Many experienced lawmakers will not be returning to the federal parliament when the 10th National Assembly would be inaugurated in June, having lost re-election, retired or sought other offices.
Unlike in the executive, there is no term limit in the legislative arm of government, but the Nigerian legislature records high turnover after each election cycle.
National Assembly members come out of every election cycle bruised, as a large percentage in both the Senate and the House of Representatives lose their seats to newcomers.
Members of the legislature who are lucky survive two terms at most, with only a handful surviving the whirlwind and retaining their seats for three or more terms.
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The trend continues after the 2023 parliamentary election. Many of the old and experienced legislators lost their seats to not only rivals in their political parties who got the tickets, but also to greenhorns from other parties.
More than half of the 469 seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives were won by first-timers after the February 25 parliamentary poll.
Lawmakers like senators Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu), James Manager (Delta); Gabriel Suswam (Benue); Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Bala Na’Allah (Kebbi); Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa) and Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto), who have served for at least three terms in the parliament, will not be part of the 10th Assembly.
In the House of Representatives, the list include former Speaker Yakubu Dogora (Bauchi); Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu ( Delta); Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu (Enugu); Deputy Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (Abia); Minority Whip, Gideon Lucas Gwani (Kaduna); Ossai Nicholas Ossai (Delta); Sergius Ose Ogun (Edo); Pat Asadu (Enugu); Leo Ogor (Delta); Mark Gbillah (Benue); Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (Abia); Tajudeen Yusuf (Kogi); Onofiok Luke (Akwa Ibom); Abdulrazak Namdas (Adamawa); Herman Hembe (Benue) and Farah Dagogo (Rivers).
Analysts said the attrition of experienced lawmakers in the 10th Assembly may result in a slow starting process as it would take a while for a newly elected legislator to master the art of lawmaking, oversight and representation, which are core responsibilities.
Out of the 426 members-elect that emerged after the 2023 elections, 306 are new lawmakers while 120 were re-elected. Winners are yet to be declared for the remaining 43 seats.
The elections saw only 28 of the 109 senators re-elected, while 73 are new members. Eight seats are still vacant.
Twenty states produced two new senators each. States, where all three senators are first-timers are Ondo, Katsina, Jigawa, Kaduna, Edo, Ebonyi and Delta.
In the House of Representatives, out of the 325 members-elect that emerged after the poll, only 92 are re-elected, while the 233 others are coming into the parliament as first-timers. Thirty-five seats are yet to be occupied.
In states like Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Katsina, Taraba and Zamfara, an average of one incumbent lawmaker each was able to make it back to the 10th House of Representatives.
In the case of Anambra, all the 10 lawmakers elected are new, implying that the state will not have any ranking lawmaker in the 10th House of Assembly.
States such as Cross River, Edo, Ekiti, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kwara, Jigawa, Ogun, Niger, Nasarawa, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, and Yobe have an average of 2 to 4 lawmakers who are returning for another term. The rest are new faces.
States with significant number of returning lawmakers include Lagos, which has 10 returning lawmakers and Borno with 8.
A former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, in a paper presented recently, gave a breakdown of the abysmal rate of re-election into the Nigerian parliament.
Bankola, at a convocation lecture organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), said that in the Sixth Assembly (2007 to 2011), out of 109 senators elected in 2007, 86 (79%) were elected for the first time.
This shows that only 23 (14%) were re-elected, implying a high turnover rate. This means that 79 per cent of the senators who served in the Fifth Assembly (2003-2007) were not returned to the Senate in 2007.
A similar pattern, Bankole said, was also reported in the House of Representatives, where the turnover rate in the Seventh Assembly (2011-2015) was also very high.
He said, “Out of the 109 senators, only 36 (33%) were re-elected, while 73 (67%) were elected for the first time. This implies a turnover rate of 67.0 per cent.
“The situation was worse in the House of Representatives, where out of 360 members, 260 (72.2%) were elected for the first time, implying that only 100 (17.8%) were re-elected.
“This trend continued in the 2015 election, where more than 70 and 250 members of the Seventh Assembly were not re-elected in the Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
“This shows that about 39 (35%) senators were re-elected, implying a turnover rate of 64.2 per cent. However, for the House of Representatives, it shows that only about 110 (30.5%) were re-elected, with a turnover rate of 69.5 per cent.
“Data at inception showed that about 64 senators and 151 members in the current Assembly were not re-elected.”
Several reasons have been linked to the high turnover rate in Nigeria’s legislature, which is considered among the worst in Africa.
The director-general, National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Professor Abubakar Suleiman, had spoken severally on the implications of high attrition of experienced lawmakers on the performance of the National Assembly.
Speaking at an event organised by the House of Representatives Press Corps, Suleiman said the turnover of lawmakers affects the stability and progress of the legislature.
He said most lawmakers lost their tickets at the primaries due to the influence of state governors.
According to him, most legislators perceived not to be friendly or constitute a threat to the interest of the governors or their preferred candidates are usually denied party return tickets at the primary stage.
He further stated, “The continuous replacement of the significant members of the legislature after each general election cycle has serious implications for its ability to perform its role effectively.
“This has led to several capacity gaps in our legislative practice and procedures at both the state and national levels.
“Compare this to other democracies such as the United States, where being a congressman is seen as a career and it is not uncommon to find members with over 20 years of experience in the congress.
“While a few members have crossed over from the House to the Senate, only a handful of them can boast of having served up to four times in the hallowed chambers.
“Legislators hardly develop an understanding of the legislative practice and procedures before they are changed. This negatively affects the legislators’ capacity in discharging their duties as some of the most experienced legislators are not often returned.”
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila also lamented that many experienced members in the current Assembly lost re-election not because of poor performance but due to religious and ethnic politics.
Speaking when he hosted journalists recently in his office at the National Assembly, Gbajabiamila said the February 25 parliamentary election was “not so much about the performance of members, whether on the floor or in their constituencies.
“It was about a lot of other things. It was about religion and ethnicity. It was about so many other things, which I hope that as we develop as a country, one’s election would be based solely, or at least mostly on his or her performance on the floor and in the constituency.
“A lot of members actually lost their elections at the primaries, where their acceptance by the constituents was not put to test.
“What was put to test was what one or two leaders in their constituencies determined – whether they were returning or not. So, we lost a lot of legislators even at the primaries level, and that does not help our democracy.”
The clerk to the House of Representatives, Dr Yahaya Danzaria, said the situation was eroding legislative stability and institutional memory, as well as increasing budget for capacity building for new legislators.
He said, “It takes a while for a newly elected legislator to master the art of lawmaking, oversight and representation, which are core responsibilities integrated therein.”
Danzaria said the House already lost about 70 per cent of its serving members during the primaries and many of them didn’t make it back.
Losing good legislators great concern – CISLAC
The executive director, the Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, also expressed concern over the development.
He said, “If the federal lawmakers were productive and enacting legislations that translate into sound policies that can improve the lives of Nigerians, when we lose some of them in that large number, it should be of great concern to the country.
“But if the members we are losing are those that add no real value to lawmaking, oversight and representation, then it should not be of any worry and concern.
“There are some legislators that have poor attendance at the parliament. They use the platform only as an avenue for contracts and political relevance. So, losing such kind of people is not of any worry to anybody.
“We can replace them with people who are interested to participate in legislative activities that promote good governance in Nigeria.
“We will be worried if we are losing legislators who are positive and progressive, and who are diligent in discharging their duties.”
By Abdullateef Salau, Itodo Daniel Sule & Balarabe Alkassim