Reviewing the 8th National Assembly: Issues and Matters Arising!

May 31, 2019

Inaugurated on June 9, 2015, the 8th National Assembly ends on June 9 and it will function till June 9, 2019 when President Muhammadu Buhari’s issues a proclamation letter for the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly.

Nigeria operates a bi-cameral legislature, comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives that functions as the nation’s highest legislative body. The National Assembly is empowered to make laws by the provisions of Chapter I, Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution. The Senate consists of 109 elected senators and the House of Representatives has 360 elected members.

The outgoing legislative work in the House of Representatives kicked off with the emergence of the Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara while Dr Bukola Saraki is the Senate President. But political pundits note that the 8th National Assembly has been shrouded in political intrigues and controversies since its inception, the development they describe as a threat to democracy. The threat became a reality when Saraki and Dogara decided to defect to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2018 even as member of the opposition PDP attempted to impeach them.

The leadership tussle in the National Assembly has impacted negatively on governance as policies and programmes of the government are affected. For instance, the approval of most key appointees of Buhari being delayed by the lawmakers and the foot-dragging debate on budget bills, among others. While acknowledging some shortcomings of the 8th National Assembly, President Buhari said that he looked forward to a mutual and effective working relationship with the 9th National Assembly. According to him, such effective working relationship will improve the budgetary process and restore the country to the January-December fiscal cycle.

The president recounted how the delay in the passage of budgets hindered timely execution of some projects across the country. Buhari, nonetheless, expressed confidence that more work would be done to improve the efficiency of the budgetary process with the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the general elections. He also recalled that the 2018 budget proposals submitted to the National Assembly on Nov. 7, 2017 was passed after seven months.

In spite of this, however, it is pertinent to note that the outgoing House of Representatives has been able to initiate and pass milestone bills within the legislative years. Out of 1, 516 bills so far treated at the House of Representatives between June 2015 and January 2019, members of the House of Representatives sponsored not less than 1, 380 bills. One of the outstanding bills passed by the lower chamber is a Bill for an Act to Alter the Provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and for Other Matters Connected Therewith sponsored by Rep. Tony Nwulu, otherwise known as the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill.

The bill, which drew local and international attention, was signed into law by Buhari on May 31, 2018 at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa in the presence of some young Nigerians, the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Movement. The law reduces the age qualification for president from 40 years to 35 years, governor from 35 years to 30 years, senator from 35 years to 30 years; House of Representatives membership from 30 years to 25 years and State House of Assembly membership from 30 years to 25 years. Another outstanding bill passed entitled: “Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2018’’ is meant to cater for the more than 25 million persons living with disabilities in the country. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ochiglegor Idagbo and was signed into law by Buhari on Jan. 23, few days to 2019 general elections. The Act, which guarantees right to maintain civil action for damage by the person injured against any defaulter, prohibits all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability and imposes fine of N1, 000, 000 for corporate bodies and N100, 000 for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment for violation. It also provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobile are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs. The Act, which stipulates that all public organisations are to reserve at least five per cent of employment opportunities for these persons, also establishes in Section 31 the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities with Executive Secretary as the head.

These are few among many members who contributed to the legislative proceedings of the lower chamber within the year under review. Besides carrying out its legislative function on executive bills brought before it, the House of Representatives also concurred on bills emanating from the Senate. For instance, one major bill from the executive to the lower house was the National Minimum Wage Bill, 2019. Because of its importance to the nation’s workers, the bill was given accelerated hearing. The National Minimum Wage Bill, 2019, which was deliberated upon and passed by the lawmakers less than a week, was transmitted to the Senate for concurrence.

Although the 8th House of Representatives’ bill progression chart shows that the lawmakers had performed well in their legislative calendar, not all the bills, whether private member bills, public bills or executive bills, sailed through the legislative drills. Some bills died at the first reading, some at the second reading, while others at the third reading. Besides, there were bills which got the lawmakers’ nod but which the executive declines assenting and one of such bill Petroleum Industry Bill.

All in all, the 9th National Assembly, which will be inaugurated on June 9, has majority members-elect from the APC. In the Independent National Electoral Commission’s list, APC has 211 members-elect in the House of Representatives; the PDP has 111, while 20 seats have yet to be declared due to the elections that were declared inconclusive in the affected constituencies. Other political parties that will be represented in the lower chamber include: All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) with six members; Action Democratic Congress (ADC), three members, Action Alliance (AA); two members and People’s Redemption Party (PRP); two members. The African Democratic Party (ADP), Allied People’s Movement (APM) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) won a seat each and out of the over 300 seats declared so far, only 10 are women.

Although many members in the 8th National Assembly will not return to the chamber having lost their re-election bids, Nigerians hope for an improved relation between the Executive and the House for the development of the country.