SPECIAL REPORT: Inside National Assembly’s two decades of lawmaking, scandals and looting

Minister Festus Keyamo accuses lawmakers of trying to hijack job slots (Picture: National Assembly {NASS}
Minister Festus Keyamo accuses lawmakers of trying to hijack job slots (Picture: National Assembly {NASS}

Of the three arms of government, the Legislature is presumed the most critical in any democratic nation. Apart from producing the largest number of elected officials, the National Assembly aggregates the views of the people (constituents) and makes laws for the good of the nation.

However, the Legislature in Nigeria has been the major casualty of military adventure in politics.

Each time the military took over power, it disbanded the legislative bodies at the federal and state levels, thereby disrupting its continuity, growth and maturity.

In contrast, the Executive and Judiciary arms, since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, have had uninterrupted existence, whether under the military or civil rule.

The First Republic Legislature, modelled after the British parliamentary system, was terminated following a military coup after three years in session between 1963 (when Nigeria became a republic) and 1966.

The Second Republic legislature, modelled after the American presidential system, also lasted only four years, between 1979 and 1983. The bicameral National Assembly (comprising the Senate and House of Representatives) was disbanded by the military after the December 31, 1983 coup.

The Third Republic Legislature also modelled after the American legislature and which emerged from the winding and prolonged transition programme initiated by Ibrahim Babangida administration, was short-lived. That legislative body was only 23 months old when it was sacked by General Sani Abacha who removed the Interim National Government (ING) put in place by the military president when he “stepped aside” in August 1993.

After about six years, the current Fourth Republic legislature emerged in June 1999 via a transition midwived by the military administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. For the first time since the country attained self-rule, the legislature has endured for an unprecedented 20 years.

Within the period, the bicameral National Assembly, comprising a 109-member Senate and a 360-member House of Representatives, has had five sessions with the sixth and Nigeria’s overall ninth session now running its tenure.

They are Fourth Session (1999-2003), Fifth Session (2003-2007), Sixth Session (2007-2011), Seventh Session (2011-2015) and Eight Session (2015-2019).

Nine political parties produced the membership of the two chambers during these sessions. The parties are the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) (formerly All Peoples Party, APP), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA), Accord Party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) (formerly Action Congress, AC) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD).

The CPC, ACN, ANPP are now defunct because they merged to become APC in 2013.

Apart from the National Assembly, the 36 component states of Nigeria also have established legislative bodies with a total membership of 978.

The distribution of the membership of the state Assemblies is based on the proportionality of the population of each state.

Leadership Turnover

A major characteristic of the National Assembly since the restoration of democracy 20 years ago is the high leadership turnover, some of which are usually characterised by intriguing power play among the lawmakers and meddlesomeness of the executive arm.

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In the first four years of the Fourth Republic, both arms of the National Assembly experienced frequent changes of leadership, which posed a real threat to the stability of the country’s nascent democracy.

At the inauguration of the National Assembly on June 3, 1999, Evan Enwerem, a former civilian governor of Imo State, emerged the president of the Senate with Haruna Abubakar from Nasarawa State as his deputy.

Former Senate President, Evan Enwerem
Former Senate President, Evan Enwerem

Mr Enwerem was removed six months after, precisely on November 18, 1999, following an allegation of age and documents falsification made by a news magazine.

His fall paved the way for the colourful and intellectually-endowed Chuba Okadigbo to emerge Senate president on the same day. The Senate retained Mr Abubakar as its deputy president. Mr Okadigbo was from Anambra State.

However, the lawmakers removed the two presiding officers on August 8, 2000, following their indictment by the Idris Kuta panel that probed contract awards in the Senate.

With Mr Okadigbo’s exit, Anyim Pius Anyim from Ebonyi South became Senate President, with Ibrahim Mantu (Plateau Central), his deputy. That was two days after John Azuta Mbata (Rivers South-East) acted as Senate President pro-tempore. Mr Anyim was in office between 2000 and June 2003 when the session ended.

In the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, from Kano State, was Speaker between June 3, 1999, and July 23, 1999, when he resigned over a certificate and age falsification scandal. Chibudom Nwuche (Rivers) was his deputy.

Ghali Na'Abba
Ghali Umar Na’Abba [Photo: Daily Trust]
Ghali Umar Na’Abba, also from Kano, replaced Buhari as Speaker. Mr Na’Abba, retained Mr Nwuche as his deputy and formed an impregnable kitchen cabinet that helped him to maintain a stronghold on the House.

Frequent clashes with the executive marked his leadership of the House. Under him, the representatives made numerous impeachment moves against President Obasanjo. He too survived several impeachment plots and was in office until the end of the session in 2003.

Adolphus Wabara was the first Senate president in the fifth National Assembly (2003-2007). Mr Mantu remained as deputy president. But Mr Wabara, from Abia State, resigned his position in April 2005 over his alleged involvement in the bribe-for-budget scandal. He was only cleared of the allegation in March 2019 after a long battle in court.

Ken Nnamani, from Enugu, succeeded Mr Wabara while Mr Mantu remained deputy senate president. Mr Nnamani’s assumption of office meant all five South-East states to which the ruling PDP zoned the position had occupied the Senate president position.

Mr Nnamani, who asserted legislative independence cautiously, avoided the proverbial “banana peel” and successfully steered the ship of the Senate till the end of the session in 2007. Remarkably, under him, the legislature killed the “Third Term” agenda of President Obasanjo through constitution amendment.

Ken Nnamani
A former Senate President, Ken Nnamani

Conversely, the House of Representatives had stable leadership in the fifth session. Aminu Bello Masari, the current Katsina governor, and Austin Opara from Rivers State were Speaker and deputy speaker respectively throughout the session. Mr Masari is reputed to have brought maturity to the leadership of the lower chamber.

A former military brigadier general, David Mark from Benue State, and Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu) were elected Senate President and deputy senate president, respectively in the sixth session inaugurated in June 2007.

In the House, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, a native of Osun State, became the Speaker at the time, thus becoming the first woman ever to preside over the lower chamber. Her deputy was Babangida Nguroje from Taraba State.

Mrs Etteh and Mr Nguroje, however, lost their positions barely five months after, precisely on October 30, 2007, following a scandal over the award of a N628million contract for the upgrade of their official residences. Mrs Etteh was cleared of the allegations four years after by the same House.

With the exit of the two presiding officers, Dimeji Bankole, the member representing Abeokuta South federal constituency of Ogun State, assumed office as Speaker and Usman Nafada (Gombe) as deputy speaker. They remained in office till the end of that session in 2011.

Messrs Mark and Ekweremadu retained their positions when the seventh session opened in June 2011, thus making them the longest-serving presiding officers of the Nigerian Senate.

In the House, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the current Sokoto governor, was elected the Speaker, in a rather dramatic manner. Emeka Ihedioha, the Imo governor-elect, emerged deputy. Both emerged against the wish of their party, the PDP.

Aminu Waziri Tambuwal
Former Speaker now Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal

Bukola Saraki, a former governor of Kwara State, became president of the eighth Senate on June 9, 2015, with Mr Ekweremadu as his deputy. Their ascension was equally dramatic.

Mr Saraki emerged against the wish of the APC which had earlier, in a mock election, picked Ahmed Lawan and George Akume for the positions of Senate president and deputy Senate president.

For the first time since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the Senate President and his deputy belonged to different parties. Mr Saraki was a member of the APC at the time while Mr Ekweremadu is of the PDP. The Senate president has since returned to the PDP from where he joined the APC in January 2014.

On the same day, Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi State, emerged Speaker of the eighth session of the House, against APC’s plan, in a keenly contested election.

Mr Dogara defeated Femi Gbajabiamila, who had been picked by the party in a shadow poll for the position. Yusuf Lasun from Osun State became his deputy against APC’s choice of Mohammed Monguno.

Expectedly, the party frowned at their election, and this impacted negatively on their relationship with the party and the executive arm.

Indeed, the arraignment of Mr Saraki at the Code of Conduct (CCT) on a 13-count perjury charge shortly after he assumed office was linked to his disregard for the party’s choices for the leadership of the Senate. The Supreme Court cleared him of the allegations three years after. Like Mr Saraki, Mr Dogara has also returned to the PDP.

Messrs Lawan and Gbajabiamila later emerged President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives in the current National Assembly.

At the state level, the Houses of Assembly equally witnessed a high leadership turnover.

In the last 20 years, no fewer than 30 state legislatures have impeached their speakers or deputy speakers and in some cases the principal officers.

Some of the states are Kebbi, Abia, Adamawa, Enugu, Ebonyi, Bayelsa, Niger, Benue, Kano, Delta, Kogi, Edo, and Kaduna. Ekiti, Anambra.

While some have done so more than once, there were unsuccessful attempts in many other states. Sadly, some of these impeachments were carried out without meeting the numbers of lawmakers stipulated by the constitution.

More pathetic are reasons usually adduced for effecting leadership changes. The reasons include alleged breach of trust, maladministration, financial recklessness and impropriety, misappropriation, high-handedness, abuse of office and docility. While some of the reasons are genuine, others are trumped-up charges.

Bills and Motions

Despite the seeming instability, the Fourth Republic legislative houses have managed to carry out their core mandate of lawmaking.

Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), empowers the legislature “to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation….”

Altogether, both chambers of the National Assembly in the Fourth Republic have passed into law about 1,500 bills. While some emanated from the executive, the others were private-member bills.

In the fourth parliamentary session, out of 258 bills introduced in the Senate, 65 were passed. The House had better performance as it passed 112 out of 314 bills it received. Notably, many legislators of this session did not have legislative experience.

The fifth Senate between 2003 and 2007, passed 132 bills out of the 392 submitted to it. The House on its part passed 141 Bills out of the 333 brought before it within the same period and treated 222 petitions.

In the sixth session, the Senate passed 91 bills altogether from the 514 it got, and 92 resolutions. The lower house dwarfed the Senate’s performance by passing 136 bills. It also accepted 328 motions and approved 282 resolutions.

At the close of the seventh session of Senate in 2015, out of the 591 bills introduced, it passed 128 into law and also passed 115 resolutions. The lower house passed 123 bills out of 755 introduced.

So far, in the current eighth session, which will wind down in June, the Senate has passed 274 bills out of the 810 it received. The House, as of December 2018, had passed 300 bills (90 were constitutional amendment bills), out of about 1,527 it received.

Some major bills passed by the federal legislature are for the establishments of the ICPC, EFCC, NDDC, and NEDC. Others are the Freedom of Information Act(FoI), Electoral Act Amendment, Constitution Amendment, Appropriations, Not-too-Young-to-Run, Federal Road Maintenance Act (FERMA), National Democracy Day Act, National Minimum Wage (2005) and (2019), Remuneration of former President and Heads of State, Terrorism (Prevention) and the Money Laundering Prohibition (2011), Whistleblower Protection and Appropriation.

Musa Yar'Adua signing a document alongside Goodluck Jonathan. [PHOTO CREDIT: THISDAYLIVE]
Musa Yar’Adua signing a document alongside Goodluck Jonathan. [PHOTO CREDIT: THISDAYLIVE]
Two unique legislative activities undertaken by the National Assembly were the enactment of the “Doctrine of Necessity,” which empowered the then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, to step in as acting president pending the return of President Umaru Yar’Adua who was in hospital in Saudi Arabia, and the confirmation of Namadi Sambo as vice president.

In line with its oversight and investigative powers, the legislature also launched investigations into the activities of some MDAs.

Notable among them were the $16 billion power probe, Halliburton bribery scandal, Malabo oil deal, Maina Pension Scam and Kerosene subsidy scam.

Others were the Police Pension Fund fraud, Stella Oduah N255 million armoured car scandal, missing N20 billion oil money, $15 million private jet/arms scandal, Immigration recruitment scandal, Ekiti Gate and a host of others.

Within the past 20 years, the Legislature had its fair share of scandals and sleazes, some of which involved its leadership.

For instance, there was the N1.9 billion contract award scandal involving Mr Okadigbo and the principal officers of the Senate; Speaker Buhari’s age and certificate forgery scandal; Enwerem “criminal record” scandal; N54 million Nasir El-Rufai bribe for ministerial confirmation scandal involving Mr Mantu and Jonathan Zwingina; N2.3 billion car sandal in the House under Mr Bankole; and N55 million bribe-for-budget scandal that led to Wabara’s resignation as Senate president.

There was also the $620,000 Femi Otedola bribery allegation against Rep Farouk Lawan; the N628 million contract scandal involving Mrs Etteh; the Budget padding scandal in the House under Speaker Dogara; the Mace theft scandal in the Senate; Health Committees N10 million bribe-for-budget scandal, N100 million power probe bribery scandal; Petroleum Sector bill bribery scandal and the N5.8 billion Rural Electrification scandal.

Former Speaker, Patricia Etteh
Former Speaker, Patricia Etteh

Some of these scandals were either probed by the ethics and privileges committees or ad hoc committees set up by both chambers. While some are yet to be concluded, the outcomes of the others were never made public.

The state legislatures have also churned out hundreds of bills, some of which were initiated by the state governors.

High Pay, Huge Budgets

It has cost the nation and its taxpayers about N1.8 trillion to maintain the National Assembly in the last 20 years going by the lawmaking arm’s budgetary allocations.

From a mere N23 billion budgetary allocation to the Federal Legislature in 2000 when the new Obasanjo administration first prepared its first main budget, it jumped to N66 billion in 2007, N130 billion in 2008 and N154.2 billion in 2010.

It slumped to N150 billion in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. It further crashed to N115 in 2015 and 2016 only to go up again to N125 billion in 2017, N139.5 billion in 2018 and down again to N125 billion in the proposed 2019 budget.

In 2010, the National Assembly, which does not defend its budget before any institution of government, placed its allocations on first line charge. From that time, the line-by-line details of the expenditure of the 10 arms of the federal legislature became shrouded in secrecy until 2017 when, under pressure and after criticisms from the public, it began to provide sketchy details.

Thus, for about eight years, the entire budget of the legislature only had a one-line item in the national budget.

In 2008, the lawmakers got about 800 per cent pay rise when the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the body statutorily responsible for fixing their salaries and allowances, reviewed the emoluments of political officeholders.

With the review, each senator became entitled to an annual basic salary of N2.02m and allowances amounting to N35m while each member of the House of Representatives collects N1.98m and N29m allowances.

The Senate president is on an annual basic salary of N2.48m and allowances totalling N13.9m. His deputy is on N2.30m as salary and allowances of N12.9m. The Speaker and his deputy are on salaries of N2.47m and N2.28m, with allowances of N9.78m and N8.00m, respectively.

Shehu Sani
Shehu Sani [Photo credit: Instagram]
However, there were speculations that the lawmakers were taking more than what the Commission approved. This was again wrapped up in secrecy until March 2018 when the Kaduna Central Senator, Shehu Sani, revealed in a media interview that “the running cost of a senator is N13.5 million every month.”

Mr Sani further disclosed that the running cost does not include the N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances which each lawmaker also receives.

There were unconfirmed reports that each member of the House of Representatives was taking N11.5 million monthly.

Yet, it is also suspected that the 469 legislators pay themselves additional allowances quarterly without the approval of RMAFC. They take between N35m and N48m in illegal perks.

On their part, the 36 State Houses of Assembly members take about N6 billion per annum in emoluments.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in Premium Times special print publication to mark Nigeria’s 20 years of unbroken democracy.

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