THE PEOPLES' AGENDA
The legislature is the bastion of a democratic government. This is because it is the institution that gives democracy the toga of a representative government. The reason for this is not far- fetched. The members are elected by their respective constituencies to be their eyes, ears and mouthpiece in government. Consequently, unlike members of the executive arm who are seemly alienated from the people, the parliamentarians are believed to be in close touch with the people.
Therefore, as the seventh session of the National Assembly is inaugurated today, not a few believe that the task before the federal legislature is enormous. These expectations include initiating legislations that would deepen democracy in the country and engender good governance.
It is also expected that some nagging issues confronting the country would be tackled once and for all the new seventh NASS. These issues include entrenching true federalism/ fiscal federalism in the polity, equity and justice, creation of additional state for the South-East and a whole sale amendment of the 1999 constitution.
Though the sixth session off the National Assembly carried out two amendments to the constitution, not a few believe that the amendments were limited in scope. Therefore, the expectation is that within the next four years, there would be an all embracing constitutional review, that will address the major concerns of all the segments of the Nigeria state. It is also expected that legislation that would address the myriad of problems facing the ordinary Nigerian would be enacted.
A Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) chieftain from Anambra State, Chief Kodilichukwu Okelekwe said the new NASS must put the people first in all they do. He told Daily Sun in an interview that the federal legislature should of necessity lay emphasis on legislations that would bring about the greater good for the greater number of the Nigerian people.
Okelekwe, who was a governorship aspirant in Anambra State in the 2010 governorship election in the state, would want the National Assembly to enact laws that will engender equity and justice and ensue that the much talked about dividends of democracy gets to the ordinary man on the streets. The former gubernatorial aspirant's view is instructive, when considered against that backdrop of the fact that members of the immediate past National Assembly earned very scandalous salaries and allowances in the face of grinding poverty in the country.
On his part, Secretary, Igbo Political Forum,(IPF) Mr Chyna Iwuanyanwu said there is serious need for the seventh NASS to harmonise the number of states in the six geo-political zone. He said an additional state should be created in the South-East to bring the zone at par with other zones. According to him, the creation of an additional state for the South-East is the proper thing for the new NASS to do, in the interest of equity and fair play, viz-a-viz the fact that federal allocation are distributed on the basis of state and local government areas. South-East is the only zone that has five states in the country, against six states in four zones and seven states in the North-West.
'There is need for equality of zone. An additional state should be created for the South-East unconditionally. The disparity of state is a marginalization against the South-East,' Iwuanyanwu told Daily Sun.
However, it is generally believed that the new National Assembly should strive to be more proactive and interesting than the one preceding it. Though, against expectation in certain quarters, the PDP won majority of seats in the two chambers of the National Assembly, the party no longer has the two-third majority, it hitherto had. The implication is that the ruling party would no longer have its way expressly in legislations requiring two-third majority to pass as was the case in the recent past.
Besides, with rising political consciousness in the country, not a few believed that parties especially the opposition would be going to the National Assembly with a totally different mindset. Knowing fully well that the peoples' votes are beginning to count in elections in the country, and it would not be long before they go back for a renewal of their mandates.. Consequently, it is believed that debates would be more robust
One of those who share this view is the former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN). The former NBA boss told a national daily recently that he expects that the quality of debates in the federal legislature would improve.
He said this is because the main opposition party is going to add greater vigour in its activities in the parliament.
'The ACN is thinking about new issues like the issue of finding out if Nigeria is viable. They are thinking about fiscal federalism. They feel that the centre is too strong, that is why we have this do-or-die approach in politics. One thing I hope to see in the new National Assembly is a new ideological debate that the ACN is going to introduce. The quality of debates would go up,'Agbakoba enthused. ACN has 87 seats, the second largest number of seats in the National Assembly after the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Already, ACN, true to sentiments espoused by Agbakoba is gearing up to push some of these issues that it considers very critical to it. Top on these issues is that of federalism. Recently, the party held a retreat for its nearly elected federal lawmakers in Oshogbo, the Osun State capital. The retreat was aimed at charting a course of action for legislators elected on its platform, who alongside their counterparts from other parties would be inaugurated today. And top of the party's agenda is true federalism, fiscal federalism and amendment of the constitution.
Former Lagos State governor and national leader of the ACN, Senator Bola said the major challenge standing in the way of good governance in the country is the issue of federalism. In his view, for that problem to be survived there is need for total amendment of the 1999 Constitution. The former governor who spoke in the retreat for ACN federal legislators said 'The Constitution says all revenues must be captured in the Federation Account. But, who does the checks and balances to ensure that all these are done?'
The IPF scribe agrees. He said the centre is too strong, as such there is need for the new parliamentarians to work towards a restructuring of the polity. There are strong indications that the Nigeria Governors Forum would be joining the fray for the review of the existing revenue distribution formula. In the aftermath of the passage of the new minimum wage of 18,000 into law, the governors have been asking for a new revenue share formula that would put more money at the disposal of the states.
Expectedly, the NGF in the days ahead would engage the federal legislature for a new revenue structure. Already the governors have allies in the ACN legislators. Tinubu says ACN legislators must support their state governors in the fight for a new revenue sharing formula, so as to ensure their states get 'their fiscal rights under a federal system' irrespective of their personal relationships with their respective state governors
The tasks ahead of the seventh session of the National Assembly is no doubt very enormous. The country is waiting to see how they will respond to these challenging national issues.