THE first anniversary of the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly on June 9 afforded Nigerians a good opportunity to assess the federal legislature and the extent to which it either met or failed to meet their expectations. It is regrettable that the Assembly has, since its inauguration, been inexorably mirred in controversy that beclouded whatever good it may have done, or tried to do, in the past one year.
The NASS opened on a disturbing note on June 9, 2015 with the controversial emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Senator Ike Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as Senate President and Deputy Senate President, respectively. Similarly, the emergence of Yakubu Dogara and Yussuff Lasun as Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, did not go down well with the APC leadership.
The leadership of the APC was apparently rattled by the fact that its preferred candidates did not emerge leaders of the 8th NASS even though it had a majority in both Houses. The emergence of Ekweremadu, who was of the opposition PDP, as Deputy Senate President, further angered the party. The Lower House, however, appears to have quickly weathered the storm of its leadership crisis, while that of the Senate is still fueling controversies. Both Saraki and Ekweremadu are answering charges in court relating to their alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rules that aided their emergence as NASS leaders, while Saraki is also facing charges at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) for alleged false declaration of his assets.
Having taken off on a shaky ground, the 8th National Assembly has not really achieved much in its one year in office. It lost most of the past year to leadership crisis. It has also drawn the ire of many Nigerians with its demands for financial privileges and perks of office at a time of serious economic challenges in the country.
Apart from the demands for life pension and immunity from prosecution for its principal officers, the NASS has been rocked by scandals, including the recent one involving three of its members who attended the International Visitor Leadership Programme in Cleveland, Ohio, United States, in April this year.
So far, the NASS has not been impressive in its lawmaking efforts. Its members have been more associated with the quest for good things for themselves. The Senate was said to have spent N4.7 billion to purchase Toyota Land Cruiser cars for its 109 members while the House of Representatives reportedly spent N3.6 billion to buy Peugeot 508 Salon cars for its 360 members.
The legislators have reportedly not demonstrated sufficient zeal and interest in the making of laws that can add value to the lives of the people. The 8th NASS has also not done enough in its oversight functions and constituency projects.
Some of the anti-people bills the NASS has deliberated upon in the past one year include the Frivolous Petitions Bill or Social Media Bill, which was later dropped and the contentious Grazing Routes/Reserve Bill.
The attempt by the legislators to amend the CCB Act while the Senate President was answering charges at the Bureau was in bad taste, and it was rightly resisted by Nigerians before it was withdrawn by the Senate.
However, there are certain things that NASS did well. These include the discovery of discrepancies in the 2016 National Budget and the screening of ministerial nominees and other principal officers of government.
The NASS should reconsider the Gender Equality Bill and fast-track the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and other such bills that would have been beneficial to the nation’s economy. Since Nigeria depends on oil as its main source of revenue, the passage of the PIB should be expedited to put the industry on a sound footing. It is ironical that a country such as Nigeria which has oil as its main source of revenue is playing politics with the PIB, which is expected to sanitise operations in the sector.
The Senate received 27 bills, including four from the Executive, in its first year and passed only seven. The Lower Chamber received 685 bills but passed only 85, while 30 were referred to committees. It is, however, not the quantity of bills passed that matter, but the value that such bills can add to the lives of Nigerians when they become law.
The matter of the high salaries of NASS members is still a big issue, in spite of the protests of Nigerians on the matter. Despite the calls on NASS to publicly disclose the earnings of its members, the legislators have maintained graveyard silence. In the face of the grim economic realities in the country, they have not deemed it fit to slash their salary and innumerable allowances. Our legislators are reputed to be among the highest paid legislators in the world.
There is no doubt that the legislature is an important arm of government and the NASS should act in the best interest of the country at all times. Its performance is vital to the survival of our democracy, so it should redouble its efforts in making laws that can improve the lives of all Nigerians.