In its first full year, the 8th House of Representatives under Speaker Yakubu Dogara gave Nigerians very few reasons to be optimistic.
While the chamber became bogged down by internal squabbles that stemmed from revelations of pervasive budget fraud, lawmakers also spent considerable time pushing some controversial bills.
The budget padding scandal dominated public discourse for months. It broke after Speaker Yakubu Dogara moved against Abdulmumin Jibrin, his erstwhile ally, who played a key role in helping him beat back powerful political interests to emerge Speaker.
Overall, the speaker, Mr. Dogara, missed chances to at least polish the image of House, widely perceived as a do-nothing corrupt institution, critics say.
First, he passed on a clear opportunity to champion the cause for transparency in the House. The budget and other internal expenses of the parliament are still top secrets.
Second, the Speaker made a mockery of his promise to rein in parliamentary “business as usual” when he decided to go along with the latest round of humongous spending by lawmakers.
In recent weeks, despite recession, House members have been taking scattered delivery of Peugeot 508 saloon cars at N10 million per unit. That is big money for 360 members.
Lawmakers justify the purchase as an effort to help grow local content and help Nigerians in the Peugeot manufacturing supply chain keep their jobs.
“All these have added up to become a strong case for a serious rebuke of Dogara’s leadership so far,” said Anthony Kila, Director of Centre for International, Advanced and Professional Studies, a public policy think tank.
In their respective first years, the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Assemblies passed six, 18, 10 and 20 bills, according to data compiled by the Nigerian Institute for Legislative Studies.
The current House only managed to pass three bills in its first year, between June 2015 and May 2016. Of that number, two were about appropriation. The third bill increased the number of judges in the Federal Capital Territory from 37 to 75.
The House also pushed controversial bills like the Sharia bill, amendment to the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act and the grazing reserve bill, while important legislations such as the Petroleum Industry Bill continued to suffer delay.
Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, said between January and December this year, about 551 bills were introduced on the floor by lawmakers. Of these, 179 scaled the second reading on the floor. Five bills were rejected and 64 bills were consolidated amongst lawmakers.
As of December, Mr. Gbajabiamila said 47 bills were passed by the House and forwarded to the Senate for onward approval from where they were expected to make their individual ways to the president’s desk for final assent.
In a brief review he distributed shortly after the House adjourned for the year on December 15, the lawmaker said the lower chamber under Mr. Dogara “successfully resolved industrial disputes between government and industrial unions”.
“The timely intervention of the House averted senseless hardship on the Nigerian Masses,” Mr. Gbajabiamila said.
The Majority Leader said the “process of amending the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)” has “reached an advanced stage” and its timely conclusion will “give Nigerians a constitution we can truly and proudly call our own.”
He said the lawmakers designated to work on the amendment process are focused on it like a laser in order to “forestall a situation whereby the draft amendment will get to Mr. President at a time it will be most difficult for him to appreciate the amended Constitution and assent to it.”
All these were asides the sectoral debates conducted by the House in the second quarter of the year, Mr. Gbajabiamila said.
But Mr. Kila said he was not blown away by the statistics the House reeled out.
“These are mere figures and the same tired platitudes that lawmakers —even politicians in general— have used to pool wools on the faces of Nigerians,” Mr. Kila said.
Mr. Kila said the budget padding scandal and the manner with which Mr. Dogara handled it defined the House of Reps for this year.
“Whichever way you look at it, the scandal and the way Mr. Jibrin was summarily muzzled by the lawmakers show clearly that they have not changed and have no intention of changing anytime soon,” Mr. Kila said. “That is their current posture.”
Oke Epia, editor of orderpaper.ng, an online platform with a focus on the activities of the legislature, gave the 8th Assembly a pass mark.
Mr. Epia, who has been monitoring the activities of the Assembly for over a decade, said the lawmakers did not do badly given the circumstances.
“The lawmakers actually did perform above average given what they had to go through to push changes,” Mr. Epia said. “I have assessed their performance over the past year and I see the bills they’ve pushed to address insecurity, poverty and other critical matters of national importance.”
Mr. Epia explained that the current National Assembly concentrated more on updating archaic statutes, a strategy he said Nigerians would soon benefit immensely from.
He said, “If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll observe that the lawmakers have preoccupied themselves with addressing some laws that are no longer useful or require some changes to conform to the modern age.
“You can’t say they’re not effective when in one day last year they passed over 130 bills which would go a long way in addressing most of what Nigerians complain about today, like the ease of doing business and effectiveness of the civil service.
“But, of course, that is not to say they can’t improve in the coming months and years before their term expires. There’s always room for that.”
But doubts remain nonetheless.
“Nigerians are patiently waiting for them in their constituencies because, for a whole year, they found it difficult to connect with the mood of the nation and worked overtime to show their disdain for the masses through reckless and anti-people legislations,” said Mr. Kila. “Yes, I think the lawmakers in the 8th Assembly did Nigerians a great deal of disservice in their first session.”