Primary elections and campaign activities dominated political reportage in a way that presented 2022 as a quiet year in the House of Representatives. But far from it, the lower chamber of the National Assembly shaped public discourse in Nigeria during the year in a significant way.
From its intervention in the strike that shut down public universities for several months, to the retrogressive stance on gender bills, the Green Chamber was the centre of it all – the good, the bad and the outright ugly.
1. Voting against gender bills
On March 1, lawmakers in the lower chamber had the opportunity to address gender gaps in Nigeria when they considered five bills that sought to provide a remedy. However, the lawmakers rejected the bills.
Some of the five bills are; bill to expand the scope of citizenship by registration, bill to provide for affirmative action for women in political party administration, and bill to provide criteria for qualification to become an indigene of a state in Nigeria.”
The others are bill to provide special seats for women in the National and State Houses of Assembly and bill to give women a quota in the federal and state executive councils or ministerial and commissionership seats.
The bills were rejected during the clause-by-clause consideration, as an overwhelming majority rejected the bills in the House and the Senate, prompting protests by women groups who barricated the National Assembly complex for days.
As a compromise, the House rescinded its decision on three of the bills and promised to represent them for consideration. The three are the bill to expand the scope of citizenship by registration, the bill to provide for affirmative action for women in political party administration, and the bill to provide criteria for qualification to become an indigene of a state in Nigeria were rescinded.
However, nine months after that decision, the bills have not been listed, which means the lawmakers probably made the promise just to get the women off their protest ground in the National Assembly complex.
Overall, the 9th House had the opportunity to increase the number of women in the parliament but it rejected it.
2. Rejecting State Police Bill
There appears to be a consensus among political parties in Nigeria that the existing policing structure is not working. The House of Representatives had the opportunity to present state police as an alternative to the centralised system. However, its committee on Constitutional Amendment did not even allow members to vote on the matter.
Twenty-five members of the committee decided the fate of state police in January during a hearing. Fourteen of them voted against the bill, while 11 voted in support. Consequently, the bill died before it made it to the entire House for voting.
Despite the condition by the governors that state police bill must be included for the States House of Assmbly to consider the other bills currently before them, the members of the House are yet to pass the bill.
The impasse between the governors and the National Assembly could put the constitutional alteration process at risk, Mr Gbajabiamila recently said. However, despite that uncertainty, the National Assembly voted N850 million for the exercise in the 2023 budget.
3. Aborted impeachment move
Shortly before embarking on annual recess in July, the minority caucus in the House of Representatives joined their Senate colleagues in asking President Muhammadu Buhari to stop national insecurity or risk impeachment.
The minority leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta), after a meeting of the National Assembly minority caucus, announced a six-week ultimatum for the president to meet the demand or be removed in line with the 1999 constitution.
But after the holiday, the lawmakers did not speak again about the ultimatum, even though the security situation of the country has not changed.
4. Gbajabiamila’s parliamentary diplomacy
In 2022, the House of Representatives directly intervened in several disputes between the government and different entities. One of these was the intervention in the crisis with some foreign airlines over trapped funds. Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House, led the intervention between the Nigerian government and the International Air Transport Association.
The green chamber also intervened to resolve the aviation-fuel scarcity crisis amidst threat by local operators to shut down operations. The intervention helped to prevent a shutdown of the sector.
In the course of the year, the lawmakers also intervened in the dispute between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which ultimately led to the call-off of the strike by the union. However, the union later alleged that the Speaker deceived it.
The House denied the allegation, stating that Mr Gbajabiamila never promised the lecturers payment of their outstanding arrears.
These interventions have been christened parliamentary diplomacy by Mr Gbajabiamila.
5. Primary election tsunami
According to the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), 130 lawmakers lost re-election tickets in their respective political parties. Some have blamed the new electoral act and their state governors for the predicament.
The Director General of NILDS, Abubakar Suleiman, who disclosed the turnover rate, said governors’ influence determined who gets tickets or not.
“Most legislators perceived not to be friendly or constitute a threat to the interest of the governors or their preferred candidates are usually denied party return tickets at the primaries stage,” Mr Suleiman said.
After the primaries, Speaker Gbajabiamila, in a speech, also insisted that lawmakers did not lose their tickets because their constituents rejected them.
“If it means anything, I know and I am aware that many of our members did not lose their primaries because they were rejected by their constituents.
“Many of our members lost because of the process, the process which we foresaw in the House of Representatives. The delegate system which unfortunately is not what a delegate system is supposed to be,” he said.
It is fair to say that a political tsunami occurred in the House and many lawmakers became casualties.
6. Temporary chamber and absentee lawmakers
The two chambers of the National Assembly are currently undergoing renovation, hence lawmakers are temporarily using hearing rooms as makeshift plenary chambers.
In the case of the House, they are using two hearing rooms as chambers due to the number of members. The use of two chambers has exposed a lack of decorum by the lawmakers and a low turnout for plenary sessions.
In the old chamber, because of its architectural design, lawmakers get away with the noise and lack of decorum. But in this makeshift chamber, the microphones pick up noises. Often, presiding officers have to warn lawmakers to be “quiet” to allow members to contribute.
Also, what has become glaring since the lawmakers started using the makeshift chamber is the lack of quorum during plenary.
According to the constitution, the quorum of the House is one-third of the 360 members, which is 120. Often, very few members are present in the first chamber, while the other chamber is rarely used.
Since they moved to the temporary chambers in September, they have only used the second room on three occasions—the first for the presentation of budget by President Muhammadu Buhari, and the briefing of the House by CBN on the cashless policy.
7. Exposé at Finance Committee hearing
The public hearing by the House Committee on Finance on the 2023-2025 Medium Term Expenditure Framework in August gave a clear glance into the financial status of the federation. The hearing exposed how several MDAs are spending revenue arbitrarily. Several agencies were indicted during the hearings.
Although, exposé is not a new thing in the National Assembly, in this case, actions were taken. During the budget presentation, the president acknowledged that some revenue-generating agencies were making extra-budgetary spending, and warned National Assembly Committees to desist from passing such agencies’ budgets through back channels.
The lawmakers also resolved to take action by changing the funding of 10 revenue-generating entities in the country and putting them under the cost of collection scheme.
8. Doguwa the fighter
The Leader of the House, Alhassan Doguwa, was in the news for all the wrong reasons in 2022, including the allegation of attacking the deputy governorship candidate of his party in Kano State, Martala Garo, with a teacup.
Mr Doguwa, who has not hidden his ambition to become the Speaker in the 10th Assembly, denied the allegation. According to him, he had an outburst with Mr Garo but he did not attack him with a teacup.
Aside from that, there is also the allegation of attacking a journalist and also threatening to deal with voters that fail to vote APC.
9. Kazaure on the Rampage
Kazaure Gudaji (ADC, Jigawa) has been in the news in recent weeks as the secretary of the dissolved presidential committee on recovery of stamp duties revenue.
Mr Gudaji, who is known for his comic exploits in the House, accused the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, of mismanaging N89 trillion from the stamp duties revenue.
The lawmaker has been speaking to media platforms and making some heavy allegations, even against officials around the president, who he claimed are trying to sabotage the effort of his committee.
Mr Gbajabiamila has since refused to intervene. After a meeting with the president last week, he said the House will only intervene if Mr Gudaji brings the house into disrepute.
10. Water resources bill
The Water Resources bill again dominated discourse in 2022, as it did in the 8th Assembly.
The bill has been in the House since the last Assembly, but the opposition to it stalled it in the Senate. Outside the National Assembly, Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana and others have also openly opposed it.
In June, it was reintroduced into the House again by Sada Soli (APC, Katsina), who assured members that the bill will not undermine states, noting that governors contributed to the final draft.
This bill is perhaps the most controversial piece of legislation in the 9th Assembly. It has become very decisive along ethnic lines. For the federalism purists in the House, the idea of federal government taking over more resources from the states is unthinkable. Hence, they have vehemently opposed the bill.
As it stands, the bill has not been passed. However, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, insisted that the bill must be passed to save the water sector.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that the minister In October said, “it was saddening that antagonists of the bill went hysterical, giving it different colourations.
”An outright call for the bill to be thrown out is against water resources development.”
It is unclear if the lawmakers will be able to pass it before the end of the year.
With the elections beginning in February and leadership struggle taking centre stage after the elections. Next year may see little activities in the chamber, and more outside the chamber.
Last week, the lawmakers adjourned till 17 January, giving the House only 18 legislative days before the 25 February Presidential/National Assembly elections. Most members may probably be in their constituencies in January and February to battle for the political careers.
While they are at it, Nigerians are still waiting on their decision on the Electoral Offenses Commission bill and other bills.
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