INSIDE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
The sixth National Assembly came into being on June 9, 2007. And since its inauguration by the late president Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, it has managed to be in the news for the wrong reasons. The fifth National Assembly before it claimed that all its errors were attributable to the fact that it was undergoing a 'learning process'. The present National Assembly is yet to create an excuse for its ways.
Perhaps, one act of the National Assembly, which Nigerians would not be in a hurry to forget, is the muscle flexing between the two chambers. At one stage in 1999, the House of Representatives overruled the Senate when it cut the budget of the Senate and increased the budget for the House. The result was a clash that was only resolved after the intervention of elder statesmen.
While a joint committee on constitutional amendment of the National Assembly was to meet last year at a retreat in Minna, the capital of Niger State, 144 members of the House walked out contending that there must be a co-chairman from the House. At last, the planned joint session of the two chambers could not hold a sa result of the bitter disagreement.
The late President Yar'Adua could not present the 2010 budget before the joint session of the National Assembly because of muscle flexing over whether or not the president should address the lawmakers at the Senate or House chambers. Although it was later rumoured that the drama was stage-managed to cover up the invalidity of the late president to hold the ceremony, it stalled the process. Some of the manifest consequences of that superiority contest is the failure of the NASS to enact a good number of reasonable and useful laws since its inception. The sixth National Assembly has just one year to live out its life span, and is reputed to have succeeded in enacting only one law.
Other notable ugly events that attracted the interest of Nigerians include the contract award scandal that swept off the first speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh. Next was the way the absence of President Yar'Adua was handled by the National Assembly and the ongoing amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
It should, however, be to the credit of the current National Assembly that there has been harmony between the legislature and the executive. It also displayed some level of patriotism when the nation was almost adrift because of the absence of former President Yar'Adua who was in a Saudi Arabia hospital for a very long period.
At a glance, these are some of the activities of the sixth NASS that attracted the attention of Nigerians in the past three years.
Contract award scandal
The leadership of the two chambers was constituted without hitches. Olubunmi Etteh emerged the speaker of the House of Representatives and David Mark, the Senate president. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that produced majority members had ensured that all party offices were shared. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had his men in position at the two chambers. It is on record that Etteh emerged as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives.
But trouble soon erupted in the House when a national daily broke the news that the speaker spent N625 million to renovate her residence and that of the deputy speaker.
Initially, the House responded: 'It was a story that emanated from hell in order to get to heaven.' But those opposed to Etteh did not give up. The caucus known as the Integrity Group fought until proceedings in the House came to a stop when a member fighting for Etteh, Dr. Aminu Safana slumped and died at the floor of the House.
She was in the eye of the storm when it was reported that she held her birthday party in the United States of America. There were several congratulatory messages both in the print and electronic media. One of those that placed newspaper advertisements to congratulate her was the Senate President David Mark.
All effort by interested party chiefs to save Etteh's job failed. It was latter revealed that the presidency took interest in the debacle even when aides of the president told Nigerians that the president would not interfere in the internal affairs of the House.
For three months, the nation was held spellbound with accusations and counter accusations that emanated from the National Assembly until Etteh and her deputy, Usman Nafada were removed. She was replaced with Dimeji Bankole who won the election conducted after her removal from office.
NASS and Yar'Adua's absence
The long absence of President Yar'Adua on health grounds was a test for the National Assembly. It was not politically expedient to attempt to impeach the president. The Federal Executive Council saddled with the responsibility of setting up a panel to verify the health status of the president was not prepared to do so. For more than 100 days, the nation was without a leader. Nigerians became agitated. Human rights activists headed by the Save Nigeria Group took to the streets asking that the vice president should take over the responsibility of running the government. Visits to Saudi Arabia where the president was receiving medical treatment by representatives of the National Assembly and the National Executive Council did not yield any result.
To douse tension, the NASS on February 9 resorted to the adoption of an authenticated interview on the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) by the ailing president to empower the vice president to act until the president became medically fit to resume duty. That move became necessary because the president did not transmit to the National Assembly the required letter to indicate that he was proceeding on holiday or otherwise unable to perform his official duty. Thus, the vice president was named the acting president.
The National Assembly later by way of amendment of Section 144 of the constitution passed an enabling act to automatically empower the vice president take over the administration of the country if the president is absent for a period of 14 days.
The Constitution Review Committee earlier set up by the fifth National Assembly was headed by the then Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu. The committee, which functioned between 2003 and 2007, proposed 101 amendments to the constitution. Unfortunately, the move to amend it ended in a fiasco as a result of tenure elongation move mooted by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The move by the sixth National Assembly is not so different in composition, terms of reverence and what it has so far set out to do since it began its sitting. Some of the issues so far considered include; creation of new states, derivation formula, fiscal federation, creation of local government and state police and most outstanding the amendment of the Electoral Act and the parts of the constitution that touch on the election process. If the electoral Act 2003 is amended, there are expectations that the articles adopted by the Uwais Panel would be incorporated in it.
So far, all the six-geo political zones were involved in the process of amending the constitution.
A highly placed source told Saturday Sun that speakers of all the 36 Houses of Assembly and the Federal Capital Territory are involved in the process. The source explained that it would require two thirds of the Houses of Assembly for the amendment of the constitution after adoption by the NASS to sail through.
The speakers of the Houses of Assembly are carried along so that they could brief other members of the House in their respective states.
As the NASS waits to exhaust its lifetime in the next 12 months, the major thing Nigerians expect of them is to put in place a workable electoral law to entrench clean and workable electoral process that would serve as catalysts to the revival of real democracy in Nigeria.