It is almost two weeks since the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, which consists of the Senate and the Federal House of Representatives. The impression among the newly inaugurated law makers is that they have time on their hands, enough time to do their work and play around.
But this assumption may not be true when the task before the NASS is compared to the time they have to attend to them, as well as the magnitude of the challenges facing the nation. Most of these challenges were due for solutions over 10 years ago and simply thinking that the NASS can “go slow” on them is the beginning of failure.
Let us remember that every July, the legislature will proceed on the annual legislative vacation and resume in the middle of September. Already, the legislators are complaining of not having been settled in their accommodation and other logistics that will enable them start work. Also, the legislative committees are yet to be constituted and this may take the next one month to sort out.
It should be recalled that legislators will vacate for a week or more during major Christian and Muslim holidays, as well as for the New Year and other public holidays. And if the executive fulfils its promises, the period of their resumption from the legislative vacation in September until December 2019 will be occupied by the consideration of the medium-term expenditure framework 2020-2022 and the 2020 federal budget. Thus, the year 2019 will be virtually gone without any major non-routine legislative work. Also, both chambers of the 9th NASS are yet to present their legislative agenda to Nigerians.
This discourse seeks to highlight some very key and important pieces of legislation and legislative work that should occupy the NASS as soon as it settles down to work. In devising a legislative agenda, the Senate and the House of Reps should have a harmonised agenda and not an agenda for the Senate and another for the House. They should also sequence, in terms of time, the major action points.
It may be imperative, for the avoidance of excuses, that the legislators get their respective parties to endorse and buy-into the legislative agenda. This buy-in is not for the purpose of allowing extraneous forces to take control of the legislative agenda, but to ensure that all relevant parties, who may oppose legislation, are all operating on the same page. The caveat is that the legislators owe the nation a sacred duty and they should proceed with their agenda when any one seeks to introduce unreasonable issues into the legislative agenda.
The legislature should also challenge the executive to come up with key executive bills, which conform to President Muhammadu Buhari’s “next level” and reform agenda. It is not enough to merely talk about “next level”, but there must be policies and laws that take Nigeria from its current position to the next level, just like former President Olusegun Obasanjo walked the talk by introducing the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission bill to NASS within six months of being sworn in.
Nigeria cannot afford another four years of President Buhari running a “say no campaign,” like what he did to many bills passed by the Eight NASS. He should be upfront on his reform ideas. Otherwise, he should not be drawing back the march of civilisation and the hands of Nigeria’s progress.
In the first six months, we expect NASS to champion bills on the foundation of our democracy and nationhood. The agreements arising from various national discussions in the last couple of years should be made into bills that will be passed and presented to the President for his assent. This is about constitution amendment bills. The issues involved should include revenue generation and sharing, state police, reducing the powers of the centre and empowering the constituent units. This has become imperative in view of the insecurity across board in Nigeria.
On the average, over seven lives and unquantifiable property are lost on a daily basis to reported organised criminality arising from the present structure of the federation. This is not only withholding local investments, foreign investors are voting with their feet, while farmers are finding it difficult to cultivate, nurture and harvest food and cash crops. The country bleeds on all frontiers and any further delay may actually take us to the physical actualisation of the saying that there was once a country called Nigeria.
The amendments to the Electoral Act come in as a priority. The idea of waiting until a few months to the election to amend the Electoral Act should be deprecated. In the run-up to the last election, Buhari deliberately delayed assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and used the lateness, thereafter, as an excuse for his refusal to grant assent. The recommendations on amendment needed to reposition our electoral system have been in the public domain for so many years. One had expected that after the Supreme Court decisions on the smart card reader on the 2015 elections, provisions would have been made in the Electoral Act to regularise its status. Mainstreaming technology, improving political finance provisions, plugging all the holes that facilitate manipulation of votes and clearly defining the command of the armed forces in elections are some of the issues to be addressed by the amendments.
Nigeria has been borrowing so much from foreign and domestic lenders and this is fast becoming unsustainable, when our debt repayment is compared to available revenue. Therefore, laws and policies that would facilitate the generation of more revenue should be prioritised.
The Petroleum Industry Bills come forth as sore thumbs. We have been negotiating and talking about these bills since the return to civil rule in 1999. These bills include issues around governance and administration, the fiscals, environmental and community issues. Specific bills that will address domestic resource mobilisation for infrastructure should be prioritised. These bills should include respective amendments and new ones on housing finance and mortgages, roads and bridges, electricity, water resources, etc.
These new bills will focus on harvesting available domestic resources through a pooling system. For instance, amendments to the National Housing Fund Act, which was done by the Eighth NASS and refused assent by the President should be revisited. This time the President should be specifically asked to propose new ways to raise more funding for the housing sector and energise and make actionable, already existing funds.
Also, regularising the Nigerian budget calendar and financial year also comes as a priority. The idea of approving a budget in the middle of the year, when it should have commenced in January, needs to be addressed. Other bills, such as those that touch on strengthening the campaign for transparency and anti-corruption struggle like the Proceeds of Crime Bill needs to be revisited.
This time around, Nigerians will not entertain any excuses bordering on why the legislature or executive failed to deliver on their mandate. We are rather waiting for the success stories, which will highlight the critical success factors that facilitated very great performance. Time runs and time lost cannot be regained.