The new and returning members of the 9th National Assembly formally took their oath of office last week. We congratulate the two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives, on the peaceful inauguration of the 9th National Assembly. The lessons of 2015 concerning the election of the leadership of the two chambers appear to have been learnt, leading to the rather smooth transition and, hopefully, a tenure that would not witness the avoidable misunderstanding which dogged the 8th Assembly.
The 8th National Assembly would have done more without the avoidable squabbles and other disruptions. Nigerians would have some sense of relief that there are no outstanding or lingering disputes capable of delaying or disrupting the workings of the Assembly.
The power and duties of the National Assembly to legislate for the peace, order and good government of Nigeria are spelt out in Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Therefore, all eyes are on the 9th National Assembly to do better than its predecessors given the prevailing atmosphere of peace and goodwill, and the urgent needs of the nation.
Nigerians expect the National Assembly members to diligently apply themselves to the task at hand. They may resolve, for a change, to take fewer holidays. They may also decide to attend more sittings, so that Nigerians do not see virtually empty chambers on television. They could also try to demonstrate transparency in their oversight functions and prove the pessimists wrong about their seeming opacity. They could be a little more forthright about their compensations.
The National Assembly should make vital inputs into our fiscal and monetary policies. It could conduct enquiries into some of the nation’s malignant problems, such as the payment of 50 per cent of the nation’s revenue just to service debts; the payment of nearly one-third of our revenue as fuel subsidy and the payment of another quarter for governance. The National Assembly should explain to Nigerians why the country is finding it difficult to meet its basic electricity needs almost six decades after independence, especially after spending billions of naira on the sector since 1999.
We also urge the National Assembly to view the appropriation bill as a macroeconomic vehicle not a tool to blackmail the executive branch with. Knowing that a lot rides on the back of the budget, the National Assembly should make every effort to regularise its timetable so that the country can have a regular financial year.
The Assembly should review the unfinished business of 2018. It should break the jinx placed on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). It should do a review of the Electoral Bill. Nigerians expect the current amity within the Assembly to translate into harmonious working relationship with the executive. The populace is the ultimate beneficiary of a good atmosphere between the legislature and the executive. The Buhari administration has said it came short in achievements owing to the frosty relationship it had with the 8th National Assembly. Now that everyone is singing from the same song sheet, there should be no more excuses.
With 20 years of unbroken democracy, Nigerians expect the lawmakers to be more focused on serious issues of welfare and governance, democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law. We expect the initiation and passage of bills that would have great impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.
Nigerians also expect the National Assembly to be independent. There is no doubt that things would work better if partisanship can be reduced, and patriotism ascends as the rallying cry, because the needs of Nigerians do not know the difference between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), to put it mildly.