Fred Itua, Abuja
On July 30, the Senate suspended plenary and adjourned till September 24. Next Tuesday, members of the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly will resume after eight weeks recess.
The Senate is resuming at a time when there is a public outcry over plans by the leadership of the Red Chambers to purchase vehicles valued at N5.5 billion for 109 members. The resumption is also coming at a time senators are slugging it out at various state election tribunals. While judgments have been given in many instances, others are expected to follow in the coming days.
At the beginning of every four years when a new session is inaugurated, the expansive National Assembly beams with new looks. Offices of lawmakers are adorned with new set of furniture, while the surroundings of the National Assembly get a facelift.
Elevators are either serviced to function well or they are outrightly replaced. Committee hearing rooms get facelifts with new chairs and carpets. Air conditioning systems are either replaced or properly serviced to function well.
These were the norms in Nigeria’s highest lawmaking body, the Senate wing of the National Assembly until 2019. Prior to the inauguration of the Ninth Senate, observers had hoped that some major repairs were going to be carried out to herald the coming of new lawmakers. This never happened.
Over half of the elevators are either malfunctioning or completely out of use. During peak periods, lawmakers, staff and visitors sometimes resort to use of the stairway to access their offices.
Despite the expansive space it occupies, parking of cars at the National Assembly is still an arduous task. Whenever there is a high turnout of senators, it is sometimes impossible to get spaces that will accommodate their vehicles. Journalists and other junior staff have been completely barred from parking within the precincts of the National Assembly. The visitors’ car park outside the precinct of the National Assembly, where journalists covering the parliament are expected to leave their cars at their own peril, has deteriorated.
Whenever it rains, it becomes a nightmare for car owners to access the place. It also takes almost 10 minutes to walk from the deteriorated park to the chamber; sometimes, in the rain or under the scorching sun.
The aforementioned challenges are part of what the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate will battle with when it resumes on Tuesday. It is uncertain if Lawan who doubles as the chairman of the National Assembly will instruct the fixing of the mess before the parliament resumes sitting this week.
Petty traders, bankers groan
The National Assembly is Abuja’s second ‘Mecca’ beside the Federal Secretariat. It entertains hundreds of visitors every day, who come around to ply different trades. It also houses banks, restaurants and other petty traders. Every major commercial bank in Nigeria has an office in the National Assembly.
However, the last eight weeks have been the worst for them since the beginning of the year. Some of the bankers, restaurant owners and petty traders, who spoke to Sunday Sun, said they were technically idle while the long vacation lasted.
A banker simply identified as Pascal told Sunday Sun that the annual holiday came at a time when new lawmakers were resuming. He said that as bankers, they are usually mandated to get new lawmakers to open accounts with them.
He complained that the new lawmakers appeared not to be interested, adding that many of the lawmakers completely abandoned the National Assembly throughout the break and traveled abroad for their summer holidays.
“We were idle. You know how it is here. Without lawmakers, we have no business here. So, the last two months have been useless to us. Lawmakers were not on ground. Beside, aides to lawmakers who have just been appointed, are yet to be paid.
“Severance packages of former aides have not been paid. Now, you can see why we have been idle. After from minor transactions, nothing significant happened. We are hoping that things will change when lawmakers resume,” Pascal said.
What lawmakers will focus on
Prior to its adjournment, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, unveiled names of 69 chairmen and vice chairmen of various standing committees. The announcement didn’t go down well with many core All Progressives Congress (APC) loyalists who felt betrayed.
Lawan, who reached out to some of the aggrieved senators, will likely introduce some minor changes to the headship of the committees as soon as the lawmakers resume. With the creation of new Ministries by President Muhammadu Buhari, Lawan is also expected to expand the number of the standing committees which currently stands at 69. It is unclear if the changes will be effected immediately.
The Senate is also expected to present and adopt its own Legislative Agenda. A committee was constituted by Lawan as soon as the Senate was inaugurated in June. The upper legislative chamber didn’t adopt the recommendations of the committee before it embarked on its annual break.
Recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, planned hike of Value Added Tax (VAT), Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) reintroduction of charges on bank deposits and withdrawals, among others, are expected to take centre stage when lawmakers resume.