From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Three key issues are expected to dominate discourse in the House of Representatives in 2021. They include the Petroleum Industry Bill(PIB), the 2020 Electoral Act Amendment and the Review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The House resumed plenary on Tuesday, after one week Christmas holiday
The Green Chamber had commenced work on the three proposed legislations in 2020, with a promise to complete work on them in 2021. While the PIB and Electoral Act amendment bill have scaled through second reading and is currently at the committee stage, the Special Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution ( as amended) is stepping up activities leading to alterations in the Constitution.
The chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, told Daily Sun that the parliament will give priority attention to issues relating to the three proposed legislations. Kalu stated that the House will also pursue the actualisation of its legislative agenda with greater vigour, as intensifying its oversight activities.
He said: “We will focus on the legislative agenda implementation, while prioritising the Electoral Act and PIB, Constitution amendment and any interventions that we will have to shore up our revenue. We are hoping that the second wave of COVID 19 will not be as disastrous and inconveniencing, which hindered us from pursuing our oversight function.
“We will intensify oversight. The oversight will enable Nigerians follow their money; pushing the executive to do cash back of the budget that has been released. We have found out that it doesn’t matter how early the budget calendar is; if it is not backed with cash, mostly if the MDAs struggle with the implementation, thereby denying Nigerian of the dividend of democracy getting to the grassroots. We are going to make sure the budget is funded. So, those are some of the priorities for 2021.”
Analysts say all eyes will be on the Green Chamber to see how far it will go in the enactment of the three bills which are considered very crucial to the country. For instance, there is a near consensus on the need for reform of the petroleum industry, electoral reforms and review of the Constitution to address the economic and political challenges confronting the country.
So far, the House has committed itself to the early passage of the PIB and the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, as well as review of the 1999 Constitution ( as amended). However, the big question is how far can the House go in the pursuit of the key legislative initiatives, owing to interests they have continued to generate?
The PIB is considered a catalyst in the reform of the oil industry. The proposed legislation, which has been reoccurring in the parliament since the past ten years, seeks to unbundle the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Previous efforts to pass the bill were frustrated by interests within and outside the oil industry.
However, the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, recently promised that the ninth House and by extension, the ninth National Assembly will pass the bill. Gbajabiamila, who had inaugurated a special ad-hoc committee to fast-track the processing of the proposed legislation, noted that all the obstacles that had hitherto militated against the passage of the bill in the past has been taken care of. Consequently, the House is looking at the possible passage of the PIB in April this year.
However, pundits say beyond passing the PIB, the parliament must come up with a legislation that will address key concerns in the oil industry, as well as stand the test of time.
Kalu told journalists, at the resumption of the House, on Tuesday, that the parliament has taken cognizance of all the concerns raised on the PIB, during the public hearing and would engage with stakeholders in addressing them.
Regardless, the chairman, House Ad-hoc Committee on PIB, Tahir Monguno, while speaking at the inaugural meeting of the panel, said: “This bill is long overdue. And because of the fact that oil is a wasting asset, there is need for us to tap from this limited window of opportunity that we have to maximize the potentials in our oil industry with a view to unlocking them to meet other infrastructure needs.
“All things being equal, we intend to pass this bill before the end of the first quarter of next year. So, we are soliciting for maximum cooperation of the general public, so that at the end of the day, this bill will see the light of the day and it will go a long way in transforming the oil industry and attracting the much needed Foreign Direct Investment to the oil industry.”
Electoral Act Amendment
In the aftermath of the 2015 polls, there have been repeated calls for the review of the Electoral Act, so as to address the shortcomings of the existing act. Efforts by the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act prior to the last general elections had been unsuccessful.
However, the House has repeatedly promised to enact a new electoral law before the 2023 polls. The chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, Aisha Dukku, had told Daily Sun, in a telephone interview, that the two chambers of the National Assembly has resolved to work together to fast track the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
Dukku explained that to ensure that both executive and the legislature are on the same page, the National Assembly joint committee on Electoral Matters is engaging with the Office of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, on the bill, which will originate from the National Assembly, with the input of the executive.
Nevertheless, analysts opine there is need for a speedy enactment of a new electoral law, so that other elections scheduled to hold before 2023 general elections can benefit from it.
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC), Mahmoud Yakubu, recently called on the National Assembly to ensure a quick passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. Yakubu, who wants the bill at most by April this year, believes that early passage of the new Electoral Act will help the electoral commission to begin preparations for the next general elections in good time.
However, the National Assembly joint committee on Electoral Matters has promised that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill will be passed by the end of the first quarter of this year. That assurance, not withstanding, all eyes will be on the parliament to see the kind of Electoral Act it will come up with and whether the lawmakers will have the courage to stand up to the Executive Arm of government, in the event of a conflict between the two arms over the proposed legislation.
Review of 1999 Constitution (as amended)
Expectations are high from the House on the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which commenced at the last quarter of 2020.
Among the key bills before the House’s Special Committee on Review of the Constitution is a proposed legislation for devolution of power and bill for local government autonomy.
The deputy speaker and co-chairman of the National Assembly Constitution Review Committee, Ahmed Idris Wase says the review of the Constitution will afford the House an opportunity to address some nagging national issues.
Wase, while speaking at the inauguration of House Committee on the Review of the Constitution, had noted that the ninth assembly, in its quest to ensure that the current efforts to amend the constitution is successful, is determined to look into critical national issues that have been ignored for too long.
The deputy speaker noted that the ongoing constitution review exercise will be defined by five cardinal issues. These, according to him, include devolution of power, local government autonomy, state police, state creation and judicial autonomy.
He said:”Despite the fact that Nigeria prides herself as a ‘federal state’, it is sadly evident that it is far from what federalism entails.
“Some have stated that our federal system is more unitary than federalist especially with the number of items on the exclusive legislative list where the Federal Government regulates even simple items like primary education and agriculture.
“ Hence, there has been clamour for more devolution of powers from the centre to the states in order to make states more viable and economically sustainable.”
Kalu said although the Constitution Review exercise is a top priority, it is possible to say when the exercise will be completed, owing to the processes involved. Nevertheless, the House spokesman assured that the parliament will be guided by the views of the citizens in making alterations to the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
As lawmakers settle down for legislative business after the Christmas holiday, Nigerians are waiting to see if the House will make good its promise to deliver the PIB and Electoral Act Amendment Bill in good time, as well as address lingering national challenges through the Review of the Constitution.