LEGISLATING FOR ACCOUNTABILITY & PROSPERITY-TASKS BEFORE NIGERIA’S 8TH ASSEMBLY

Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

About a year ago, the 8th Legislature in Nigeria, known as the 8th National Assembly was inaugurated. This followed the successful conduct of the 2015 elections, which produced in addition to President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, 109 Senators & 360 Members of the House of Representatives at the national level.

The agenda set by the leadership of the National Assembly to guide proceedings of the two chambers from 2015 to 2019, shows a resolve to operate an accountable, open and transparent legislature.

Both the Senate President-Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives-Yakubu Dogara, have posited that the 8th Assembly will work earnestly to build capacity, strengthen oversight duties and increase interaction with the Civil Society.

In order to achieve this agenda, the 8th National Assembly identified what it called; thirty priority Bills that must be passed, to actualise the Change agenda of the All Progressives Congress-led government.

Some of the priority Bills include Police Reform Bill, Justice Reform Bill, Criminal Procedure Law Amendment Bill, Budget Reform Bill and the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), among others. The Legislature argues that these priority Bills would give backing to necessary reforms in the areas of security, judiciary, anti-corruption, taxation & poverty eradication.

Analysts and pundits of the Legislature however, argue that the 8th Assembly will only achieve its set agenda if it departs from such practices that are inimical to democratic norms, which dogged past Assemblies. In particular, examples have been cited of the passage of 46 Bills within a record ten minutes during the 7th Senate. Through the tenure of the 7th Assembly from 2011 to 2015, only 123 Bills were passed.

Such frivolity by the Legislature not only undermines their assigned duties but amounts to a disrespect for the confidence reposed in them by Nigerians, who they were elected to serve.

Secondly, politicising or trivialising Bills intended to liberalise the country’s economy and grow other sectors hitherto abandoned, would not ensure accountability, development and prosperity. This 8th Assembly must understand that it has the onerous task of legislating for the present and the future of Nigeria’s economic growth, political stability and social cohesion. It is not a task to be treated with levity.

So far, 4 Bills have been passed including the 2016 Appropriation, 8 other the Bills have passed second reading, 114 Bills have undergone first reading and 48 Motions have been passed for necessary Executive action.

Among the people-oriented Bills that have passed the second reading is the North East Development Commission Bill, which seeks to establish a Commission to co-ordinate the affairs of that geo-political zone in Nigeria, which has been degraded by activities of Boko Haram insurgents over the last seven years.

At a public hearing on the Bill held recently, the Senate President Saraki while commending the military for tactically winning the war against the insurgents, said the war can be won in the hearts and minds of the people of the North-east and the only way to do that was to give them back their lives. This sums up the essence of the proposed Commission.

Since their inauguration, the 8th Assembly has probed a few policy procedures, including the Treasury Single Account (TSA) which led to the halting of the one per cent commission charged by System-Specs, owner of the remita software used for the TSA. That action has been praised by Nigerians in general as a demonstration of the commitment expected of the Legislature to, entrench a culture of accountability, in furtherance of the vision of good governance, needed to usher in a new era of prosperity for the country.

With the implementation of the 2016 Appropriation underway, lawmakers must continue to perform effective oversight to ensure proper utilisation of appropriated funds. Concurrently, a timely preparation of the 2017 budget would avert the avoidable delays that plagued the signing of the 2016 Appropriation law. It would also afford Legislators adequate time to do justice to the fiscal document.

Indeed, the Legislature as the second tier of government, is the veritable platform for propelling accountability and prosperity within a democracy. It therefore, behoves lawmakers and other partners to work in concert to effect as a matter of priority, urgently needed amendments to the 1999 constitution, to fast-track Nigeria’s development.

Without a doubt, Nigerians are anxious to see the 8th National Assembly set the country on the path of legislating for accountability and prosperity of all.

 

H.S