10 Controversies That Shaped N/Assembly In 2021

December 26, 2021
News
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Unlike 2020, 2021 has been a tumultuous year for the National Assembly, with both chambers witnessing rowdy sessions. 

The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) was passed amid rancour and divisions among the federal lawmakers, while the Electoral Bill pitched them against governors, with both sides flexing muscles on the direct primary provision contained in the draft. 

The parliamentarians were also locked in a heated debate before stepping down the Armed Forces Service Commission Bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe.

The anti-media bill in the House of Representatives also generated outrage from media practitioners; youths and other stakeholders bashed the legislators over moves to scrap the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and Nigerians lampooned the legislature for its continuous approval of the executive’s borrowing plans. 

A heavy downpour in June, which flooded the parliament’s White House hosting the two chambers raised concerns about the state of the monument despite the billions voted for its renovation. 

Amid the knocks and ill feelings, the lawmakers were lauded for rejecting the nomination of the controversial presidential aide, Lauretta Onochie, as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) commissioner.

 Electoral Bill

The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill is arguably the most prominent issue that defined the 9th National Assembly in 2021. It was first passed in July, after a rancorous session in both chambers over contentious clauses, especially the section that seeks the introduction of modern technologies in the electoral process.

The passage of the bill in the senate with provisions that limits INEC’s powers on transmission of results generated public outrage. 

After calming nerves by amending the bill in October, to give INEC the sole power to determine the procedure for the transmission of election results, the lawmakers raised another dust when they approved the direct mode of primary election for all political parties, which resulted in a cold war with state governors – who faulted the removal of indirect primary as contained in Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010. 

Both the lawmakers and the governors flexed muscles to get the bill assented to or rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari, with regular visits to the presidential villa by both sides. 

But the legislators lost the battle when President Buhari withheld assent to the bill, citing economic, security and legal issues.

The lawmakers, determined to get the bill scaling through, said the reasons advanced by the president did not “hold water” and therefore set in machinations to override Buhari’s veto in line with Section 58 (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). 

On Tuesday, the senate went into two sessions behind closed doors, after which Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers) told reporters that 73 senators had thrown their weight behind the move to override Buhari; with 73 being the number needed to achieve the required two-third majority. 

However, the move suffered when governors and other stakeholders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) moved in Tuesday night, a development that deflated the number of the senators who had signed for the override.

The senators, after a grandstanding, failed to make good their threat when they reconvened on Wednesday. 

It was gathered that some of the lawmakers were keen on going ahead with the override; with their attention being drawn to a constitutional provision which does not permit the upper chamber to exclusively take action on the issue in the absence of the House of Representatives.

Two-third majority is required in both chambers for a bill to become law without presidential assent. The house had, on Tuesday, embarked on recess after passing the 2022 budget. 

Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, after a session behind closed doors on Wednesday, announced that the senate would consult with the House of Representatives to determine the appropriate line of action when both chambers reconvened in January, 2022. 

 Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)

After two decades of failed attempts, the National Assembly in July, this year passed the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

The bill had suffered setbacks since its introduction in the parliament. It came closer to passage in the 8th Assembly but suffered the same fate as it was jettisoned in the twilight of the life of the 8th Assembly.

But the passage of PIB in July, this year was not devoid of rancour as the lawmakers from the Niger Delta vehemently opposed the three per cent of oil profits for the Host Communities Trust Fund. 

The senate joint committee that worked on the bill had recommended five per cent against the 2.5 per cent proposed by the executive. 

The Green Chamber became tensed when the senate passed an amendment to Section 240 of the bill on the sources of funding for the fund, slashing the percentage to three per cent. The house, after a stormy session, retained the five per cent. 

Few weeks after, both chambers harmonised the differences in the bill and approved three per cent.  

Continuous loan approval for Buhari

This year also saw the National Assembly approving borrowing requests by President Buhari despite public concerns over the country’s rising debt profile.  

The latest of such approvals was on December 15, when the parliament approved President Buhari’s $5.8bn foreign loan request. This was after the legislators had, in November, approved the request to borrow $16.2bn and €1bn under the 2018-2020 External Borrowing Plan.

Amid the rising concerns, the federal government, in October, hinted that it planned to borrow more money to fund the deficit of the N16trn 2022 budget. 

The government had, on several occasions, defended its frequent “sensible” borrowings, saying its revenues were too meagre to fund developmental and infrastructural projects. 

 Constitution review

Another issue that topped the parliament’s agenda was the amendment of the 1999 Constitution. Review committees in the two chambers working on the amendments had conducted public hearing across the country to get inputs from Nigerians. Calls for a new constitution, state creation, among others, featured prominently in the review exercise.

Months after, Nigerians are still waiting with keen interest on whether or not the current constitution review exercise will not end up a jamboree and a tradition of initiating unnecessary constitutional amendments every four years with little or no meaningful impact on their lives. 

Lauretta Onochie’s nomination 

The nomination of Lauretta Onochie, the Special Assistant to President Buhari on New Media, as a Commissioner of INEC in October, 2020, was greeted with outrage, with many opposition politicians and civil society groups calling for her rejection on the grounds that she was too partisan to serve in a sensitive institution. 

She was also accused of being a card-carrying member of the APC, a claim she denied three times during her screening. However, her nomination was rejected in July, based on federal character. 

The Chairman of the screening panel, Senator Kabiru Gaya, said there was currently a serving Commissioner of INEC from Delta State, where Onochie hails from, and that confirming her appointment would violate a constitutional provision. 

 Leaky N/Assembly complex 

Perhaps, one scandalous moment for the National Assembly in 2021 was a roof leakage and flooding of the parliament’s White House in June following a downpour.

There had been concerns that the incident, which many described as “national embarrassment”, happened despite the billions of naira voted for the general maintenance of the National Assembly complex handled by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), an agency under the FCT.

There was public outrage in early 2020 over the approval of N37bn for the renovation of the complex. Also, out of the parliament’s N134bn budget in 2021, N9.134bn was earmarked for general service.

Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said no fund had been released for the project and therefore urged Nigerians to stop bashing the National Assembly management for the parliament’s leaky roof.

 Anti-Media Bill

The move by the House of Representatives to amend the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act triggered heated reactions from stakeholders in the media industry.

At a public hearing on the bill in June, the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), an umbrella body comprising the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), as well as media rights groups and other stakeholders, kicked against the bill, arguing that the proposed amendment to the act would infringe on press freedom.

One contentious aspect of the bill is that which seeks to give more powers to the Minister of Information to control the conduct of media organisations and practitioners.

The media stakeholders also protested against the bill with “information blackout” as all the national dailies carried the image of a child with a sealed mouth on their front pages indicating gagging of the press.

Following the staunch oppositions, the House of Representatives stayed further legislative action on the bill.

 N/Assembly members ‘relocate’ to Aso Rock

In an unprecedented homage, the presiding officers led all the members of the National Assembly to the presidential villa on July 13. 

It was the first time members of the National Assembly from across parties would be hosted by the president in the seat of power. 

The meeting was sequel to the legislators’ resolution that members met with the executive to discuss the country’s acute insecurity manifesting as insurgency, killings, banditry, kidnapping and urban crime. 

During a dinner at the State House Conference Centre, President Buhari expressed concern that insecurity had inhibited government’s ability to build infrastructure, provide the much needed social services to the people and to attract investments that drive innovation, create industries, and provide jobs and create wealth.

 Reps’ security summit

One of the most ambitious events carried out by the House of Representatives in 2021 was the security summit to address the growing insecurity.

The National Security Summit was held in May, after the passage of dozens of bills and adoption of motions calling for reforms of the security architecture, better funding and equipping of security agencies. 

The summit laid bare the numerous security challenges facing the country and suggested solutions to address the situation.

After the summit, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, in July, led some members to the presidential villa to present the report of the summit to President Buhari, but five months after nothing has been heard about the implementation of the report just as the insecurity has continued unabated.  

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