Lawmakers of the National Assembly are expected to resume legislative activities today after a three-week break to observe the Christmas and New Year holidays. It would be the final months of the ninth assembly which will end in June.
As they prepare to embark on the last lap of their tenure, priorities and expectations are high. For lawmakers who are seeking re-election, the focus would be on carrying out legislative duties that will further sell their ambitions and secure their seats, while lawmakers who will not return will probably want to wrap up their legislative agenda for the tenure.
In the previous year, the lawmakers passed key legislations like the Electoral Bill and the Petroleum Industry Bill – which have all been signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari. The lawmakers also passed the 2023 budget in December despite observing “problems” in the proposed budget.
However, as they resume legislative activities for the new year, and wind down activities for the session, here are a few things to expect:
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives began amendments to the 1999 Constitution. It would be the fifth alteration to the laws. First, they approved a report that proposed 68 amendments to the Constitution and then voted on them electronically.
Some of the proposed amendments voted upon include abrogating state and local governments’ joint accounts, financial autonomy for state assemblies and judiciary, legislative summons, life pension for the presiding officers of the National Assembly, virtual court proceedings, Diaspora voting and extra seats for women in the parliament.
Others are independent candidacy, mayor for Abuja, power of the parliament to summon the president and governor, immunity for the presiding officers of the legislature, timeframe for appointing ministers and commissioners, expanding the scope of citizenship by registration, separating the office of the attorney general from the Minister of Justice and moving VAT to exclusive legislative list.
The exercise has, however, suffered a setback because 25 states have refused to consider and vote on the amendments. The states threatened to take no action on the bills unless four more constitutional amendment bills are considered and passed by the National Assembly.
The bills are – to establish state police, establish states’ judicial council, streamline the procedure for removing presiding officers of state houses of assembly and to institutionalise legislative bureaucracy in the Constitution.
Although lawmakers had called on civic groups, the media and other interested parties to appeal to the states to vote on the amendments, many hope that an update will be given before the end of the ninth assembly. Or better still, progress will be made in the process.
Buhari’s N23.7 trillion expenditure
There is a pending request from the president for the National Assembly to approve N23.7 trillion already spent by the federal government. The president said the money was borrowed from the Central Bank of Nigeria over a period of 10 years and asked that the lawmakers approve a repayment plan.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how senators disagreed during the consideration of the president’s request last Wednesday. The chamber was thrown into a rowdy session when some lawmakers kicked against the request described as unconstitutional.
While some lawmakers demanded details of the expenditure, others wondered why the amount was taken without the notice and approval of the National Assembly. The disagreement forced the lawmakers to suspend consideration of the president’s request till 17 January to allow for proper scrutiny.
During the 2023 budget signing two weeks ago, Mr Buhari asked the lawmakers to reconsider their decision and that failure to approve the amount could cost the government over N1 trillion. And on the same day, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said the National Assembly “is considering the president’s request.”
Consideration and possible approval of this request are predicted to be the top priority when the lawmakers resume. Many believe it would be the only major legislative action they would take before they embark on another break to participate in the general election.
Crucial bills, motions, reports
In the coming months, lawmakers are expected to sponsor and debate a number of bills. They are also expected to expedite action and pass pending bills. While the National Assembly has considered and passed some crucial bills – with some of them signed into law – there are other important and somewhat controversial bills that are pending at different stages in both chambers.
Some of these legislations are:
** The Electoral Offences bill: It seeks to investigate and prosecute cases of electoral violence and establish penalties for people found guilty of electoral fences like vote buying and violence, among others. The prescribed penalties range from payment of fines to years of imprisonment.
The bill is currently awaiting the third and final reading at both chambers.
** Anti Sexual Harassment bill, with 25 clauses, seeks to promote and protect ethical standards in tertiary institutions.
It also seeks to protect students against sexual harassment as well as prevent sexual harassment of students by educators in tertiary institutions.
The legislation proposes up to 14 years jail term for offenders.
** House report on the investigation into looted funds.
After the House set up an ad hoc committee in 2021 to investigate the status of recovered loot, public hearings were held, several exposés were made and some MDAs were indicted by the committee.
However, over a year later, the committee, headed by Adejoro Adeogun (APC, Ondo) is yet to submit a report to the House. It is unclear if the committee will submit its report to allow the House to take action.
** Boko Haram Rehabilitation Bill, sponsored by Yobe senator Ibrahim Gaidam, which seeks to establish an agency that would see to the rehabilitation, deradicalisation and integration of repentant insurgents in the country and make them useful to the society.
The bill is also aimed at providing an open door and encouragement for other members of the group who are still engaged in the insurgency to abandon the group, especially in the face of military pressure.
It has been condemned and rejected by critics, groups and his fellow senators and northern counterparts and many feared that releasing the “repentant” Boko Haram militants could be counterproductive because hardened fighters would return to the terror group to commit more atrocities.
The bill is still in the early stage at the Senate.
** Bill to regulate the payment of house rent which is sponsored by Kogi senator, Smart Adeyemi, and seeks to prevent landlords from demanding payment of advance rent from tenants.
It also seeks to reduce advance payment of rent from one or two years by tenants to three months and subsequent monthly payments. The bill was only read for the first time in the Senate.
Other major legislations that are currently pending at the Senate include the Social Media bill, the Hate Speech bill, the bill to regulate the slaughter of donkeys in Nigeria, and the bill to ban the importation of generator sets, among others.
In the same vein, lawmakers of both chambers are expected to deliberate upon key motions like insecurity in the country, the February election and the controversial cash withdrawal policy by the apex bank.
One other high expectation in the coming months is the termination of the ninth assembly and the inauguration of the tenth. Although this is billed to take place after the National Assembly elections in February, it is one activity that the lawmakers and Nigerians are looking forward to.