As the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly and election of Presiding Officers hold today, Nigerians have called on the bicameral legislature to immediately revisit the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, and constitution amendment bills.
They also listed other critical bills which the federal lawmakers should prioritise to include the Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Amendment Bill, Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill, National Housing Fund Bill and National Transport Commission Bill.
Those who spoke to BusinessDay on the matter also called on the Assembly to be patriotic and review jumbo allowances which continue to raise concern, considering the fragile state of the nation’s economy.
They also want the lawmakers to immediately revisit critical bills which the Eighth National Assembly (2015-2019) was unable to pass or which were rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In an interview with BusinessDay on Monday, Eze Onyekpere, lead director, Centre for Social Justice, called on the National Assembly to immediately draw up a legislative agenda which will contain what it intends to achieve in its lifetime.
Today will witness the election of four principal officers – Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy Speaker.
As of the time of filing this report, 13 lawmakers-elect have indicated interest to vie for the four positions.
They include seven senators-elect in the Senate out of which two are running for the seat of the Senate presidency and the remaining five for the position of deputy Senate president.
In the House of Representatives, five members-elect are contesting for the seat of speakership and one for deputy speakership position.
As of the time of filing this report, aspirants for position of Senate President include the Majority Leader in the Eighth Senate, Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe) and his predecessor, Ali Ndume (APC, Borno).
Those aspiring for the seat of Deputy Senate President are Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta), Robert Boroffice (APC, Ondo), Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano), Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia) and Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo).
In the House of Representatives, the five contestants for speakership are Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos), Umar Bago (APC, Niger), John Dyegh (APC, Benue), Olajide Olatunbosun (Oyo, APC), and Emeka Nwajiuba (Accord, Imo). Ahmed Idris Wase is the only contestant for the seat of deputy speaker as of the time of filing this report.
Johnson Chukwu, managing director, Cowry Assets, said he expects a better harmony between the two arms of government without compromising the tenets of separation of power, while also enacting legislations that would promote free enterprise.
“They should ensure that there is a balance between the three arms of government. That the separation of power is sustained because that is the basis on which democracy is built. Secondly, they should come up with legislation that will encourage free enterprise,” Chukwu said.
Recall that both the leadership of the APC and President Buhari had made public their preference for Lawan as Senate president and Gbajabiamila for House of Representatives speaker. While some pundits have argued that the emergence of the adopted candidates would eliminate the executive-legislature rift that characterised the Eighth National Assembly, others however, believe this would make the legislative arm of government a rubber stamp of the executive.
“If the rubber-stamped candidates emerge, do you expect problem? They will be rubber-stamping everything (for the executive). But then, if candidates who we did not expect to emerge are elected, the road would be stormy and rough,” Onyekpere added.
Ralph Agama, a constitutional lawyer, charged the incoming Assembly to focus on the rejected bills like the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill and other economic priority legislations which President Buhari had declined assent to.
Industry experts say Nigeria has lost $50 billion worth of investment in the oil and gas sector as a result of the non-passage of the PIGB.
The investment, which was lost in the last 20 years, would have culminated in additional crude oil production of 1.5 million barrels per day for the country.
Solomon Gbenga, national youth leader of the Young People’s Party (YPP), urged the incoming Assembly to rework the Electoral Act and ensure autonomy for local governments.
“I want the lawmakers to work on some new bills. The Electoral Act should work. We need new electoral system such that it is going to help us grow new election laws because what we have is only to favour some set of people. If the Electoral Act is passed accordingly, everything is going to work in favour of Nigerians and not just for some individuals,” Gbenga said.
Apaa Wombo, lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Mkar, Benue State, also advised the new Assembly to step up oversight functions, deliver on constituency projects and work independently with less interference from the executive.
Concern mounts on marginalisation of South East
While choosing the principal officers, the federal lawmakers have been advised to accommodate all sections of the country in the leadership net to avoid lopsidedness, which could also breed allegation of marginalisation.
Speaking with BusinessDay Monday, Guy Ikokwu, a Second Republic politician, wondered: “If you don’t have a National Assembly whose leadership is inclusive then who are they debating for, because it departs from democratic norms?
“The current situation shows that Nigeria is not moving in the right direction every region should be carried along in the running of the country.”
He further blamed the leadership of the APC for the current situation, adding that it was not a good sign for the country.
“The APC leadership should blame themselves for whatever happened in the National Assembly. It shows that Nigeria is a failed state; every part of the country should be carried along not only in the National Assembly but in the appointment of security chiefs which is not the case now,” Ikokwu added.
Orji Uzor Kalu, a newly elected senator from Abia State in the South East, had said recently that his decision to contest for the deputy Senate president position was because it would be unfair for the region to be totally shutout in the leadership of the National Assembly.
Kalu further stated that the move was to ensure that Southeast region gets full representation.
“Let me be honest with you even if the party asks me not to run, I will run on the floor of the House, this is one position I have to run for because you cannot leave the Southeast alone, you can’t leave them behind,” Kalu said.
“We are in the process of doing the right thing and the East will be given a place in the scheme of things. I am asking that the east should be given the Deputy Senate President. There is a high level of discussions about that and I’m sure that by partisan it would be a law in the House,” he added.
Olisa Agbakoba, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), equally pointed out that the decision of the leadership of the APC was a breach of the constitution and federal character commission, stressing that the move may not lead to unity in the both chambers.
“What have happened is not good, it does not lead to legislative harmony, the constitution says the process of appointing people must include ethnic consideration it is a breach of the federal character and section 14 of the constitution,” Agbakoba said.
“I don’t know how the APC expect legislative harmony and inclusion with this arrangement, and they expect the Southeast to be happy? I though they said their government would be inclusive, except they are telling us they are still campaigning; we are talking about governance,” he added.