The 9th National Assembly And Posterity

The 9th National Assembly And Posterity—Aristotle reportedly noted in his poetics, that stories should have a beginning, middle, and an end. They should have complex characters as well as a plot that incorporates a reversal of fortune and a lesson learned.

Well said by Aristotle but definitely, such rule cannot apply when writing a story about the Nigeria’s 9th National Assembly ably headed by Senator Ahmed Lawan. The reason for this assertion is barefaced. The 9th NASS is reputed for visiting Nigerians with conflicting and unexpected answers each time demand for good governance is made.

As an illustration, when the Nigeria’s Senate recently, in response to public outcry, rejected the nomination of Ms Lauretta Onochie, an aide to Mr. President, as INEC Commissioner, the nation particularly the poor masses hastily concluded that the Federal lawmakers have finally internalized what it means to be independent and legislate for the poor.

But that excitement was short-lived as the NASS through their action a few days later told Nigerians that they are never tired of controversy. This time around, the National Assembly (NASS) voted against electronic transmission of election results in Nigeria by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). A move many considered as anti-democracy and anti-people.

Qualifying the situation as a crisis is the awareness that this sloppy, floppy and slanted decision came a few days after the same 9th NASS passed the long awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which inexplicably and unexpectedly made some frustrating provisions against host communities. And at about the same time Mr.Olusegun Odebunmi, Chairman of the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, and a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC, sponsored before the House of Representatives a Bill for the amendment of the National Broadcasting Act (2010), otherwise referred to as the NBC Act and the Nigerian Press Council Act (1992). Bill industry watchers describe it as not only draconian in nature but laced with the capacity to silence free speech.

However, while swift and conflicting reactions, utter confusion and frustration continues to trail the 9th NASS actions, I must underline that for reasons,none of these anti people’s legislation came to me as a surprise. The facts are there and speak for it.
But before then, let’s add context to the discourse.

Fundamentally, everyone in the National Assembly is, or ought to be, traditionally interested in the day-to-day existence of the average people in the country and honestly work hard to improve their lives by offering selfless service in the offices they occupy.

But contrary to this expectation, a peep at the 9th Assembly in the past two yearS will reveal that although the present 9th Assembly, going by the profile of members, is arguably filled with the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of NASS in Nigeria. But asymmetrical personal interest has not allowed them to do the job of lawmaking that will enhance the life chances of Nigerians. Indeed, one event that first raised the red flag and did so well to reveal that the present Assembly may not be allergic to controversy or scandal was the out-of-the-ordinary political interplays, and considerable uncertainties that lasted for weeks created by new and returning members of the 9th Assembly angling for principal positions in both the senate and House of Representatives.

What, however, made that situation a very curious one was that an exercise like election of principal officers which constitutionally supposed to be an internal affair within the Assembly, suddenly against all known logic got characterized by national intrigue with the ruling party, The All Progressive Congress (APC) taking time to underline the advantages, and otherwise of having a particular lawmaker in a particular position. Without any lesson learned, the exposed systematized personal interest in the 9th Assembly was amplified by the controversy that characterized the lawmakers first official assignment—the screening of the ministerial nominees that was silent on portfolios forwarded to the house by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Aside from the non attachment of portfolios rendering the senators clueless in generating relevant strategic questions for the nominees, what really caused concern among Nigerians with critical interest was the senator’s adoption of the doctrine of ‘take a bow and go’ for the majority of the nominees that were once senators. Without minding whether they (ex-senators) are familiar with the magnitude and urgency of our problem as a nation or laced with the requisite knowledge that the ministerial positions demand to help the nation come out of its present predicament. Before the apprehension raised by the Lawan led senate not allowing Nigerians know what the Ex- Senators on the list have done in the past, currently doing, or will do when they become ministers, could settle, that of the planned purchase of the controversial SUV’s cars was up.

While Nigerians were still waiting for the commencement of governance, the leadership of the National Assembly before embarking on its eight-week recess, which ended on September 24, 2019, began moves to procure operational vehicles for the lawmakers that make up its dual legislative chambers. Essentially, while there was no question that high-offices such as the National Assembly need operational vehicles to facilitate their responsibilities, the stunning aspect of this episode going by reports is with the estimated current price of the chosen vehicle now N50 million. And the Senate needed about N5.550 billion to get enough quantity for its members. What is considerably different is the question; how can a nation spend over N5billion on such project in a country with slow economic but high population growth? Where excruciating poverty and starvation daily drives more people into the ranks of beggars? And where so many children are presently out of school?

As if Nigerians were never tired of receiving frightening packages from the 9th Assembly, at about the same time the world leaders were standing up with sets of values that encourage listening and responding constructively to views expressed by citizens, giving others the benefits of the doubt, providing support and recognizing the interests and achievements of its citizens, the Senate came out with two Bills that critical minds and of course the global community qualified as obnoxious-the Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, and the hate speech bill. At the most basic level, while the Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019, sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa,(APC Niger East), among other provisions, seeks to curtail the spread of fake information. And seeks a three-year jail term for anyone involved in what it calls the abuse of social media or an option of fine of N150, 000 or both. It also proposed a fine of N10 million for media houses involved in peddling falsehood or misleading the public.

The hate speech bill on its part, proposed that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction. This is in addition to its call for the establishment of an ‘Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches’, which shall enforce hate speech laws across the country. The above defect is by no means unique to the Senate. In fact, if what is happening in the Senate is considered by Nigerians as a challenge, that of the House of Representative is a crisis. Take as an illustration, a glance at the history of attempts seeking regulation of non-profitable organizations (NPOs) in Nigeria will reveal that no bill has ever received the level of knocks like the 9th Assembly planned but now suspended re-introduction of the NGO Bill formerly sponsored by late Honorable Umar Buba Jibril of the out-gone 8th Assembly.

The reasons for such knocks were built on the fact that if passed, it contains far-reaching, restrictive provisions than its counterparts. But one point they(House) failed to remember is that Non-Profitable Organizations are not just another platform for disseminating the truth or falsehood, information, foodstuff and other relief materials that can be controlled at will. Rather, it is a platform for pursuing the truth, and the decentralized creation and distribution of ideas; in the same way, that government is a decentralized body for the promotion and protection of the people’s life chances. It is a platform, in other words, for development that the government must partner with instead of vilification.

Looking at commentary, what also made the Bill a very controversial one lies in its quest for a regulatory commission established which shall facilitate and coordinate the work of all national and international civil society organisations and will assist in checking any likelihood of any civil society organisation being illegally sponsored against the interest of Nigeria. Weeks after the suspension of the Bill due to public outcry, the House in a related move declined the opportunity to promote local content- an expression that is daily preached within the government circle without compliance. As the house refused to patronize the locally assembled vehicles by Innoson Group, said to have been recommended for them; and in its place, opt for the 2020 edition of Toyota Camry which will not only double the price of the initially recommended but, will cost a whooping N5 Billion to purchase 400 of the Toyota Camry model needed by the house.

Essentially, aside from the rejection of Innoson brand of SUV’s initially recommended for members, and in its place, went for 2020 edition of Toyota Camry, that will gulp about N5billion of tax payers money, what, however, made the development newsy is that the house going by report has before now been at the forefront promoting the local content laws in the country. Of course, one strategic implication of the above is that it explains why what is today said at the floor of the national assembly hardly matters that much more to the people.

Within the distance, the House, again, through Honourable Odebumi Olusegun, of Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere federal constituency (APC, Oyo), pushed for the passage of a bill tagged; “Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended), which provides that: “no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors during their period of office.” And have same provision extended to accommodate/cover Presiding Officers of Legislative officers during their period of office.” This, and many other worrying developments from the current 9th Assembly in the last two year is in my views not the best way to legislate for the poor.

As the world watches in awe, Nigeria and Nigerians who are the victims’ of these ill fated legislations may forgive but they will never forget the 9th NASS. In fact, generations yet unborn will hear of their deeds and marvel at their legislation as posterity is already taking records.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;j[email protected]/08032725374.

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