As Members of the Green Chamber resume from their annual recess, Nigerians are laden with expectations from the lawmakers, especially in light of the State of the Nation.
In this Legislative Intelligence Forecast Entry (LIFE) Service, OrderPaper’s Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq and Lizzy Chirkpi, in fulfilling OrderPaper’s mandate to bridge the gap between people and parliament, outline an agenda for the Tenth House of Representatives. The agenda is focused on seven priority areas and a word of advice for the Assembly.
As the Nigerian House of Representatives resumes from its annual recess this Tuesday, September 26, 2023, to round up its first legislative year in the 10th National Assembly, we highlight twelve key issues that should be top priority for the lawmakers.
Top on the list of things is the legislative agenda, insecurity, and budget presentation, among others.
1. Legislative agenda
The final legislative draft agenda developed by the Rep. Julius Inhonvbere-led Ad-hoc Committee is expected to be turned in for consideration and adoption by the House.
It is worthy of note that the draft agenda was developed following extensive consultations with critical stakeholders, including citizens, and as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Tajudeen Abbas, noted at a consultative forum on the agenda, the desire is for it to meet the yearnings and aspirations of citizens.
“Our desire is to have a legislative agenda that meets the yearnings and aspirations of citizens and with which they would use as a benchmark to evaluate and assess our performance after four years. Therefore, today’s meeting should not be seen as the usual talk-shop. Consider it a critical national assignment,” he noted.
Additionally, at a recent meeting with OrderPaper and other Development Partners, Speaker Abbas described the legislative agenda of the 10th House as the barometer to monitor and evaluate its engagement with Nigerians. He thus expressed the expectations of the House that the Development Partners will, as usual, play a critical role in the successful implementation of the Agenda.
One can tell without any shadow of doubt that citizens and, indeed, their constituents will expect that this Legislative Agenda will indeed be taken seriously (especially from a non-partisan perspective) by the lawmakers and truly be a guiding principle for the lawmakers and avoid distractions that are certain to come along the way.
It will be interesting to see how the Speaker handles the proposal for the creation of a ‘Programme Coordinating Unit (PMU)’ in his office to be supervised by the Special Adviser on Policy and Strategy. According to him, the purpose of the Unit is to ensure all partnership programmes of the House are properly documented and utilised to bring about the desired change while ensuring that all Committees and Departments of the House receive necessary and equal attention.
This is particularly important because a good number of the current crop of lawmakers made very little attempt to articulate plans for their constituents in the form of manifestoes.
The devastating state of insecurity bedevilling the nation is one issue that should top the agenda of the Green Chamber upon resumption.
Speaker of the House of Representatives at a recent interactive session. with stakeholders expressed concerns over the protracted clashes between farmers/herders, which have led to wanton loss of several lives and destruction of properties in the country. According to Abbas, “over 60,000 people have been killed since 2001, it ought not to be so.”
From the North West, where banditry is at a high, to the South East, where the “unknown gunmen” are still on a rampage, and indeed, all parts of the country where abductions and criminals continue to make it difficult for Nigerians to go about their daily living in peace, the wave of insecurity has to be brought to a halt.
While it is commendable that the Speaker is concerned about these developments, it is expected that the House will make bold efforts to ensure that the country’s security agencies bring the devastating situation to a halt. Beyond motions that will be sponsored by members of the House and attendant resolutions, the House must take oversight of the various security agencies more seriously than ever to ensure whatever investments the government has made in the sector must be properly utilised and accounted for.
A monthly briefing by the Security Chiefs to parliament on measures and challenges in overturning the devastating situation to relative calm should also be a bare minimum in the House’s approach, ahead of key constitutional amendments that should usher in multi-level policing across the country.
3. State of the Economy
To describe the Nigerian economy as being in dire straits would in no way be an overstatement, especially with the country’s alarming debt profile and the free fall of the naira. Importantly, the country’s dwindling revenues and alleged mismanagement of petroleum subsidies forced the government to put a formal end to the regime with the promise of palliatives to citizens.
However, Nigerians have continued to bear the negative effect of this policy as the palliatives by both the federal and state governments are either nowhere available or grossly ineffective in tackling the biting hardship. Importantly, the National Assembly in early July 2023, expeditiously approved a palliative worth N500 billion, as well as an $800 million loan World Bank loan as requested by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to cushion the effect of petrol subsidy removal.
Nigerians would expect that this will be expended as investments in key sectors like transportation and agriculture. At the same time, legislative-executive shuttles with respect to drumming up the importance of getting its implementation right would be embarked upon. Most importantly, Section 88 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) empowers the National Assembly to conduct investigations into the activities of any authority executing or administering laws made by the National Assembly. In this light, effective oversight by relevant Adhoc/Standing Committees of the House over these expenditures must be taken as an utmost priority.
OrderPaper observed that a number of lawmakers in the course of the recess made contributions to ameliorating the situation by facilitating the distribution of foodstuff and other essentials to sections of their constituencies. Indeed, as the lawmakers have done, all stakeholders in the Nigerian project must be hands-on to see that Nigerians survive these difficult times, especially when the connection between unmet basic needs for millions of people and crime is considered.
One message that mustn’t be lost on the Green Chamber, which prides itself as the “People’s Chamber,” is the fact that the situation as currently experienced demands more than handouts. The House must begin its approach by getting involved in the dialogue between Organised Labour and the Federal Government with a view to ensuring that the demands of the working class are considerably met in order to avert a shutdown of the fragile economy as has been threatened by the hapless workers.
On the part of Organised Labour, the federal government has had more than enough time to resolve the dispute and address the concerns of the labour movement but chose not to do so.
4. Legislative Oversight
To the credit of the House of Representatives, following dozens of resolutions from the various motions raised during the various plenary sessions, most of its members were involved in oversight duties through the various Ad hoc Committees.
The monies of numerous taxpayers are involved in the running of these Committees. Nigerians will be interested in learning of the success achieved with these probes and public hearings. This is especially true if the outcome of such exercises in previous Assemblies is anything to go by.
On July 19, the House resolved to summon the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari, alongside independent petroleum marketers over a petrol pump price increase from N537 to N617 per litre following a motion by Rep. Ikenga Ugochinyere (PDP, Imo) during plenary.
Consequently, the House set up an Ad hoc committee to investigate circumstances leading to the price increase by the NNPC and the marketers, as well as the proposed palliative measures to be taken to ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians during one of its plenary sessions. However, nothing has been heard from that Committee thereafter, and it is more important that the lawmakers revisit the issue to give clarity.
Similarly, the House set up an ad hoc committee to investigate Crude Oil Theft and Loss of Revenue from Gas chaired by Rep. Kabiru Alhassan Rurum (NNPP, Kano). According to the Committee Chairman, its mandate includes exposing any person or groups of persons behind the theft of oil in the country. Nigerians will be expecting the Panel to walk the talk, especially as it noted that oil remains the major source of revenue for the country while lamenting that the problem of oil theft has continued to go from bad to worse daily.
In another vein, two months after the Rep. Yusuf Adamu Gagdi-led Ad-hoc Committee set up to investigate the alleged mismanagement of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) commenced work, it has been plagued with nothing short of controversies. Its work had been a series of engagements, allegations, counter-allegations, and appalling revelations..Nigerians would want to know not just the outcome of their findings and the way forward due to the revelations from the Committee but the true position of things based on the allegations levelled against it.
Equally, the hike in tuition fees in various tertiary institutions across the country makes the report of the Rep. Terseer Ubor-led Ad-hoc Committee on Students Loans and Access to Higher Education and the response of the House imperative. Due to the expediency in the implementation of the Students Loans Act, Nigerian Students will be eager to see all the bottlenecks associated with the legislation resolved.
5. Creation of Additional Standing Committees
During the recess, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Tajudeen Abbas, announced the creation of additional Standing Committees for the House, which he said would boost efficiency in oversight functions and deepen citizens’ engagement.
The three additional Standing Committees created are Committees on State and Local Government, Traditional Institutions and Petroleum Resources (Training Funds), as announced by the Speaker during an interactive meeting with development partners, bringing the House Standing Committees to 137.
Aside from the financial implications of their operations, Nigerians are worried about the efficiency of these Committees. As observed by the Speaker himself, some partners have, over the years, engaged different committees without a coordinated approach while promising that the 10th House will ensure proper coordination of such engagement and support. Most specifically, all eyes will be on the House Committee on Monitoring and Evaluation of the Implementation of the Legislative Agenda as well as the Committee on Monitoring and Evaluation of the Standing Committees to ensure that there is efficiency and accountability in the business of the House.
6. The 2024 Appropriation Bill
As President Bola Tinubu prepares to present to the National Assembly the 2024 budget between October and the first week of November in order to meet up with the January to December budget cycle, Nigerians will be expecting a significant departure from the past.
The days of allegations and counter allegations of budget padding and insertion of unrealistic projects by lawmakers that make the implementation of the annual budget a herculean task must be seen to have gone with the past. Additionally, budgets must move beyond being mere rituals to actual plans of action. Hence, tracking the implementation of the previous year’s budget must be an important priority with a view to ensuring that funds are properly utilised and ongoing projects, especially those near completion, are accorded priority.
Importantly, the allocation for Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIPs), popularly known as Constituency Projects, must be done in a way that it constitutes no form of hindrance to the implementation of crucial projects, especially with the country’s difficult financial position.
Plenary sessions in the first half of the Tenth Assembly’s first legislative year were largely characterised by the sponsorship of as many as 175 motions. According to the House Spokesman, “the 10th Assembly has been very prolific, and in about 100 days since inauguration, has recorded a total of 470 bills passed first reading, and four passed second reading.”
It is expected that lawmakers will make frantic efforts to prioritise the enactment and amendment of important pieces of legislation through these bills at the first reading. As has been experienced in the past, where bills were dumped and left to stagnate at the stages of first and second reading, that pattern must be effectively consigned to the dustbin of history. There must be room for lawmakers in the current Assembly to pick some of those bills and rework them to solve our burning challenges.
A couple of areas of national life are begging for attention, and this must include the Constitution to enable broader participation and inclusion, especially of women, youths and People with disabilities. The desire of Nigerians is that a proper people-centred approach will be deployed in this regard. At the same time, the process is conducted way before the next general election cycle, where it can be frustrated by the President, as we’ve seen in the recent past.
Equally, the Electoral Act needs an urgent review at the end of litigations arising from the 2023 General Election, especially if the complaints and dissatisfaction with conflicting judgements emanating from the Tribunals and Courts are taken seriously.
Citizens would also expect important actions through the legislature towards ensuring that the country is more secure while the famous Oronsaye Report is implemented with a view to pruning the huge number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in particular.
With a good number of lawmakers still distracted by the litigations against them in Court, it is given that the zeal to pursue legislative business might be affected. It is the general expectation among Nigerians that the Tenth House of Representatives, having spent as much as a hundred days in their seats, citizens would begin to feel the impact of having federal representatives in the areas of lawmaking, oversight and representation.
This expectation is accompanied by the larger need for these duties to be done with adequate attention to transparency, public accountability and civic participation. In this light, the National Assembly will need to collaborate with development partners and Technical Support Organisations towards the successful implementation of its Legislative Agenda and ensure Nigeria improves its rating in the Open Parliament Index (OPI) from 4th in the West African sub-region to the first position.