The country is in a hurry. The ninth assembly should make a big difference
The Ninth National Assembly will be inaugurated on Tuesday at a period many basic services such as education, health and infrastructure are decrepit while a demographic crisis is looming large on the horizon. The unemployment rate, especially among our young population, is not only frightening but breeds the risk of social, economic and security turbulence. The poverty level is at an all-time high while the security situation remains treacherous. It is therefore important that the in-coming Senators and members of the House of Representatives understand that their job is already well cut out for them.
As the engine room of democracy and the theatre of politics, a vibrant and effective legislature is important for the development of our country, especially at this most challenging period in our history. And to the extent that law reforms the society, if the National Assembly is desirous of regaining credibility and taken seriously by Nigerians, it must understand that guided business tours of committees for pecuniary purposes cannot substitute for genuine oversight functions. With the election of the presiding officers as the first item on the agenda, it is also important for the lawmakers to demonstrate a high sense of responsibility in their choice. They should be encouraged to choose leaders with rich legislative experience who can command the respect of their colleagues and restore the dignity of the embattled legislative institution.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that has an overwhelming majority in the coming National Assembly has put forward the current Majority Leaders in both chambers (Senator Ahmed Lawan for Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila for the House of Representatives) as their nominees. Lawan is the highest ranking member in the National Assembly. He was first elected into the House in 1999 and the Senate in 2003. He has been a senator ever since. Gbajabiamila has also been a House member since 2003. So both come highly recommended. But the decision of who presides over either of the chambers is not that of the APC but the members themselves.
As we reiterated recently, the APC must learn from its recent history. Failure to manage the pre-leadership and post-leadership election in 2015 led to mutual suspicions between the executive and legislative arms of government at the federal level and it hampered the required cooperation and ultimately impeded the smooth operations of government. We hope the party will this time put its house in order so that both the presiding officers in both chambers can emerge in a manner devoid of any kind of acrimony or imputation of imposition from the executive.
To avoid the needless distractions that almost marred the previous session, there is also a compelling need for the lawmakers, as elected representatives of the people, to be mindful of the expectations of Nigerians. These expectations include revival and diversification of the economy, employment generation, strengthening national security, curbing corruption, tackling the electricity crisis and general infrastructural decay, improving health and the educational system, etc.
Against the background of a long tradition of shallow debates, the ninth assembly is challenged to make greater use of legislative aides to research the subjects that would come under its purview.
Meanwhile, whatever one might say about the Eighth National Assembly that adjourned sine die last week, it was able to achieve a measure of bipartisanship, perhaps because of the compromise that led to the election of its presiding officers. Given the putative dominance of the ruling APC in both chambers, there is an increased risk that such bipartisanship may come under threat. That would be unfortunate as the national interest is best when legislations reflect a wider national perspective rather than that of a single party.
As things stand in Nigeria today, the enormity of our social and economic challenges makes it compelling for targeted legislation rather than cosmetic lawmaking.