By Yakubu Dogara
THE year 2016 presented us with its peculiar challenges especially in the area of security and the economy. It was the year in which our dear country eventually slipped into recession resulting in grievous social stress for the citizenry; it was also the year in which terrorism in the North-East, militancy in the South- South, the despicable phenomenon of kidnapping as well as the flash of agitations bared their murderous fangs – visiting death, pain and anguish on the populace.
In all these, it is gratifying to note that the fundamentals of nationhood remain strong, robust and promising. We commend the gallantry, ingenuity and professionalism of our armed forces and security agencies, the political will of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government and the unbending resilience of the Nigerian people.
Many developments in the polity require legislative and executive responses. It was in December 2016 that our citizens woke up to a heartwarming and cheering news when the military authorities declared they had captured the most strategic major stronghold held by Boko Haram terrorists. While we applaud them for their sacrifices and commitment that resulted in this military triumph, we must hasten to add that the war against terrorism is still on, our citizens must remain vigilant against targeting of soft targets by fleeing terrorists as they attempt to terrorise the populace.
There has also been outbreak of violence resulting in wanton killings and destruction of properties in Southern Kaduna, Birnin Gwani, parts of Zamfara State. Same was the order in Benue, Plateau and some other states. Before we went on break, this House by resolution mandated the leadership to meet with Mr. President on the challenges posed by these senseless killings.
Having met with Mr. President, I am happy to report that I am satisfied with the response of the President on these matters.
I share the view that finding solutions to these crises must not be left to Kaduna State Government alone or Mr. President. An enduring solution can only be attained if all of us – all Nigerians regardless of ethnic grouping – northerners, southerners, Christians, Muslims, politicians, the apolitical, traditional rulers and religious leaders accept the fact that we are responsible and rise to confront and rid our communities of these evils. On the part of government, I’m more than hopeful that the effect of the presidential intervention, particularly in the Southern Kaduna crisis, will soon be felt.
We must make it abundantly clear that no matter the level of grievance, no individual or group of individuals have the right to kill innocent citizens or to take up arms against the nation state. Nigeria’s worst enemies are these hate mongers and merchants of death who seek to turn this nation into the primitive state which, in the words of British born Philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, in his famous work, Leviathan, is a state of, “continual fear and danger of violent death: and the life of man; solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” For our nation to make true progress, these enemies of the state, just like Boko Haram members, must be crushed. As the year 2017 rolls by, we should expect great challenges once again but with renewed determination and faith that things shall surely get better with God on our side.
In this regard, I wish to remind us that perhaps the most critical and urgent task before us is the pending 2017 Appropriation Bill. The economy must be our central focus in 2017. Measures to exit Nigeria out of recession must be the critical aspect of our legislative activities. The 2017 Budget remains the major tool to rejig our economy. This is in addition to other fiscal and monetary policies. The recent fiscal measures including import prohibition of certain items and the increase or decrease of tariff on some items should receive appropriate legislative scrutiny to ensure that the economy and the interests of our people are protected.
We must ensure that we take no prisoners in accomplishing this task. We must brace up and work assiduously and conscientiously to give Nigerians a budget that will not only lift us out of recession, but kick-start the needed expeditious journey into Nigeria’s prosperity. We pledge to reform the budget process.
To this end, therefore, we would ensure that the procedure and process of consideration and passage of the 2017 Budget is transparent, inclusive and professionally handled.
The details of the budget should be debated and passed in plenary to avoid those needless pitfalls that normally characterise the budget process. 2017 is perhaps the year to pass critical bills before active politicking starts. Critical bills designed to stimulate and streamline our economy such as the Public Procurement Act amendment, Federal Competition Bill, Petroleum Industry bill, etc. will receive expeditious consideration. Important bills on constitution alteration and amendment to the Electoral Act also deserve expeditious consideration and passage.
The recent spate of impeachment of Speakers of Houses of Assembly of States gives cause for grave concern. While we recognise the constitutional right of the legislature to conduct its internal affairs including the right to hire and fire its leadership, it presents a different scenario where such leadership hiring and firing is rife with accusations and insinuations of external influence and also devoid of extant procedure. Leaders everywhere can only function efficiently where there is certainty that commendation is the reward for good leadership and sanction the consequence of inept leadership.
The Nigerian legislature needs to be afforded an opportunity to blossom if our democracy is to ever mature into adulthood. On the external front, particularly within the ECOWAS sub-region, recent events call for both joy and concern. There have been peaceful elections and transition of power in Ghana to the delight and pride of all Africans. However, in Gambia, even though peaceful elections took place, the outgoing President Yahya Jammeh, recanted his pledge to hand over power peacefully after losing the elections. I commend the President of Nigeria and indeed the leadership of ECOWAS for their principled stance on the matter. As a foremost democratic institution, the legislature will stand firmly behind the government of Nigeria as well as ECOWAS in ensuring that no individual leader on the African continent engages in conduct prejudicial to the growth of Africa’s democracy.
Dogara is the Speaker, House of Representatives