Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
At the inception of the eight Assembly in June 2015, the House of Representatives set very lofty goals for itself.
The House leadership had stated that as part of its legislative agenda, it would enact laws that would address challenges in key areas of the polity like electoral reforms, boosting security, oil sector reforms and addressing the endless agitations for restructuring of the polity.
In his speech after his election as speaker, Yakubu Dogara stated that the eight House would focus on legislations that will give the citizens a new lease of life.
“The 8th House of Representatives will concentrate on legislation that will bring the changes required and voted for by Nigerians. Legislative measures that will tackle the issue of endemic unemployment crises; insecurity of lives and property; poverty alleviation; health and education; endemic corruption; electricity and energy crises; general infrastructure decay etc. We shall work closely and speedily to pass legislation that will tackle these matters,” Dogara stated.
However, as the eight Assembly departs, most of these lofty legislative initiatives, investigations reveal, remained unrealised.
Top on the bills that were intended to serve as a catalyst for the different sectors of the economy, which the House could not push through are the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill(PIGB), and state Police among others.
It was either that the House could not work on the bills or the bills were passed but the president declined assent.
In the last four years, about 42 bills passed by the National Assembly and presented to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent were rejected by the president for various reasons.
For instance, the president rejected the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment bills on three different times, citing different reasons on each occasion.
In his letter to the speaker dated December 11, 2018, Buhari while rejecting the bill said: “I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.”
Similarly, efforts by the House to push through the PIB in the eight Assembly were equally unsuccessful. At the inception of the eight Assembly, the House had broken the PIB, which was first introduced in the House in 2002, into four different bills for ease of passage.
While it took on one of the components- the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) and completed work on it, the other three components were in the still in the mills. However, the president withheld assent to the PIGB.
The Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang later explained that President Buhari declined assent to the PIGB for constitutional and legal reasons. Besides, the House also made concerted efforts to get the executive arm to resuscitate the Ajaokuta Steel Company.
After a visit by Dogara to the company in February, 2018 the House passed a motion directing government to put on hold every plan to concession the company. After, it held a sectoral debate on the steel company; after which it passed two bills to fast track the completion of the company.
One of the bills delisted the company from the list of government agencies that could be privatised, while the other created a $500million fund for the completion of the company. Both bills were sponsored by 301 members of the House. However, a few weeks back before it adjourned sine dine, the House revisited the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and PIGB and re-passed them in line with the recommendations of the president. Analysts say it is doubtful if the president would assent to the bills, especially now that the tenure of the eight Assembly has elapsed.
A member of the House, Joe Edionwele described the repeated rejection of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill as embarrassing. The lawmaker, who represents Esan West/Esan Central and Igueben Federal Constituency of Edo State, said if the bill had scaled through, it would have enhanced the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
“It was very embarrassing. You can see a lot of petitions after the elections. The technology was there for us to have a free and fair election, but unfortunately they knew what they were going to do, that is why you see what is happening,” he toldDaily Sun.
Similarly, the immediate past chairman, House Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), Joseph Akinlaja said it is regrettable that the eight Assembly could not complete work on the various components of the PIB.
The lawmaker explained that the House had passed the PIB at the twilight of the seventh Assembly, but could not get the concurrence of the Senate. But efforts to get it through in the eight Assembly had not achieved the desired results.
“In the eight Assembly, Mr. Speaker told us that we must bring up this private members bills, which eventually we divided into four-Governance, Corporate, Fiscal, Host Communities Bills. We did a lot of work on PIGB. I hope the president will still sign it. There are many interests in this bill. But the Senate President and Speaker took it up. Even the three critical areas the president raised, we have addressed them. The other three bills, it seems to me the ninth assembly will take them up,” Akinlaja stated.
Ironically, despite the exasperation of lawmakers over the rejection of many of the bills by the president, the House could not muster the will to override the veto of the president on the affected bills.
In the aftermath of the rejection of the Nigerian Peace Corp bill, The then chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrasak Namdas told journalists in Abuja in March 2018, that apart from the Peace Corps Bill, the House would override the president’s veto on nine other bills. They include a Bill for an Act to Establish the Chartered Institute of Treasury Management; a Bill for an Act to Establish the Nigerian Council for Social Work; and a Bill for an Act to Amend the Currency Conversation of Prison Orders.
Others are a Bill for an Act to Establish Police Procurement Fund, a Bill for an Act to Amend the Environmental Health Officers Registration, a Bill for an Act to Establish the Chartered Institute of Loan and Risk Management of Nigeria and a Bill for an Act to Establish the Chartered Institute of Public Management of Nigeria.
However, after attempts to override the president on the Nigerian Peace Corps Bill failed at the second reading, the House abandoned plans to override the other bills.
The Executive Director, Partners for Electoral Reforms, Ezenwa Nwangwu told Daily Sun that some of the bills passed by the House suffer from a lot of deficiencies, hence their rejection by the president.
He noted that though a lot of persons tend to think that the president rejects bills for the fun of it, a critical appraisal of some of the rejected bills, raises questions about the competence and capacity of members of the National Assembly.
“The NASS should be custodians of details, in terms of legislation and lawmaking. But that is not what we are seeing. Many time, people tend to think that the president just throw away these bills. If you take the pain to look at what he returns, you will sometimes be ashamed of the competence and capacity of our lawmakers.
“We need to put the pressure on our National Assembly to use the resources available to them for research and ensure that they are able to cover the field. If you have a Senior Legislative Aide, the value we place on that is that you are able to recruit some of the best hands in the area, you have interest. But that is not what we see,” he said.
Apart from rejected bills, the House also passed several resolutions, which were not implemented. From June 2015 when it was inaugurated to June 2019, over 1000 motions, especially on the spate of insecurity across the country were passed.
Curiously, the House equally failed to implement some of its own resolutions. For instance, the House had resolved to revisit the Power Devolution Bill, which was thrown out during the last alteration of the 1999 constitution, following public criticism.
The House leader, who is now the new speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said that the rejection of the bill was a mistake, which would be corrected.
“Many of us will be asking for the issue of devolution of powers to be revisited… It is either an oversight or mistake for several items to have been lumped under the devolution of powers bill, a situation that led to the defeat of the bill,” he said.
Unfortunately, the bill was never mentioned again in the House until the end of the eight Assembly.
Regardless, the House succeeded in passing several bills, which were signed into law by the president. Some of the signature bills passed included the Not Too Young To Run Bill. The bill, passed during the last alteration of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) pegs the minimum age limit for contesting for the presidency at 35 years.
The House had also passed a bill setting up the North East Development Commission (NEDC), to cater for the developmental needs of the North East geo-political zone.
After an earlier attempt to pass the South East Development Commission (SEDC) Bill failed in the House in 2017, at the twilight of its tenure, it passed the bill, in concurrence with the Senate, which passed the SEDC Bill last year.
Other key bills passed by the House in the period under review include the bill granting financial autonomy for state houses of assembly and the state judiciary, the bill to abrogate the dichotomy between holders of bachelor’s degrees and Higher National Diploma (HND) among others.
The eight House will be remembered as one assembly with ambitious initiatives to address critical national issues, but ended up not achieving most of its objectives, owing to lack of cooperation from the executive and the inability of the House to assert itself when it mattered most.