By Abubakar Jimoh
As President Muhammadu Buhari transmitted a proclamation letter terminating the term of the eighth National Assembly inaugurated on June 9, 2015, it becomes paramount to engage a critical assessment of the Assembly marked by the good, the bad and the ugly moments as well as commendations and criticisms.
Despite some accolades to the performance of the Assembly, we cannot conceal the fact that the 8th legislature was thrown into endless crisis arising from long disagreement over the elections and appointments into leadership positions, budget padding, jumbo pay, hostile executive relations, and defection from one political party to another. This further altered its efficiency, functionality and structure.
The leadership crisis which lingered beyond expectation took turn in some State Houses of Assembly like Benue State House of Assembly, where legislators engage each other in a battle of the fists; temporary closure of Edo State House of Assembly occasioned by the pandemonium created by political thugs who went on a shooting spree injuring six persons following the impeachment of the then Speaker, Victor Edoror for alleged gross misconduct; and unjustified impeachment of the Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, Momoh Jimoh-Lawal by five lawmakers out of 25 members.
The unpleasant development was exacerbated by the inability and weak internal control system by the leadership of the leading political parties to inculcate discipline in their members.
Given the high expectation from citizens that the legislators would discharge such key fundamental functions as lawmaking, oversight, representation and constituency outreach to impact positively on their well-being and the nation’s democracy, critical performance assessment of the Assembly has become essential to understand how the legislators fared in fulfilment of their electoral mandates.
This piece will provide comprehensive assessments of performance by the Assembly in accordance with its key constitutional mandates, identified by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) such as law-making, oversight, representation, confirmation of appointment, constituency outreach, and legislature-executive relations.
Law-making constitutes the fundamental mandates of the legislature. Through law-making, the legislators have the responsibility to make laws for the orderly and good governance of the country. Section 4(1) of the Constitution provides that the “legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.”
Among the appreciable legislative efforts by the 8th Assembly were the passage of significant Bills such as Criminalisation of Sexual Harassment Bill, North East Development Commission Bill, Electronic Transaction Bill, Debt Recovery and Insolvency Bill 2015, Railway Transformation Bill.
The House constituted a standing Committee on Refugees, Migrants, Internally Displaced Persons and Initiatives on the North East Zone. It passed a Resolution on Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Recovery and Development of the North East of Nigeria. In addition, a request was made to President Muhammadu Buhari to set up machinery for the establishment of a North East Development Commission and to facilitate the convening of an International Donor Conference or Summit as soon as possible to actualise the Resolution.
As of May 2019, the Upper Chamber had passed 319 bills as against 128 bills, 72 bills, and 129 bills passed the 7th, 6th, and 4th senate respectively, with over 500 bills pending for passage. It also treated 219 public petitions.
The House of Representatives on the other hand had successfully passed 382 bills out of over 1,588 motions initiated on the House floor. It also received 1,192 petitions, while over 100 bills were awaiting consideration.
Appreciating the fact that effective participation and contribution of citizens in the budgetary process remain paramount to achieving proper monitoring, transparency and accountability in the appropriation, release and utilisation of funds, the Assembly was the first ever to persistently organise Public Hearing on Appropriation Bill, which brought under one roof all stakeholders involved in the budget process, provided an enabling platform for public analysis, discourse and enlightenment on the basic recommendations and budget policies of the nation. In March 2019, the Senate held its third edition of public hearing on national budget. At such hearings, Nigerians, represented by interest groups, Civil Society groups including CISLAC, were given the opportunity of contributing to the national budget before passage.
Of course, the Assembly would be remembered for the landmark opportunity it accorded youth participation and involvement in the nation’s politics through the passage of “Not-too-young-to-run bill.” This important legislation, initiated by the civil society, was passed by the National Assembly in 2018 and signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2018. The new law reduces the age limit for Nigerians seeking the office of president from 40 to 35; governorship from 35 to 30. It consequently saw to an unprecedented number of young contestants for the 2019 general elections.
In collaboration with international partners and the private sector, the 8th Assembly researched into the ways and means of improving the business environment to attract investment which led to the identification of 54 laws that must be brought in line with international best practices in order to open up the business environment for private investment and business, and the subsequent 15 major economic reform bills and seven business environment bills that were intended to help to jump-start the economy and improve the living conditions of Nigerians.
The Senate had contributed to growing the economy by passing bills like the Companies and Allied Matters Act Bill; the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Bill; the Credit Bureau Reporting Bill and the Warehouse Receipts Bill; Nigerian Railways Authority Bill and National Transportation Commission Bill, which were aimed at providing significant reforms to the business environment and strengthening Nigeria lending legislative frameworks.
The impact of the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act and the Credit Bureau Reporting Act became apparent immediately after they were signed into law as they formed the basis for which the World Bank upgraded the rating of Nigeria in its Annual Ease of Doing Business rating.
The 8th Senate also passed bills like the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill (FIUB); the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill; the Witness Protection Bill; the Whistleblower Protection Bill and the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill to support the fight against corruption.
Also, the Financial Autonomy for Local Government Bill, Financial Autonomy for Houses of Assembly passed by the Senate were aimed at improving governance and ensuring that government serves the people better.
President Muhammadu Buhari had assented to about 35 of the bills transmitted to him, declining assent to over 60 bills. The rejected bills included the well-known Electoral Act amendment bill 2010.
Apart from the Electoral Act amendment bill, other bills passed but declined presidential assent include National Research and Innovation Council (Est.) Bill, 2017; National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (Est.) Bill, 2018; National Agricultural Seeds Council Bill, 2018; Subsidiary Legislation (Legislative Scrutiny) Bill, 2018; Chartered Institute of Entrepreneurship (Est.) Bill, 2018; Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) (Amendment) Bill, 2018; Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2017; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2017; National Research and Innovation Council (Est.) Bill, 2017 and the Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
Also of great importance were Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), a bill that stakeholders believe would significantly impact positively on the oil and gas industry, the country’s main income source, and rub off handsomely on the economy; and the Constitution (Fourth Alteration) Bill No 20, which seeks to strengthen the judiciary for speedy dispensation of Justice.
One major bill from the executive to the Lower Chamber was the National Minimum Wage Bill, 2019, which was given accelerated hearing because of its importance to the nation’s workers. It was deliberated upon and passed by the lawmakers less than a week, was transmitted to the Senate for concurrence.
There were also the Police Reform Bill, the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) Amendment Bill and the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill.
Also, in terms of legislation, Nigerians would not fast forget the egocentric attempt by the Upper Chamber to hasting the passage of proposed amendment to the law setting up the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), with a view to whittling down the agencies’ powers. This triggered public debates on need for persistent checks and balances over the constitutional power of the legislature. For instance, a group of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working to promote justice and good governance in Nigeria described as “betrayal of public trust, total disregard for administration of justice, and utmost conflict of interest”, the attempt by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to hasten the passage of the proposed amendment to the law setting up the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
There were several attempts to whittle down the accountability power of the civil society groups and Non-Governmental Organisations through a bill to regulate non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which failed in the National Assembly.
Besides, despite public criticisms against the Assembly’s huge budget as contains in the 2016 Appropriation Act, the original sum allocated was retained. Indeed, attempt by the executive arm to halt the overburden cost of governance in the legislature resulted in needless delay in the passage and assent to the 2016 Appropriation Bill. The legislature’s high cost of governance in the face of the nation’s austere financial challenges had received serious criticisms from the public. Throughout the 8th Assembly session, it was accused of inflating national budgets with extra costs. The inflated sums reportedly ended in pockets of lawmakers and their cronies through dubious implementation of projects. In 2016, the parliament was accused of padding the budget up to the tune of N481 billion. Similarly, in 2017, Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo delayed signing of the budget because of removal of priority projects and introduction of projects by lawmakers. In 2018, President Buhari accused the lawmakers of cutting essential projects from the national budget and inserting irrelevant ones gulping 578 billion Naira. This repeated itself in 2019 when the President said the addition of N90 billion to the N8.83 trillion he submitted to the legislature would make it difficult for the government to achieve the Appropriation’s objectives.
Another attempt of the Nigerian Senate to regulate the social media platforms through a Bill entitled “Frivolous Petitions Bill” received serious response, mostly condemnations both within and outside the country. Many questioned the significant of “Social Media Bill” to speedily command intensive legislative support of the Upper Chamber and scaled through the second reading within short time, unlike other important Bills that would have served the best interest of common Nigerians.
The inherent systemic delay in budget passage that rocked previous sessions of the National Assembly was exacerbate throughout the 8th Senate. For instance in 2016, President Buhari presented the budget on December 22 but it was not passed until March 23 of 2017; the next budget which was presented on 14th December, 2017 was passed on March 11, 2018; and budget passed on 30th April 2019 was first presented to the National Assembly in December 19 2018.
The oversight function of the National legislature is provided under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended in 2010), which empowers the legislature to carry out investigations within its competence to prevent and expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws.
As part of its oversight efforts, worried by paucity of funds in many states of the federation to carry out developmental projects, in April 2016, the National Assembly summoned 26 states over the expenses incurred on the federal roads projects executed in their respective states, with a view to ascertaining the facts and figures for a refund. The meeting was reportedly called at the instance of the House Committee on Works so as to assist the committee to verify all claims submitted by the states affected by non-payment of funds incurred on some of the federal roads projects.
The Assembly had summoned key players in the petroleum industry over the state of the country’s refineries and N1trillion oil revenue fund reportedly missing the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI). The House Committee on Privatisation at the same summoned Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu to explain reasons behind the decision of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) rather than the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) opening bids for the sale of the three refineries in Warri, Kaduna and Port Harcourt.
The Senate and the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Appropriation had summoned the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun and her budget and Planning counterpart, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma to appear before it and explain the reasons behind the 2016 proposed budget mess.
Concerned by the unfavourable economic situation in the country, the Senate summoned the Minister of Finance and the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele to appear before it and brief the Upper chamber on the Monetary and fiscal policies adopted to salvage the current economic situation. The House also summoned the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, to explain the policy directing commercial banks to reject foreign currency deposits.
The House as well summoned the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Mr. Solomon Arase, and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, over the AGF’s directive to the IG to disregard the National Assembly’s resolution to seal Kogi State House of Assembly pending the resolution of the crisis that engulfed the Assembly.
Perturbed by the alleged recruitment scam at the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund, the Assembly had summoned the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige to appear before the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity. The committee, while accusing Ngige of impunity and gross abuse of office, cancelled all employments by the ministry between July and September 2016. Also summoned by the Committee were the Chairman of the Federal Character Commission, Shettima Bukar-Abba; and Managing Director of NSITF, Umar Munir Abubakar.
In December, 2018, the 8th Assembly had summoned the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Stuart Symington, over the alleged high rate of visa denial of Nigerians. The House also asked the ambassador to present 20 copies of his defence.
Within the same period, the House Joint Committees on Finance and Petroleum (downstream) summoned the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, and the Minster of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, to explain their roles in an alleged unbudgeted funds being paid as fuel subsidy. Also summoned to appear unfailingly on the same date are the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Maikanti Kachalla Baru, and the heads of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF).
Holding a public hearing on allegation of abuse, breach and violation of the Public Procurement Act 2007 by the National Pension Commission in its procurement activities covering October 2014 to March 2017, the House of Representatives, had asked a former boss of the Commission, Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, to appear before it.
The Senate had summoned the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, for a briefing on the current state of healthcare facilities and services in Nigerian teaching hospitals. The Senate’s resolution was informed by a motion lamenting the widespread cases of poor electricity supply, obsolete medical equipment, decayed infrastructure and other factors, which impedes capacity of the teaching hospitals to provide tertiary healthcare to patients with complex ailments such as cancer, kidney failure.
Expressing worries over the growing insecurity, the Senate had invited the Acting Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to appear before it over the worsening state of insecurity across the country.
The Upper Chamber also invited the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to appear before its joint committee on Land Transport and Local and Foreign Debts over alleged exclusion of eastern part of the country in the scheme of rail expansion and modernization.
The 8th Assembly could not properly oversight the executive. It failed to curtail the excesses of the former police IG, Ibrahim Idris. The Assembly also in 2018 failed to hold the executive accountable for making extra budgetary military spending without its approval. President Buhari had withdrawn $496million from state coffers and used same for the purchase of aircraft from the United States without the National Assembly’s approval. While some senators called for the invocation of Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to begin impeachment process of the President but Saraki stalled the process.
Representation is an important function of the legislature. The legislature has the primary mandate to carry out representative functions on behalf of the people who in our case, are demarcated in 360 federal constituencies. The legislators have a duty to represent the interests of their individual constituencies. Apart from servicing the needs of constituencies, for legislators to be effective, they must listen to their constituencies, brief them about legislative and policy issues, aggregate the demands of these constituencies into legislative agenda and project these demands on the floor of the legislative chambers.
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) opines that as representatives of the people, legislators not only derive their mandate directly from the people but also have to render accountability to the people. In the analysis of CISLAC, there are three dimensions of legislative accountability: Information accountability—the extent to which representatives provide information to their constituencies; Representational accountability—the extent to which actions and deliberations of legislators informed by the actual issues that their constituencies want addressed; and Governance accountability—the extent to which legislators ensure that the executives over which they oversight utilize public resources to promote the welfare of the people and to generally develop the society.
The first year of the legislative session was dominated by the procurement of 108 brand new Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles by the Senate in spite the financial challenges confronting the country and the public clamour for reduction in cost of governance. This resulted in extensive public debates on what should constitute legislative mandates and core representation values. The legislative time and resources geared towards the baseless struggles for possession of the vehicles became a shocking development; as the citizens began to question the quality and interest of the legislators who were primarily elected to serve common goal. Nigerians did not hid their ill-feelings against the legislators’ sudden clamour for exotic vehicles at a time when the country is confronted with a chronic public finance challenge characterised by inability of many states to pay salaries and the inability of the Federal Government to raise sufficient revenue amidst declining crude oil prices.
This to a large extent raises a critical question on whether the citizens have fair representation in the legislature and if they do, how accountable and transparent are legislators in the legislative issues. The extent of public dissatisfaction in the legislative representation was explicitly stated in a statement by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, when he said it was “morally despicable and shameful” that the lawmakers embarked on such acquisition when they were supposed to occupy themselves with issues that would benefit the people.
The legislators have a duty to represent the interests of the public. Apart from servicing the needs of constituencies, for legislators to be effective, they must listen to the citizens, brief them about legislative and policy issues, aggregate the demands of these constituencies into legislative agenda and project these demands on the floor of the legislative chambers.
A huge number of legislative time was spent in deliberating jumbo pay, budget increase and other unnecessary leadership struggles. Through its session, the Assembly was largely trailed by one controversy or another, making Nigerians to question if its productivity was commensurate with its budget. The Assembly like its predecessors had a hard time convincing the public that its huge budget had a semblance of proportion to its output.
Also, out of large of members 109 Senators and 360 House of Representative Members, few members were identified to have sponsored a bill.
More importantly, poor interest by some members to efficiently discharge their legislative obligations has affected the overall performance of the Assembly. Some members reportedly leveraged legislative positions to extort, intimidate, and merely maintain political relevance, while performing below expectations.
Strengthening the linkages between a legislature and the people is a necessary step for promoting peace and stability in a democratic system. In the words of Nikhil Dutta et al, these linkages are two-way phenomena—top-down and bottom-up communication. That is, legislators represent the people`s interests, while simultaneously providing feedback and information to their constituents on the political processes.
In this case, when citizens feel that their views are represented in government and their representative bear constituents` interests in mind, they are not only encouraged to participate in legislative process, but also accept the legislature to enact legislation and the executive to implement and enforce it.
Constituency outreach by the 8th Assembly was poorly communicated due to lack of appropriate structure for feedback. Most members who were identified with constituency offices intensified visits to theirs at the hype of the general elections.
Besides, members largely attributed constituency relations to personal constituency project implementation, which remains the constitutional responsibility of the executive arm. This led to persistent controversies that trailed constituency allowance and budget padding through the 8th Assembly.
Confirmation of Appointment
The power of the Assembly to confirm appointments by the executives is contained under 147 (2) of the constitution which states: “Any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate, be made by the President.”
Within the first year, several nominees for appointments were screed and confirmed by the Assembly. These include the appointment of ministerial nominees forwarded to it by President Muhammadu Buhari. The nominees were Nigerians drawn from across the states and different professions.
In line with section 18 (1) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap A 20 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Senate confirmed the appointment of the Service Chiefs like Major-General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin as Chief of Defence Staff along with Major-General Tukur Yusufu Buratai as Chief of Army Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas as Chief of Naval Staff and Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar as Chief of Air Staff.
The Senate witnessed the consideration and confirmation of Engr. Prof. Umaru Garba Danbatta for appointment as Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). It confirmed the appointment of Management Directors of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) including: Ahmed Lawan Karu as Managing Director, Kola Adeyeye as Executive Director, Eberechukwu Fortunate Uneze as Executive Director, Aminu Isma’il as Executive Director.
The Senate approved the appointment of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with five other commissioners—Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari (North West), Dr. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbile (North Central), Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo (North East), Dr. Mohammed Mustapha Lecky (South-south), and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi (South West).
Other nominations confirmed by the Senate include: seven appointees to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) board; appointment of chairman and members of the Board of the National Bureau of Statistics; Uwani Abba Aji as a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; appointment of Modibbo Tukur as the pioneer Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.
However, the refusal by the Nigerian Senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), as recommended by President MUhammadu Buhari, raised serious concern over the position of the Upper Chamber—which has the fundamental mandate to protect and allow citizens’ interest prevailed in its legislative activities, towards anti-corruption fight and the progress of the country in generality.
There was lack of cordiality in the relationship between the Executive and Legislature, under the 8th National Assembly. While the principal task of the National Assembly is to cooperate with the Executive in promoting enabling policies for the common good of our people, the relationship between the two arms was marred by conflict of interest, low capacity of some members to constructively engage in legislative work, poor communication strategy, executive blackmail and intimidation. This resulted in sabotage and needless delay in the performance of some legislative activities.