Simon Ekpe(simonedetekpe@ yahoo.com)
In what appears to be President Yar’Adua’s personal assessment of the performance of the National Assembly last week, the President accused the lawmakers of passing just four executive bills into law throughout last year and only one – the 2009 Appropriation Bill – five months into the current year.
Other details of Yar’Adua’s verdict on the performance of the National Assembly showed that no private bill came from the Assembly to the executive for assent. In all, it was reported that a total of 68 bills were presented by the executive to the legislative arm of government for passage into law.
The President has thus blamed the National Assembly for slowing down his pace by not passing some of the bills that would have set some of his reform agenda on motion.
These are very weighty allegations that we cannot afford to gloss over. Coming from the President himself, they are allegations that must be viewed with all the seriousness they deserve. If it is indeed true that the lawmakers’ productivity level has been so low, how then can they justify the huge cost in taxpayers’ money that goes into running the legislature?
What has the nation gained from the jumbo remuneration package that the legislators have approved for themselves?
For instance, the allocation for the National Assembly in the 2009 budget proposal presented by Yar’Adua was N64.17 billion, but this was scaled up to N111 billion by the time it went through the National Assembly.
Over the years, the National Assembly seems to have become adept at performing oversight functions to the detriment of law making. All we hear at the National Assembly these days are probes, probes and more probes. It is either the lawmakers are probing the power sector or the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation or the Federal Capital Territory . Ordinarily, this could have been a welcome development if the target was to bring about improvement. Regrettably, the probes have not taken us anywhere.
A good example of the journey to no known destination is the power probe that was hailed by many as the best thing that ever happened to the country. It was meant to show how $16 billion was allegedly frittered away without anything tangible to show for it. In a show that was on national television for days, we saw how highly placed Nigerians collected money for jobs not done.
We saw how companies that were fully paid did not even know the way to the project sites. More than a year after, the report of the power probe committee is yet to be debated at the National Assembly. In fact, recent newspaper reports indicate that the committee’s report has been thrown away. And who are the losers? The ordinary Nigerians who may never enjoy constant and uninterrupted electricity in their lifetime.
Interestingly, during the visit of the committee to the various sites of the power projects across the country, there was an allegation that the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Ndudi Elumelu, was given N100 million bribe. The House of Representatives quickly set up a committee that cleared him. That was before his current involvement with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. And that has been the pattern with the National Assembly.
Each time a member is involved in any kind of scandal, a committee will be constituted that would free the person. Just recently, some senators were said to have travelled to Ghana under the sponsorship of some oil companies, at a time the oil sector reform bill was still pending at the Senate.
Initially, the Senate, through its spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, had said that the report of the trip was not true. The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, even complained that it was a calculated attempt by the Presidency to rubbish the Senate. Eze would admit later that his colleagues actually travelled without the knowledge of the Senate leadership, as required by rules of the upper legislative chamber.
The surprise was that, even as he was admitting that his colleagues travelled, Eze was quick to add that he had been assured that they did not compromise themselves. This sounds like absolving them of any culpability when the committee that was set up to investigate the trip had not yet finished its job.
Similarly, the issue of the purchase of over 300 Peugeot cars by the House of Representatives after members had collected their monetisation readily comes to mind. A panel was also constituted that cleared the leadership of the House.
What kind of justice system is it that allows one to sit in judgment over one’s own case? Since the National Assembly has shown so much penchant for investigation, it must also be open to investigation.
There must be transparency in its activities. Nigerians must be able to walk up to those in the administrative arm of the Assembly and demand the attendance register for their representatives. They should have a right to know how well their representatives have been representing them.
That is where the Freedom of Information Bill comes in. Who is afraid of the bill? How come the Senate has refused to pass the bill that entitles Nigerians to access the asset declaration forms of political office holders? Why is the National Assembly so reluctant to pass the FOI bill into law? Do the lawmakers have anything to hide?
If they must probe and see what others are doing, they must also be open to scrutiny. That is the true meaning of checks and balances in a democratic dispensation. Democracy loses its flavour and dividends when the people’s representatives are perceived as clogs in the wheel of progress.