Nigeria Today

January 23, 2022

Nigerian legislators need to be more pain-staking


Senator Bala Ibn Na ‘Allah, (Kebbi South) was in his element 3 days ago when he admitted on national television that the process which gave birth to the controversial electoral amendment bill “was not pain-staking enough.”

What Na’ Allah and perhaps many of his colleagues do not appear to know is that most of them had for long made Nigerians believe that legislators are always casual about critical matters of public interest.

 In other words, public disappointment in the performance of our legislators goes far beyond the electoral amendment bill affair. Other apt examples abound.

The attempt by Senator Na’Allah to heap the blame of the current controversy on Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila for instance is patently simplistic because Gbajabiamila alone could neither have influenced the majority of direct primary supporters in the House nor could he have hoodwinked Senators to pursue an anti-people approach to lawmaking.

Legislators cannot be heard to claim ignorance of what Nigerians wanted the most in the electoral bill.

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In truth, the National Assembly had no business passing a bill to which a provision that was never canvassed by members was hurriedly inserted at the last minute. Those who inserted it and those who allowed it to pass had the same motivation.

They allowed it with no qualms because they usually have little regard for the collateral damage of any bill once their own short-term interest is satisfied. If no one else knows, legislators who are leading members of political parties ought to know that a legal provision on direct party primaries would completely encumber the discretion and initiative of party executives in the running of their parties.

By providing that only persons sponsored by political parties can contest elections in Nigeria, our Constitution deliberately boosted party supremacy in our democratic system. It is, therefore, irrational to discountenance both the subsisting judicial decision which grants political parties a free hand to run their affairs as well as the party constitutions which provide for more than one mode of primaries.

The power of the legislature to make laws for the good governance of Nigeria has put in the subconsciousness of our legislators that whatever wrong they perceive in society can be resolved by law, hence they keep shopping for which law to make without investigating the totality of the subject matter concerned.

Only last week, the Senate reportedly commenced work on legislation to regulate rents in Abuja from one or two years first payment by tenants to three months and subsequent monthly payments.

The idea sounds good especially in these hard times when many tenants cannot afford the capital outlay of putting down huge sums to cover several months in advance. However, there is doubt if the Senate realizes that we have many tenants who deliberately default in meeting their rent obligation in the hope of begging for leniency from landlords.

Under the circumstance, landlords may become the underdogs that would then need to be rescued by the Senate through an amendment that returns the situation to how it was before.

This is because it does not appear that the sponsors know that they are about to increase the hitherto annual landlord/tenant battles, which used to be only once a year to 12 times.

Has the Senate done anything about the lethargy of government agencies mandated to provide houses for the people? If not, when will the Senate deal with the housing deficit in Nigeria and when will she regulate demands on development levies and other government duplicated charges such as ground rent, tenement rate etc.?

Indeed, when will a law be made to stop government agencies from charging for tardy services especially delayed refuse disposals and dry taps?

What about the ever-rising cost of cement and other building materials, when will those be regulated to bring down prices including rents to make life better for all? Even if rent is all that calls for regulation at this point, is it the proposed law that will implement itself?

These and many more ancillaries ought to be integrated interrogated before making laws on rents that may generate other problems that will in turn frustrate the original basis for intervention.

The attempt to stop what appears to put tenants in a tight corner is however better than the one where legislators propose bills for personal interest. Many Nigerians were able to see beyond the recent bill to set up more law schools as an attempt to attract amenities to the villages of those sponsoring the bill.

 Of course, we all know that building more law schools in some villages will not stand the test of time. It would have been better as we said months ago to allow societal institutions, in this case, the Council for Legal Education to identify the need for more campuses and undertake feasibility studies to determine suitability rather than legislating the establishment of more law schools to give legislators more items to count to their constituents as the number of projects they attracted home.

In any case, when will legislators propose bills for more teaching hospitals in their villages so that more doctors can have ‘horsemanship’ opportunities or is it only law students they care about?

Talking about self-interest, last week’s well-meaning decision by the House of Representatives to investigate the reported loss of some arms in the police armoury may not be hailed by many even though it ordinarily flows with what most people would naturally commend.

The reason for this is easy to learn and for those who may not have followed the story, we need to summarize it here.

The 2019 Audit Report for the federation revealed that 178, 459 arms could not be accounted for by the police. Apart from the possibility of such missing weapons getting into the wrong hands, the huge sums expended to purchase them would have been wasted.

It is therefore salutary that the House of Representatives has swiftly directed its standing committee investigating arms procurement to probe the subject. The House also requested the Inspector General of Police “to take urgent action to apprehend those culpable for the depletion of the armoury of the police.” This is no doubt a right step in the right direction.

However, we are not aware that the same House has treated other condemnable aspects of the same 2019 Audit Report, especially instances where the House was also indicted. For example, the report had revealed as published in this column exactly two weeks ago that the House of Representatives spent over N5.2 billion at different intervals on several projects with no evidence to show what the funds were used for.

It was also alleged that the House granted advances of N258 million to 59 staff and that while the same staff were yet to retire the advances, fresh ones were granted to them in breach of financial rules of the government.

Again, another sum of N107million was said to have been granted to two staff for “repairs and maintenance of unknown residential quarters” adding that the federal government lost the sum of N10.7million which would have accrued to her as withholding tax if the work had been awarded to contractors.

The House may wish to educate those who are unaware of what has been done so far about the report just as we now know what the House is doing about the aspect of the negative Audit Report on the police. But if the House chooses to be silent in the hope that we will soon forget, it would only deepen the subsisting poor public image of our legislature.

It is therefore our candid hope that our legislators would become more thorough and painstaking in all their dealings; seeking at all times to let their decision-making process operate as a calculated endeavour to make government business beneficial to humanity.

Frivolities such as ‘bow and go’ should be replaced with a public-spirited vigour of ensuring that only those suitable for appointments are cleared by the legislature.  

Vanguard News Nigeria