The historic 2015 general elections have come and gone. But the fact remains that it altered the configuration in the National Assembly with the relatively new All Progressives Congress displacing the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, which had held the reins of governance in the Executive arm and had dominated the Federal legislature in the past 16 years.
In line with the provision of the 1999 constitution, the inauguration of the Senate and the House of Representatives could not be deemed to have been completed without being preceded by the election of the principal officers of the Senate and those of the House of Representatives, respectively.
But the attempt by the 8th National Assembly to pick its principal officers did not go without some drama, which has yet to come to an end.
So, on the 9th of June last year, the Clerk, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, convened the National Assembly by reading President Muhammadu Buhari’s proclamation letter on the floor of the Senate to the two thirds of senators present during the special session.
Against the expectations of Nigerians who had been looking forward to a change in the governance of the country, the 8th National Assembly launched itself into the nation’s political firmament with a crisis over the election of its leaders in both chambers of the legislature.
They refused to be browbeaten by the APC leadership into going against their own wishes.
The lawmakers’ rebellion against the APC leadership produced Senator Bukola Saraki and Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Senate President and Deputy Senate President, respectively, while their counterparts in the House of Representatives decided to cast their lot for Yakubu Dogara and Sulaiman Lasun as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively, in keenly contested elections and left in the cold the APC leaders’ anointed candidates for the speakership and deputy, Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila, respectively.
The outright refusal of the legislators to toe the line of the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress in electing their principal officers signposted the beginning of internal wrangling and division within the National Assembly, with the Senate being worse hit.
And so, the 8th National Assembly began its first year business on a rather stormy note, troubled by the intrigues that followed the election of the four principal officers of the Federal legislature.
The intrigues also resulted in the unexpected election of Senator Ike Ekweremadu of the opposition PDP as Deputy Senate President, a development which denied the majority APC the chances of clinching other crucial positions in the National Assembly.
The result of this schism by the APC legislators is the slow pace of work suffered by the National Assembly in its primary business of law-making.
Barely 15 days after the inauguration of the House of Representatives, built-up tension amongst members of the majority APC exploded into a fracas on the floor of the House on June 24, 2015. This earned for the eighth House the unenviable record of one having the earliest fracas during any session since 1999. It was not until July that Speaker Dogara finally bowed to pressure from the party leadership to accept Gbajabiamila as the House Leader.
“The outright refusal of the legislators to toe the line of the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress in electing their principal officers signposted the beginning of internal wrangling and division within the National Assembly”
Apart from this, intrigues and disagreements over the composition of House committees also further divided the lawmakers, culminating in some of them who felt short-changed resigning from certain committees they considered not ‘juicy’ enough. The lawmakers, after a while made efforts to put all these behind them and settle down for business.
Senate President Saraki’s trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged false declaration of assets and money laundering, political watchers say, has also made it impossible for the lawmakers, especially those in the Senate to concentrate fully on making laws for the effective running of governance in the country.
Many of Saraki’s colleagues shamelessly continued to accompany him to the CCT, not minding the moral question raised by this development on the integrity of the Senate and rather than settling down to the business of law-making.
The embattled senate president himself refused to step down from office to face trial for alleged offences.
The division of the senators into three major groups due to the internal wrangling which arose following the emergence of Saraki as the Senate President, no doubt, affected the composition of the Senate standing committees, a matter which dragged on for long. Senators who pitched their tents with each of the groups identified as the Unity Group, the Like Minds and the PDP group, fought tooth and nail to secure juicy committees, thereby delaying the process longer than necessary.
Saraki’s emergence as the Senate President against the dictates of the leadership of the ruling APC, political analysts believe, also brought about a frosty relationship with the Executive, resulting in the small number of the Executive Bills presented to the National Assembly in the past one year.
This shortcoming was, however, made up for by the National Assembly members themselves, who sponsored many private member bills, motions and resolutions in both chambers of the Legislature in the past one year.
With the frosty relationship between the National Assembly and the Executive, it was no surprise that the Legislature’s committees during the first one year, were allegedly starved of the required funding for their operations.
But hardly had the dust raised by the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly settled, than the brouhaha over the 2016 appropriation bill began.
Allegations and counter allegations between the National Assembly and the Presidency over the whereabouts of the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the ‘padding’ of the budget and omission of certain key projects when it was eventually found, dragged on for so long that the controversies which attended its passage were recorded as probably the longest and the worst in the history of the Nigerian Legislature.
Political analysts are, however, of the view that with the issues distracting the lawmakers in the past one year now almost completely thrashed out, they would turn a new leaf in the subsequent years by facing squarely their primary duty of making laws for the good governance of the country and performing their oversight functions.
Much as both chambers are working on many bills, analysts have noted the absence of robust debates on the floor of the two chambers of the National Assembly. They are of the opinion that most of the legislators in both chambers are just bench-warmers as only a few of them regularly make contributions on the floors.
However, some of the bills introduced by the eighth National Assembly have largely been described as controversial. They include the grazing route/reserve bill and the Frivolous Petitions Bill, also called the ‘Social Media Bill’, which was later withdrawn by its sponsor, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah.
In spite of this, observers note that the 8th NASS appears to have somehow made the efforts to live up to expectations, especially by passing more bills into law than their predecessors.
Assessing the performance of the 109 Senators and their 360 counterparts in the House of Representatives, a former member from Ekiti State, Daramola Abimbola, said, “Though the house has shown their strength in the last one year, especially in the area of bills passage, they need to perform better in their second year.”
Many keen followers of the country’s NASS have, however, noted with dismay some of the activities of the lawmakers.
One of these is the issue of the 2016 budget.
Though the budget reportedly came to the National Assembly with a legion of errors, the National Assembly failed to clean it up as expected.
The original budget size was N6.08trillion. It went down to N6.07tn and eventually came out with N6.06tn. After the buck passing between the Executive and Legislature over the document, the budget was eventually signed into law in May.
In this regard, the 8th National Assembly holds the record of encouraging delay in passing the budget delay to as late as May.
The lawmakers, during their initial sessions focused on providing generously for their accommodation, sundry allowances, vehicles, severance pay and other welfare packages, not taking into consideration the current economic crunch.
But with the strident public hues and cries that greeted their action, they were compelled to review downward their 2016 budget from N150 billion to N115 billion.
Commenting on the performance of the lawmakers, an international political analyst, Bayo Oluwasanmi, said, “The National Assembly is a failed institution. It represents the world’s most corrupt and undemocratic legislature. It is the most cockeyed system of minority rule, one that allows a tiny corrupt coterie to hold Nigerians to ransom until their demands are met.”
Speaking in the same vein, an elder statesman and chieftain of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, rated the 8th NASS very low.
He said, “So far so good. We have all seen the Senate in the last one year and their worth. The National Assembly is the product of the ruling party, and there is no way you can separate them from Buhari.
“They are all the product of the change we are all experiencing. But examining them critically, in the last one year, the assembly has not lived up to expectations.”
The octogenarian politician, however, urged the 8th NASS to put its house in order and avoid a repeat of the series of distractions they had to contend with during their first legislative year.
A former senator, Femi Omilani, however, disagreed with Oluwasanmi and Adebanjo on the assessment of the National Assembly.
Omilani argued that the lawmakers had tried their best in the past one year, against all the odds and succeeded in scaling the hurdles.
He noted that the achievements of the Buhari-led Executive had rubbed off on the National Assembly whose members should be rated high in terms of performance.
For incumbent Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, representing Abia North, his colleagues in both chambers of the National Assembly must sit up as they commence the second legislative year.
“We are not there yet, we need to do more for the electorate. We might have been receiving commendations and critics from people and political watchers, but we need to do more,” Ohuabunwa said.