REPS BEGIN LAST LAP OF LAST SESSION
The House of Representatives is expected to resume plenary on Tuesday, October 12 after 10 weeks of annual recess. Members used the holiday to visit their constituencies, apparently to render account of their stewardship to the people.
Some standing committees however used the period to carry out oversight functions to some agencies under their supervision and also to organize public hearings on some bills referred to it by the leadership. While the Green chamber remained under lock, the political scene was full of activities that will surely command the attention of the House as it begins the last lap of the third National Assembly of the Fourth Republic.
Shortly before the vacation, an indefinite suspension order was slammed on 11 members. Led by Mr Dino Melaye, the group he led had accused the Speaker of corruption in the management of capital votes of the House. The House boiled to breaking point before members of the group were bundled out of the chamber and their offices sealed up.
Although the suspension order had become a matter of litigation, it is widely believed outside the chamber that the suspension order was meant to silence the critics of the leadership, hence, it is expected that it will surface on the floor when session resumes. During the recess, several reconciliatory moves were made by various interest groups and individuals to end the rift so that the suspended members could be recalled before now. For instance, the intervention of the leadership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for an out of court settlement was in this light.
Feelers from the leadership and the camp of the suspended members showed that all the parties are ready for a peaceful resolution of the crisis and this is expected to dominate discussions when members return from the recess.
Members were recalled from the recess to consider and approve the budget prepared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to register voters for the 2011 general elections. It took the House two days to approve the budget, but after the approval, INEC came back to request for a shift in its timetable for the exercise, which will require amending the Constitution again.
The Constitution Review Committee was equally summoned for a consideration of the INEC demands for a new timetable and the Commission was asked to come up with full details of its programme for the exercise.
INEC issue is expected to be among those that would be in the front burner of debate when members resume.
Recent political developments in the country will take centre stage when the chamber opens on Tuesday. The nation was jolted on the day of her golden anniversary of independence when a twin bomb exploded near Eagle Square, venue of a colourful parade with no fewer than 15 foreign heads of state in attendance.
The explosion which claimed lives and injured many will be addressed by the House, and it will take the House to re-examine the passage of the bill on anti terrorism before it. When the Speaker, Mr Dimeji Bankole paid a condolence visit to the injured people at the National Hospital Abuja, he indeed gave assurance that the bill will attract speedy consideration when the House resumes. Bankole said that 'The bill for an act to provide for measures to combat terrorism and for other related matters would be granted expedite consideration when we resume.'
Expected to attract the attention of the House is the menace of kidnappers. Business and social activities had been paralysed in the South East state of Abia and its environs. Few days to mark the 50 years of political independence, the kidnappers went on rampage and abducted a bus loaded with 15 pupils who were returning from school. The business of hostage taking for ransom had assumed a frightening dimension which a responsive and responsible parliament cannot turn a blind eye. During the recess, four committees of the House, Judiciary, Justice, Human Rights and Police Affairs organized a joint public hearing on a bill for an act to prohibit kidnapping, hostage taking, prescribe punishment for its contravention.
Although, it was a private member bill sponsored by three members, Mr Friday Itulah, Mr Samson Osagie and Henry Seriake Dickson, the wave of kidnapping and the damage it had caused the image of the nation will make it a matter of urgent national importance. The sponsor of the bill recommended for any person who seizes, confines, entices, decoys, abducts, conceals, kidnaps or carries away another person by any means whatsoever with intent to hold or detain, or who holds or detains that person for ransom, reward or to commit extortion life jail on conviction.
But at the joint public hearing, stakeholders, which included Immigration Service and NAPTIP suggested capital punishment as the only surest way to stop kidnapping. The suggestion is expected to ignite robust debate, particularly from the Human Rights committee. When the House resumes, it is expected that the Executive will present its Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) to the chamber as a precursor to the 2011 Budget estimate. Already, members are warming up for through vetting of the expenditure framework meant to guide the National Assembly for the 2011 appropriation bill.
Leader of Opposition and member of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) from Borno State, Alhaji Ali Ndume has vowed that MTEF would be examined thoroughly to see where the Executive had failed to implement the 2010 budget. He said that scrutinizing the budget by the Parliament should not be seen as witch hunting, but the statutory duty of the lawmakers.
Feelers from the members indicate that the Ministers and heads of government agencies would face a difficult time in convincing the House. Members had complained even before they went on recess that the Executive was foot dragging in releasing money for capital projects where the interest of members lay. Reference was made of constituency projects that were attracted to their constituencies under the Quick Win projects of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) scheme.
A section of the society had questioned the involvement of members of the National Assembly on constituency projects. 'Less than three months to the end of the year, money appropriated for capital projects were yet to be released. Even if the money is released now, what can the contractors do? What are we going to show our people that we have done for them, bearing in mind that this is an election year. This is just a clever way to punish members of the National Assembly,' a member was lamenting after receiving a group of youths from his constituency on a solidarity visit.
Chairman of the House committee on Science and Technology, Mr Isaq Abiodun Akinlade for instance expressed disgust that the Executive had refused to cash-back capital projects captured in the budget of the Ministry and agencies under the committee supervision. 'Most of these projects are meant to directly affect the people at the grassroots, especially in the remote areas. We have promised our constituents and they are expecting the take off of these projects, now that money was not released, what are we going to tell our people?', he asked.
It is also expected that the leadership will devote ample time to conclude works of bills that are pending at various stages of legislation. As at the time the House went on vacation, 49 bills are at the level of consideration by the Committee of the Whole, 142 at the stage of second reading, while 71 bills were with respective standing committees for further legislative scrutiny.
This last session promises to be exciting and politically stimulating, not with standing that majority of members will be shuttling between the chamber and their constituencies to win a return ticket to the House. Certainly, national issues which will require the attention and input of the House through legislation will not allow for a lull in the hallowed chamber, except that this last lap might not witness a rowdy session.