Ndubuis Orji, Abuja
What lesson has the House of Representatives learnt from the rejection of many of the bills passed by the National Assembly in the eight assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari?
In the eight assembly, no fewer than 53 bills passed by the National Assembly, majority of which originated from the House of Representatives, were rejected by President Buhari.
The President, in rejecting the bills, had advanced various reasons, raging from poor drafting, to conflict with existing laws among other reasons; often to the consternation of the lawmakers.
However, the Green Chamber since the inauguration of the Ninth assembly on June 11 has seemingly been in a rush to introduce new bills, thereby raising concerns if it has learnt any lessons from the experience of the Eight assembly.
The speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, while speaking at the annual lecture of the Legislative Digest, a publication of the National Assembly, to mark 20 years of uninterrupted democratic rule in the country, in July, had announced that the House within its first one month introduced a total of 287 bills.
Gbajabiamila, who was represented by the chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, had noted with glee that “as at Wednesday, July 24, 2019, barely a month post inauguration, 287 bills had passed first reading. “
Between September 17, when the House resumed from its annual recess to date, another 116 fresh bills have gone through first reading, bringing the total number so far introduced in the Green Chamber in the last five months to 403.
Some of the bills, which have gone through first reading and awaiting second reading, include Pharmacy Council of Nigeria (Establishment, Etc.) Bill, 2019; National Security Trust Fund (Establishment, Etc.) Bill, 2019; Prohibition of Mercenary Regulations of Certain Activities in the Country of Armed Conflict Bill, 2019 and Lobbyists (Registration and Regulation) Bill, 2019.
Others are National Welfare Trust Fund Management Commission (NWTFMC) Bill, 2019; National Council for Widows, Dependent Children and Orphans (Assistance) Bill, 2019, Anti-Bully School Standards Bill, 2019, Nigerian Unemployment Graduate Fund Bill, 2019, National Forestry Trust Fund (Establishment, etc.) Bill, 2019 and National Anthem and Pledge (Compliance) Bill, some constitution amendment bill amongst others.
While the House is thumping it’s chest on the number of bills it has introduced within a very short time, stakeholders are of the view that there is need for the Green chamber and by extension the National Assembly to learn from the pitfalls of the past.
For former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, the indiscriminate introduction and passage of bills by the National Assembly, is not in the interest of the country.
Ogunlewe told Daily Sun that ordinarily, there should be a development master plan for the country and that any legislation by the National Assembly should be tailored towards the actualisation of the master plan.
The former minister added that in the absence of a master plan, there is need for some form of collaboration between the legislature and the executive in the processing of bills, so that whatever legislation that is passed by the parliament gets signed by the President.
“Unfortunately for the entire country, there is no master plan. In so many other countries, they have a masterplan; ten years master plan that require legislations.
“But in Nigeria, whoever wants to bring a legislastion will just bring it on, whether it is relevant to our development, whether is relevant to our national plan of what we want to do in the next ten years, nobody cares. So, we need a formal national plan that will motivate legislation. There is no clear cut national agenda that everybody must key into.
“What are those bills for, which problems do they want to solve? They just pass bills and pass bills that are meaningless.”
Ogunlewe said the National Assembly should be blamed for the rejection of any of its bills by the President. The former minister noted that from enhancing the quality of legislations, the National Assembly needs to be on the same page with executive arm of government especially as both arms of government are controlled by one political party.
He said the President, “cannot just be signing bills that have no relevance to national development. Which problem in Nigeria can these bills cure. Identify areas of our problems and there are many. Not just you sitting there passing bills that are not relevant to our national development. We must address our problems.”
The former minister added: “as you are drafting any bill, you get the executive involved. You brief the president. He has a representative there, who is monitoiring what is going on. You invite the minister of justice to be part of you. You have committees that are relating to every ministry. It is only in Nigeria that you bring a bill to Mr President, and he starts to study it. It is not done like that.
“You cannot be independent totally. Any thing you want to do, involve the party. APC has the majority. How can they have an electoral bill and the chairman of the party, the secretary of the party, the NWC are not aware of the bill they are processing. What are you doing there.
“Whatever bills you are passing, you have relevant committees on MDAs and the political parties. You must carry them along, so that it won’t be strange after it has been passed. You can pass 100 bills that are not relevant to Mr President, he will not sign them. It is more consultation. You need consultation. You cannot be passing bills in isolation to the programmes of your party, it won’t work.”
Similarly, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a civil society organisation(CSO), said rather than churning out bills, the House should ensure the implementation of laws already passed by the National Assembly.
The Executive Director of the group, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, told Daily Sun that there is no need for unnecessary competition for the sponsorship of bills by members of the House, especially as most of those bills might end up not seeing the light of day. Rafsanjani said often times, the lawmakers spend so much time and resources in promoting personal bills, that will not add value to the system.
He stated that it will serve the interest of the House and country better for the lawmakers to channel their energy to the pursuit of the legislative agenda of the Ninth House.
According to him, “National Assembly members should focus less on initiating or introducing many bills that would have no impact on Nigerians which sometimes are even contradictory to our constitution. A lot of effort, time and resources are wasted by some members in promoting their personal bills that at end of the day may not see the light of the day due to conflict with the constitution and over ambitious nature as well as duplication on the existing laws.
“ There is no need for unnecessary competition for sponsoring bills that will not be useful to the people.Rather, its better for the members to ensure effective implementation and compliance on the various laws, policies and government programmes that would bring about good governance, peace, transparency and accountability in governance through effective and responsible oversight on government.”
Former chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega says there is need for the National Assembly to pay serious attention to the quality of bills, it passes.
Jega, who stated this at the presentation of the study of YIAGA African Centre for Legislative Engagement in Abuja, recently, noted that the incidence of the President rejecting bills passed by the National Assembly will not arise.
“ There is a need to pay attention to the quality of bills that are introduced, so we strongly recommended an establishment of a mechanism for pre-legislative scrutiny so that bills can be scrutinised. Then a situation where a bill can go to the president and return for inconsistencies or editorial work and so on will not even arise,” the former INEC boss stated.
Therefore, pundits say it is imperative for the Ninth House to identify the real factors responsible for the rejection of most of its bills in the Eight assembly and guard against them in the introduction of fresh bills.
According to a former Clerk of the House of Representatives, Gani Ojagbohunmi, some of the bills passed by the National Assembly in the preceding assembly were rejected because of the failure of the parliament to include a financial compendium to the bills.
Bills, especially those seeking to establish new agencies or institutions, require a financial compendium, which details out the financial implications of the proposed legislation. Consequently, the absence of such financial compendium makes the bill incomplete.
Like Jega, Ezenwa Nwangwu, believes that there is need to raise the quality of bills passed by the National Assembly. Nwangwu opines that most of the bills rejected by President are deficient.
Nwangwu told Daily Sun that: “The National Assembly should be custodians of details, in terms of legislation and lawmaking. But that is not what we are seeing. Many times, People tend to think that the President just throws 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.”
He wants Nigerians to exact pressure on lawmakers to use resources available to them for research, so that whatever bills they come up with on any subject matter will be worth it.
“I have taken deep interest in some of those bills that were returned. 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. We see nepotic consideration and patronage.”