By Sesugh Akume
Of the 109 senators of the 9th National Assembly (NASS) with only 7 women (representing 6.4% one of the lowest in the world — with only 1 woman out of 57 senators from the 19 states of the entire northern Nigeria) 2 women are among the 10 best performing senators by number of bills sponsored. The 2 incidentally are from Anambra, Stella Oduah (Anambra North) with 26 bills, and Uche Ekwunife (Anambra Central) 16 bills.
In the House of Representatives with 360 members, and only 11 females, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha from Abia is number 7 on the list of top 10 with 19 bills. The women are clearly making a point. Incidentally, all of them are from the southeast.
This 9th NASS also has by far more proposed bills than previous National Assemblies. For instance, Nkem Abonta (Abia) who is third on the list of top in the House of Representatives already has 30 proposed bills in this first year, whereas he had 65 in the entire 8th NASS. Abbas Tajudeen (Kaduna) who is currently top on the list has 59 proposed bills.
Plateau appears to have the most hard working legislators in this regard, with 3 in the top 10 in both the senate and House: Simon Mwadkom, is the 6th in the House with 22 bills; Dachung Bagos, 4th with 27; and Istifanus Gyang, 4th on the list of the top 10 in the senate, with 11 bills. That’s all about it, with this 9th NASS that’s positive.
A rubber stamp NASS and its leadership
On Wednesday 28 August 2019, Ahmed Lawan, the senate president and leader of the 9th NASS declared at a town hall meeting in his Yobe North constituency that the 9th NASS would not fail Buhari, thus pledging allegiance to the president and not the people who elected him, at whose pleasure he serves. This aberration is the very first of its kind. No leader of the legislature has ever declared open allegiance to the executive which the legislature exists to put in check, since 1861 when the history of the legislative council began in Nigeria. It’s important to note that those ones were appointed, not elected yet none felt they need to pledge and prove their subservience to the executive, as their benefactors. No president of the senate since its inception in 1959 has even committed such an unforgivable blunder before Lawan did last year.
The 8th NASS resolved that clearing ministers for appointment in 2015 that henceforth, executive lists of ministerial nominees should come along with their portfolios for better confirmation hearings. In the 9th NASS, Lawan repudiated that senate resolution in order to please Buhari by accepting a ministerial list without portfolios. This has in part been responsible for confirming the worst set of ministers in the country’s history.
From Geoffrey Onyeama, the foreign minister, who is quick to defend other countries when they assault Nigeria and Nigerians; to Pauline Tallen, the women affairs minister, who didn’t know what GBV (gender-based violence) was at a town hall meeting; to Sabo Nanono, the agriculture minister, who said there were places in Kano a person could eat to their satisfaction with just 30 naira, but fact checks proved this to be false. A minister of agriculture who doesn’t know that his northeast leads the country in severe acute malnutrition, but is quick to budget 13 billion naira for pest control in 12 states for 2020.
Or Saleh Mamman, the power minister, whose first policy pronouncement as minister was to ask for prayers as he confessed knowing nothing about the electric power sector but was quick to abuse his office by suspending the heads of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), and Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET), the only 2 heads in the sector that gave hope, a thing clearly ultra vires him? He knows nothing, but was quick to abuse powers he didn’t have by suspending the women. The so-called suspensions were later overruled. Or is it the defence minister, Bashir Salihi Magashi, who it is on record stole $550,000 and has gone incommunicado since his inauguration; to the numerous other EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) alumni and veterans on the list? Is it Adamu Adamu, the education minister who went AWOL since his inauguration?
The Finance Bill 2019, which was an executive bill, had passed the second reading and gone on for committee work without senators sighting it. Binos Yaroe (Adamawa South), and Betty Apiafi (Rivers West) referred Lawan to the senate rules, that it was a violation for the bills to be passed without senators having copies or seeing them at all, for which overruled them and proceeded. He went to such extremes, including violating senate rules to please Buhari. He had earlier stopped Istifanus Gyang from raising discussions on Buhari’s June 12 speech, on Nigeria’s first Democracy Day.
NASS went ahead to pass the Finance Bill to increase value-added tax from 5% to 7.5% against expert counsel that it would cause an increase in inflation leading to job losses, more hardship, and so on. They were adamant, and this has come to pass.
This same rubber stamp NASS approved Buhari’s loans within minutes of reading his request without any scrutiny. In the House, the media was diligent to note that it took all of 7 minutes to approve billions of dollars of debt shackles on Nigerians. Never mind, that experts, including the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) individually, and as a committee, had decried the level of public debt and its negative impact on the country and its economy. NASS didn’t care. They live to please politicians who know nothing about the economy or could care less.
Femi Gbaja, the speaker of the House said his job was not to ‘fight’ the executive. Possibly, to be a rubber stamp.
It must not be forgotten that Ovie Omo-Agege, the deputy senate president, was at the heart of the desecration of NASS and theft in broad daylight of the senate mace in the 8th NASS, wherein thugs invaded NASS and made away with the mace unchallenged.
Stolen, wicked, and insensitive legislations
The 9th NASS plagiarised (plagiarism is theft) 2 bills in its first year, the Social Media Bill, and the Infectious Diseases Bill. Incidentally, both from Singapore. Others may have been stealing bills too, but it hasn’t been noted, this is on the record, and in their very first year.
It had obnoxious bills ranging from the Social Media Bill (to shut citizens’ voices on social media) by Muhammad Sani Musa (Niger East); the Hate Speech Bill (to create an agency for hate speech, and kill anybody who found guilty under the law, who says what doesn’t go down too well with the political class) by Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North); the Generator Bill (seeking to ban the importation, sale, and use of generators, as if anybody likes to use generators) by Bima Enagi (Niger South). Clearly, Niger has gifted Nigeria by far the worst breed of senators in this 9th NASS. All 3 of them had insensitive, meaningless and annoying bills to sponsor.
There is also the Boko Haram Bill (to pamper and reward ex-Boko Haram terrorists, give them foreign education, create an agency for them, etc) by Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe East). There is also the NGO Bill in the House (to overregulate and strangulate NGOs, civil society, and constrict the civic space) by Abbas Tajudeen (Kaduna), among numerous others. Never has a NASS had so many vexatious bills in 1 year, worst off, its very first year.
The 9th NASS has failed to pass any COVID-19 legislation at all, which would have, among other things, provided clear guidelines to navigate this trying season and provided funds to cushion its effects also for research for vaccines and other scientific solutions to it. It would have stated who is eligible to access the various funds and how, along with accountability mechanisms for them. It would have included a stimulus package to keep the economy afloat, bonuses for essential workers like health workers, journalists, etc. Every serious country has a COVID-19 legislation, others have more than 1.
Rather, they preferred the lazy way of passing motions (which are non-binding) asking the government to release monies piecemeal, including 15 billion naira to Kano, which by the way had denied having issues with COVID-19, in the first place. Despite being taunted by the secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, on behalf of the executive to come up with COVID-19 legislation, they failed. It should be noted that nothing has stopped the executive from sending an executive bill to NASS. Many COVID-19 legislations around the world originated from the executive arm. The Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill passed by the House has not been ratified by the senate for assent by Buhari to become a law. It’s lying somewhere fallow.
More than half of the proposed bills in the 9th NASS are establishment bills. At a time they should be winding down and consolidating most of the government agencies, they seek to create more, with what money? How do they expect us to borrow to create and fund more and more agencies?
Poor representation and oversight
In the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, the police and other security forces killed more Nigerians than COVID-19, nothing was done about it. Their innocent blood cries out for justice till date. Sadiyya Umar Farouq, the humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development minister has ran amok, dishing out bogus, mind-blowing, unverified and unverifiable figures of conditional cash transfers, school feeding programmes, etc with zero scrutiny. Nobody knows how much has been raised, donated, or expended on COVID-19.
The central bank says it is giving out 50 billion naira loans to support homes and small businesses affected by COVID-19. Fifty billion naira is not 50 naira. No serious or normal country spends even 50 kobo without appropriation and oversight, not Nigeria. Who appropriated the 50 billion naira, and under what law? What is the oversight on it, who is accounting for the disbursement and to whom and when? Get ready for all kinds of fairy tales around this 50 billion naira that is likely to go down the drain in the end. That is 50 billion naira gone with zero accountability just like the billions Ms Farouq, and the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 are overseeing for which nobody else can testify. Simply because NASS failed in its duty, or as some suggest, they go behind, collect their cut, and look the other way.
It has to be noted that it was at set of COVID-19 that members of the House began receiving their exotic cars. Such was their priority, at a time there were scare health facilities and equipment, including ventilators for patients, and so forth.
Aisha Jibril Dukku (Gombe) who had said God created the Fulani herdsmen to esteem the life of cows above humans got the House to reject and block the ongoing reforms of the almajiri system by governors of the 19 northern states. They voted to keep the system as is until the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) comes up with a solution, but neither the almajiri system nor basic education are the preserve of the federal government but of states and local governments. How they missed this remains a mystery.
On 5 May, in support of police decentralisation the senate urged state assemblies to make laws to enable for community policing, however, states cannot legislate on matters of security as security is on the Exclusive List of the Constitution, and is, therefore, the sole responsibility of NASS. How they didn’t know this bugles the mind.
Having passed loans of billions of dollars, ostensibly to build infrastructure, it came to the attention of others that the entire southeast Nigeria is not covered for the infrastructure provision at all. That is the consequence of being a rubber stamp legislature, that passes loan requests in minutes, and having docile, malleable legislators from a region, including those with the highest number of proposed bills. An effective legislator is assessed by their active committee work, interventions in plenary, and the ability to attract good to their constituency; not just by the number of bills sponsored.
Follow the money
Nothing proves the heart and soul of this 9th NASS and its priorities as the budgets it has passed. The 2020 budget which came into force on 1 January this year needed to be reviewed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the the 10.59 trillion naira for it was no longer realistic. It would’ve made sense that the budget was reviewed downwards, rather it rather increased to 10.81 trillion naira. The amount for recurrent expenditure and debt servicing increased astronomically. These are areas that do not affect Nigerians directly, or if at all, affect us negatively as a burden. These are the areas they increased spending.
The 5 critical areas of education, health, agriculture, security, and infrastructure (which includes electric power, roads, bridges, housing, etc) that have direct bearing on the Nigerian people constitutes only about 17%, under 20% of the entire budget, but debt servicing takes 27%. In essence, to the 9th NASS, servicing debts is more important than all those 5 critical areas put together. No wonder they keep plunging us more and more into debt. In fact, debt servicing takes a larger chunk of the budget than capital projects which is 26.63%.
To be sure, in this revised 2020 budget, the basic health budget was cut from 44 billion naira to 25 billion naira ie by 43%, and basic education by more than half (54.5%) from 112 billion naira to 51 billion naira. Any normal person would expect that during a pandemic there should be more provided for health in particular. Not, the 9th NASS which in fact defunded health, with the implications of this well known to them. They don’t care!
On May 13, UNICEF had warned that 950 more Nigerian children could die every day from preventable causes (in addition to the 2,300 the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, NPHCDA reports already die daily) over the next 6 months as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts routine services and threatens to further weaken the existing health system. It didn’t bother them. They can all die.
How did the 9th NASS budget for itself?
They not only retained their 100 billion naira for ‘constituency projects’ keeping it intact, maintaining their 125 billion naira running costs, they actually increased it by 3 billion naira to 128 billion: 2 billion naira to build their library, and 1 billion naira for ‘constitution amendment’.
In essence, when they passed the 2020 budget last year, it didn’t occur to them that they needed work done on their library, and to provide for constitutional amendment, the COVID-19 pandemic opened their eyes to these pressing, life-threatening needs. These are aside from the billions they approved for themselves to renovate the NASS Complex, under the budget of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA).
Termed ‘Zonal Intervention Projects’ that 100 billion naira gifted NASS members for close to 2 decades avails each of them up to 200 million naira to ‘nominate’ projects of their choice in their constituencies. It is from these funds that they buy head pans, sewing machines, tricycles, grinding machines, etc as ’empowerment’ every year, and pocket the rest. Some nominate ‘projects’ like ‘cultural orientation for junior secondary schools’ at 50 million naira, or like sum for other such frivolous, meaningless, unaccountable activities. These are the funds they ensured to keep intact at this time.
The 9th National Assembly, along with its leadership, in its first year has been the very worst, most callous and insensitive, ever, and if it continues on this track will be Nigeria’s undoing.
Sesugh Akume, public policy analyst, wrote from Abuja, Nigeria. He tweets @sesugh_akume, and can be reached via email@example.com.