Less than six months to the end of the legislative life of the 8th House of Representatives, the fate of 45 bills hangs in the balance after guzzling millions of naira to pass second reading between 2015 and 2017.
There are concerns over the bills spread across 26 standing committees which the House failed to act on within the stipulated period thereby prompting their discharge to the Committee of the Whole.
The discharge was pursuant to Order 17, Rule 3(1) (g) of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, following the unanimous adoption of a motion moved by the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Edward Pwajok (APC, Plateau).
The rule states that: “Any matter referred to any committee shall be treated within 30 days, otherwise the committee shall stand discharged after 60 days, and the matter committed to the Committee of the Whole for consideration.”
Hon. Pwajok had told the House how the bills were read a second time between 2015 and 2017, and subsequently referred to the various committees for further legislative action, but that the committees were yet to present reports on them.
Daily Trust Saturday findings reveal that although the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, ruled that the committees be discharged of the bills, the Committee of the Whole was yet to act on them.
Among the 45 bills are the Natural Gas Resources Development Agency Bill, 2016; Free Trade Zone Bill, 2015; Nigerian Airspace Management Agency Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016; Desecration of Sanctity of Human Life (Prohibition) Bill, 2016; National Industrial Court Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016; and the Federal Character Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
Others are the Investment and Security Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015; Food, Drugs and Related Products Registration Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016; Communication (Unsolicited Calls and Texts) Bill, 2016; Unclaimed Financial Assets Bill, 2016; National Boundary Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015; and Traffic Warden Service Bill, 2016; among others.
Topping the list of the 26 committees with the discharged bills is the House Committee on Commerce, chaired by Sylvester Ogbaga (PDP, Ebonyi), with eight pending bills. It is closely followed by its health care services counterpart, headed by Chike Okafor (APC, Imo), with five bills.
They also include committees on agriculture, Aviation, insurance and finance, capital market, industry, telecommunication, justice, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), federal character, foreign affairs, police affairs, sports, among others.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa), affirmed that the bills remained discharged, but he could not elaborate on why they overstayed in the committees or the actions so far taken on them by the Committee of the Whole.
Meanwhile, Nigerians fear that if the legislators fail to act on the affected bills till June, 2019, the incoming 9th House may have to start from the scratch; by re-initiating the bills for a fresh legislative process, thus resulting to a waste of resources already sunk on them.
This is despite the speaker’s repeated pledge that the lawmakers would keep to their mandate as representatives of the people and finish strong.
“The fact that we started very strong is not enough. We have to finish as strong; if not stronger than we started. Doing anything less would amount to abdication of our sacred mandate as representatives of our people,” Dogara assured on several occasions.
Daily Trust Saturday recalls the intermittent disruptions of legislative business at the National Assembly towards the last quarter of 2018, shortly after the three-month annual recess.
Added to that was the party primaries, which saw more than 100 members of the House lose return tickets, and perhaps slowed the tempo of plenary and committee legislative activities.
An Abuja-based constitutional lawyer, Prof. Agbo Madaki, decried what he called, “Internal and external disruption” witnessed in the 8th National Assembly in 2018, which he insisted must have affected the pace of legislation.
Prof. Madaki, however, called on the lawmakers to wake up to their responsibilities to ensure that all the bills that had already made it up to the committee stage were passed before the elapse of the legislative period in June, 2019.
He said, “Recall the various internal and external interruptions witnessed in the National Assembly in 2018, which might have delayed the legislative process to a reasonable extent. That notwithstanding, you should also note that 2019 is an elections year. So, it is possible not to expect much from them.”
But a lecturer in the Department of History of the University of Ibadan (UI), Dr. David Ajayi, attributed the development to legislative-executive disharmony, and the fact that “most of the lawmakers do not understand why they are in the National Assembly in the first place.”
Therefore, Dr. Ajayi concluded that, “There is need for reorientation of the lawmakers themselves. Most of them do not understand the technical process of law-making; hence, you see this ‘garbage in garbage out. How many of the bills passed have received Mr. President’s assent? This is simply because the legislature and the executive are not on the same page.”