Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Last year, the House of Representatives adopted a 15-point agenda that will serve as a guide in the discharge of its legislative duties in the Ninth Assembly. The Legislative Agenda which the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila described as an ambitious one is expected to drive his reform agenda for the House and the country.
Gbajabiamila, in his inaugural speech, shortly after his emergence as speaker of the Ninth House, on June 11, had promised that the Green chamber under his watch will be a reform assembly, promising, among other things, that it would no longer be business as usual.
According to him,” the 9th Assembly under my leadership is going to be a House of reforms or if you like a reform Assembly. The reforms will be dished out piecemeal and at intervals so as not to shock the system. Moving forward therefore my dear colleagues, it will not be business as usual and we will be shaking the table just a little.
“We will be introducing various reforms that will reposition this institution but please rest assured that they will be for the greater good. On our shoulders lie the responsibility of working together as a House to safeguard the future of our great country. The House must be reformed before the country can be reformed. We simply cannot and must not fail.”
“First among these, is to reform the way the House of Representatives manages its own affairs in every area from the administration of our finances to the operations of the committee system and the process of vote taking and recording in the House. Our goal is accountability and transparency because as we seek to drive reforms across the government, we are obliged to make sure our own House is in the best order.”
The 15-point agenda
The 15-point agenda of the Ninth House includes : Reform of the House, Social justice, Sustainable power , Environment and climate change, Economic growth, development and job creation, Gender equity, Education reform, Anti -corruption, Sustainable Agricultural Development and food security, security, open governance, transparency and accountability, IDPs, Public health, Media for National Development and National Budget reform.
Gbajabiamila, while speaking at the unveiling of the House legislative agenda, noted that it is a product of extensive deliberations and contributions from within and outside the House.
“We have listened to people from all works of life and factored in the concerns of various constituencies, to identify and articulate a set of priorities that if addressed responsibly will change the face of our nation and improve the lives of millions of our people. We have codified in these pages an ambitious agenda that we absolutely intend to achieve,” he stated.
According to the statement of purpose, the Legislative agenda is geared towards opening up the House to the people and undertaking reforms of critical sectors of the economy to grow.
“The activities of this Ninth House of Representatives will be guided by considerations of the best interest of the Nigerian people. We will pursue an active partnership with the Senate and with the executive arm of government to improve our systems of governance, reform our laws, encourage economic growth and create opportunities for our people to thrive.
“We will work to improve citizens understanding of the role of the House of Representatives in the legislative process and build confidence in the ability of government to address their needs. And we will open the activities and conduct of the House of Representatives so that in this 9th assembly we will achieve truly and surely, a legislature that is indeed the peoples’ House”.
“ We have a clear mandate: to make better the lives of our citizens and bring home the long promised benefits of democracy,” it stated.
However, there have been varied opinion as to whether the House can sincerely and effectively push through these agenda or if the legislative agenda addresses the major issues affecting the Nigerian state.
Regardless, a school of thought say the absence of electoral reforms and devolution of power as the key issues in the Legislative Agenda raises questions as to the readiness of the House to push for reforms in the polity.
The chairman, African Democratic Congress (ADC) , Chief Okey Nwosu, told Daily Sun that the Legislative Agenda is a mere playing to the gallery. Nwosu, who accused the House of leaving out critical matters in the Legislative Agenda, said members of the parliament are more inclined in the pursuit of personal interests than the national good.
The ADC chairman noted that if actually the Ninth assembly is sincere about reforms, it should have started with the review of the remuneration of the lawmakers.
“For me, any National Assembly reforms should first start with the budget of the National Assembly. If the National Assembly legislated that the minimum wage of Nigerian workers should be N30,000, then nobody being paid by the government should earn more than ten times the minimum wage in this country. They should start from that, if they are sincere.
“All they do is something that will serve personal interest. They have not been legislating for national interest. When the National Assembly focuses on building the Nigerian nation, the attitude and culture in there will change. But this present National Assembly don’t have the capacity to reinvigorate our democracy. They are just playing the ostrich. They are leaving the critical matters. They don’t even have the capacity to deal with the critical matters,” Nwosu stated.
Similarly, the spokesman of Pan Yoruba group, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin told Daily Sun that the legislative agenda, not withstanding, nothing good will come out of the Ninth House.
Odumakin, said this is because instead of placing premium on key national issues, the lawmakers are more inclined to playing to the gallery. He stated that the major preoccupation of the Ninth House should have been an amendment of the electoral act and a restructuring of the polity to bring the country back to the path of productivity.
According to him, anyone expecting anything concrete from the House’ legislative agenda is wasting his or her time.
“Which agenda? This is a rubber stamp assembly. Anybody looking towards the assembly is just wasting time. Clearly now, anybody that is interested in the future of this country should care about our nationhood. Nigerian politicians are not serious. They are so opportunistic. They don’t place priority on what is right. You can see in other countries, how politicians insist on reforms on values. We are now entrapped in debt. They are borrowing more and more. They are not expanding production capacity.
“If we don’t change constitution and go back to productivity, they are not addressing that. I was watching television a few days ago, I saw a tiny country like Gambia, with 49 secondary schools now talking about artificial intelligence, robotics education in secondary school.. We are not addressing that. We are deploying our youths as thugs; they are snatching ballot boxes. There is nothing there. All those things are just for them to spend their money; that is all,” Odumakin stated.
Regardless, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre ( CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, told Daily Sun that the Legislative Agenda if pursued aggressively would impact positively on the polity.
According to him, “The Legislative Agenda has some progressive aspects like Reforming the National Budget, Education Reform, Health reform, Anti-corruption, Social justice reform, Economic growth, development and job creation as well as Open Governance including more openness and accountability in the National Assembly.
“This to me, all members should key in to ensure that the Legislative Agenda is fully implemented rather than promoting a personal bill that has no value for the people and Nigeria. I will strongly urge the National Assembly to set up a team that will ensure the implementation of this legislative Agenda and totally reform the bad perception some Nigerians have against the National Assembly and its members.”
So far, the House seems to have recorded some measure of success in the reform of the budgetary process, especially as regards returning the country to a January to December budget cycle. The House, alongside the Senate, had passed the 2020 Appropriations Bill on December 5, 2019, some 63 days after it was presented to a joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, beyond that, analysts say the House has not done much in the pursuit of the legislative agenda, especially as regards ensuring compliance with its resolutions. In the exercise of its power of oversight, the parliament, every now and then, comes up with resolutions on issues affecting the electorate. However, most times, Ministries Department and Agencies( MDAs) treat parliamentary resolutions contemptuously, albeit to the chagrin of lawmakers.
Gbajabiamila had stated repeatedly that as part of its reform agenda, the Ninth House will strengthen its oversight functions and insist on compliance with its resolutions.
The speaker, while inaugurating the 105 standing committees of the House, last October, had noted that the Green Chamber will be supporting the committees, especially the Committee on Legislative Compliance, to ensure they effectively deliver on their mandate. The Legislative Compliance Committee is saddled with the task of ensuring compliance with House resolutions.
Regardless, six months after its inauguration, the House is still having difficulty enforcing its resolutions. For instance, the House last year, adopted several motions, , including the directing of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to halt charges by commercial banks on deposits and withdrawal exceeding certain threshold, pending further consultation with stakeholders on the issue.
Similarly, the House directed the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), to suspend the proposed use of the National Identity Number (NIN) in the registration of candidates for its Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), until at least 80 per cent of Nigerians have been enrolled in the National Identity Card scheme.
Both the resolutions on the suspension of bank charges and the suspension of the use of NIN for UTME, like many other motions passed by the House, have not been complied with, thereby raising doubts about the ability of the Green Chamber to enforce its resolutions in furtherance of its oversight functions.