Saraki-led NASS passed record number of bills ‘but few had quality’ — Jega Report

National Assembly Complex
National Assembly Complex

A new report has passed a scathing verdict on the performance of the 8th National Assembly, saying majority of the bills it passed lacked quality.

The report said this was due to a lack of “legislative proficiency” and “pre-legislative scrutiny”.

This assessment, titled “Scorecard of the 8th Assembly”, was launched in Abuja on Friday.

It was conducted by a team led by former INEC chairman and political science professor, Attahiru Jega, on behalf of YIAGA Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement (YIAGA–CLE). The study was supported by the European Union Support for Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN).

While unveiling the report, Mr Jega said 2910 questionnaires were administered across 12 randomly selected states, two from each of the six geopolitical zones of the federation.

From each state too, a senatorial district and a federal constituency were respectively drawn.

The team, however, concluded that the Bukola Saraki-led National Assembly did better than any previous Assembly, “if you consider the context under which they operated”.

“They commenced work under a relatively antagonistic relationship with the executive given the way the assembly was elected. But in spite of this, it is amazing that they were able to introduce 2166 bills within that legislative period, out of which about 515 were passed and 21 of these are actually constitutional alterations.”

The 7th Assembly passed a total of 205 bills of the 1367 introduced.

While Mr Saraki led the Senate between 2015 and 2019, Yakubu Dogara was the speaker of the House of Representatives during the same period. Both men won elections to the two offices against the wish of their then party, All Progressives Congress, but only Mr Dogara won reelection to the House in 2019.

‘Landmark’

Some of the bills passed by the 8th Assembly were regarded as a “landmark for the attention and wide reception they received”.

Two of such bills are the Not Too Young to Run and North East Development Commission Bills.

The report drew its sources from existing legislative documents, in depth interviews with committees in both Houses, civil societies as well as other relevant authorities.

It examined the last Assembly on the basis of three cardinal responsibilities which are legislation, oversight and representation.

Lawmaking

The report found that although the lawmakers fared well in the passage of many bills, the quality of the bills were not satisfactory.

Of the 515 bills that were passed, the report explained that 53 were declined assent by the president and only 80 (15.5%) received presidential assent.

This, Mr Jega said, was partly due to editorial glitches, inconsistencies with existing laws, contradictions and so on.

“Overall,” the reported noted, “the efficiency percentage (of the bills passed) was 23.8%, representing the proportion of all Bills introduced that were successfully passed by the 8th Assembly.”

Using the benchmark of six months (180 days) for the passage of a bill, the report found that the gestation period for the bulk of the bills took a longer time. Only 47 bills (9.1%) were passed in the span of 50 days, it said.

“271 bills (52.6%) took over 351 days; 14 bills were passed within 100 days; 12 within 150 days; 80 within 200 days; 41 within 250 days; 23 within 300 days; and 27 in 350 days. Notably, most of the bills passed within 50 days were either executive bills or, of emergency nature,” the report said.

To improve the quality of bills, the report recommended the entrenchment of a pre-legislative scrutiny process which could be overseen by a committee.

It is also proposed having clear monitoring mechanisms to ensure that law passed are effective and effected.

Oversight Function

The report found that a number of committees that operated in the last Assembly were active while some were redundant.

Top among the active committees was the appropriation committee of both chambers.

While the committee of the Upper House held a total of 79 meetings, that of the Lower House had 300 hearings with MDAs as well as contributed to the audit report of the Auditor General while also recovering over N40 billion from defaulting MDAs.

Another committee noted as active is committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition.

“The 8th Assembly performed fairly creditably in oversight as many of the committees met the international benchmark of the required number of meetings and the oversight activities (visits, hearings referrals, investigations, etc). However, some other committees did not live up to expectation,” the report noted.

It, nonetheless, blamed inadequate funding accruing to some of these committees for their ‘passiveness’.

Hence, the report recommended proper funding “on need basis” for the committees. It also called for setting minimum benchmarks for the committees, “to which sanctions should be attached should a committee fail to meet”.

Representation

The last Assembly was said to have excelled in the passage of landmark bills, including the Disability Bill and the amendments to the Federal Character Law, “to ensure balance, inclusion and fairness in governance”.

The report said this ensured effective representation “as the people are the primary beneficiary of the legislative gestures.”

Read also: INTERVIEW: I ‘sold’ idea of presidential library to Obasanjo – Nyaknno Osso

However, the Assembly fell short when core components of representation like “visits, meetings with constituents, establishment and management of constituency offices, responses to constituents’ demands, attraction and execution of constituency projects, and communication with constituents” are considered.

On this criteria, 29.8% of the respondents of the research rated representation as positive while another 34% and 34% rated representation fair and poor respectively.

The report, therefore, suggested that the National Assembly needs to be more open and transparent while also collaborating more with citizen groups and taking advantage of technology to give an account of their stewardship.

The report urged the people to assume ownership of electing their representatives.

“The people should prioritise capacity, competence and character above other sentiments,” the report added.

Telephone calls and messages to the spokespersons of both Houses between 2015/and 2019 were not answered.

Yusuf Olaniyonu, media aide to Mr Saraki, declined to comment.

Also, Turaki Hassan, spokesperson to Mr Dogara, said he would call back, but did not at the time of this report.

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