Shortly after its inauguration on June 9, 2015, 360 members of the House of Representatives debated and subsequently adopted a working instrument called ‘the legislative agenda’. It is an articulated action plan aimed at the overall socio-economic and political development of Nigeria.
Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, had explained that the legislative agenda will improve the process of governance by legislating to cut the cost of running government, reduce wastage and tackle national revenue leakages.
It has since become a roadmap (spanning from 2015-2019) to drive legislative activities of the eighth House towards improving on parliamentary administration in the country.
In his opening remarks to commence sectoral debates on May 3, the speaker said the eighth House will ensure adequate oversight of the executive arm to enhance good governance. He stated that there will be no more lip service in the diversification of Nigeria’s dwindling economy. Dogara, therefore, called for urgency in diversifying the economy in order to improve its Gross Domestic Product, GDP. He expressed confidence that all that is required to successfully transform the economy and earn it foreign exchange is available within the country.
“With the fall in crude oil price, Nigeria really has no choice but to stop paying lip service to the urgent need for diversification of sources of revenue. The acute scarcity of foreign exchange, power supply challenges, falling GDP and fuel scarcity are some of the current issues of national importance to be fixed.
“It is our belief that Nigeria possesses the human and material resources required to successfully transform our economy and earn the needed foreign exchange. It is time for Nigeria to develop and transform into a knowledge-based economy. Indeed ICT, agriculture, solid minerals, culture, tourism and entertainment; trade, investment and manufacturing; taxation and finance policies; science and technology; efficient infrastructure such as power and transportation etc have huge roles to play in the diversification of the economy.‎
“The broad objective of sectoral debates is to deepen the engagement of members and the executive in national development policy issues and to promote the enactment of appropriate laws to enhance economic growth and development”.
He said the sectoral debates were necessitated by the compelling need for stakeholders, particularly the executive and legislature to engage in dialogue towards finding sustainable policy strategies and legislations for quick recovery of the economy. He said at the end of the exercise, the outcome should be applied by the federal government to help actualise its change agenda.
“We expect that these debates would help us craft new laws, lead to better oversight processes and change the way we do things in Nigeria. It is our firm conviction that there is no better way to help deliver the change that our people yearn for than by speaking to those aspirations and insisting that we walk the talk‎,” Dogara stated.
First to appear and address the lawmakers on the sectoral debates was the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed. In his presentation, Mohammed said the tourism sector only contributions 1.5 percent to the country’s GDP. He informed the lawmakers that efforts were being made to raise the GDP to 2.5 percent in the next three years through partnership with state governments and increasing the training capacity of the local people.
While admitting that tourism cannot flourish without massive investment in the sector, the minister hinted that they are working towards addressing infrastructure decay in the sector. He disclosed that his ministry is working closely with that of foreign affairs to recover all stolen artifacts during the Benin invasion, adding that the problem with tourism in Nigeria is lack of infrastructure in tourist sites and not the master plan.
On his part, Minister of Solid Minerals, Kayode Fayemi, appealed to the lawmakers to make a formal assessment of the mining laws with a view to increase participation of state and host communities in the exploration of solid minerals.
The minister said the review of the laws would make the sector viable, stressing that obsolete laws remain part of the challenges confronting the development of the sector.
“If we are to aid mining, states and host communities must become much more active than they are now. They don’t have to be spectators; they should be central actors in the process and it will also help the federal government to monitor closely what is being done and reduce the level of illegal activities,” Fayemi told the lawmakers.
He revealed that some of the problems confronting the sector are lack of data, poor exploration of minerals and the challenges faced by individuals operating in the sector among others. The minister said for mining to aid the diversification of the economy, the monopoly of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, needs to be broken to enable miners move minerals across the country for various purposes.
Of course, the sectoral debates is the first of its kind in the lower chamber, where specific legislative time is being allocated to ministers to speak on their respective sectors.
So far, five ministers have appeared before the House. They are: Lai Mohammed (Minister of Information and Culture); Audu Ogbeh (Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development); Okechukwu Enelamah (Minister of Trade, Investment and Industry); Kayode Fayemi (Minister of Solid Minerals) and Adebayo Shittu (Minister of Communications).
Lo and behold, what the lawmakers and indeed Nigerians have seen this past two weeks is not cheering and inspiring.
The tradition is that the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila would suspend Order XIX, Rule 217 (1) of the Standing Orders of the House for admittance into the chamber of the minister and his entourage, for the purpose of sectoral debate. The speaker would formally welcome the minister and his entourage before the visitor is given the go-ahead to make his presentation.
Lo and behold, the sectoral debates, designed specifically to ascertain what the ministers are doing to diversify the economy via their respective sectors, has been turned into a long boring speech-making event deviod of clear-cut ideas on how to diversify the economy.
For instance, midway into the presentation, some of the lawmakers lost concentration and fell asleep. It was not surprising when some of them asked questions that have nothing to do with diversification.
The member representing Konshisha/Vandekiya Federal Constituency of Benue State, Herman Hembe, captured the scenario succinctly when he expessed displeasure on the long and boring speech by the minister of communications. He was quick to point out that many of them easily doze off at such long speeches. He, therefore, suggested a concise and straigth-to-the-point speech.
In view of this, many analysts have argued that both the lawmakers and the ministers have deviated from the real intent of the sectoral debates which is diversification. They hinged their argument on the fact that even when the ministers are making long speeches that have no bearing on economic diversification, the lawmakers should have insisted on clear-cut ideas.
But the House said it has not deviated from the sectoral debates. Its spokesman, Abdulrazak Namdas, said the questions they asked were based on the ministers’ presentation.
“We have not deviated from the sectoral debates, which is on diversification of the economy. The lawmakers asked questions based on the presentation. If there is any deviation, it should be from the ministers,” Namdas stated.
No doubt, the debate is one venture that the Green Chamber will not afford to fail; the lawmakers should stamp their feet on the ground and insist that any minister that appears before it must have concrete action plans on how to move its ministry to the next level.
Part of their mandate as ministers is to help President Muhammadu Buhari actualise the change agenda promised to Nigerians and whereby a minister has no clue as to how to drive this positive change down to the masses, certainly the person has no business in the current cabinet.
Moreover, Nigerians want to see a robust, vibrant and engaging debate on the floor of the House in the coming days.