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Two Years After, Gbajabiamila-led House Of Representatives Yet To Live Up To Promises

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June 11 marked the halfway line in the journey of the ninth assembly of the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila.

PREMIUM TIMES examines the performance of the Green Chamber so far, juxtaposed with its legislative agenda. The House had introduced the legislative agenda shortly after its inauguration, detailing what the lawmakers planned to focus their legislative resources on.

The areas of focus of the agenda include security, education, health, budget reform, economy and job creation, media, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) etc.

The emergence of Mr Gbajabiamila had given the All Progressives Congress (APC) a firm control of the House which had become notorious for rebellion as far as leadership elections are concerned. In 2011, the House rebelled against the anointment of Mulikat Akande by the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); instead, picking Aminu Tambuwal of the same party.

In 2015, Mr Gbajabiamila was the victim of that rebellion when members opted for Yakubu Dogara.

The APC later described Bukola Saraki and Mr Dogara as “cogs in the wheel of progress” in the first administration of President Muhamadu Buhari after the duo emerged as Senate President and Speaker respectively without the party’s endorsement.

Aside from taking control in the ninth House, Mr Gbajabiamila also orchestrated the emergence of the minority leadership. During the tussle between Kingsley Chinda and Ndudi Elumelu, the Speaker sided with Mr Elumelu and even rewarded PDP lawmakers who supported him with the chairs of important committees.

Several legislations had suffered in the previous assembly due to the inability of the executive and the legislature to work together.

The Electoral Bill, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and others passed by the National Assembly were rejected by the president for different reasons, while executive bills like the water resources bill, Petroleum Sharing Contract (PSC) and others languished in the legislature until that assembly adjourned sine die.

So how has the ninth House performed?

A rubber stamp?

The ninth assembly has been tagged a rubber stamp in the hand of the Executive for its speedy approval of executive requests, particularly loans.

Mr Gbajabiamila once responded to the rubber stamp tag thus: “The people of Surulere Federal Constituency 1 did not elect me to go and be fighting the executive. Is that what you asked me to go and do?”

Management of COVID-19

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the House and the Senate shut down while other parliaments around the world were working on stimulus packages for their citizens.

With the use of technology, parliaments around the world continued to carry out legislative activities.

But Tope Fasua, an economist, said it will be unfair to blame the Nigerian lawmakers for shutting down the parliament at the outbreak of the pandemic.

“You cannot ask the National Assembly to be around when there is fear in the country. In truth, everybody now has an excuse that COVID-19 disrupted everything they have planned,” Mr Fasua said.

The House later passed a stimulus bill, which among other things proposed free three months of electricity for Nigerians and a moratorium on debts and mortgage. However, the Senate did not concur with the bill before the National Assembly shut down in March 2020.

An attempt by the House to amend the Quarantine Act was marred by the controversy of plagiarism. A review of the draft legislation showed that it was lifted from Singapore with very few changes.

Budget reforms

To reform the budget, the House identified six things: process review and reform, budget monitoring and evaluation, delineation of responsibilities, executive compliance, budget cycle, and reform of the MTEF.

The House, in collaboration with the Senate and the Executive, returned the budget cycle to the January-December calendar to ensure predictability. This was against the backdrop of the late passage of budgets that had plagued the Fourth Republic since 1999. For instance, the 2018 budget was signed in June 2018, almost six months into the budget year.

Passage of budget in the previous assembly was a herculean task due to the inability of the two arms of government to work together.

Oftentimes, the budget was sent to the parliament very late and committees of the National Assembly constantly fought with the representatives of ministries, departments and agencies over items in the proposals.

However, following the change of the cycle, the last two budgets were passed before December 31. Aside from the prompt passage of the budgets, the finance bill has been reviewed twice now, in 2020 and 2021.

While some progress has been made with time, more concerns remain in the area of implementation of the budget.

No visible changes have been noticed in executive compliance with the budget. The ongoing investigation into recovered loot revealed that the executive has been spending from the recovered sums in violation of the 1999 Constitution and the Appropriation Act.

Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of Finance and National Planning, admitted that the government has been dipping hands into the recovered loot.

Security

The House, according to the legislative agenda, planned to use six legislative interventions to address the security situation.

In its attempt to reform the Nigeria Police Force, the House passed the Police Bill and the Police Trust Fund Bill, both of which the president has signed into law.

The Police Bill is the first comprehensive review of the Police Act of 1943, which was repealed and re-enacted. Despite the passage of the bill, however, the relationship between the police and the people remains hostile.

For instance, Section 54 of the Act provides that a person’s attributes, including his colour, age, hairstyle or manner of dressing, shall not be grounds for reasonable suspicion. There is also a section that prohibits wrongful profiling of people.

Unfortunately, wrongful profiling continued until the EndSARS protest of last October forced the government to take drastic measures. Even after the EndSARS protest, stereotyping remains a recurring issue.

The Police Trust Fund provides funding for the police outside the normal annual budget. The Act introduces a 0.005 per cent levy on the net profit of companies to fund the training and equipping of the police.

The Act also provides a legal framework for the management and control of the Police Trust Fund.

The fund, which is an intervention fund of six years unless extended further by an act of the National Assembly, also mandates 0.5 per cent of total revenue accruing to the federation account, and 0.5 of Value Added Tax to the fund.

Despite all these, the country is still plagued by general insurgency in the North-east, banditry in North-west and North-central, while a secessionist movement in the South-east is turning the region into a war zone.

The House in 2020 had summoned President Buhari, but the lawmakers cowered after the president shunned the invitation despite initially saying he would honour it.

In a nutshell, the approach of the House has been to raise motions, engage in long debate and issue resolutions that have not yielded much.

Last week, Rotimi Agunsoye (APC, Lagos), while debating a motion on the Igangan killings in Oyo State, said “We have failed woefully” in their interventions over the security challenges.

Anticorruption

On anti-corruption, the House said it would work with the Nigerian Bar Association, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and others to design an omnibus law against corruption and racketeering in public service. This and many others have not been done.

The lawmakers also promised to set up an anti-corruption court, to try corruption cases expeditiously. This too has not been done. And the use of oversight and investigative hearings to check corruption has not been effective.

For instance, no one has been prosecuted after the expose from the infamous Niger Delta Development Commission probe. The House Committee on Public Account is yet to publish its report, two years into the life of the 9th House.

At the same time, House committees are complaining of poor funding, which has resulted in many abandoning investigations.

Economy

To achieve economic growth, development and job creation, the lawmakers proposed eight legislative actions in their agenda.

To shore up dwindling revenue to the federal government, the House passed the Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract bill in 2019. The bill, according to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, has the capacity to add $1.5 billion annually to the coffers of the federation.

The Principal Act was enacted in 1993 to provide incentives for investors operating in deep-offshore oil production. The legislation guides the revenue sharing contract between the government and the Joint ventures.

The Act provides that investors operating in the 1001 metres and above are to pay zero royalty to the government. However, the royalty rate was to be reviewed when the price of crude oil exceeds $20 per barrel.

Section 4 of the Principal Act read thus: ”The royalty rates shall be based on increase that exceeds $20 per barrel, and shall be determined separately for crude oil and condensates as follows: From $0 and up to $20 per barrel – 0 per cent; above $20 and up to $60 per barrel – 2.5 per cent; above $60 and up to $100 per barrel – four per cent; above $100 and up to $150 per barrel – eight per cent.”

However, no review was done, even when the price of oil exceeded $100 per barrel.

Investors operating in other depths are as follows: 1000meters to 801 are to pay 4% as royalty, 800 to 501 are to pay 8% and 500 to 201 are to pay 12% as royalty. The law had a caveat that when the price of crude oil exceeds $20 per barrel, the government will review the contract. However, no review was done, even when the price of oil exceeded $100 per barrel.

Waziri Adio, the former Executive Secretary of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), had said the country lost between $16 billion and $28.61 billion due to non-review of the contract.

On the Petroleum Industry Bill, the ad hoc committee of the House concluded its public hearing in January. However, the House is yet to conclude the legislative process on the bill.

Mr Gbajabiamila had said the bill would be passed by April, but this did not happen.

Despite all these, deficit spending continues to rise under the present administration. PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the government is planning to sell some asset to fund the deficit.

The government has also been taking external loans to fund the deficit. Coupled with 33 per cent unemployment and 18 per cent inflation, it is clear that the ninth House has not made much impact on the economy.

Other economic related legislation passed by the House include the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act and the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) that intend to improve the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

Media and free speech

On June 8, 2021, the House failed to take a decisive stand on the decision by the federal government to suspend the activities of Twitter in Nigeria. The controversial decision of the government divided the House along party affiliations.

The Speaker had set up a committee with a mandate to invite the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed. However, his decision to give the committee 10 days to investigate the matter irked some members of the opposition, who after a mild protest on the floor of the House, staged a walkout.

Political and governance reforms

Despite the fact the committee on electoral matters already presented a report on the electoral bill, following a public hearing, the lawmakers are yet to schedule the bill for consideration by the committee of the whole during plenary.

With electioneering activities set to resume next year, the bill is at risk of again coming too late. The last time the president rejected the bill, his reason was that it was too close to the election.

Legislative diplomacy

“There’s something in modern-day parlance called legislative diplomacy or parliamentary diplomacy, and that’s what obtains all over the world today,” Mr Gbajabiamila said during one of his attempts to resolve the rift between the Ghanaian government and the Nigerian business community in Ghana.

The same doctrine has been used in other interventions in disputes such as between government and resident doctors, judiciary workers, Academic Staff Union of Universities and others.

However, this approach has yielded mixed outcomes.

To celebrate their second anniversary, on Friday, the lawmakers held a valedictory session at Transcorp Hilton in Abuja. But the jury is still out on their performance compared with the promises they made in their legislative agenda.

Credit: PREMIUM TIMES

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