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@ 58 NASS oversight still inadequate

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Much can be said to have been achieved in the areas of lawmaking, number of bills, motions passed and good representation by 469 lawmakers in the National assembly since 1999 when Nigeria returned to constitutional democracy, but the performance index in oversight is suspect, writes Kassim Omomia,@ Nigeria58.

Instructively the role of the legislature upon which the national assembly play a vital role in the lawmaking process in the tripartite governance structure of Nigeria, transcends celebration, festive and annual rituals. The federal government is run by a –three- arm structured government: the legislature, executive and judiciary, and both sectors are expected to be independent in a principle that separates their individual roles and responsibilities, from one another, while still collaborating for the purpose of good governance
The legislature, whether at the local government, states and the federal altitude, ordinarily is the bastion of democracy, which is the government presently practices in Nigeria since 1999 after years of military rule. Whereas democracy is laced and practiced on the sacred altar of the rule of law, and it is expected statutorily, that the national assembly like other assemblies of lawmaking should be the sanctuary of lawmaking, performance of the legislature, nay the national assembly as Nigeria turns 58, expectedly should be the impact of the laws and how they have been implemented by the executive branch for good governance, service delivery, development and progress of the people and citizenry and for good cause.
However, the remarkable question usually, of what is the role or function of the national assembly, till date is misunderstood, outside their statutory job of lawmaking, representation and oversight. Many still have the notion that it is the lawmaker that should provide hospitals, roads, schools, pocket money, and bursary, while is not also their duties to pay hospital bills and school fees of constituents. Essentially these are not the roles and functions of the lawmaker, except the ones listed above upon which the legislature or the national assembly’s performance can be assessed in any given scale.
In making laws, the National assembly which comprises the two chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives is a bicameral legislature, were laws are made, agreed and harmonized by both houses before it is forwarded for assent and approval of the President.

The Senate is comprised of 109 members and the House 360 lawmakers. So for any law to be operational, it must be approved by 469 members of the National assembly who are representatives of the over 200mllion Nigerians

However since 2015 inception of the session of this current national assembly referred to as the 8th House of Representatives, the lawmakers in the Green chambers have passed 222 Bills.

The bills according to the Chairman House committee on Media and publicity, AbdulRasak Namdas is from the 1,473 bills of which 90 are on constitutional amendment introduced in the House from 2015-2018.
Namdas told the Nigerian Pilot that “In the last three years in office, we have introduced 1,473 bills and 90 of the bills were on constitutional amendment.
“A total of 519 of the bills are awaiting second reading while 284 bills have been referred to various committees of the house.
“One hundred and twelve bills are awaiting consideration and 222 bills have been successfully passed by the 8th House of Representatives,” he said.
The spokesman also stated there were 22 “negative bills’’, those that were thrown out by the house during the period and that 23 bills were withdrawn by the leave of the house.
According to the spokesman, he argued that the success of getting the country out of recession was informed by part, the critical bills and intervention of the national assembly and working in close concert with the Executive.

Namdas explained that the House had organized sectoral debates where stakeholders deliberated on ways to get the country out of the recession, in addition to resuscitating the moribund Ajaokuta steel company which has been in comatose in the last decades.
He listed the widely-celebrated Not-Too-Young-to-Run Act, the North-East Development Commission Act as a product of the National assembly during the period

“In the next one year, we shall ensure that we double our efforts to ensure that Nigerians get the dividends of democracy. We shall ensure that good laws to help executive are made for the good of the country,” he said.
On the House part, he said that some resolutions were not being implemented by the executive.
According to him, some of our resolutions are being implemented but majority are not and it is a problem for the House and stressed the need for improvement in the implementation of resolutions of the house, even though are mere advisory.

On the part of the senate, it has assed 201 bills since inception, among which is the popular Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB),

Other bills include, National Railway Corporation Act 1955 N129 LFN 2004 (Repeal & Re-enactment Bill 2015: Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act CAP B2 LFN 2011 (Repeal and Re-enactment) 2015: Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2015: National Poverty Eradication Commission (Est, etc)Bill 2015: North East Development Commission (NEDC) (Est, etc) Bill 2015

It also passed the Prohibition and Protection of persons from lynching, mob action and Extra Judicial Executions Bill, 2017 ; Nigeria Financial Intelligence Agency (Est, Etc.) Bill, 2017 as well as the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill 2015 and Nigerian Peace Corps (Establishment, etc) Bill 2015: the National Unity and Peace Corps (Establishment, etc) Bill 2015
Others include; Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous provision) Amendment Bill 2015 and the Federal Roads Authority (Establishment, etc) Bill 2016

On Constitutional amendments, the National assembly passed several aimed at good governance, part of which it takes performance credit.
Titled Constitutional alteration bill, the list includes,: Alteration of the Constitution to provide for time passage of laws (assent)
– Alteration of the Constitution to provide for funding of the State Houses of Assembly directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
. – Alteration of the Constitution to include former heads of the NASS in the council of state.
. -Alteration of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the President or Governor may authorize withdrawal from the CRF in absence of an appropriation act from 6 to 3 months.
. -Alteration of the Constitution to provide for immunity of legislature in respect of words spoken or written at plenary.
– Alteration of the Constitution to abrogate the State Joint Local Govt Accounts and empower each local govt council to maintain its own special account.
– Alteration of the Constitution to strengthen local govt administration in Nigeria
– Alteration of the Constitution to provide the INEC with sufficient time to conduct bye-elections and grounds for de-registration of political parties.
– Alteration of the Constitution to delete the public complaints commission Act from the constitution.
– Alteration of the Constitution to delete the National Securities Agencies Act from the constitution.
– Alteration of the Constitution to delete the National Youth Service Decree from the Constitution.
– Alteration of the Constitution to delete state independent electoral commission from the constitution.
– Alteration of the Constitution to specify the period within which the President or Governor shall present the Appropriation Bill before NASS or SHA
– Alteration of the Constitution to reduce the age for the qualification for the offices of president, house of reps and state house of assembly.
– Alteration of the Constitution to reflect the establishment of the ISA in the constitution.
16. Alteration of the Constitution to remove law making powers from the Executive Arm of Govt.
– Alteration of the Constitution to provide for the procedure for passing a constitution alteration bill, where the president withholds assent.
– Alteration of the Constitution to reflect the establishment and core functions of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
– Alteration of the Constitution to provide time for the determination of pre-election matters.
– Alteration of the Constitution to further strengthen the judiciary for speedy dispensation of justice.
– Alteration of the Constitution to establish the AGF and separate the office from that of the minister for justice (likewise in the states).
-Alteration of the Constitution to establish the office of the accountant general of the federal govt separate from the office of the accountant general of the federation

– Alteration of the Constitution to make the office of the auditor general of the federation and states financially independent by placing them on the CRF (states).
– Alteration of the Constitution to disqualify a person sworn-in as president or governor to complete the term of the elected person from being elected to the same office for more than a single term.
– Alteration of the Constitution to change the name of the police from the Nigerian Police Force to the Nigerian Police
– Alteration of the Constitution to provide for independent candidature in elections.
– Alteration of the Constitution to provide for a change in the names of some local govt councils.
– Alteration of the Constitution to provide for the appointment of a minister from the FCT to ensure FCT is represented in the FEC.
– Alteration of the Constitution to require the President and Governor to submit names of nominated ministers or commissioners within thirty days of taking the oath of office for confirmation
On the representation role of the national assembly, it is often through presentation of motions on issues affecting the constituents and constituencies requiring government or judicial interventions, etc, as well as presenting petitions for adjudication by parliament where there are infractions against constituents by government or private agencies.

In most cases, motions that are dealt with by the National Assembly are usually for relief materials, interventions where domestic or natural disasters occur against the constituents. And for both houses, the motions for which national assembly resolutions were made or passed are numerous but were not fully implemented by the executive, leaving such challenge at the mercy of the representative, either the senator or the House member.

It is the same ball game as it affects the zonal intervention or constituency projects, which has become a big controversy and at times a huge scam because the Nigerian public is yet to be enlightened that these projects are usually proposed by the lawmakers in any budget year but are left at the mercy of the executive branch to implement or execute. Providing zonal projects for the various senatorial zones and federal constituencies are a way to get projects spread across the country on equal basis, while it is another method to also judge effective representation.

The zonal projects are those attracted to constituencies by the representative both the senate and the House. In the case of the House at the constituency level, then the senate at the senatorial district point. The intention of the scheme is to ensure equity in the allocation of projects nationwide.
In achieving this, the National Assembly yearly budgets an amount (N100bilion) of which portions are approved to lawmakers to execute projects in their constituencies.

Constituency or zonal intervention projects in Nigeria refers to developmental projects sited in the constituencies of members of the state Houses of Assembly, members of the House of Representatives or Senators by various Ministries, Departments, and Agencies( MDAs) of government as appropriated in the budgets of the federation or state.

“The constituency project itself is given on a zonal basis and almost all the National Assembly lawmaker gets a constituency fund of about N200 million, or less but not the cash but promoting a project following the needs of your people. This particular aspect has really helped in the improved performance of the national assembly in also attracting projects to their various constituencies beyond their lawmaking roles.

Just like the lawmaking and the representative functions of the national assembly, thumbs cannot go up for the members in this aspect of oversight. While they have performed creditably well in the other duties, the oversight role provided with enormous powers by the constitution has often been eroded with alleged suspicion, corruption and overbearing outside influence, mostly from the executive branch.

As an independent arm of government, the oversight function of the national assembly nay the legislature is crucial to good governance because there it exposes waste, corruption and high handedness of the executive arm but unfortunately it has been the bane to high performance index of the NASS.
So many insights and perspectives have been advanced on why the NASS is not doing well as oversight.

According honorable Samson Osagie minority whip of the House in the 7thAssembly, in a part paper tiltled “Challenges Facing the National Assembly in the Exercise of its Oversight Functions” he said: “In all of the discussions on the oversight functions of the National Assembly and the implications for National Development, efforts have been made to highlight the practical and ideal situation with some few examples of demonstrable evidences of the principles of parliamentary oversight.”

However, according to hon Osagie there can be no pretex that in exercising those functions, the National Assembly has not been inhibited by factors some way beyond their control, while others are self-induced.

The Legislature he argued even though the watchdog of democracy, is perhaps the most nascent and undeveloped of the three arms of government, owing principally to its being the number one victim of the political instability that has bedeviled our country since independence.

Consequently, the nation has not been able to derive the full benefits of good governance due to the under mentioned factors that are militating against effective parliamentary oversight in Nigeria.
According to him, the first challenge to the exercise of oversight functions of the National Assembly derives greatly from the method of selection and election of members of the national assembly.

“Obviously, there is a challenge with the way and manner members are chosen to represent constituencies which does not allow for the best materials and candidates who will appreciate the nature of legislative responsibility and apply themselves to the arduous task of representation and at the end of the day what the constituency gets in return is an ineffective representative who cannot contribute to the discourse on critical national issues either at plenary or committee levels. Part of why this is so, is because of the lack of internal party democracy and the over bearing influence of the state chief executives who imposes their cronies on the constituencies and the influence of money in the selection of candidates”.

The second factor affecting the effective use of oversight function for National development is the poor communication link between the Lawmakers and the citizenry who they represent. A fundamental ingredient for organizational growth and development is the necessity for a continuous and effective system of communication and feedback among members of the organization and the leaders. So also, it is for any government institution or organ. A good flow of communication is expected to occur between the electorates and their representatives in government.

He stated that for the National Assembly, this has been the bane, hence the Nigerian public has been unable to understand the essence of some of the investigations being carried out by its committees in furtherance of its oversight functions. Even for the initiation of projects in various constituencies, the feeling among the people largely is that the legislators embark on them for self-enrichment even though this cannot be entirely true. Communication is very vital for the sustenance of a viable legislative oversight regime for the National Assembly in order for the populace to have a buy in into whatever steps they are taken.

For example, the debate in the Senate recently on the policy of the Nigerian Customs Service to begin inspection of vehicles with a view to unearthing those vehicles for which custom duties were not paid was so well communicated via the social, electronic and print media that the Nigerian public supported the National Assembly but the result was the suspension of the policy by the Nigerian Customs Service on Wednesday 15th March, 2017. This is what effective communication can help the National Assembly to do in effectively utilizing its oversight functions to put the Executive or any of its agencies on check and engender accountability in governance.

Another factor affecting the effective use of legislative oversight by the National Assembly is the incidence of external influence and interference in legislative activities by powerful individuals, businessmen, political parties and the executive organ of government.

“It is not uncommon to find that critical issues being handled by the National Assembly are intercepted by powerful godfathers acting either for the Executive or some interest, because they may have one way or the other been responsible for the election of members who are concerned with such matters. Since they say, that he who pays the piper, dictates the tune, it becomes difficult for members who rode on the back of such powerful godfathers to muster the political will to continue with such matters for the interest of the nation. The result is that the process is compromised to the disadvantages of the nation. This factor is a very potent weapon undermining the performance of the National Assembly oversight functions” he noted .
Fourthly, is the resistance to oversight duties, programs and policy evaluation by government ministries department and agencies.

He warned that for effective legislative duties especially as provided by the constitution, the Legislature appraises and evaluates (oversight) what is to be done and what has been done by the Executive, which is usually done by most House Committees, but in most cases what happens, is the resistance by government officials against legislative committee from carrying out their functions effectively.

For instance among many instances even in the Buhari administration, he cited an example of the resistance of former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke during the administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, against her summons to appear before the house committees to explain her expenditure of N10 billion on chartered flights in her capacity as Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources. She successfully prevented the House of Representatives Committee investigating the matter through a court order.

On the part of the legislators, some members exhibit a lacklustre attitude towards legislative oversight unless there are pecuniary benefits. This leads to inefficiency in the discharge of legislative oversight. Ezeani (2006:311) posited that policy evaluation by the Legislature often leads to indictment of certain government officials and institutions. Hence to avert this, government officials and agencies resist oversight if they anticipate unfavourable consequences. Sometimes this resistance could lead to non – release of funds to the Legislature in order hinder or slow down the discharge of its constitutional mandate. The Nigerian National Assembly has experienced all these in our chequered democratic history.
According to him on the challenges facing the National Assembly in the discharge of its oversight duties, he cited corruption in the Legislature which cannot be denied.

He said “the reason for this stems from the nature of legislators elected and systemic nature of corruption in our society, adding that the kind of corruption that affect the National Assembly has to do with deviating from the normal set standard of doing something to doing it in an unacceptable manner.

The Executive arm Osagie explained further contributes greatly to the corruption in the Legislature by inducing members to overlook certain matters which will be adverse to their integrity during oversight.
It could also be used to influence the Legislature to give expeditious consideration to certain bills or matters presented by the Executive to the Legislature in which they have interest and in most cases, negate the interest of the public, he also argued

As a way to enhance performance of national assembly members going forward and as the country adds another year in an unbroken 19 year democracy, it is significant that the lawmakers their duties more seriously by being responsible and responsive to the task of lawmaking, representation and oversight.

While it is true that there is a high rate of truancy by the lawmakers, when occasionally each chamber hardly constitute a quorum during consideration of important bills, reports that affect the nation, reports from the committees, indicate an intricate level of malingering, during committee sittings, works where some legislators hardly attend meetings, oversights except there are pecuniary benefits. This attitude must stop if the people, must get the desired democracy dividends from their representatives both in the house and senate.

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