OrderPaperToday – Each year comes with it ups and downs, lows and highs, good and bad; and in the House of Representatives under the leadership of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, the case is not different.
The House recorded some achievements as well as setbacks that define it in the year 2021. For instance, the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Climate Change Bill, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which was denied assent by President Muhammadu Buhari, and the 2022 Appropriation Bill could be considered as achievements for the 9th House in 2021. On the flip side, lack of substantial progress in the constitution review exercise, embarrassing rows as well as notable gaps in the performance of oversight functions are some of the downsides that defined the House in 2021.
Key bills passed…
PIB: Precisely on 16th of August 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the much anticipated Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) 2021. The law reforms the governance, administrative, fiscal framework and host community aspects of the petroleum industry. The House of Representatives had passed the bill a month after hoopla over host community funding. Although the Reps pegged the fund at 5% the senate version of 3% eventually prevailed during harmonization by both chambers. President Buhari had on September 29, 2020, transmitted the PIB to the National Assembly after he had declined assent to a portion of the ominous bill passed by the 8th National Assembly. Describing the feat, Speaker Gbajabiamila had said that Nigeria’s oil and gas industry would receive a breath of fresh air and allow investments and transparency to flourish with the coming into being of the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021. He praised the determination of the 9th Assembly that saw the Act become a success, saying: “As I said before, this is a landmark achievement. It has been 20 years in coming. This 9th Assembly will be recorded on the right side of history for this big score.”
Electoral bill: The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill is another landmark legislation passed by the House and Senate, although a denial of assent by the President has detracted from that achievement. Buhari declined assent based on his reservations on the compulsory use of direct primaries as the mode of choosing political party candidates. But there are other positive values of the bill, including empowering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decide the suitability of electronic transmission of election results.
Climate change bill: İn November 2021, the President assented to the Climate Change Bill, which is sponsored by a member of the House of Representatives, Sam Onuigbo. The law provides for, among other things, the mainstreaming of climate change actions and the establishment of a National Council on Climate Change. It also paves way for environmental and economic accounting and a push for a net zero emission deadline plans in the country. It was passed by the House in July and concurred by the Senate in October, 2021. The Climate Change bill can be traced to the 8th assembly under former Speaker, Yakubu Dogara. İn March, 2019, President Buhari sent a communication to the Senate declining assent to Climate Change bill as then passed saying the scope and guiding principle of the bill replicates the function of the federal ministry of environment. However, the bill was reintroduced when the House adopted a motion for the reconsideration of outstanding bills from the preceding assembly, pursuant to Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House.
2022 budget: President Buhari had on the 7th October 2021 presented the 2022 Appropriation Bill with an aggregate expenditure of N16.39 trillion to a joint session of the National Assembly. While addressing the lawmakers, the President described the 2022 Appropriation as Budget of Economic Growth and Sustainability. The House however passed the sum of N17.126 trillion as the 2022 Appropriation Bill, containing an increase of N735 billion over the N16.39 trillion submitted by the President. This caused him to express strong reservations on the ‘‘worrisome changes’’ made by the National Assembly after he signed the documents on Friday, 31 December 2021 in the Presidential Villa.
Doctors’ strike: The House made some interventions in the polity that helped to douse tensions and save the nation some interruptions to service delivery. For example, the House intervened in a planned strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which is the umbrella body of all resident doctors in health institutions in the country. According to NARD, the intended strike was suspended as a result of goodwill gesture by the Speaker who made efforts to address its demands. In a statement jointly signed by the President, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi; Secretary-General, Jerry Isogun; and Social secretary, Dotun Oshikoya, of the association, the group commended the Speaker for his interest in the group and decided to delay its strike for three weeks.
Twitter ban: The House also waded into the Twitter ban brouhaha and the matter was investigated by a joint committee. However, it is not clear if the impact of that intervention led to the lifting of the suspension of the micro-blogging service by the federal government of Nigeria.
ASUU strike: The House also intervened in a threatened strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Precisely on the 18 November 2021, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila held a meeting with the union to broker a truce with the federal government. The lecturers decided to shelve the planned strike. The suspended industrial action was as a result of failure of the federal government to implement some part of the agreement entered into by the two parties.
Security summit: The House held a National Security Summit which had in attendance representative of the President, all Security Chiefs, High Class Traditional rulers and other stakeholders in a bid to tackle the devastating insecurity challenges bedeviling the nation. According to the Speaker, the summit became imperative after lawmakers were bombarded daily by their constituents on the security challenges facing the country, “and motions after motions were moved by the lawmakers.” A report of the deliberation was sent to the President for further necessary action.
Daily row over PIB, Electoral Bill…
There were several negative events that occurred in 2021 that (almost) brought the House to disrepute. For instance, the crisis that erupted during consideration and passage of the PİB; and the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill are examples.
Day one: On the 16th of July 2021, the House was forced to adjourn plenary abruptly as commotion ensued amongst members in the chamber during consideration of reports on two controversial bills – PIB and Electoral act (amendment) bill. Signs of a crisis-filled day were seen before the commencement of plenary as some members were heard murmuring loudly over the reduction in the proposed host community fund in the PIB from 5 per cent to 3 per cent. The built-up tension led Speaker Gbajabiamila to call for a closed door session. But the real drama unfolded during consideration of the electoral bill report by the committee of the whole presided over the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase. Fierce disagreements arose over clause 52 regarding the powers of INEC to determine electronic transmission of election results. Alleged wrong ruling by Wase sparked off a prolonged row as lawmakers across different divides took to the floor to protest the ruling as some were seen approaching the mace, prompting Sergeant-At-Arms officials in the chamber to move to protect the symbol of parliamentary authority. Alleged misjudgment of voice votes by Wase on amendments moved by members created further rowdiness in the chamber which lasted for well over an hour. At the end of the day, the House resolved to invite the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) and the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to brief it on the possibility and applicability of the electronic transmission of results across the country.
Day two: The House of Representatives convened the next day, July 17th to continue from where it stopped. As expected, the chamber admitted a team from the NCC who said only 50.3 percent of polling units in the country was covered by 2G and 3G network. INEC did not show up and no reason was given. A row broke out again when Mr. Wase resumed consideration of the electoral bill report and skipped the contentious clause, a move that did not go down well with some opposition members. This led to a serious disruption of proceedings as members could be seen quarreling along partisan and regional lines. Things got worse and the minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu, led some opposition members out of the chamber.
Wase, Gbillah spar over diaspora petition…
Another commotion that defined the House in 2021 involved the deputy speaker and a member from Benue State, Mr. Mark Gbillah. This was precisely on 11th March. Mr. Gbillah, lawmaker representing Benue Gwer east/Gwer west federal constituency, had presented a petition authored by a diaspora group which accused the federal government of not resettling the Tiv people displaced from their ancestral land through various attacks. However, as he read the petition, the deputy speaker cut him short on the ground that the petitioners were based outside of the country. Wase’s ruling had generated widespread criticisms with many accusing him of disregarding the plight of the displaced persons.
The Pantami debacle…
In April 2021, the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, raised a point of order on privilege wherein he prayed the House to resolve that the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Ali Isa Pantami, be asked to resign or be sacked given his sympathetic views on Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda terrorist organizations just before his emergence as Minister. Elumelu who raised a matter of privilege expressed grave concern over the public outcry on the Minister’s support for terrorist groups before his appointment into President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet. Worried by the development, the lawmaker specifically demanded the minister’s resignation or sack. But the speaker in his ruling, observed that he could not see nor understand how the matter breached Elumelu’s privilege as a member of the House, noting that praying the House to pass a resolution on it was a procedural error on his part. He stated that if the Minority Leader was looking for a debate and resolution, he should have come via a motion either on notice or urgent public importance for debate to hold. At the end of the day, the matter did not sail further in plenary but moved over to the court of public opinion where criticisms trailed the Speaker’s ruling.
Malami, southern governors & open grazing…
On May 20 2021, Mr. Wase was at the centre of another controversy. He shut down a motion to debate comments credited to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami on open grazing. It will be recalled that the Southern Governors had in one of the resolutions after a meeting in Asaba, Delta State capital banned open grazing in the region. This triggered Malami to take a swipe at the Southern Governors, saying that they lacked the constitutional powers to make such declaration. In an attempt to get the House to call the Minister to order, the member representing Abua/Odual and Ahoada East Federal Constituency of Rivers State, Solomon Bob (PDP), raised a point of order of privilege to bring the attention of the House to the comment which he said was capable of fueling crisis in the country. Bob had in his presentation described Malami’s comment on the ban as “disingenuous, irresponsible and loaded with incendiary trope and ethnic slur,” demanding the parliament to call Malami to order. Again, the deputy speaker stopped him midway on the ground that he was going outside of the order which he relied upon. “The order which you are bringing this matter is wrong. It’s either you bring it as a full motion to be debated, but coming under matters of privilege is wrong so take your seat,” Wase ruled.