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NIGERIA: Landmark Bills, Controversial Public Hearings Mark National Assembly’s Third Session

The National Assembly ended its third legislative session last Thursday. Omololu Ogunmade reviews activities of the institution from the first session in 2011 till date
 
Last week, Nigeria’s federal legislature silently marked the end of the third session of the seventh National Assembly. Both houses observed this anniversary in different ways.
 
 
For the Senate, it was not the time to make a grandiloquent speech but rather a time of reflections. But in the House of Representatives, it was a period to put the record straight on activities of the house in the last three years as well as issues affecting the nation at large.
One common factor to both houses however, was the commemoration of the event by the adjournment of parliamentary proceedings for two weeks. They will resume on June 24.
 
Scandals in Seventh Assembly
However, the last three years in National Assembly has not been a bed of roses. Expectedly, a number of motions and bills were passed. A number of mysteries had also been unraveled by the lawmakers with some of them caught in the very act they claimed was wrong. Instances of this included how the tide quickly turned against Hon. Herman Hembe and Hon. Farouk Lawan who chaired committees probing capital market and fuel subsidy fraud in 2012 respectively. While Hembe was accused by the Director General of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms Arunmah Oteh, of demanding for financial contribution to the public hearing as well as collecting money from the commission to attend a workshop in Dominican Republic without doing so, Lawan who was speaking like an angel during the fuel subsidy probe was later accused of collecting $620,000 bribe from Chairman of Zenon Group, Mr. Femi Otedola, in a spin operation to clear his company from the list of subsidy culprits. Both men were charged to court along with their deputy and committee clerks respectively. While Hembe and his deputy have been discharged and acquitted, Lawan is still standing trial till date along with the committee clerk, Boniface Emenalo. Lawan claimed he collected it to expose the latter. Hembe and Lawan were consequently stripped of committee chairmanship in the House.
 
 
In the Senate, this seventh assembly has been relatively devoid of scandals but for yet to be ascertained allegation of N1 billion bribe against Chairman of Establishment and Public Service, Senator Alloysius Etok, by Teidi Shuaibu, a member of dissolved Pension Reform Task Force (PRTF) headed by Abdulrasheed Maina.
Etok has vehemently denied the allegation and effort by Senate President David Mark to bring Maina to the parliament, which would have provided an opportunity to substantiate this allegation proved abortive as he fled. Not even the warrant of arrest issued by the chamber yielded any fruit as till date, Maina has failed to appear before the Senate.
 
Landmark Probes and Discoveries
Despite the scandals often associated with the National Assembly, it has remained a notable force dousing tension and exposing some mysteries in the polity. This it does through investigation into outrageous deeds of public officers as part of its oversight functions.
In most cases, the outcomes of such probes are terrifying. Notable among such probes was the discovery of the theft and mismanagement of N195 billion pension funds by PRTF. After several failed attempts to bring Maina before the joint committee probing the fraud, the Senate ordered the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, to arrest him.
 
 
The Senate had invoked Section 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, to get Maina arrested over his refusal to appear before the panel to account for the missing N195 billion. The committee revealed that N195 billion of unspent pension funds could not be accounted for.
Despite Maina’s non-appearance, the discovery had led to the recovery of several billions of naira and assets from pension thieves. Some of them, including John Yakubu, had been convicted over the fraud.
Another landmark probe was the investigation into armoured cars’ scandal involving former Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) last year.
 
 
The probe followed controversial purchase of two bullet proof BMW cars by the NCAA for Oduah at the whopping rate of N255 million.
Whereas, his media aide had earlier admitted that the cars were indeed purchased for her use, Oduah while testifying before the Aviation Committee of the House of Representatives chaired by Mrs. Nkiruka Onyejeocha denied it.
But the panel upon concluding its investigation found Oduah culpable for extra-budgetary spending, approval of money beyond ministerial limit and violation of public procurement procedures. Oduah has since been sacked by President Goodluck Jonathan.
 
 
Yet another important probe was the investigation into allegation of missing $49.8 billion in the account of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) by former Governor of Central Bank (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The allegation heated the polity like a furnace. But the commencement of the probe by Senate Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, doused tension and calmed frayed nerves as upon the first day of the probe, Sanusi confessed that $49.8 billion was no longer missing but $12 billion.
He later admitted that it was actually $10.8 billion that was unaccounted for before reviewing the figure to $20 billion. Since the former CBN governor gave conflicting figures, people did no longer take the allegation seriously. Eventually, the committee submitted its report on May 28 and faulted the allegation of missing $49.8 billion.
 
 
It said: “The committee could not see how the figure of $49.8 billion was arrived at by the CBN governor for instance. The CBN governor at the first hearing had put forward the figure of US$12 billion as monies to be reconciled and changed his position to US$20 billion at subsequent hearing.
“At the conclusion of his written submission, he posited that it could be US$20 billion, US$10.8 billion or anything in between.”
 
 
It also reported that the sum of $218.0 million considered as the federation account’s share of the $2.4 billion third party financing which was part of the $20 billion was still in dispute.
It also noted that another sum of $447.8 million, which it described as the federation account’s share from the $6.815 billion lifting of crude oil by NNPC on behalf of the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) remained in dispute.
 
 
According to the report, $262 million expenses incurred by the NNPC in respect of holding strategic reserves and pipeline maintenance and management cost/capital expenditure was not satisfactorily defended. The committee therefore asked NNPC to respectively refund these $262 million and $218.0 million to the federation account.
 
 
Not done yet, the House of Representatives Public Account Committee will this month continue with the probe of $10 billion allegedly spent by Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, on aircraft hire. The minister has made frantic moves to stall the probe by seeking injunctions stopping it from the court. This notwithstanding, the House had vowed to commence the probe afresh on June 17.
 
Landmark Bills Passed
Although the National Assembly passed a number of bills during the period under review. The passage of three of such bills was highly remarkable.
 
 
One of them, Anti-Same Sex Bill, was sponsored by Senator Domingo Obende (Edo North) and some others. The bill prohibits marriage of people of the same sex in all parts of Nigeria. Legislation on the bill was highly controversial as the lawmakers were subjected to intense pressure from the international community to jettison it. But they stood their ground and passed it. It has since been assented to by Jonathan and thus outlawing gay marriage in Nigeria.
 
 
The second bill was Terrorism Prohibition Bill. This bill stipulates capital punishment for anyone found guilty of terrorist acts. It was passed in February last year and had also been assented to by the president.
 
 
The third important bill was Pension Reform (Amendment) Bill 2014. The bill phased out the old order of waiting for pension which would not eventually come, leading to many retirees dying in frustration. But under this new bill, retirees will be registered with retirement savings account (RSAs) into which their pensions will be paid monthly once the bill is signed into law. It means that pension will no longer be managed by any pension department.
 
 
The new bill also authorises every worker in the private or public sector to have a retirement savings account into which himself/herself and their employers will jointly contribute pension. The monies managed by pension administrators can only be assessed after retirement. The bill also reduces the years of experience of the DG of Pension Commission (PENCOM) from 20 to 15 years.
 
A Major Failure
One of the bills considered by the lawmakers in the third session was controversial. The National Assembly is considered to have failed the nation over its unenthusiastic handling of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). It has been accused of deliberately delaying its passage.
 
 
PIB is a proposed legal framework capable of salvaging the rotten state of the oil industry. The bill passed through second reading in Senate on March 7 last year and was referred to Emmanuel Paulker-led joint committee on petroleum (upstream, downstream and gas). The committee was expected to return the bill for passage within six weeks. But one year and three months after, the committee has failed to report back to the Senate. The situation is not different in House of Representatives while the petroleum sector continues to be rocked by corruption.
 
Tambuwal Talked Tough
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, in his speech commemorating the end of third legislative session on Thursday, lamented how some members of the executive had been frustrating parliamentary proceedings in order to cover up their shortcomings.
 
 
He said: “On the performance of its oversight functions, the House did its utmost best to exercise this very important constitutional mandate which has always been contentious because of the direct and indirect opposition by the very entities that the Constitution gave us the power and the responsibility to oversight.
 
 
“During the session under review, findings at oversight visits as well as complaints and petitions from members of the public consistently revealed the extent to which corruption has eaten into the fabric of the stewardship of public resources.
“We responded by launching necessary investigations to shine needed light into the darker recesses of public resource management in Nigeria, and where routine investigation is inadequate, we empanelled special committees to carry out a more thorough inquiry.
 
 
“Strangely, the collective experience of our members in the course of their exercise of their oversight functions is that there is a growing culture of impunity on the part of public officers in Nigeria which makes them inclined to resist the ethos of accountability. Some hesitate to honour their invitation to appear before the House, while others resort to litigation in an attempt to frustrate legislative oversight of their activities.”

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