By Halima Hassan
The pomp and circumstance that ushered in the 7th National Assembly almost 3 years ago was palpable and the hope of a bright new future for Nigeria democracy was clearly visible on the faces of the 469 federal legislators composed of both Senators and House of Reps members as they took their various oaths of office pledging their allegiance to the Nigeria constitution and all it stands for. Now that the 7th Assembly is set to mark its third year in office, it is pertinent to inquire whether it has by and large delivered on its mandate to provide quality legislation, effective representation and transparent oversight of the vast MDA bureaucracy composed of over 500 ministries, extra ministerial departments, agencies and parastatals.
At the level of law-making, quite a member of bills have been introduced as both senators and house of reps members jostle among themselves to introduce legislation that they hope will usher in greater democracy dividends for their people. In the Senate, some of the bills currently in progress include National Project Monitoring Agency Bill, Copyright Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill, Indigenous Oil Company Bill, Institute of Cost and Management Accountants Bill, National Inland Security Organization Bill, Abolition of Discrimination Against Women Bill, Nigeria Police Service Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, Court of Appeal Act 2005 (Amendment) Bill, Social Housing Bill, Elimination of Violence Bill, Rock Blasting Regulation Bill, Social Housing Bill, Company Income Tax Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill, Counterfeit Goods Bill amongst others.
In the House of Representatives, the members have not been caught napping as the bills currently in progress include FCT Resettlement, Compensation and Rehabilitation (Establishment) Bill, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria Bill, Department and Agencies Bill, Nigerian International Financial Centre (Establishment) Bill, Nigeria Climate Change Commission Bill, Community Service Bill, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria Act (Amendment) Bill, Dispute Resolution Regulatory Commission (Establishment) Bill, Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, Petroleum Industry Bill, Commerce Free Zones Bill commodity exchange Bill, Federal Colleges of Education (Amendment) Bill amongst others. In fact there are close to a hundred bills presently in various stages of legislation in the National Assembly and the relevant committees have been hard at work trying to ensure that the bills move in a systematic and progressive manner towards eventual passage and forwarding to the Presidency for executive assent.
In this regard it must be stressed that the NASS committees are one of the pivotal centre of legislative action as they constitute the live wire for legislative, oversight and representative functions. Without an effective committee system, the NASS activities may effectively be demobilized and rendered inconsequential in all its ramifications. It is worth nothing that the National Assembly administration headed by the Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA), AlhajiSalisuMaikasuwa has strengthened the Committee system by a series of policy reforms that have enthroned greater transparency, accountability and due process in the organizational and operational planks of the system. For instance, before the advent of the present CNA regime, the committee system had been rendered almost comatose with appointments, deployments and promotions of committee clerks and secretaries based on the arcane concept of ‘godfatherism’ cronyism, favouritism and ‘who know men’ syndrome.
No matter how qualified competent or meritorious, a NASS staff was, he or she could not hope to rise to the position of committee clerk or secretary or any other important position for that matter except they had deep connections or attachment to the ‘powers that be’ or those in the ‘corridors of power’. Those that occupied positions of authority or responsibility in the committees were those least qualified or motivated for such positions leading to mediocrity, sloth and cross unprofessionalism in the system. However, under the SalisuMaikasuwa regime, competence, meritocracy, professionalism and exemplary performance has been the watchword leading to a more effective, vibrant and responsive committee system.
In this light, many pundits and critical observers have overwhelmingly given the 7th NASS a much deserved pass mark in the pivotal areas of lawmaking, representation and oversight functions. Without doubt with the frenetic pace of lawmaking with over a 100 bills presently being considered, the high rate of probes, investigative and public hearings and a heightened spotlight on the MDA’s, many have posited that even though the 7th NASS has not reached the promised land, it is clear that they have made remarkable progress towards reaching that goal and as Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, the Chinese leader succinctly put it ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.
Halima Hassan sent in this piece from Garki, Abuja