TONY AKOWE examines how the House of Representatives has fulfiled its mandate to Nigerians as the Lower Chamber of the National Aseembly. He also highlights the gap between expectation and reality
When the House of Representatives resumes from its two-month summer vacation on Tuesday, September 19, 2022, all eyes will be on them to put out legislations that will impact positively on the lives of Nigerians. Even though many Nigerians do not believe that the lawmakers have fulfilled their promises as contained in their legislative agenda, they will be mindful of the fact that it is an election period and therefore needs to be on the side of the people they represent if they must return to the Green Chamber.
When the 9th Assembly first launched its legislative agenda, it came loaded with 15 different items, with security at the top of what the parliament intended to achieve as a way of making life better for Nigerians. However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the House to reduce the items on the agenda to 10, with health being the major focus.
Incidentally, the new agenda had specific timelines for implementation. Unfortunately, not much has been achieved when considered against the timeline and specific goals set for each period. For example, one of the goals set for the health sector between June 2020 and May 2021 was the amendment to the National Health Act to provide for the establishment of a sustainable source of revenue to finance the health sector within the domestic economy and to develop a national medicine policy which should be updated periodically and facilitates legal provisions to support the generic substitution of essential medicines.
The parliament have not been able to achieve this even though it is winding down its activities in the next nine months or thereabout. In education, the House had set out to ensure increased budgetary allocation to the sector, review the education curriculum, increased focus on scientific research and initiate mechanisms to address the perennial industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). These and several other items on the agenda have been largely unrealised by the House.
But, Henry Nwawuba, Chairman of the implementation committee on the legislative agenda is proud of the achievement recorded so far by the House. He however believes that the media can help raise awareness about the agenda, highlight the content of the document and clarify issues. He also believes that the House has been able to achieve between 65 to 70 per cent of what it set out to achieve with the agenda. He said: “The difference between the 9th assembly legislative agenda and others is that fact that the speaker thought it wise that there is no point putting out an agenda and leaving it to run on its own. So, he formed a committee that will guide and monitor the implementation. By my estimation, the House has been able to do between 65 to 70 per cent of the key areas of the legislative agenda.”
Nwawuba believes that the House may not be able to achieve 100 per cent of what is contained in the agenda before its wind down. He said: “I know that the most important aspect of the legislative agenda will be touched.” He added: “After we developed the legislative agenda, we developed the implementation plan, breaking each agenda into what we wanted to achieve in the short term, the medium term and the long term. We also identified some of the most critical pieces of legislation that we wanted to achieve within the lifespan of the assembly.
“The number one priority when we started was the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which has become an act of parliament with the signing of the law. The electoral act 2022 is also a very important piece of legislation. The electronic transmission of results is going to whittle down the effect of money in the process. Next year, I see a scenario where people will look at the candidate and not the party because of the electoral act. The document is expected to represent different things to different people.
“The last few months have made clear that we have to move faster and farther than we had previously thought, or else we may well be the generation that answers to history for superintending over the final and systemic collapse of this beloved nation. The kind of fundamental change we need begins with a wholesale reimagining of the structures and assumptions that have long underpinned much of our existence as a country. We have too long accepted that certain things cannot be changed, or that the process of change is too hard or too disruptive. We are now deeply mired in the consequences of this choice, in the unfulfilled promises and failures of our system that limit our ability to reach for the stars and threaten our continued existence as a nation. The updated Legislative Agenda of the 9th.”
The agenda was aimed at developing an effective and efficient House, positioned to carry out its constitutionally recognised mandate of legislation, oversight and representation, while identifying and targeting the passage of priority legislation, fostering engagement and collaboration with civil society organisations (CSOs), civic groups and constituents, while taking necessary legislative steps to address national economic challenges, poverty infrastructure decline, waste of resources, revenue leakages, and corruption. This explained why the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila described the agenda as the House’s response to this new reality.
He said: “We have in this new document, renewed the commitments we made in our first year, but this time with accelerated timelines for implementation, key performance indices to measure performance and identified actions in the immediate to long term. What we now have is a contract with the Nigerian people, against which all our efforts will be measured, and from which we must not fall short as our nation battles to emerge stronger in the wake of the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”
As the House begin the last lap of the legislative engagement it has set for itself, certain goals are expected to be achieved. For example, the major goal for the health sector is to ensure the attainment of the Abuja Declaration of 15 per cent budgetary allocation for the health sector within the next three years, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to enhance the capacity of frontline health workers to effectively respond and manage public health emergencies, pandemics, and infectious diseases, improve the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in healthcare delivery services and improve access to healthcare, especially for people at the rural and hard-to-reach areas in the hinterlands.
In achieving this, the House set for itself in the new legislative year the target of ensuring support for the improvement in health information technology, data collection, storage, and retrieval, including contact tracing and tracking mechanisms, promotion of continuous dialogue, interaction and engagement with professional associations in the health care sector to address issues of labour relations, welfare and quality service delivery, initiate necessary legislative actions, including oversight, to effectively monitor and evaluate private healthcare providers, ensuring that they meet international best standards of healthcare provision and medical ethics and initiate legislative interventions that facilitate the prosecution of medical malpractice cases, holding health professionals accountable in cases of misconduct.
The big question is whether the lawmakers will be able to drive the process of quality representation in the next nine months, considering that their attention will be on the campaign for next year’s general elections. With many of the lawmakers not getting the ticket of their parties to return to the House, their commitment to the business of the House will be suspect. But, it is expected that such legislators will dedicate the remaining part of their stay in the Assembly to proving to their people that refusing them return tickets was a wrong decision. Some of them have shown dedication to committee work during the vacation, sacrificing their time to attend to assignments given to them by the House.
However, one of the things that should occupy the time of the House on resumption is the prolonged strike by ASUU. Even though the House was unable to put the mechanism in place to stop the constant strike in the universities as contained in the legislative agenda, it is expected that the lawmakers will once again try to intervene to bring the strike to an end, just like it has done in the aviation sector. Nwawuba said this much he said that the House will intervene in the strike when it returns from its summer break.
With the strike by the university lecturers not abating, will the lawmakers be able to ensure improvement in budgetary provision for equipping public educational institutions and improving the general quality of service delivery in the sector? Next year’s budget, which will be presented to them shortly after returning from break, will no doubt provide answers to this nagging question. Like the education sector, especially the universities, the nation’s economy and the security situation in the country are begging for serious attention. The plan as contained in the legislative agenda is to initiate Banking and Financial Sector Reform to facilitate investment, encourage innovation and promote economic development and promote investment incentives and policies in collaboration with relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and promote investment in states in conjunction with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF).
They should also be able to provide funding in the budget for the purchase and deployment of technology, as well as the training of personnel in the proper and ethical use of technology for policing and crime-fighting, while providing appropriations and other legislative interventions to encourage the operations of the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) and other local manufacturers of defence equipment and materials to support local capacity building and development of indigenous defence technology.
In addition, they should aim to write their name in gold by providing support for the off-taking of farm produce from farmers by government agencies and the private sector to create a steady source of revenue for the farmers and their households and ensure a guaranteed minimum price for staple food crops to stabilise prices, initiate a review of all agricultural policies for impact and effectiveness and engender processes that facilitate multi-stakeholder collaboration and support the establishment of systems that promote sustainable farming practices that will not only improve output but also reduce the negative effects of farming on the environment.