In over 70 countries where the bicameral legislature is constitutionally entrenched, legislative power and responsibilities are distributed within the House and the Senate in a way that one checks and balances the other. While their roles and mandate are decidedly different, the ultimate goal of the bicameral legislative structure is to ensure equitable representation and deliver on the dividends of a democratic constitution.
Nigeria’s adoption of a bicameral legislature and its existence as a federation was predicated on the desires of our founding fathers to accommodate diversity, eradicate marginalisation along socio-economic classes and represent the interests of ethnocultural minorities.
On the basis of the aforementioned, President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC believes it has recorded more achievements in the number of bills passed in comparison to previous administrations.
FEATS OF THE SENATE
Between 2015 and 2021, President Buhari assented to more than 84 Bills, the highest since the return to democratic rule in 1999 – a fact that bolsters confidence in the current administration as the most effective in granting assent to bills.
Early this year, the Senate President had made known to the media a projected figure that would be significantly higher before the end of Buhari’s tenure in 2023.
In July, a piece of legislation which seeks to put in place National Social Security protection funding and cater for the needs of the unemployed, senior citizens and underaged children from broken marriages was passed. The passage of the bill establishes the National Social Security Commission. This was regarded to be within the scope of the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (NO 102) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
A month earlier, health care bills were passed into law four Bills to establish four Federal Medical Centres in four States of the Federation. The Medical Centres involved will be sited in Osogbo, Osun State; Onitsha, Anambra State; Gada, Sokoto State; and Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, respectively.
Other bills passed, including the Public Enterprises (Privatisation and Commercialization) Act (Repeal & Enactment) Bill, 2022; and Orthopaedic Hospitals Management Board Act (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
Also, the Senate passed five bills from the House of Representatives for concurrence. The bills include Public Enterprises (Privatisation and Commercialization) Act (Repeal & Enactment) Bill, 2022; and Orthopaedic Hospitals Management Board Act (Amendment) Bill, 2022. The five bills, sponsored by the Deputy Senate Leader, Ajayi Boroffice, were passed after consideration by the Committee of the Whole.
It will be recalled that Boroffice, in his presentation, observed that “some fundamental issues which require fresh legislative action by both chambers of the National Assembly emerged after a critical analysis of the bills by Mr President “C – in – C.”
The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan reiterated the fact that the Senate and the House of Representatives have performed better than what the previous government achieved when the number of bills passed is taken into consideration.
Recently, available data from the Senate shows that President Olusegun Obasanjo signed a total of 82 bills into law between 1999 and 2006, President Umaru Yar’Adua signed 38 bills into law between 2007 and 2009 while President Goodluck Jonathan signed 40 bills into law between 2010 and 2015.
A REMARKABLE SPEAKER IN THE GREEN CHAMBER
Under the bicameral legislature, before a bill becomes law, it must go through laid-down processes in either chamber of the National Assembly.
The Presentation and first reading precede other procedures, then the second reading. The bill then goes through the Committee stage. Thereafter the third reading and the Passage; and finally assent by the President.
Despite the cumbersome process that is involved, The Honourable Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila presented a total of 16 Bills in his first year of assumption of office in 2019 and the bills all scaled through the different legislative stages.
Among the Bills were the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019; Physically-challenged (Empowerment) Bill, 2019; Presidential (Transition) Bill, 2019; Economic Stimulus Bill, 2019; Labour Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019; Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Bill, 2019; Employees (Unpaid Wages Prohibition) Bill, 2019, and Federal Highways Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
To say that the Honourable Speaker’s Chamber hit the ground running is an apt description of the 9th Assembly. Remarkably in the history of the Green Chamber, this marks the first time that a Speaker of the House would sponsor and debate this number of Bills in one year.
Also high on his performance scorecard is the swift response to the Covid-19 pandemic whereby the Speaker initiated the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020 with the support of other members in the House leadership. The Bill was to provide for tax relief, suspension of import duty on selected medical goods and deferral of residential mortgage obligations.
In 2021, the Spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia) revealed that 88 bills out of 1407 were passed between 2019 and 2021.
Records also show that a total of 554 bills were introduced between June 2020 and June 2021. It was a sharp decline considering that the House introduced 853 bills between June 2019 and June 2020. The outbreak of COVID-19 contributed largely to the decline.
Legislative activities suffered a great deal in 2020 due to the breakout of COVID-19. The National Assembly was shut down for about two months between March 2020 and May 2020. At one point, the plenary was reduced to once a week.
However, 2022 has been a year of huge improvements concerning the activities of the Federal House of Representatives. Not forgetting to mention that the National Assembly is also not left out, in the quick facilitation of bills and getting assent from the President.
In August President Muhammadu Buhari assented to eight bills passed by the National Assembly. In a statement signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), Nasir Illa, listed the bills as Counselling Practitioners Council of Nigeria, Civil Aviation Act, Nigerian Meteorological Agency, Pharmacy Council of Nigeria and Nigerian Council for Management Development. Others are the National Institute of Credit Administration, the Chartered Institute Of Social Work Practitioners and the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria.
Last month, the House of Representatives at plenary sat through the second reading for a bill seeking to establish the Office of Budget Management of the Federation and provide a legal framework for the country’s budget process.
It was sponsored by the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, and Chairman Committee on Legislative Agenda, Hon. Henry Nwawuba. The proposed legislation is to ensure effective regulation of budget preparation, presentation, implementation and auditing.
Also at the plenary, the lawmakers passed through second reading a Bill for an Act to amend the trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2004. The proposed legislation was sponsored by Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka, Hon. Onofiok Luke and 10 other lawmakers.
At the same plenary, the Business Facilitation (Miscellaneous Provision) Bill 2022, also known as the “Omnibus Bill” passed the Second Reading at the House of Representatives. A fortnight ago, the “Omnibus Bill”, was passed by the 9th House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This was a step in the right direction as bills are being passed effectively against the backdrop of the slower processes experienced in previous years.
In many ways, both the Green and Red Chambers of the 9th Assembly are leaving indelible footprints on the sands of success. Despite the devastating effects and aftermaths of the Covid-19 pandemic, these legislators have no doubt risen to the challenges of steering the nation towards recovery and sustainable growth.
Accolades should also be accorded the experience and maturity of the National Assembly leadership as they often rescue situations in several instances of legislative deadlock during and outside plenary sessions.