From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
What is the worth of the resolution of the House of Representatives? Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowers the National Assembly to hold the executive arm of government accountable. In the exercise of this function, the parliament resorts to motions, through which it subjects government actions to scrutiny, and often call for probes.
Since its inception in June, 2019, the ninth House has passed no fewer than 1000 motions, calling for government intervention in critical sectors of the country. Prominent among the resolutions is one demanding a 2-month waiver on electricity tariff for Nigerians as COVID- 19 palliative, as well as about 100 motions, centered on the deplorable security situation in the country.
Also, arising from the resolutions, the House has mandated many of its committees to undertake several probes on critical sectors in the country. The pertinent question, however, is how far has the House gone in ensuring compliance with the resolutions?
The speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, at the inception of the ninth House, had vowed that the Green chamber will make compliance to its resolutions a priority. He had warned that there would be dire consequences for anyone, who ignores the summon of the House.
According to him, “there is a perennial problem the 9th House is going to confront and deal with very seriously, and it is something that I’m going to discuss with the President as well.
“For me, there is a problem where the National Assembly summons members of the executive as the constitution provides for oversight and they don’t show up, it doesn’t benefit the system.
“But this National Assembly in its reform agenda is going to use every power to make it a thing of the past. If the 9th National Assembly summons anybody, the person must honour it or the consequences will not be pleasant.”
Pundits say, for the ninth House, it has been plenty talks and little action. From the promises of Gbajabiamila, to ensure compliance to the deluge of motions passed by the House, and riot acts by chairmen of standing committees, it has been all motion and no movement.
Nevertheless, the chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu told Daily Sun that parliament is helpless as it concerns the implementation of its resolutions, as that falls within the purview of the Executive arm of government. Kalu noted that tasking the House on the implementation of its resolutions will be akin to asking it to go against the doctrine of separation of power.
“When we move motions, the motions are moved so that the executive will act in the spirit of separation of power. We will do our part and they will do their part. You don’t expect us to cross the line and enter into the perimeter of their own operation.
“So, therefore, what you are just asking is to go against the constitution, which had given us the limit of operation,” the House spokesman stated.
He added: “we will keep churning out motions, whether or not the executive acts on them; it is up to them. But we will not be found wanting. We will keep doing our part. But we are going to deploy certain instruments that will make compliance to be better than it has been.”
Torn between legislative independence and party loyalty
Nevertheless, analysts say the challenge is not only lack of compliance from the executive arm, as there are several instances where the House sabotages its own resolutions.
The major dilemma of the ninth House leadership, in pushing for compliance with its resolutions has been how to strike a balance between the independence of the legislature and loyalty to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Critics accuse the House of “willingly” abandoning its resolutions and oversight functions when they affect the interest of the ruling party or the Presidency.
August 18, the House aborted an investigation by its Committee on Aids, Treaties and Protocols into loans obtained from China by the Federal Government.
The House had on May 12, 2020 adopted a motion mandating the Committee “to examine all extant China/Nigeria loan agreements since 2000 with a view to ascertaining their viability, regularising and renegotiating them.”
The committee chaired by Ossai Nicholas Ossai caused a stir after it raised the alarm that some of the loan agreements signed by the government allegedly constituted threats to the sovereignty of the country.
Ossai, had pointed out that the loan agreement on Nigeria National Information and communication technology infrastructure backbone Phase II project between the government and the Export-Import Bank of China dated September 5, 2018, allegedly puts the country in jeopardy in the event of a default.
According to him, Article 8(1) of the agreement states that “ the borrower hereby irrevocably waives any immunity on the grounds of sovereign or otherwise for itself or its property in connection with any arbitration proceeding pursuant to Article 8(5), thereof with the enforcement of any arbitral award pursuant thereto, except for the military assets and diplomatic assets”.
However, midway into the probe, the House through a statement by the House leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa directed the panel to suspend the exercise. According to the House leaders, committees should not be working during the House vacation.
The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, had described the suspension of the House probes as “ a deliberate design to cover the stench of corruption oozing out of the APC administration”.
Ologbondiyan said: “it is clear that the shutdown directive is targeted at frustrating revelations from ongoing investigations on the $500 million foreign loan from China, particularly as it relates to the mortgaging of our nation’s sovereignty to China…”
The chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu , later said the probe will continue at the resumption of the House from its 2020 vacation, last September. However, the probe panel is yet to resume the inquest almost more than one year after.
For instance, after the slaughter of 43 farmers by insurgents in Borno State, in 2020, the House had invited President Buhari to appear before it to brief lawmakers on government efforts to tackle growing insecurity in the country.
However, despite assurances that President Buhari will honour the invitation on December 10, the President failed to show up. Ironically, there was also no official communication to the House on the change of plan.
Irked by the development, opposition lawmakers on the next legislative day, demanded for an explanation from Gbajabiamila. Solomon Bob, a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), speaking under Order 6 of the House standing rules, had taken Gbajabiamila to task over the failure of President to honour the invitation of the House.
Bob said:”This House can pass a resolution and we have a situation where such a resolution is abused; it means our very existence is being questioned. I think that the speaker should address us on the current situation. The entire country is watching. It bothers me.”
However, Gbajabiamila, in his response, merely said: “Honourable, your point of privilege is well noted. We wait for official communications from Mr. President as opposed to newspaper publications”. Eight months after, no official explanation has been given.
Leader of the PDP caucus in the House, Kingsley Chinda, in the aftermath of the failure of President Buhari, to appear before Green chamber, had described what exists between the executive and the parliament as that of a master/ servant relationship.
Chinda, in a statement had noted: “we are witnesses to the master/servant relationship between both arms of government festered by the almost imposition of the leadership of both chambers by the same APC government.”
Recently, there was a drama on the floor of the House, as APC and PDP lawmakers bickered over a motion calling for a review of the executive order banning on ownership and issuance of new licenses for firearms.
The sponsor of the motion, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta had sought for the leave of the House to have the motion rescheduled. According to the lawmaker, he was not comfortable by comments made by Ado-Doguwa on the motion.
The House leader, while addressing the parliament on the issue said: “I am also the ambassador of the government on the floor of the House and I believe that the decision of the government through which President Muhammed Buhari to ban that is well informed.
“That is my position. Abonta you have the liberty to bring your motion now to be killed or to delay the killing of your motion.”
At the end of the tension-soaked debate, Abonta stepped down the motion for the next legislative day, subsequent to the convenience of the House. Six months after, the motion is yet to be rescheduled for consideration.
Pundits say these incidents reinforce the public perception of the House as a “rubber stamp” assembly, beholden to the executive arm of government.
Nevertheless, Kalu, who has consistently said the House will disappoint those tagging it “rubber stamp assembly,” said it is wrong for anyone to accuse the parliament of shying away from issues involving the president.
According to him, “most of the things we are doing have to do with the Presidency. Everything we are doing has to do with the Presidency, the executive arm of government. Based on that, it will be wrong for one to say that anything that involves the Presidency we will avoid it.”
Analysts say perhaps in the days ahead, the ninth House will be able to walk the talk, especially in holding the executive arm of government accountable. But for now, it is still business as usual.