2015.
Recently, a former Chairman, House of
Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Mr.
Abdulmumin Jibrin, alleged that the Speaker, Mr.
Yakubu Dogara, sacked him because he rejected a
request by Dogara that he (Jibrin) should allocate
projects worth N40bn to him in the 2016 budget.
He also accused the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff
Lasun; the Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; and
the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, of complicity in
the alleged criminal act.
But Dogara’s camp alleged that Jibrin had
attempted to pad the budget with up to N250bn
and that he had even included about N4bn meant
for bogus projects in his constituency.
Also recently, members of the House of
Representatives broke into a rowdy session over a
proposed immunity against prosecution of
presiding officers of the National Assembly.
The move was seen by many Nigerians as
confirmation that the current set of legislators are
no different from members of the previous
assemblies.
According to analysts, the Eighth Assembly has
been caught in controversies from the outset
following the elections of principal officers in the
Senate and the House of Representatives, which
contradicted the directives of the ruling All
Progressives Congress.
The controversy over the emergence of Dr. Bukola
Saraki as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as
Speaker of the House of Representatives had
divided the legislators and delayed legislative work
for weeks, especially the passage of the 2016
budget.
In his view, the President, Committee for the
Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Malachy Ugwumadu,
said the Eighth Assembly had a “turbulent start
given the intrigues that attended the emergence of
the leadership at the Senate and the House of
Representatives.”
Ugwumadu added that the Assembly had been in
the news for various controversies since then
“ranging from the mundane to very serious
dimensions, some nudging on criminality.”
He said, “The Senate is on a collision course with
itself struggling almost unsuccessfully to extricate
itself from the burden of low integrity quotient. The
Senate took off with high expectation of the
Nigerian people, believing that it would have the
capacity to moderate the excesses of the executive,
but it is by all means in chains as a result of its
low moral standing.”
Less than a week into the life of the Eighth
Assembly, the social media was awash with
reports of huge wardrobe allowances for
legislators, which came at a time when states were
struggling to pay workers’ salaries.
In July 2015, it was alleged that the Senate had
forged the standing orders used for the conduct of
the election that brought Saraki and Senator Ike
Ekweremadu in as Senate President and Deputy
Senate President, respectively.
The two legislators have since been arraigned
before a Federal High Court in the Federal Capital
Territory on June 27, 2016 for alleged forgery, but
hearing into the case has been adjourned till
September 28, 2016.
Also, Saraki’s separate case with the Code of
Conduct Tribunal, where he is standing trial for
alleged false asset declaration, has similarly been
adjourned till September.
In Ugwumadu’s view, some of the scandals
involving some principal officers of the Eighth
Assembly are strong enough to have forced them
to resign.
He said, “There are many criminalities associated
with the principal officers and to hear that it was
the legislators that were indeed at the heart of the
budget padding scandal shows that there is more
to it than meets the eye.
“We have a legislative arm of government tucked
in controversies ranging from criminality to acts of
immoralities and all manners of issues. You hear
about the senate president and his deputy standing
trial, which alone would have occasioned their
resignation from office.
“David Cameron (former British Prime Minister)
stepped down because morally he didn’t believe
he had the strength to continue to lead Britain
when he lost a referendum in which he proposed
that the United Kingdom should remain in the
European Union; he resigned for something as
small as that.”
Shortly after the CCT began Saraki’s trial, a bill
was sponsored by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi to
amend the law establishing the CCT and the Code
of Conduct Bureau.
The bill passed through first and second reading
within 48 hours, but was met by a public outcry
over suspicion that the move was connected to the
senate president’s trial.
Consequently, the bill was suspended on April 20,
2016.
Another controversial moment for the National
Assembly came when the Senator Baba Ibn
Na’Allah sponsored a bill aimed at checking
people’s freedom of speech, especially on social
media hence the name anti-social media bill.
There were protests organised over the bill, which
had already passed through second reading, before
the senate eventually dropped the controversial
move.
Then there was the controversy over the senate’s
allocation of N4.7bn to the procurement of Toyota
Land Cruisers Sport Utility for its 109 members
and the Lower Chamber’s N3.6bn budget for
Peugeot 508 salon cars for 360 members.
At the time, many states owed workers’ salaries
due to a paucity of funds, the public were outraged
to hear that the senators’ choice SUVs at N36.5m
each were allegedly twice the market price.
The National Assembly has N115bn budget for
2016 but there has been no breakdown of how the
fund will be spent. Although, the 2016 budget is
N35bn lower than the previous budget, many
Nigerians still consider the current budget as over
bloated and not realistic with the prevailing
economic situation in the country.
With 299 bills presented, 182 bills due for second
reading, 41 pending in committees and only 11
passed in the senate, some analysts say the
majority of Nigerians who described the National
Assembly as too expensive and financially draining
cannot be too far from the truth.
Meanwhile, with only 27 petitions of the over 300
received by the House of Representatives being
considered, 416 bills awaiting second reading and
130 pending in committees, the situation in the
lower chamber cannot be said to be better.
A lawyer, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, blamed the
situation on President Muhammadu Buhari’s
naiveté, a flawed electoral system and a conflict
between a cultural life that is subservient and
frowns on questioning elders and a political life
that teaches people to question people in
authority.
Oshoma said, “The President said he wanted to
drive a change process different from what we had
for 16 years and on the day of the inauguration of
the National Assembly, he went to sleep.
“He did not know the importance of the National
Assembly in a presidential system of government
and so he allowed whoever to emerge as leaders
and today because of the clash, there is a
consistent struggle between the executive and the
legislature and that has denied the populace the
benefit of seamless governance.
“Also, we do not set agenda for our National
Assembly members and until we get our electoral
system right, we will just keep making these kinds
of complaints.
“We should deal with how we elect members to the
National Assembly and on how the Independent
National Electoral Commission has fared in
ensuring that elections improve in terms of
transparency.”
Oshoma noted that rather than the personal agenda
that largely stirred the controversies trailing the
Eighth Assembly, it should be more concerned
about championing the move to have a
restructured and more functional system of
government.
He said, “We complain about our model of
government that restructuring is necessary
because the government at the centre cannot
continue to dole out money to states, but the
people that should be at the forefront of the
restructuring are the legislators.
“Nigeria is an entity rested on laws and to
unbundle it, it must be through the laws that bind
it together. That is where they should start from.
“I don’t subscribe to the call that the National
Assembly should be scrapped but I think the
number of legislators should be reduced. I don’t
think Nigeria is buoyant enough to practise the
kind of bicameral legislature that we practise and
to have the luxury of having three senators and
almost six members of the House of
Representatives per state.
“We need to start looking at restructuring
governance to start from the local level. Even if the
National Assembly makes laws today, the ordinary
man will not feel the essence of the law. It is laws
made at the state and the local government levels
that would impact more on the average man on the
street.”
But in Ugwumadu’s conclusion, the solution to the
problem is for Nigerians to “organise and demand
what they want as the members of the Eighth
Assembly have gone beyond redemption because
they are focused on the continuous looting of the
Nigerian treasury, which is going on in all arms of
government.”
He added, “Even Section 63 of the Constitution
requires that they should sit at least 181 times and
that if they fail to sit for that number of days in one
year, they should be recalled.
“But from all accounts, they cannot be able to
meet up because they are busy defending their
cases and running away from legislative activities
which are the primary duties –legislation,
budgeting and oversight.”

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