On Tuesday, the two chambers of Nigeria’s parliament adjourned sittings for different but controversial reasons. The upper legislative chamber, Senate, was first to adjourn. Few hours later, the House of Representatives followed suit.
While it is not abnormal for legislative chambers to stand down their business of the day and adjourn to another legislative day, the reasons for which the two houses adjourned left more to desire.
In the case of the House of Representatives, the controversial reason for its adjournment without deliberating on crucial state matters was the same it gave two weeks ago.
NO QUORUM AT THE SENATE
The Senate was billed to have a busy day going by the number of items on the order paper on Tuesday; bills for second reading, referral of appointments to committees, consideration of reports and others.
Judging by the fact that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki said the prayer at 10.50 a.m., an early time compared to what obtains, one would suggest the lawmakers were down for real business. But this was not the case.
By 10.57 a.m., a senator, Philip Aduda, raised a point of order calling his colleagues to cut short the life of the day’s plenary citing inability to form a quorum as reason. This development he attributed to lawmakers’ engagement in oversight functions outside the National Assembly.
The Senate had on Wednesday, October 24 adjourned plenary till November 6 to allow its committees carry out oversight of Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
The Senate’s two-week recess came just 16 days after the lawmakers, some of the highest paid in the world, returned from their annual leave that lasted over two months.
After resuming from two weeks oversight recess, the lawmakers could only stay two days before coming with up another excuse to skip plenary.
Shortly after adoption of the previous’ day votes and proceedings on Thursday, November 8, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, moved a motion for adjournment to enable the lawmakers attend the 73rd African Parliamentary Union (APU) conference.
“There is an APU conference this week and we, the National Assembly are hosting it. Today is the opening ceremony and the President of the Federal Republic Nigeria will be in attendance. So, we will just take the vote and proceedings and adjourn,” he said.
The plenary was thus postponed to Tuesday, November 13.
However, on Tuesday, it was time for another excuse. This time, it was Mr Aduda (FCT-PDP) who called the attention of his colleagues to the scantiness of the chamber. He ascribed absence of some lawmakers to oversight functions which he said they are currently engaged in.
“We are less than 10, Mr President,” he said. “I want to move that since we have not formed quorum, we may therefore adjourn. But in doing so I want to say that the Senate is empty because various committees are carrying out oversight duties, they are all over the country, ensuring that the budget is performing.
“On that note the Senate may wish to extend the period of oversight functions if the senate so wish by another week till Tuesday November 20.”
The motion for adjournment was seconded by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who said the lawmakers present were more than the figure Mr Aduda quoted.
“I rise to second the motion ably moved by Senator Aduda but let me add that we are more than 10 but certainly not up to 38. We are somewhere between 15 and 20. Just for the record we are not less than 10 but less than 20,” Mr Ekweremadu said.
The motion was unanimously adopted through a voice vote indicating the highly paid lawmakers would not sit at plenary again for another week.
Before teh adjournment, Senate President Bukola Saraki urged his colleagues to conclude their oversight functions and resume on Tuesday, November 20. He said the adjournment was in line with order 10 (3) of the Senate’s standing order.
HISTORY OF NOT FORMING QUORUM
The senators at different occasions have sat without forming a quorum quoted as 36 or 37 by journalists or 38 as stated by Mr Aduda. A quorum is by law one third of the total 109 senators.
An investigation published by this newspaper last December showed that for many days, plenary started with far lower number of lawmakers than 36.
A total of 18, 33 and 15 senators were present at the chamber on October 24, October 25 and October 26 respectively based on a count conducted after the Senate President had said the prayer.
The investigation revealed that for most of the days in the three weeks a time record was kept, the lawmakers started plenary without forming a quorum.
REPS NON-FUNCTIONAL MICROPHONES
Like their counterparts at the Senate, members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday ditched the plenary, but it was for a seemingly more absurd reason.
On a day the lawmakers were supposed to consider very important issues as slated on the order paper, they adjourned plenary due to malfunctioning of the microphone. This is happening the second time in two weeks.
On the order paper are items such as; Bill for an Act to Provide for Establishment of Adeyemi Federal University of Education, Federal University of Education, Zaria; and Alvan Ikoku Federal University of Education, Owerri. The bills seek to convert existing colleges of education to universities of education.
The lawmakers were supposed to also consider a motion on the ‘Need to Expand the Practice of Agriculture to Include the Science of Aquaculture’ sponsored by Awaji-Inombek Abiante, Douye Diri and Randolf Brown. Also to be discussed was the ‘Need to Curb the Trend of Kidnapping in Song/Fufore Federal Constituency of Adamawa State’ sponsored by Sadiq Ibrahim and a bill for an ‘Act to Prohibit the killing and Exportation of Donkeys or its Carcasses or Derivatives out of Nigeria slated for second reading.
At the start of plenary on Tuesday, the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, read a communication from President Muhammadu Buhari notifying the lawmakers of his decision to withdraw assent to a bill seeking to establish the Institute of Chartered Biochemists and Molecular Biologists of Nigeria. But the day’s business would not go beyond that as the microphones failed the lawmakers.
The wireless microphones, which were made available to serve as an alternative to the ones connected to the seats in the chamber, also malfunctioned.
Lawmakers had to relocate to other seats in order to be able to contribute to the business of the day as no fewer than three wireless microphones were interchanged when each of them failed during the session.
The microphone problem forced the lawmakers to adjourn plenary for the second time in two weeks.
Mr Dogara had during the first adjournment explained that the malfunctioning was as a result of power which had affected the panel of some of the microphones.
He said that the microphones were installed in 1999 and that the panels would take three weeks to arrive Nigeria from Germany.
Unlike the Senate which adjourned for a week, the House adjourned its plenary to Wednesday; although it is not clear if the microphone problem would have been solved then.