NASS: Many Probes Yes,Profit Not Yet
FROM inception in 1999, the two chambers of National Assembly have conducted 82 probes with the House of Representatives having a bigger share of 66 to the Senate’s 16 probes. The two chambers tackled only two investigations jointly. In the present dispensation, the cycle of probes has begun.
For instance, last week, the senate began investigation into the Abuja Airport runway contract, which was alleged to have been awarded at the cost of N63b. In his claim at the plenary, the senator representing Kogi west senatorial district, Mr. Dino Melaye, disclosed that there is no way the project should have cost more than N10b, pointing out that a similar project was executed in Gombe State for N8b, while that of Akwa Ibom State was also in that range. He noted that though the need for the runway was urgent, it was annoying that N63b should be spent on the Abuja runway.
If the present administration is serious to fight corruption, the many probes and reports handled by the two arms of NASS are very credible leads. The reports are there as records of growth of corruption and impunity. Instead of settling down to ascertain what was done and remains to be done about the National Assembly’s many probes, the new government is still looking around the globe for stolen funds. The only aspect of the NASS probes that remains buried is the cost of embarking on the inquisitions. Should the cost be computed, Nigerians may move to the streets to demand refund.
Questions as to why the probes do not fetch adequate resolution are too many. Barrister Albert Sam-Tsokwa, who was Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business in the preceding NASS, told The Guardian that the situation is to be blamed on the high turnover of legislators. Sam-Tsokwa, who represented Dongo/Wussa/Takum and special area of Taraba, noted that despite the need to provide opportunity for younger persons to gain experience in the legislation, Nigerians have not yet come to the stage of deepening legislative experience with output.
He said legislation is something you learn through experience; pointing out that legislature in the country was yet to mature. He contended that if there were ways former legislators can work together with new ones, the lacuna, which has been noticed, would be covered in a seamless manner. His words: “During the colonial days, the legislature was a mere rubber stamp. Under the military, it was not even allowed to function as another arm; indeed it never existed at all.
So while the judiciary gained in experience with age and time and the executive arm gained experience with age and time, the legislature; which was almost non-existent, had no experience to fall unto. Now when the legislature came back into existence in 1999, you will notice that both the lawmakers and the supporting staff had no experience and had no materials to fall on. You have so many books written on the judiciary and the executive, you hardly find any in existence as far as the Nigerian legislature is concerned. So the National Assembly thought it wise to establish PARP (Policy Analysis and Research Project) and that PARP performed so exceedingly well.”
He said the way of electing legislators also contribute to the open ended legislations arguing that most of the time every legislator wants to leave his/her own mark without anybody going back to check what was done in the preceding plenary. “Any legislator that wants to come back will be judged based on his performance in the National Assembly. Much as I would want legislators with experience to come back, there are others who have been here may be for eight or more years and if you try to find out their experience, there is no experience! So people should be judged as to whether to be reelected or not elected based on their performance. And, then legislators who want to come back should be judged based on their own performance. By the time we get these ones right, then Nigeria would have been on its path to greatness.”
There is the possibility that intra-political party squabbles and leadership wrangling in the NASS contributes its quota to the operational disconnect between past and present plenaries such that resolutions are not followed through. Most of the time, a greater percent of the legislative life is dedicated to petty quarrels and inability to stabilize the structure for effective role-play. When the initial six months out of the plenary are spent in trying to fix the committees, what follows is a knee-jerk attempt to play catch up. Debate into the budget estimates for the forthcoming year puts the two chambers in overdrive. By the time the appropriation bill is passed, the vital time needed to take a studied look on proceedings of the preceding plenary is lost.
In the present dispensation for instance, the summary of what the lawmakers have done is the disputation over who occupies what office. In the House of Representatives, committees have just been formed five months into the life of 8th session of the Green chamber. There are no indications that the committees would settle down fast and be able to study the outcomes of the various investigative activities of the 7th session. That is if the fallout of the committees’selection does not throw up new concerns requiring out of chamber politicking. Convener of Movers for the Voice of Democracy, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, lamented that most legislators elected into the National Assembly do not have a firm grasp of what they are there to do, pointing out that it was the lack of legislative experience and know how that militate against the business of the legislature.
Even despite the lack of capacity, the lawmakers enjoy a lengthy session of vacations. While Nigerians worry about the stunted proceeds of probes, the incessant rest time that the legislators award to themselves give cause for concern. What if the one-month the federal lawmakers took shortly after the proclamation of the 8th session was invested in putting up the structures? That way the committees would have used the recess when it comes to digest some of the outcomes of the many probes that have taken place in the previous NASS.
The idea of the senate taking a look at the award of N63billion Abuja runway project may have been predicated on the fact that the same legislator that moved the motion in the lower chamber previously has now ascended to the Senate. There may be merit in having lawmakers enjoy repeat terms in the legislature but the loopholes and loss of traction caused by breaks and political squabbles shortens the time available for the lawmakers to tighten their processes.
The House of Representatives started by setting up a committee to set a legislative agenda. But the importance of that good step would be lost unless timelines are set to ensure the conclusion and revisit of legislative activities. The lawmakers should have a checking system to show what was done and how far actions have carried on towards final resolution or achievement of the intended goal.
The enormity of probes undertaken by the two chambers give the impression that the legislative arm is doing much to respond to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians but the stress should be on the executive arm to see the work of the legislature as the raw material it needs to provide good governance.
Special Assistants to the president on National Assembly Matters (both Senate and HoR) should take up the challenge of revisiting the resolutions of the two chambers of National Assembly.
Interestingly, the gentlemen were members of the preceding NASS. Concluding actions on these probes is a veritable way of showing Nigerians that the present dispensation means business and desires to give Nigerians a discernible change. Being a former chairman of Senate Committee on Business, Senator Ita Enang, knows the prognosis of some of the probes and with experience and foresight, he can give Mr. President qualitative advise on what to do with the resolutions.
Areas of conflict could be ironed out or updated for appropriate action, but being a former lawmaker, Enang should know what senators expect of the executive. This is the time to pass the baton to the executive. Abandoning probes and their resolutions without execution gives the impression that waste is part of the business of lawmakers, more so when much time and fiscal resources have been expended on the investigations. That may not be in tandem with what Nigerian taxpayers expected when they voted for their representatives. Having completed work on screening of minister-nominees, the next critical endeavour the senate and indeed the NASS is to tell Nigerians why those many probes remain unattended to.
If all these probes did not lead to better legislations or punishment of culprits, the import of probes is left to be seen. The anti-corruption fight should begin from here. The lawmakers have a duty to explain to Nigerians why it is impossible for them to execute the findings from their probes. Is there a clause in the rules books of the two chambers that forbids new plenary from going back for works of the preceding plenary?