DEMOCRACY @ 11, HIGH POINTS OF REPS
The House of Representatives of the Fourth Republic has endured for 11 years with a measure of progression and specific high points. Being a product of political engineering by successive military governments, the House, like the Senate, which is the other arm of the National Assembly has been grappling to establish a legislative tradition, norms and procedures.
In its chequered history, the House had recorded incidents that shook its very foundation, but in all the challenges, either induced internally or externally, the House has weathered the storm. Some of the challenges that could not be wished away included the following.
Nigerians were disappointed that new members of National Assembly placed personal comfort above national interest when the issue of allowances for furnishing of their apartment at the then exclusive Apo Legislative Quarters broke out. This was the first issue which pitched the lawmakers against the people. To an average Nigerian, voting N3million to furniture was outrageous.
SALISU BUHARI'S CERTIFICATE SCAM
Few weeks after the inauguration of the House and the election of Hon Salisu Buhari from Kano State as the Speaker, news broke out that he came into the National Assembly under false claim. He had to resign from the office to clear allegations that he has not attained the required age limit to be a member of the House. Upon further probe, he was found to have presented a forged certificate and later got convicted for perjury.
GHALI NABBA ERA
Salisu Buhari's resignation at the end of investigation into the certificate scam paved way for the election of Ghali Umar Nabba as the second Speaker of the House. His era was dominated by incessant face off with the Executive arm of government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Twice, Nabba moved to impeach Obasanjo, twice he failed. He too faced an internal crisis as members loyal to Obasanjo made nine failed attempts to remove him. In between 'impeach me, I impeach you', the House initiated probe into ministries, parastatals, agencies and vetoed the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Anti -Corruption bills earlier rejected by President Obasanjo.
Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari was elected the third Speaker of the House and he completed a four year tenure. He piloted the affairs of the House with little rancour with the Executive. Masari brought maturity and humility to bare in wangling through the few turbulent periods over his certificate brouhaha. The high points of his reign was the series of high profile investigations which deepened democracy. History can not forget the probe of the missing ship, the sale of NITEL/Mtel by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE ) to Pentascope under Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. The entire House under him paid a solidarity visit to the residents of Kubwa, an Abuja satellite, who lost their houses to demolition.
Another high point of the four year tenure of Hon Aminu Bello Masari as Speaker was the formation of the 2007 Movement. This was a group of like mind lawmakers opposed to the manipulation of the constitution to allow Obasanjo having a third term shot at the presidency. The 1999 Constitution review committee of the National Assembly headed by Senator Ibrahim Mantu was hell bent on inserting a three term tenure for the President in the constitution, but members of the 2007 Movement in both chambers, with active support of the Civil Societies group scuttled the move.
MONEY FOR BUDGET AND DIRTY SLAP
Some members of the House were named in a Television broadcast where Obasanjo accused them of demanding for money before they could pass the 2005 budget. It was a national embarrassment and a serious dent on the image of the House. Not long after, the image of the House was further plummeted when a female member slapped her male colleague over disagreement over mundane committee issues.
History was made when Hon (Mrs) Patricia Olubunmi Etteh , a ranking member from Osun State was elected as the first female Speaker. Her reign was turbulent from beginning to the end. The House was plunged into crisis over contracts to renovate the official residence of the Speaker and the Deputy. Under her reign, the House became the centre of political horse-trading and death, which brought an abrupt end to her reign as she was forced to step down. She was replaced by Hon Dimeji Bankole from Ogun state.
Bankole hardly settled down as Speaker of the House when a motion to probe the power sector under Obasanjo administration was passed on January 31, 2008. The probe brought the House to the limelight again as attention was shifted to the hallowed chamber. The Committee undertook a tour of power projects scattered all over the country after mind-boggling revelations of sharp practices at the public hearing. High expectations that the probe will proffer lasting solutions to the perennial problems of power in the country was shattered when the chairman of the committee, Hon Ndudi Elumelu and some members of the committee were arraigned in court over allegations of corruption before the reports of the fact finding was ready,.
SUPREMACY WAR WITH THE SENATE
Another high point in the House was the war of superiority with the Senate over who will be the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Review of the Constitution. The war eventually broke out into the open in Minna, the Niger State capital during a retreat on the modalities to be adopted for the review. Since the public outburst, the relationship between the two chambers had been anything but cordial. The needless haggling has affected the workings of the National Assembly and the climax was the inability to accept which chamber will host the late President, Umaru Yar'Adua to present the 2009 budget estimate. The copy of the Appropriation bill was presented separately to the two chambers.
PURCHASE OF CARS FOR COMMITTEE WORK
The House was also rocked by the decision of the Bankole led House to purchase Peugeot 407 Cars for committee assignment. After the cars were delivered to all members, it raised dust as some members alleged that the cost was inflated. The matter was referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges to investigate, while a petition was sent to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The House returned a verdict of not guilty to the leadership, but the matter is still pending with the EFCC.
MOTIONS AND BILLS
In the life of the House, several motions which have direct impact on the quality of the lives of the citizenry have been passed, while bills aimed at improving the economy and deepening democracy have equally been passed. Motion to make President Goodluck Jonathan an Acting President is an example.