Mid-Term Report: 9th National Assembly

Gbajabiamila and Lawan

June 13, (THEWILL)- The Ninth National Assembly clocked two years on Friday June 11, 2021 having been inaugurated on June 11, 2019.  Both chambers of the Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives, were inaugurated separately on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 and they will both run their course on June 11, 2023.

So what has the current National Assembly been able to achieve at its mid-term, both in its core legislative duties and the oversight functions over the Ministries, Departments and Agencies? Expectedly this question will generate mixed reactions from Nigerians who elected the legislators in the 2019 general elections.

9th National Assembly

It is pertinent to state that in writing about the mid-term report of the National Assembly, kudos must first be given to it for the peaceful manner in which it elected its leaders in 2019. The calibre of leaders of the assembly also gave hope to many Nigerians that it would have a good record and achieve stability for the second tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Ninth National Assembly is presided over by Senator Ahmad Lawan in the Senate and Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila in the House of Representatives.  Lawan, who is from Yobe State, has been a member of the National Assembly (first in the House of Representatives) since 1999, while Gbajabiamila has been in the House since 2003. While Lawan is deputised by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege from Delta State, Gbajabiamila is deputised by Ahmed Idris Wase from Plateau State.

Unlike the Eighth National Assembly,  the Ninth National Assembly, under the leadership of Senator Lawan, has stabilised the polity and ensured that the rancorous relationship  that existed between the legislature and the executive between 2015 and 2019 is not repeated.

This is not surprising, if one recalls Lawan’s inaugural speech two years ago, in which he emphasised the need for a paradigm shift on a working relationship between the legislature and the executive arm of government.

In the speech, titled:  ‘A  Senate that works for Nigerians,’ Lawan said,  “We are going to work collaboratively with the executive arm of government to strengthen our planning and budget linkage that ensures effective service delivery and fulfillment of essential government obligations to the citizens, while taking care of  the perennial delays in our annual appropriation bill passage and implementation.

“Within us as a Senate, our leadership will commit to partnership rather than partisanship. Between us and the executive arm of government, we will choose unity of purpose over conflict and discord, while also working towards further strengthening and guaranteeing our independence and that of the judiciary…”

Two years down the lane, the National Assembly under the leadership of Lawan and that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt.Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, had in collaboration with the executive arm of government, reverted the yearly budget cycle to January – December as against June – May yearly cycle that existed in the past.

Also during the period under review, the Senate in collaboration with the House of Representatives, had successfully amended and passed the Deep Off-Shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act Cap D3LFN 2004 (Amendment Bill 2009), which was specifically geared towards increasing collectable revenues from proceeds of crude sales.  This is aside many other development focused legislations targeted at boosting the national economy like the Public Procurement 2007 (amendment) bill 2019, Companies and Allied Matters Act, Cap C20 LFN 2004 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2019 etc, which were passed and assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari.

It is also on record that both chambers of the National Assembly have brought about constructive engagements between the 9th National Assembly and the executive arm of government, resulting in the bringing of the passage and expected Presidential Assent to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) this year, which had defied efforts in that direction for the past 14 years, into reality.

The critics’ views

Many critics of the Ninth National Assembly have seen its actions within the last two years, with regard to express approval of executive requests and approval of appointments with little or less screening , as portraying it as a ‘rubber stamp’ to the executive arm of government.

Many of the critics believe that President Buhari has been able to take some steps, which they believe are not following democratic tenets and able to go ahead with it because the National Assembly  dozed off and was unable to check the excesses of the Executive.

Speaking with THEWILL, a former Chief of  Army Training, Operations and Planning,  Major-General Isola Williams (Retd.), said the Ninth National Assembly has failed to live up to the expectations of Nigerians. He said, “In fact, the current Senate President is the worst we ever had in this country.”

Gen Williams described the Senate President as not good enough for the country. He noted that since the law setting up the South-West security outfit known as Amotekun had been established in every state in the geopolitical zone, what the National Assembly ought to have done was regularise the situation, but it failed to do just that.

Also the Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Abuja Chapter, Dr Kassim Umar, cautioned the leadership of the National Assembly on ‘the same page relationship’ it is running with the executive arm of government, since the three arms of government in a presidential democracy are meant to serve as check and balance on one another.

Umar said, “Harmonious working relationship among the three arms of government and in particular, between the Legislature and the Executive in a presidential democracy like Nigeria, is a welcome development, but taking it to the realm of subservience, by being on the same page with the executive on all issues, is dangerous for good governance.

“In the light of this, Nigerians will want the Ninth National Assembly to be more assertive, thorough and resolute in exercising its constitutional duties as regards approval of proposals from the executive arm of government so as not to be seen as rubber stamp and invariably creating perception problem for itself.

“The performance of effective oversight functions on the two other arms of government by the National Assembly is highly expected by Nigerians. This will go a long way, in taking off whatever toga of rubber stamp many critics have put on them.

“Approving all proposals forwarded by the Executive without coming up with a robust legislation that will transform the country for good, will make its public perception to be more of a rubber-stamp than an autonomous arm of government.“

Also speaking with THEWILL, a former Presidential Candidate of Kowa Party in the 2015 General election, Prof Remi Sonaiya, condemned the extravagant nature of the National Assembly wondering whether its members were really interested in serving the generality of Nigerians or the elite.

She in particular condemned the wastefulness of the National Assembly in carrying out public sittings on the review of the constitution separately by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, saying that both chambers would have done it jointly to save costs.

We are not rubber stamp – Lawan, Gbajabiamila

The rubber stamp appellation given to the Ninth National Assembly was vehemently rejected by its leaders. In their reactions, Lawan and Gbajabiamila expressed the opinion that having a harmonious working relationship with the Executive and the attendant ‘rubber stamp’ appellation is far better than frictional one maintained by the immediate past assembly, which yielded Nigerians and Nigeria, nothing, in terms of good governance.

Gbajabiamila said, “People, critics and members of other political parties have said the Ninth National Assembly is a rubber stamp of the executive. They may have told you that, too. You know what? It is better to be a rubber stamp and bring progress than fight the executive without progress because when two elephants fight, the grass suffers.

“The fact is that the National Assembly is not a rubber stamp. This is a National Assembly that represents the interests of the people. The people of Surulere did not elect me to fight the executive, but to engage and collaborate with stakeholders to bring the dividends of democracy.

“This is a new dispensation. There will be checks and balances. There will be separation of powers. We will agree with the executive if we have to and we will disagree if we have to. Our watchword is to protect the interests of the Nigerian people. That is the oath that my colleagues and I swore to.”

Also reacting, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan declared that the path chosen by the Ninth National Assembly to work in harmony with the executive arm of government has benefitted Nigeria and Nigerians in so many ways through series of bills passed and assented to by the President and very important ones being worked upon with the hope and assurance of being assented to by the President when transmitted to him for that purpose.

“Such bills include the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Electoral Act (Amendment) 2021, 1999 Constitution (Amendment) 2021 etc.”, he said.

Political analysts, watchers of political developments in the country and social commentators while appreciating the peaceful engagement between the Ninth National Assembly and the Executive, believe the assembly ought to perform better than it has done in the face of various challenges facing the nation since the last two years.