As part of its activities to celebrate its second anniversary, the ninth assembly of the Senate held a special plenary session on July 9.
The session, which lasted for hours, was dominated by songs of praises with lawmakers taking turns to pat themselves on the back for a ‘job well done.’
Although a few picked holes in the workings of the Senate and suggested ways to do better, the majority of the senators who spoke said they have performed well in the last two years – even better than previous assemblies.
Ahmad Lawan, the Senate President, had set the ball rolling. In a very lengthy speech, the lawmaker praised his colleagues – listing out “record-breaking achievements.”
Mr Lawan was elected Senate President on June 11, 2019 – shortly after the ninth assembly was inaugurated.
The inauguration was sequel to a proclamation by President Muhammadu Buhari terminating the eight assembly and marking the beginning of the ninth.
It is two years down the line. Two years of lawmaking, oversight and other necessary (and unnecessary) legislative activities.
While the lawmakers (and some Nigerians) have scored themselves high in terms of performance, others disagree.
PREMIUM TIMES reviews the performance of the legislature with regards to successes and failures recorded.
January-December budget cycle
This is now like an anthem for the ninth assembly, especially Mr Lawan.
Hardly does he give a speech without mentioning the fact that the ninth assembly, under his leadership, has successfully returned the country’s annual budget cycle to January to December; a commendable feat compared to the recent past when budget passage extended several months into the budget year.
“One of our most significant interventions in the economy is the restoration of the national annual budget to the January to December cycle which has made the nation’s fiscal plans more predictable and boosted the confidence of local and foreign investors in our economy,” he said last Wednesday.
Delays in the passage of the national budget had been a major characteristic of previous assemblies.
The parliament had blamed the delay on late presentation of the budgets by the Executive, failure of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to appear before committees, oversight functions, among others.
Besides restoring the nation’s budget cycle, the 2020 budget, Mr Lawan said, has also achieved 100 per cent implementation.
“It is noteworthy that for the first time under the Fourth Republic, the budget achieved 100 per cent implementation level last year. The restoration…signaled the possibilities in our country when all stakeholders are working together,” he said.
Cordial relationship with executive
Arguably, this is the assembly with the most cordial relationship with the Executive in the Fourth Republic. The cordial relationship between the Lawan-led assembly and the Executive, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, is not just expressed verbally but also reflects in the activities of the lawmakers.
This is considered an achievement because when compared to other assemblies, especially the eight, these lawmakers have recorded fewer fights and disagreements with the president or members of the Executive.
Many, for instance, would refer to the constant back and forth the Bukola Saraki-led Senate encountered with the president and how both parties disagreed on many issues.
Many of the setbacks suffered by the eighth assembly was mainly because of the poor relationship between both arms of government.
Passage of crucial bills
Despite being accused of constantly embarking on holidays and delaying crucial reports, the ninth Senate has paid attention to, and passed some crucial bills – another feat Mr Lawan referenced in his speech.
Some of these bills include the Deep Off-Shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP (Amendment Bill, 2009), which sought to increase Nigeria’s share of the revenue from its crude oil.
Other bills are the Finance Bill 2019 (Nigeria Tax and Fiscal Law), which amended seven existing tax laws and the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2004 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2019, which sought to create a legal environment conducive for ease of doing business.
They also passed the Chartered Institute of Forensic Investigative Professionals of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill 2021, to boost institutional capacity for fighting corruption in Nigeria; the Public Procurement Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and the Public Procurement Act, 2007 (Amendment) Bill, 2019 – also to block the avenues for corruption in the procurement process by MDAs.
This, however, does not take away the fact that the lawmakers have wasted so much time on other important bills like the electoral amendment bill, the constitution amendment bills and the petroleum industry bill.
It also does not erase that the percentage of bills passed by this Senate so far is low, compared to the number of bills introduced since inauguration.
Of the 742 bills introduced, only 58 have been passed. That is about eight per cent of bills introduced.
“About 355 bills have gone through first reading, 175 have gone through second reading and have been referred to the relevant committees for further legislative business, while 11 Bills referred by the House of Representatives for concurrence have also been passed,” Mr Lawan noted.
One would also bear in mind that it is under this Senate that a lot of controversial bills were introduced – most of which Nigerians say are unnecessary and a misplaced priority.
Some of these bills include the hate speech bill, the social media bill, and the bill to rehabilitate repentant Boko Haram members.
Response to COVID-19
Although they “locked themselves and ran away in the wake of the pandemic,” as policy analyst Sam Amadi would say, the lawmakers responded to the pandemic in their capacity – by providing necessary intervention in support of the efforts of the Executive to combat the virus.
To help the nation cope with the health emergency and its dire economic consequences, they promptly revised the 2020 budget which was passed last December to accommodate funds for several COVID-19 interventions.
Checks and balances
While the lawmakers can praise themselves for maintaining a peaceful and cordial relationship with the Executive, the ninth assembly has failed to check the excesses of the Executive – a major role the legislative arm was created to play.
In the last two years, the Lawan-led assembly has approved virtually every request sent by the Executive without thoroughly scrutinising many of them.
This is visible in some controversial appointments made by the president and sent to the National Assembly for confirmation.
They have also failed to check the excesses of executive appointees whether through sponsored deliberations or petitions.
Borrowing appears to have become synonymous with the Buhari administration. This is responsible for the nation’s rising debt profile.
On several occasions, the president had asked the ninth assembly to approve local or external plans – a request the lawmakers always granted with very little or no opposition or scrutiny.
In fact, in a recent media briefing, Mr Lawan defended the president’s habit of borrowing with the excuse that it was necessary to build infrastructure which will, in turn, be used to generate revenues.
“The bilateral loans are even with zero per cent interest rates. Since we don’t have a better option, than to accept the request, we have also started oversight functions to ensure judicious utilisation of the loans in the overall interest of Nigerians.
“Many Nigerians feel that the debt burden is too heavy. It is a necessary burden, because to do otherwise will be irresponsible of any government to keep an economy that is stagnated. We have to move on. But we must also ensure that those projects, when completed, are to generate revenue to pay for the debt,” he said.
This is significantly different from the attitude of the eight assembly; because lawmakers then, not only questioned the consistent request to borrow, but also rejected some requests.
– Checking excesses of executive appointees and colleagues
The lawmakers have also failed to check themselves – with regards to colleagues enmeshed in one misconduct or another. Issues like these are either never discussed or discussed and forgotten.
An example is the famous and controversial case of Adamawa senator, Elisha Abbo.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how he assaulted a lady in a sex toy shop in Abuja and how even though a committee was set up to probe him for misconduct, nothing has been heard of it to date.
Many other Senate committees also failed to submit crucial reports or when they did, the reports were abandoned and not worked on by the Senate.
Another example is the case of the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, who assaulted a security guard in Abuja.
Until a petition was written by the victim to the Senate, demanding a probe, the lawmakers kept mum on the matter.
– Executive’s non-compliance to resolutions and Senate’s reluctance
Although the harmonious relationship between the two arms of government is considered a success, it may not entirely pass for a healthy one.
It is, arguably, more like a one-sided love affair with the legislature on the giving end and the executive on the receiving end; no reciprocity.
Many lawmakers have blamed the slow progress of the ninth assembly on the inability of the Executive to implement resolutions passed.
“You have read the objectives we set for ourselves. We have taken many steps to achieve those objectives and since we came here, we have treated serious issues of insecurity. What have we done?
“We addressed the issue. We passed resolutions. We set up committees and far-reaching resolutions passed and sent to the Executive. The fact that actions were not taken by the Executive is not our fault. We find ourselves in a situation where we are doing what is right for Nigerians and the executive is failing to implement it. That is not to say that we have not performed,” Benue senator, Gabriel Suswam, said.
Similarly, a legislative expert, Desmond Akinloye, not only faulted the executive for some of the failures of the legislature but also blamed the latter for failing to wield the big stick.
“How many resolutions taken by the lawmakers have been executed by the executive? The executive is not looking into it and the lawmakers cannot do more than resolutions expect they want to impeach.
“Normally, when resolutions are taken and the executive, whether the president or minister does not act on it, they can ask the person to leave office because it is a ground for misconduct and a valid reason to call for impeachment but it is difficult in this system,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Budget padding has gradually become a norm in the Nigerian parliament. And lawmakers seem to care less whenever they are called out for including frivolous spending in the annual budgets. The ninth assembly is no different.
There have been records of budget padding by the lawmakers in the last two years.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the ninth assembly increased its budget from N128 billion to N136 billion and made no attempt to publish details of its allocations.
This was also despite the fact that the president had initially increased the National Assembly’s budget from N125 billion in previous years, to N128 billion for 2021.
This paper also reported how the National Assembly padded the 2021 budget with over N500 billion.
The lawmakers have also cultivated a habit of embarking on frequent holidays and resuming plenary sessions late.
The senators have barely had 30 plenary sessions in 2021 alone, a poor record compared to the constitutional requirement of 181 plenary sessions in a legislative year.
Between January and June, the senators have adjourned to mourn late colleagues, for celebrations, attend to a political party’s need or conduct oversight at committee levels.
This is besides the fact that they already flouted their Standing Rule which requires that they sit for three days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). For months, the lawmakers have been sitting twice a week.
However, with the praises they have given themselves comes promises to do more. Nigerians are hopeful that the makers will do better in the coming years.
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