The Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria 1999 provides for a National Assembly made up of 2 bodies, the Senate and the House of representatives to make laws for the good governance of the nation.
It also creates a House of Assembly in each state of the federation for the same purpose. Each of these bodies is expected to make laws through a process that is virtually universal. First, is the proposal stage of identifying the need for a bill to make a law. The bill is then presented for first reading which does not involve a debate yet. At a later date, a second reading is done at which the proposed bill is explained and followed by general debate. Thereafter, a Committee of the House meets to have a detailed examination and debate on the bill, after which amendments are made. This is then presented for a third reading before the House votes on it and passes the bill. It is then presented to the Governor for assent at the state level. At the federal level however, both houses have to reach a consensus on the bill before it is presented to the President. The bill becomes a law once it is assented to by the Executive, but where assent is declined; the legislature is empowered 30days later, to veto the bill into law by passing it again.
The above process looks quite easy and straight forward yet; it produces so much tension in Nigeria now and again. The life of the 7th Senate ended some 3days back with a controversial passing of 46 bills in 10 minutes! If the passing of a bill is that easy why was it necessary to spend 4years working on several bills to be passed at the twinkle of an eye and at injury time? Was the Senate trying to surpass the feat of former President Jonathan who became active at making appointments after losing a re-election bid? In the case of the Senate, it simply skipped the lawmaking procedures as well as its own standing rules get into the Guinness book of records. Indeed, it received the bills from the House of Representatives and passed them without observing the procedural rules which critics see as making a mockery of the labourious task of legislation. The self assessment of the Senate at its valedictory session was that of a body that claimed to have excelled. Interestingly, the excellent work did not include the all important Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which was always mentioned at every junction in the opening remarks of the Senate President, David Mark.
For example, on resumption to plenary at the Senate on Tuesday, 25th January, 2011, Mark reminded his colleagues that “the PIB and the Anti-terrorism Bill will have to be accelerated for us to reap the dividends from the oil industry and guarantee maximum improvement on the safety of lives and property. Exactly four years later while welcoming Senators back to work on January 13, 2015 after observing Christmas, New Year and Eid-el Maulud break, Mark said “we have a loaded agenda before this 7th Assembly and there are many issues to be addressed before the termination of our tenure. These include, passing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)”. However none of the weighty issues was to be done in a hurry because as Mark rightly observed concerning the 2015 Budget “we must allow for a deliberate, meticulous and exhaustive debate of the estimates. This re-echoed the earlier assertion of the Senate in May 2009 by its former spokesman, Ayogu Eze that the Nigerian Senate would never be stampeded into passing bills.
It sounds irrational that the only thing that has now made the Senate to stamped itself into passing bills without following the rules, is what the chairman, Senate Committee on Rules And Business, Senate Ita Enang described as the limited time available before the end of the legislative calendar thereby prompting negative reactions from the public. How can the senate say limited time forced it to pass a bill? Must every bill be passed? Could every legislator not have shared the wisdom of Representative Betty Apiafi from Rivers State that the speed would sacrifice thoroughness? There are indeed more basic issues against the legislature
For me, I think the assessment of a law making body should begin from the basic rule on attendance. The law in Nigeria provides that legislators ought to sit for a minimum of 181 days in a year. Was this considered by our self acclaimed excellent law makers? If so, my personal grudge is that two of my legislator friends were never in attendance for more than 12 times and they said nothing, even meaningless statements, any day! Second, neither me nor any average tax payer knew how much our legislators earned (i mean received) yet some of them like those in Rivers State did more public fighting than law making. In states like Adamawa, Imo, Enugu etc, the legislators did more impeachments for cash than the purpose of their election. I had cause to think severally that perhaps our legislators are not aware of how poorly the public thinks of them until I read a recent interview by Senator Bukola Saraki in which he made 2 vital points
First, he said there is an obvious disconnect between the legislature and the public making the public to continue to question the relevance of the law makers to them. On this score he called on the in-coming 8th chamber “to bring a closer relationship, a better connection between the Nigerian people and the Senate”. Second, he accepts that there has been poor performance in the area of oversight stressing that the legislator must seek to be transparent and accountable. Consequently it is not uncharitable to say that our last set of legislators failed. As the learned former Attorney General, Olu Onagoruwa once said the most sanguine feature of any law making process is the quality of the lawmaker. Unfortunately we have neither seasoned or reputable legislators nor those that Albert Einstein said should be “ready to live their lives for others”.