By Turaki A. Hassan
On June 9, 2015, the Eighth Assembly was inaugurated and following a keenly contested election which left many viewers on the edge of their seats, barrister-at-law and Bauchi-born lawmaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara, emerged as the 14th Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives.
The very first thing he did was to table the Eighth Assembly’s Legislative Agenda, which he launched before election as part of his manifesto. Guided by this agenda, the House moved at the speed of light to perform its responsibilities.
As in the game of soccer or indeed every other game, athletes and their coaches and technical team use the break to assess their performance in the match and strategies for the remaining half in order to ensure victory. Now, at two years – or half time – it is time to assess how well the House has performed in these eventful 17,520 hours or 730 days. There is a Hausa adage which says that you can know how good a Friday will be on the Wednesday preceding it.
My work has been made easy by the fact that the Eighth House has performed well. I don’t need to invent facts or even search for alternative facts like Kellyanne Conway because the facts are there and they speak for themselves.
The lawmakers have given Nigerians many firsts which time and space cannot permit me to mention here. So while this article won’t be doing justice to all 360 MPs as I cannot possibly capture all of their numerous landmark and unprecedented achievements, it is just my token contribution in appreciating and appraising the Green Chamber from a very close range, and as a direct witness to all activities so far.
In 2015 – in his inaugural speech – the Speaker made a solemn declaration and pledge to wage an unprecedented legislative war on Nigeria’s problems. True to his words, all available statistics and records indicate that the House under his able leadership has broken all previous records set by their predecessors since independence in 1960.
It is important to state that the parliament uses three or four measures to function in a democracy; these include the very act of legislation or lawmaking, resolutions, oversight and the last one – which is least known and hardly appreciated – is the instrument of public petitions.
Early in the life of the House, Hon. Dogara inaugurated a committee of eminent jurists and legal luminaries, i.e. the statutes or law reform committee, which was charged with the responsibility of reforming the entire gamut of Nigeria’s laws which had previously never been done since we adopted the Statute of General Application in 1800. For 200 years or more, we have been operating British laws without localizing them to the extent that some of Nigeria’s legislations have penalties in Pound Sterling and some even have description of places in England!
The panel worked and turned in more than 300 bills, 130 of which were read in one single day; a feat unprecedented in Nigeria’s legislative history. In total, 1064 bills were introduced, 166 have been passed, 500 are undergoing legislative scrutiny while the remaining are in various stages of the legislative mill. The President has also assented to 27 non-budget related bills, out of which 23 emanated from the House.
This has surpassed records set by all previous Assemblies at midterm put together, thanks to Speaker Dogara’s foresight, vision and patriotism.
Instructively, the Eighth Assembly also addressed a total of 610 public petitions from ordinary Nigerians through the committee on public petition. This is one critical and important work of the parliament that is rarely known and hardly appreciated by pundits and critics. The Committee meets every day and addresses cases of violation of human rights, illegal termination of appointments and sundry matters. Through this, hundreds of people have gotten back their jobs and had their rights restored. This is the true work and meaning of representation. This record, too, is unprecedented.
The House also carried out landmark investigations on different sectors of the national economy such as oil and gas, procurement, corruption issues, security matters, financial matters, banking matters, AMCON, railway, communication and privatisation, among others. Many more investigations are ongoing, all in accordance with section 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution which vests in the parliament, the responsibility of exposing corruption and waste in government.
The House under Speaker Dogara also helped with regular interventions to stabilize the polity. For example, during the fuel price crises, the House reconvened on a Monday to discuss the issue which helped in calling off the industrial action by the labour unions as nerves were calmed.
He also helped to mediate between the Federal government and the Nigeria Medical Association and the National of Association of Resident Doctors during their strikes, thereby averting a major crisis in the health sector.
Again, in these eventful two years, Speaker Dogara introduced a new innovation into Nigeria’s legislative history: sectoral debates. Ministers appeared before the House to answer questions relating to their ministries and sectors in an effort to diversify the economy and a Tactical Committee on Economic Recession was set up, in addition to passage of many economic bills and resolutions – which the President acknowledged in his budget speech last December – and also the passage of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Bill, which will help check monopoly and manipulation by multinationals and grow small scale businesses and local entrepreneurs.
Also for the first time in history, budget reforms were implemented with the introduction of a new Budget Process Bill (sponsored by the Speaker) to regulate the timeline for budget activities and put an end to the lingering problem and vicious circle of non-implementation of budgets, which has stifled the execution of developmental projects since 1960. Dogara and his colleagues also collectively resolved and opened the National Assembly’s budget in response to agitation by Nigerians.
The Appropriation Bill is now passed at plenary with full details, as was done in the passage of 2017 budget. Two thirds of Committee members also now sign committee budget reports before they can be presented for consideration, and even staunch critics now agree that the Budget process has generally been made more transparent and accountable.
The Speaker’s Legislative Initiative on the North East has resulted in the passage of his North East Development Commission Bill, which is awaiting presidential assent. This is in addition to concerted efforts aimed at giving financial and administrative autonomy to local government councils through the constitutional amendment exercise.
Pensioners were also not left out, as it was Hon. Dogara who intervened in resolving non-payment of pensioners for three years.
He has also championed efforts to amend the Constitution to remove the age barrier for elective offices with the introduction of the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill, which will see that even 30 year-olds are eligible to run for Presidency in order to open up the political space and ensure youth inclusion in politics and governance. Before this, the Speaker set another record by hosting student leaders from all public and private Nigerian universities for two days in the National Assembly where he interacted with them and inspired them to strive for greatness.
From introduction of E-Parliament: e-voting, digitalization and archiving which are being perfected, amendment of the Public Procurement Act to increase mobilisation to contractors so as to hasten execution of projects and check the problems of abandoned projects, and the introduction of electronic and diaspora voting in the Electoral Act, and the very fact that Hon. Dogara became the first ever Speaker to personally sponsor seven (7) bills, or even stepped down from Chair to sponsor a motion on the “Urgent Need for Resettlement, Reconstruction, Recovery and Rehabiliation of the devasted North East region”, it is indeed apparent that Dogara’s tenure has been one of many firsts.
The House under Speaker Dogara is also at peace with itself, working harmoniously with the Senate and ensuring better Executive-Legislature relationship to ensure good governance because as the Speaker often says, they must not fight in order to work and deliver dividends of democracy to Nigerians.
As he rightly reminded his colleagues exactly two years ago that members of the House are heirs to a long tradition where debates are robustly undertaken and 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.
What more can one say or write about the 8th House under Dogara? The records are unparalleled, the achievements uncountable, the statistics mind boggling, the history unprecedented, and my space here, very limited.
Turaki Adamu Hassan, is the Special Adviser on Media & Public Affairs to Speaker Yakubu Dogara.