Annually, over N120billion is budgeted for the National Assembly to make laws and carry out its oversight functions.
Yet, what Nigeria sees is signs of an overfed National Assembly, while getting zilch in return on investment. We buy them exotic cars. But in coming up with ordinary bills they have to copy shamelessly from another country; without even having the decency to fine-tune same to our climes.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives suspended its COVID-19 shut down of Parliamentary activities and resumed plenary. On the agenda was a bill to repeal the 91-year-old Quarantine Act of 1929; while re-enacting the Infectious Diseases bill.
What a laudable move from our lawmakers…
However, the joy was cut short after going through the so-called bill. The bill is a copy and paste version of Singapore’s Infectious Disease Control Act of 1977. Yes, an almost word for word copying of legislation from another country.
This is not the first time the National Assembly has been caught slavishly copying bills.
In fact, the controversial Social Media bill was also lifted from the same Singapore. Here is the puzzle. We can copy draconian laws from Singapore but not the good governance from Singapore. What a shame!
Look, there is nothing wrong if we take legislation from another country and tailor it to our own environment. After all, we copied our current presidential system from the United States of America. However, imagine if we had copied the Electoral College system or better yet, their constitution including rights to bear firearms.
Unfortunately, the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila who is the sponsor of the bill; who also happens to be a lawyer shamelessly copied that bill; without sufficient effort to blend it with our realities.
To further compound the confusion he is calling a bill, Gbajabiamila; without taking cognizance of the difference in political, social, economic and geographical landscape of Nigeria; attempted to give the bill express passage without public hearing. Even members of the House had no copies of the bill.
Here is a simple explanation.
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Singapore practices the Westminster type of government, with the Prime Minister as the head of government; whereas, Nigeria practices the Presidential system. So there is a fundamental problem in structure. The word “vessel” appeared 98 times in Gbajabiamila’s bill. This is simple. Singapore is an island with one of the busiest ports in the world. So, it’s only normal if a bill in that country is paying excessive attention to ports and harbour.
Personally, I have defended the running costs of the National Assembly.
My view is that, if we are getting value for money, then there is no reason to be agitated. Well, we are not getting value for the humongous sums spent on the National Assembly. The National Assembly had one month to put together a reasonable bill, home grown with our peculiarities. Instead, they chose to copy a bill, word for word, verbatim from Singapore.
We all know that they are not all lawyers. However, that is why we make provision for them to appoint senior legislative aides. Yet, most lawmakers would rather pick party supporters as aides, sacrificing merits for loyalty. What a shame!
Furthermore, the bill was put together, sorry, it was copied, without even consulting a major critical stakeholder; like the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu; who disclosed that he was not consulted and advised the lower chamber to suspend the bill till post COVID-19.
Dr. Ihekweazu on Thursday during a media briefing by the COVID-19 Task Force; expressed reservation about formulating a bill during the crisis, even as he added that he was not consulted.
“To be honest I saw the bill just like everyone else, circulating on social media. I take it in a good way. I think the members of the House of Reps and everybody is concerned about the situation; and what we have found ourselves in. They are doing their very best to come up with the only solution they can come up with which is creating new laws.
“I take it positively but the bill requires more consultation. I’m personally not in favour of drafting a bill in the middle of a crisis. I think we need to get over the crisis and use the momentum to engage with all stakeholders; to come up with a bill that will really serve this country.
“We must think through, step carefully and come up with a bill fit for purpose; and which serves us now and into the future,” he said.
If we cannot write a decent bill with all the lawyers in this country, maybe we should scrap the National Assembly. In fact, we should probably outsource the job to other competent parliaments around the world.