As in other arms of government, the activities of the outgoing 8th National Assembly have been a subject of debate among different concerned groups – the professionals, politicians as well as civil society bodies. Much of this borders on the overall performance of the lawmakers vis-à-vis the outrageous salaries, allowances and other emolument being allegedly paid to them. The present assembly leadership in particular has been the most vilified in recent times for sundry reasons, especially the executive/legislature frosty relationship, abuse of privileges, undue muscle flexing and corrupt allegations.
However, in a bid to disabuse the minds of its critics, the Senate leadership in the penultimate week released the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. This, according to the tweet by the office of the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, is in line with the commitment to transparency and accountability. The 45-page document shows that a total of N139,500,000,000 was budgeted for the National Assembly in the year 2018. Of the total sum, N35,582,085,699 was appropriated for the Senate, while the House of Representatives got N57,425,137,793.
N10,202,095,928 was budgeted for legislative aides, the National Assembly office-N15,389,235,912, while the National Assembly Commission received N2,736,081,266. The National Assembly Legislative Institute had a share of N4,373,813,596, while N1,145,143,254 was appropriated for service-wide vote of the legislature.
Coming at a time when every organ of government is under pressure to give account of its stewardship, many have reacted positively to this disclosure, while some others expressed reservation on the overall performance of the lawmakers.
A former member of the 7th National Assembly, Senator Anthony Adeniyi, while commenting on the performance score card of the outgoing assembly, bemoaned Senator Bukola Saraki-led leadership for the ineptitude demonstrated in the management of the affairs of the Senate.
He said in an interview with Sunday Sun: “Having had the opportunity of being a member of the 7th National Assembly, the performance of the 8th Assembly does not meet the standard we left in the 7thAssembly. The leadership, particularly the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, demonstrated lack of expertise to manage the Senate very well. He personalized the management. It was a matter between him and Dino Melaye. Dino would talk more than 10 times, he would be singing like secondary school student. With due respect to my colleagues who performed excellently well when we were in the 7thAssembly, the outgoing National Assembly is just a caricature of the 7th Assembly. Senator David Mark performed excellently well during the 7th Assembly. He knew how to manage the Senate despite the differences in our party callings. He managed the Senate excellently and purposefully. It wasn’t that there were no infractions during our own time, but David Mark managed them well. Saraki carried infractions with a lot of vendetta and that was why he didn’t do well.”
Adeniyi, however, commended the courage and sincerity of purpose demonstrated by the leadership for disclosing the 2018 Budget of the National Assembly. He said that despite the pressure from the public calling for the release of the actual funds made available to the 7th Assembly, the then leadership refused to disclose the budget.
His words: “I will commend them for being courageous to disclose the amount given to them as budget because it never happened during our time. I think that is commendable for them. We had a lot of pressure from the public in our time too, but our budget was never disclosed. Though they have not done too well, I will commend them for releasing their budget estimate.”
Similarly, a former lawmaker from Ekiti State, Senator Ayo Arise, who served as Chairman, Senate Committee on Privatization, rated the outgoing National Assembly high in terms of the number of bills passed into law.
According to him, available information showed that the current assembly passed more bills than any previous regime. “If the statistics we are getting from them is correct, it appears they have passed more bills than any previous assembly in the recent past. I don’t have the sufficient figures to evaluate their performance, but looking at the number of bills that they have passed and sent to the executive for assent, I think they have been a little bit quite proactive in that area,” he submitted.
He was, however, quick to dismiss the frosty relationship between the executive and the assembly as a colossal disaster.
He said: “In the area of relationship with the executive, it leaves a lot to be desired. That again is a question of how they started in terms of being at loggerheads with the party. Good or bad, I think they have come up with more bills than the previous assembly. But in terms of relationship with the executive, it has been a colossal disaster.”
On the huge amount released as budget for the 2018 lawmaking session, he charged the Auditor-General of the Federation to look into how effective the money has been used for public interest. “It is now left for the Auditor-General of the Federation to look at their account to know whether the funds have been adequately used or they have gone into private pockets,” he declared.
On a balance sheet, the image of the National Assembly has been put to question based on some allegations of corruption and gratification leveled against the lawmakers, especially in the course of their oversight functions. For instance, the Director-General of the NAFDAC, Prof Mojisola Christianah Adeyeye in her recent interview on Channels Television, had accused some lawmakers who came on facility inspection of demanding for gratification, which she claimed, she resisted. Also, recently, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, raised dusts on the issue of oversight function and accused the lawmakers of compromising their integrity by making demand for money while performing their duties.
According to Dr Gbolade Oshinowo, a former Special Assistant (SA) on political matters to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, this attitude leaves much to be desired, adding that MDAs must do everything possible within their powers to check the excesses of the lawmakers.
“What is required for those in the MDAs is to stand their ground as Director-General of NAFDAC did recently. Whenever they found them going above their responsibility, they should resist them. They should stand their ground and shout. One of the core principles of democratic governance is checks and balances. So, they have to check the lawmakers when they want to exceed their powers and bring them to the bar of public opinion,” he said.
He further criticized the lawmakers for allocating huge salaries and allowances to themselves at the expense of other Nigerians. “I think it is generally accepted that the National Assembly is using its position to allocate to itself a disproportionate share of the national common wealth. And I think something should be done about it. I think the executive should be firm in ensuring that they protect the interest of the nation and call the National Assembly to order. A situation where the National Assembly lawmakers are earning N1 million a day is scandalous. Government has to do something about it. If the National Assembly is not willing to take a step to check itself, then it is incumbent on the executive to rationalize it and bring it down,” he fumed.
In spite of the mouth-watering perquisite of office which is being enjoyed by the lawmakers, Oshinowo also expressed disappointment that the National Assembly did not do well in addressing the issues of burning concern to Nigerians such as restructuring.
“I think they tried, but my own disappointment lies in the fact that they failed to address issues that are of burning concern to Nigerians like the issue of restructuring. It is a matter that they could have taken up as representatives of the people. At least, they would have given voice to the desire of the people about restructuring and composition of Nigeria. I think they should be closer to the people and give effect to what concerns the people. What they are basically doing now is about budget, elections and so on. Yes, that is part of their job, but they should also be more representative in their approach,” he posited.
While the performance score-card of the current assembly has been fairly adjudged, depending on individuals perspectives, the incoming National Assembly has been equally advised to learn from the experience and avoid the pitfalls of the past.