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Today, June 9 2016, marks exactly one year since Bauchi born Barrister Yakubu Dogara emerged as Speaker of the House of Representatives in one of the most unprecedented and keenly contested elections in the political history of Nigeria since 1960.
In his acceptance speech on that day, Dogara made a solem declaration asserting that the House under his leadership “shall wage an unrelenting legislative war on Nigeria’s problems”. He told his colleagues that it was now their responsibility to fashion out the legislative instruments that will lead to Nigeria’s renaissance, adding, “Let the word go forth from here that it shall not be legislative business as usual again in Nigeria.”
Since then, the Speaker has kept to his words and moved on with the Consolidation Agenda by embarking on a series of innovations in the conduct of legislative activities of the Green chamber. Today, the House of the Nigerian people is not only busy discharging its constitutional responsibilities to the people, but is doing so with the utmost zeal and patriotism.
By law, the parliament discharges its duties and responsibilities through bills and resolutions which are the major yardsticks of assessing the performance of the legislature. Since bills, motions and resolutions are the basis of grading how well a parliament has performed or not; then one can say, without sounding immodest, that the House under Dogara has scored 100 percent.
The 8th House has set many firsts, with an unprecedented record of passage of legislation which have begun to change the pace of things in the country. Instructively, Dogara unveiled his legislative agenda even before he was elected – the first of its kind – and tabled same to his colleagues immediately after their inauguration. It was further subjected to debate before adoption by the whole House.
Thereafter, the Speaker – with the speed of light – embarked on review of obsolete and outdated laws by setting up a committee of experts which is still working but nevertheless has turned in about 200 bills, while hundreds more are in the offing. The panel which comprises of legal luminaries have been working for months and have recommended scores of bills for consideration with the aim of cleaning Nigeria’s statute books adopted from Britain under the Statutes of General Application in force in England as at 1st January, 1900.
One major startling revelation from the panel is that Nigeria is still using some laws that are over 100 years old which were adopted from England whereas Britain repealed, amended and/or updated them more than 50 years ago. The committee has so far submitted three reports to the Speaker with the last being on Thursday 2nd June, 2016 where 53 additional bills were recommended for modification.
Before then, specifically in December, the House set a record by passing for first reading, 130 bills and on May 26 2016, 19 bills were considered and passed under the watchful eyes of the Speaker who sat from 11am to 5pm on the floor. The same thing happened on June 1 and on June 2nd, 25 more legislations were passed and in all, the Speaker sat while the bills were considered and passed, and just yesterday, June 8, 100 more bills passed first reading and this will continue until all pending bills are passed.
Consolidating on the spectacular performance of the 7th Assembly, which was rated high in terms of bills passage, where 700 bills were presented in four years, the 8th House under the youthful Barrister Dogara, in just one session, over 600 bills of high quality were presented for consideration, most of which were from the recommendation of the Statutes Reform Committee constituted by the Speaker.
Now, almost 80 of those bills, representing about 18 percent of all bills presented have been effectively passed by the House as at the time of penning this article thereby setting another record in itself.
On motions and resolutions, as at the last sitting in May, the House had considered almost 600 motions. Indeed, there can be no better way to perform than this. This is even so when the intent of the bills and motions are in tandem with the yearnings of the Nigerian people for a better life and in consonance with the change agenda.
Dogara also became the first Speaker, since return to democracy in 1999, to have stepped down from his exalted seat when he sponsored a motion on the urgent need for rehabilitation, resettlement and recovery of the violence ravaged North East region. He didn’t stop at that and in December, the Speaker again stepped down to the floor to lead debate on a bill he personally sponsored, titled “The North East Development Commission Establishment Bill”, that will soon be passed into law.
Dogara didn’t restrict or limit his intervention on North East to the hallowed Green Chambers of House, but has been championing the cause of the region and its people by embarking on visits to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps across the country and has also been advocating for the convocation of international donor conference to rebuild the region.
In keeping with the legislative agenda, last month, Dogara’s House embarked on sectoral debates on different aspects of the Nigerian economy with the aim of assessing how far Nigeria has gone with diversifying the economy and to know if the legislature needs to make any law or laws that will support and enhance the project for the overall benefit of Nigerians which was first of its kind. Every appearance made by the ministers in the epoch-making and novel session was beamed live on national television with ministers taking questions from lawmakers and putting Nigerians in the know of what they have been doing to diversify the economy in the face of dwindling oil revenue.
In addition, a special session on the deregulation of the down stream sector and other changes in the petroleum industry was also held by the House where the lawmakers sought to know the nitty gritty of the removal and how it will benefit the Nigerian people. As a follow up to the sectoral debates, a date will be set for members to debate the submission of the ministers before passing their recommendations to the Executive.
In yet another unprecedented move and in compliance with the 8th Assembly’s Legislative Agenda, Dogara introduced electronic voting system and e-parliament in the House. It is worthy of note that, since 1999, legislation and resolutions were passed using “voice vote” and efforts made by previous assemblies to change that couldn’t come to fruition.
With the new system in place, records of members’ punctuality and voting patterns can easily be accessed by constituents and members of the public which is in tandem with Dogara’s commitment to and open National Assembly. Other initiatives that have been introduced include the establishment and equipping of a Parliamentary Information Centre where information and documents of the National Assembly will be made available.
Doing this will further increase citizens’ access to the legislature and solve the problem of public access to authentic documents of parliament. Indeed, by the time all bills and motions passed in the last one year are compiled, the House would again record another unprecedented feat in the history of Nigerian legislature in fulfillment of the Speaker’s pledge of “waging an unrelenting legislative war on Nigeria’s problems.”
Also within the period under review, the House Standing Orders were reviewed, Code of Conduct for Honourable members was introduced, in addition to the introduction of a new set of templates, guidelines and procedures for processing of reports by committees.
In yet another unprecedented initiative, the Speaker organised a two-day interactive session with youths and student leaders from over 100 Nigerian universities. The students were nominated from their respective institutions, and brought to Abuja where they interacted with him in a question and answer session.
On the world stage, last August, the Speaker, in New York, called on world leaders to return Nigeria’s looted funds at the United Nations during a conference of presiding officers of parliament under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). In fact, it was in New York that he secured China’s endorsement of Nigeria’s bid for a permanent seat on UN security council.
Worthy of note is the fact that all these records and unprecedented landmark achievements will not have been possible but for Dogara’s maturity, patience, sterling leadership qualities, politics of compromise and consensus building which helped in no small way to stabilise the House and cement cleavages of rancour and divisions in the green chamber.
Indeed, his magnanimity, selflessness, shrewdness and intellectual capacity has set him apart and earned him so much respect both among his colleagues and outside the House, including the harmonious relations between the House and the Executive.
It is his political philosophy and conviction that the two arms of government were not elected to engage in supremacy battle over their powers. They also must not fight before they can deliver on their mandates since they were not elected by the people to engage in turf war but to work together while not compromising the doctrine of separation of powers and principles of checks and balance as enshrined in the 1999 constitution. This informed the decision to re-examine the 2016 budget after concerns were raised by the Executive. This was also first of its kind in history of budgeting vis-a-vis Executive-Legislature relationship in Nigeria.
As the Speaker rightly reminded his colleagues exactly one year ago that members of the House are heirs to a long tradition where debates are robustly undertaken, where radicalism flows as an institutional prerogative; the House under Dogara has truly demonstrated that it is the bulwark for the defense of the rights and privileges of the common man, the champion of the rights of the weak and poor and anchor for the wellbeing of the Nigerian people.
The responsibility now lies with the Executive to complement the giant strides taken by the 8th House by implementing resolutions and interventions, but more especially the President to sign the bills into law so as not to repeat the mistakes of the last administration when former President Goodluck Jonathan refused to assent to scores of bills forwarded to him while his ministers went public describing parliamentary resolutions as “mere expression of opinion”.
Turaki Adamu Hassan is the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Rt. Hon. Speaker.