New Years are very special times. They offer opportunities for new beginnings; Several persons see the New Year as an opportunity to review their past activities, and in some instances, decide to turn a new leaf, especially in areas, they think, they have not done well in the preceding year.
Basically, at the beginning of every year, not a few take advantage of the fresh beginning to set things right in their individual or corporate life, especially if their lives have not been impressive. That is the reason you hear people making New Year resolutions and stating their expectations from the New Year. Whether or not they keep the New Year resolutions or vigorously pursue their goals for the year is another issue altogether.
Therefore, my expectations from the leadership of the House of Representatives and each member of the House is that they should individually and collectively make 2018 count for the country and their respective constituency/ constituents. For me, there are basically three ways the lawmakers can make this year count for Nigeria and Nigerians.
First, I expect the House to revisit its decision on the Power Devolution Bill, which it threw out during the review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), as it promised. Recall that in the aftermath of the constitution review exercise in the Green Chamber, the House had adopted a motion sponsored by the Majority Leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, calling on it to take a second look at the Power Devolution Bill. The decision of the House to throw out the bill was roundly condemned by Nigerians. Methinks, the greatest thing the 8th House of Representatives can do for Nigeria and our democracy at the moment is to help the country return to true federalism.
There is no doubt that, no matter what the government of the day thinks about it, our country cannot make real progress with the fake federalism currently practised. Therefore, in the New Year, I expect the House to listen to what the vast majority of Nigerians are saying about the need to devolve more powers to the federating units. Secondly, the House should expedite actions on bills currently pending before it, as well as complete hearings on the many probes it embarked upon last year. There are just too many bills in the House begging for attention. One of such bills is the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). After the PIB passed second reading in the Green Chamber in July, last year, the House set up a special committee headed by the Chief Whip, Hon. Alhassan Doguwa to fine-tune the bill. Almost six months after, nothing much has been heard from the committee regarding the PIB, that is expected to address the myriad of problems plaguing the oil industry. The House must expedite action on that all-important bill and ensure it is passed this year. Thirdly, the House must step up in the discharge of its oversight functions, especially in ensuring that the Appropriation Act is implemented to a large extent.
There has been a lot of indignation on the abysmal performance of the budget since the inception of the present administration. Going by submission by members during the debate on the general principles of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, many of the lawmakers believe that the country is just moving round in circles.
During the debate, lawmakers lamented that the previous budget has failed to impact positively on the people. However, the truth is that members of the House are as guilty as the executive arm of government in failure of the budgets. Suffice it to say that the legislature have even more blame in the failure of the budget. How would the budget perform when relevant House committees that are supposed to oversee Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), have subsumed themselves into the MDAs?
As Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno rightly pointed out during the debate on the 2018 budget, there is need for the federal legislature to confront the executive on the issue of full implementation of the budget. The lawmaker, who cited newspaper publication which quoted the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as saying the country has exceeded the 2017 oil benchmark by 18 percent, wondered why the 2017 budget was poorly implemented.
“ Anytime from next week, the annual ritual of budget defence would start in the Green Chamber. As it is the practice, heads of MDAs will appear before the relevant House committees to defend their 2018 budgetary allocations.
Unlike what obtains in previous years, the House must exercise the power of appropriation vested in it by the Nigerian Constitution to the benefit of the people. It must not be business as usual in the lower chamber this year. Every lawmaker must be alive to his or her responsibilities.
Although there are 360 members of the Green Chamber, in reality, only about 120 members, if not less, do the work they are elected to do. The rest are busy pursuing their individual interests at the detriment of their constituents. That must stop this year. The House leadership must ensure that every lawmaker earn his pay. I am of the firm belief that the House must introduce an electronic register and also deploy electronic voting in the conduct of the business of the lower chamber. Nigerians need to know which lawmaker attends plenary regularly and who takes what stands on issues before the House. The era of lawmakers watching television in their offices while serious business is going on in the chamber should be over. 2018 is a very strategic year for the country, as it is the year before the next general election. Consequently, the year expectedly will be characterised by a lot of politiking as lawmakers and other politicians will be more concerned about the next election, more than any other thing.
The implication is that more than any other year; the House must ensure that it pays serious attention to the re-engineering of the polity. It must also pass bills that will adequately address needs of the people and ensure the 2018 budget works. Anything not achieved this year may likely not be achieved in the life of the 8th House. For an electioneering year, there is the temptation for many lawmakers, especially the few who are committed to their work to abandon their legislative duties in their desperate bid to win party nomination.
This is one temptation they must resist in their own interests. The electorate is becoming more discerning. So, they know those are working and those given to truancy. And it is my fervent hope that the voters will reward everyone according to his or her works.