The 9th National Assembly (NASS) was inaugurated on Tuesday, June 11 with Senator Ahmed Lawan and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila elected as the Senate President and Speaker respectively.
In a free and fair election organized using the secret ballot system, both candidates won by very huge margins with a lot of Nigerians monitoring the process.
Due to the keen interest of the populace, the 9th NASS will be expected to build upon the gains made by the previous Assembly whilst tackling the various challenges bedevilling the Nigerian people.
While the Saraki-led 8th Senate may have been riddled with a lot of political in-fighting and backstabbing, it was able to establish some strides which were explained by former Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
During a proclamation on Thursday, June 6, Saraki reflected on his four-year tenure as the head of the nation’s legislature and urged his colleagues to be wary of the transient nature of power.
He also reviewed the relationship between the executive and the legislature as well as his travails and concluded that he had no regrets in an apparent response to criticisms of the National Assembly by the executive, particularly President Muhammadu Buhari.
Explaining why power is transient, Saraki said, “This I know: whatever the capacity, we should always do our best to serve the interest of the people. We should also have it at the back of our minds that power is transient.”
He also took exceptions to the allegations that, he and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, were not patriotic in the handling of the affairs of the National Assembly in the last four years.
Saraki maintained that the frictions between the executive and the legislature would not end with the 8th National Assembly for as long as the former held the belief that it could always interfere in the affairs of the parliament, especially on the issue of budget.
He said, “It is important that I make some comments about Legislature-Executive relations. My own take is that if the Executive sees the National Assembly’s work on the budget as interference despite the provisions of the constitution, then there will continue to be problems between both arms of government.
“If the Presidency refuses to have engagements and consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly before the President submits the budget to the legislature, then there will continue to be frictions.
“When the Executive sees the failure of a few of its appointees to secure confirmation by the Senate as a disagreement, then the relationship will not improve.
“If the Executive encourages its appointees who fail to secure Senate confirmation to remain in office, then there will continue to be disagreement.”
Saraki further extolled the achievements of the 8th Senate which is evidenced by “the record number of bills passed, motions cleared, resolutions adopted, petitions treated.”
“We can also define ourselves by the belief that we fought for democracy, held the government to account and made personal sacrifices.
“For some of us, sacrifices are still being made, owing to the fallout of some of the decisions taken. I have no regrets because, as first among equals, we bear collective responsibility for those decisions. As a leader, however, I take responsibility. The buck stops with me.
“In doing all that we did in this chamber, we always used to believe that poverty knew no party, religion, tribe or region.
“We came together in response to the needs of Nigerians as a whole, and we got the job done. It will be said of us that we were truly representatives of all our constituents.
“As we conclude the last plenary and the few more days of the 8th Senate, therefore, we should nurture the relationships we have built,” the former Senate leader explained.
Analysing the achievements of the 8th NASS
NASS Budget: After much pressure from civil society organisations and other Nigerians, the National Assembly in 2017 published the National Assembly budget.
It was the first time since 2010 when former Senate president, David Mark, blocked disclosure.
Intervention in Primary Healthcare: In May 2019, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, said 22 states showed interest in accessing the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF).
This would not have been possible without the intervention of the Senate under Saraki.
The Senate in May 2018 approved the N55 billion fund to cater for healthcare in Nigeria.
The BHCPF is one per cent of the federal government Consolidated Revenue and contributions from donor grants set aside to fund the basic health needs of Nigerians.
Budget public hearing: In March 2019, the Senate held its third edition of the public hearing on the national budget.
The initiative, introduced under Saraki’s leadership, started in 2016.
At such hearings, Nigerians represented by interest groups, are given the opportunity of contributing to the national budget before passage.
Although the legislative process of the budget passage should include public hearings, that was not implemented under previous administrations.
Not-too-young-to-run bill: This important legislation, initiated by the civil society, was passed by the National Assembly in 2018 and signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2018.
The law reduces the age limit for Nigerians seeking the office of president from 40 to 35 and governorship from 35 to 30. It saw to an unprecedented number of young contestants for the 2019 general election.
Record number of bills passed: As of May, the Senate had passed 293 bills, above the numbers passed by the three previous Senate since the return to democratic rule.
The 7th Senate passed 128 bills; 6th Senate 72 and 4th Senate 129.
According to Saraki, “In this time, we have passed 213 Bills, cleared 138 petitions submitted by the public. We are happy to say that this Senate is the most productive since 1999.
“It has surpassed the fifth Senate with 129 bills in four years, as against the sixth Senate with 72 bills, and 128 passed by the seventh Senate.
“The number of petitions we have successfully treated to the satisfaction of Nigerians, who filed them dwarfed those treated by the sixth and seventh Senate respectively.”
However, despite these admirable strides, the Saraki-led NASS was not without its failures.
Budget transparency: Even though Saraki as chairman of the National Assembly made public the budget of the parliament in three consecutive years, the releases did not reveal line items.
The summarised version only contained vague block figures, without specific funding for each budgeted item.
For many Nigerians, the National Assembly continued to conceal how it spends public funds and merely tried to be smart by making halfhearted disclosures.
Delay in budget passage: This was a scandal for the previous sessions of the National Assembly and, at best, it stayed the same, or got even worse, under Mr Saraki.
Just as it has been a problem in previous assemblies, the 8th Senate also failed to pass the national budgets in due time.
In 2016, President Buhari presented the budget on December 22 but it was not passed until March 23 of 2017.
For the next round, the budget was presented on December 14 in 2017 and passed on March 11 of the next year. The budget passed on April 30 was first presented to the National Assembly on December 19, 2018.
For these delays, the NASS has at different times raised their defence which includes late presentation, failure of MDAs to appear before committees, oversight functions among others.
Budget passing scandal: For the four parliamentary years, the NASS was accused of inserting extra costs into budgets.
The extras sometimes end up in the pockets of lawmakers and their cronies through the dubious implementation of projects.
In 2016, the parliament was accused of padding the budget up to the tune of N481 billion.
Similarly, in 2017, then-acting President, Yemi Osinbajo delayed the signing of the budget because of the removal of priority projects and introduction of projects by lawmakers.
The following year, Buhari accused the lawmakers of cutting essential projects and inserting non-essential ones. He said the lawmakers introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira.
It was a similar situation in 2019 when the President said the addition of about N90 billion to the N8.83 trillion he submitted to the legislature would make it difficult for the government to realise its set objectives.
While the National Assembly has argued on the one hand that it has the power to alter the budget as it is not rubber-stamp, the executive sees the alteration as impediments.
Skewed allocation: Under Saraki, the practice of uneven allocation of resources to lawmakers continued. Each year, the National Assembly gets up to N100 billion from the national budget to execute constituency projects.
Over the years, some lawmakers get more than others and this practice continued under Saraki.
Education: Education is one of the direct ways a government can touch the citizens. While the executive implements programmes, the NASS can support them with laws and policies.
In terms of policies and budgetary allocation to education, the 8th NASS under Saraki performed not better than predecessors.
In 2015, the last year of David Mark as Senate president, budgetary allocation to education stood at 7.74 per cent.
This soon dropped the following years under Saraki and Yakubu Dogara at the House of Representatives. It was 6.10 per cent in 2016, 7.38 per cent in 2017, 7.03 per cent in 2018 and 7.05 per cent in 2019.
Checks and Balances: Regardless of being led by the opposition, the Senate under Saraki tried but could not properly check the executive.
For instance, while it repeatedly turned down Buhari’s appointment of Ibrahim Magu as head of the EFCC, it failed to curtail the excesses of the former police IG, Ibrahim Idris.
Worse, the Senate — and the National Assembly — in 2018 failed to hold the executive accountable for making extra-budgetary military spending without its approval.
In that case, Saraki was strongly criticised for the lenient treatment given to President Buhari.
The president had withdrawn $496million from state coffers and used same for the purchase of aircraft from the United States without the National Assembly’s approval.
Two senators had called for the invocation of Section 143 to start the impeachment process of the president but Saraki stalled the process.
Instead, the Senate president referred the issue to the Committee on Judiciary to advise on best step to take.
The committee never submitted its report.
The last point is what the newly-inaugurated 9th NASS led by Lawan must especially improve upon.
It is highly necessary in order to entrench discipline in the three major arms of the government.
This is imperative to ensure the country moves forward whilst maximizing the vast potential of her resources.