A POLITICISED NATIONAL ASSEMBLY CANNOT REPRESENT US ADEQUATELY

By Gbenga Akinmoyo

The Legislative organ of government in most democratic societies is the organ saddled with the primary responsibility of making laws that govern everybody in the country, everyone without exception.

In Nigeria today, by virtue of the 1999 Federal Constitution (as amended), we have a bicameral legislature at federal level and unicameral legislature in each of the 36 states. This means two houses at the federal level – The Senate & House of Representatives, and one house at state level – The State house of Assembly.

Every member of those legislative houses is ELECETED into office by a majority of members of the public who registered to vote within the particular constituency and voted on election day. That means, if for instance you are originally from Etinan in Akwa Ibom State, but your work has taken you to the Forest Reserves of Idanre in Ondo State where you eventually registered with INEC, then when you voted in the General Elections of 2019, you were voting to choose:

  • the Member House of Assembly for Idanre constituency in the Ondo State House of Assembly sitting in Akure,
  • the Member House of Representatives of Idanre/Ifedore federal constituency at the National Assembly sitting in Abuja, and
  • the Senator for Ondo Central Senatorial District of the National Assembly sitting in Akure.

As far as these legislative houses are concerned, you were not voting for Muhammad Buhari or Abubakar Atiku who were the Presidential candidates of the APC and PDP respectively. Your vote also had absolutely no bearing on things going on in Etinan and Akwa Ibom. If you didn’t know that back then, you better wake up to this reality ahead of the forthcoming 2023 elections.

Your vote influences those who are contesting to represent the area where you physically vote. When you voted in 2019 did you actually know your candidate for House of Representatives and Senate either in person, by name, by character, by ability, by experience or did you just simply take the money that was on offer on the election day and you voted against principles of rational thinking. Well, if that’s what you did, then you are a major part of the problem with Nigeria today. I say this because those people who your votes elected into office are today claiming to be your Representatives, yet you don’t know them and they don’t know you.

Now you tell me, how many times has any of the following happened since June 2019 when the 9th National Assembly was constituted?

  1. Your Senator or MHR came back to discuss a Bill that he or she was Sponsoring in either of the Houses in Abuja at any time.
  2. Came to discuss the Electoral Act Amendment Bill in your constituency before deciding how to vote last week.
  3. Came to discuss the Petroleum Industry Bill before deciding how to vote last week.
  4. Came to discuss the NBC and NPC Act (Media) Amendments Bill, which was before the House until recently suspended.
  5. Came to the community to do Empowerment Programmes in the community by distributing either cash, or sewing machines, or motorcycles, etc. to a selected few lucky beneficiaries.
  6. Came back to the community from Abuja to attend a birthday, wedding, funeral, house-warming ceremony or some other social engagement of a member of the constituency.

You and I know the answer to the question. We know why and when our representatives decide to come back from Abuja into the community and we also know when they are supposed to do so, if in fact they are truly representing us.

Before the NASS recently proceeded on their end of term recess last week, they considered three (3) very crucial and somewhat controversial Bills, namely:

  1. The Petroleum Industry Bill 2021,
  2. The NBC and NPC (Media) Act Amendment Bill, and
  3. The Electoral Act Amendment Bill which seeks to amend the Electoral Act of 2010.

As sensitive as these issues are to the fabric of the Nigerian state, both in terms of continued national unity, the distribution of our commonwealth in future, implications on citizen’s rights to free expression and freedom of the press as well as the integrity of our future elections, how many of the 109 Senators and 360 MHR’s took the discussions back to the people they claim to represent?

It will interest you to know that all our Distinguished Senators were invited to a dinner with President Buhari at Aso Rock in Abuja the day before the crucial debate on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and honoured the invitation. However, only 80 senators out of 109 voted on the contentious Section 52(2) and 52(3), relating to Electronic voting and Electronic Transmission of Election Results.

In those Senate proceedings 52 voted for the amendment and 28 voted against. Where were the others?

Are you aware that as many as 28 senators either abstained from voting or could not be bothered to turn-up for this crucial vote (28 abstentions and absentees).

Was your senator one of them? Did they attend the President’s plush dinner the previous night? Did it influence the conscience of some of the senators? Were some of them coerced or incentivised into absenteeism? Many questions, but very few answers.

So why are these Senators representing us when they don’t canvass our views and they don’t turn up in the hallowed chambers when it really matters.

The 28 senators absent during the vote represents almost 26% of the total Senate and translates to one-quarter of the country not having a say on such a monumental decision of our electoral process. This is a very worrying development and they must be called to account.

What was eventually decided in the Senate was different to what was decided in the House of Representatives even after both Houses had gone into a joint technical session to harmonise their views.

So what exactly is giving our law-makers so much headache in putting this Bill to bed? Is it the people they say they represent, is it undue influence from their political parties, or is it the personal selfish interests they represent and the incentives they have already received, which conflict with the public will? A compromised National Assembly serves no useful purpose for the general masses of this country.

Most Nigerians want to vote and they want their vote to count. The results declared in each polling unit at the end of a free and fairly conducted election is what most Nigerians expect should be announced. Since it has been alleged that figures are often altered after they leave the polling unit and before the final declaration by INEC, does it not make sense to make every effort to eliminate the possibilities of intermediary interference? This is precisely what those seeking Electronic Transmission of Results are seeking and the want it to be expressly entrenched in the law right now. Their antagonists on the other hand are partly saying it should never be allowed to happen and partly saying, it should only be allowed when the relevant authorities consider it appropriate. They further state that the relevant authorities in this regard are the National Assembly and the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC).

One can only double-laugh and double-weep.

Members of NASS have an obvious vested interest in this matter since they are the ones being elected, so how on earth can they make the ultimate decision subject to themselves?Furthermore, INEC is supposed to be an impartial and independent body not subject to anybody’s beck and call, so how can their activities be made subject to NCC, who are asked to certify network coverage in the country being ready for the exercise to proceed, against what the Constitution prescribes and some say that it is not unconstitutional?

If members of the National Assembly were mature and truly have the interest of the people of this country at heart then:

  • All 52 APC senators that voted for the unpopular amendment could not have done so, because they represent different constituencies in this country and all of them couldn’t have received the same mandate, if at all they consulted their people.
  • As many as 28 senators wouldn’t have been absent for such a critical national decision.
  • Distinguished senators couldn’t have been influenced by their political party or Presidency to vote, act or absentee themselves in a way contrary to the views and wishes of the people they profess to represent.
  • The Deputy Speaker as Chairman of the debate in the House of Representatives would not have allegedly over-ruled his colleagues whose voice vote was clearly in the majority and further ignored their calls for a division of the House.
  • Minority parties in the House of Representatives would not have been frustrated out of the debate, to the extent that they staged a walkout before a final decision had been reached, no matter the provocation.
  • It wouldn’t have been necessary for Yusuf Gagdi (Plateau State) and Ifeanyi Momoh (Anambra State) to have been seen punching each other in the legislative chambers of the House of Representatives.

We certainly haven’t heard the last of this unsavoury legislative impasse. When the National Assembly resumes in mid-September 2021 we sincerely hope nerves and tempers may have calmed down sufficiently for reasonable National discord to continue, that is, if the 2022 Appropriation Bill presentation and discussion doesn’t tactically get in the way and obstruct further debate.

Gbenga Akinmoyo (Hon. GaRo)
writes from Idanre
23rd July 2021.

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