From the midterm reports coming from the House thus far, representatives from the north have fared badly. Totaling 190 and making up more than half the majority in the House, only 25 of them sponsored bills in the last two years, representing 13% of the north’s total representation and seven percent of the entire membership of the House.
“It is not enough to judge somebody by the number of bills sponsored or the motion moved,” said Hon. Mohammed Ali Ndume, (ANPP Borno) dismissing allegations that the legislators’ performance is poor. “There must be other indices to judge the performance of a member. Even our voting pattern contributes. If you are not participating but you vote constructively, that should be a yardstick. By the time you start rating us on bills, I don’t think it is enough.”
But on another yardstick that is based on parliamentary duties, the failings border on irresponsibility. Chairman of the Northern Caucus in the House of Representatives, Hon. Terngu Tsegba (PDP, Benue), said this week, “It’s unfortunate that some members elected to serve their constituency have not been attending plenaries or even committee activities in disregard of the constitutional provisions that makes it mandatory to attend 181 days sitting within a session. It’s unfortunate that some of our members pay chamber attendants to sign the attendance register for them. There is one member who has not attended plenary session even once since the inauguration. This is a sad thing for us.” The member in question is Alhaji Badamasi Kabir (PDP, Katsina).
Hon Ndume counters that “it is the House sitting that is 180 not the sitting of a member.” He said: “Generally it is expected that a member has to attend all sittings, but as to absenteeism which I think you are talking about, the constitution and the House Order is silent about that.” Ndume suggests that official assignment could make it unavoidable for a member to be absent.
But the official assignment, mostly involving travels are sometimes a subject of debate, considering how much is voted as Duty Tour Allowance and Estacode. While a Senator collects N23,000 per day on official trip, a Rep collects N21,000 per day for same. While on foreign trips a Senator collects $600 per day and a Rep collects $550 per day.
The records of Alhaji Badamasi Kabir, Rep from Katsina, the President’s in-law provides a more glaring look at the misrepresentation by the representatives. He abandoned his seat since June 4, 2007, the day the House was inaugurated. He is reported to have relocated to the presidential villa where the representation he does now is to run errands for the first family.
Not only has he not been providing his constituency with any representation but has even abandoned the committee work he was mandated to do as the House Committee chairman on Special Duties. The irony though, is that his committee has oversight functions on the presidency, a clear conflict of interest being the president’s in-law. When the House couldn’t convince him to attend plenaries or participate in committee work, the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, removed him as chairman during the last reshuffling in the House. Badamasi’s absence is a clear violation of the provisions of the constitution.
Section 68, sub- section 1 (f) of the 1999 constitution says “a member of the Senate or House of Representatives, shall vacate his seat in the House of Representatives of which he is a member if, without just cause, he is absent for a period amounting to the aggregate of more than one-third of the total number of days during which the House meets in one year.’’
Section 68, sub- section 2, provides that, “the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, shall give effect to the provisions of section 1 of this section. So, however that the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives or a member shall first present evidence satisfactory to the House concerned that any of the provisions of that subsection has become inapplicable in respect of that member.”
Section 68, sub-section 3 also says, “a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall be deemed to be absent without just cause from a meeting of the House of which he is a member, unless the person presiding certifies in writing, that he is satisfied that the absence of the member from the meeting was for a just cause’’.
Instructively, the Katsina election tribunal had earlier nullified Badamasi’s election based on irregularities before he appealed the judgment at the Court of Appeal in Kaduna.
On the outside, the representatives from the north give the impression of activity and cohesion, periodically organizing forums under the northern agenda to comment on national issues. But these proves to be a façade because they lack a common agenda for the region they purport to represent despite glaring need for the region” development, especially in the areas of education, health and poverty eradication. Said Ndume: “We have not been able to sit down and articulate a particular agenda.” However he defends this failing by saying, “We in the north are thinking of the country, instead of the north.” The big question though is, how they can provide representation for the country when they cannot provide same for their constituencies.