As National Assembly resumes this week
As the wave of revealing outcomes trail the ongoing political party primary elections, and sweep across the country as well as generate ripples with telling impact on extant political realities, one of such that had escaped front burner attention even if temporarily, was the eventual resumption of the National Assembly. The institution which went on recess for plenary on July 24, 2018, was scheduled to resume on September 25 but had to extend such by two weeks to October 9, being Tuesday this week.
Serving as the crucible for much of the country’s political permutations and schemes, the institution had provided the impetus and traction for much of the upheavals in the polity especially with respect to the outcomes in the forthcoming 2019 general polls, of which the party primaries constitute the starting point. Hence its resumption for plenary and other activities remains a development many Nigerians are looking forward to for many reasons.
Among the reasons for heightened interest in the resumption is the anticipated drama that could ensue, but whose plot and course remain largely unpredictable for now. In the first instance is the issue of leadership - the presiding officers of the two chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives, which for now remains in an inconclusive state. For instance, the President of the Senate Bukola Saraki, who was of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), during the recess. So also did the Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara decamp from the APC to the PDP during the recess. Meanwhile Yusuff Lasun Deputy Speaker of the House reportedly remains in the APC.
These developments have changed the complexion of the leadership structure of the two chambers significantly. In the Senate, the earlier configuration featured Saraki belonging to the APC with the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu hailing from the PDP. With Saraki’s defection, both presiding officers of the Senate are on the same page in the PDP. In the House of Representatives, Dogara and the Deputy Speaker Yusuff Lasun were both of the APC until Dogara decamped to the PDP.
Against the backdrop of these developments, some Senators and Members of the House are clamouring that the defections of the two presiding officers being Saraki and Dogara were not accompanied by any formal written communication to the respective chambers in plenary, as such took place during the recess. In the light of the foregoing therefore the defections by Saraki and Dogara, were not only unlawful, but mere acts of misguided and macabre political misadventure. This is even as Saraki has reached an advanced stage in his campaign for the Presidential ticket of the PDP.
Put succinctly, the stage is now set for high drama that will lace the resumption of the Assembly come Tuesday the 9th of October. An expected development is the clamour by any party with majority to press for the leadership of the respective chamber. Yet even the actual number of senators and members in each of the political parties that would determine majority will remain for now, a matter of conjecture - as with their spirited crisscrossing from one party to the other Hence, only the resumption of plenary at which the actual figures would emerge, will settle the matter.
In the context of the foregoing therefore the remaining months in the life of the Eighth National Assembly (which is from now to early June next year), may not prove the most productive of its tenure which has already gulped three turbulent years out of four. Even significant shall be the relationship between the executive arm and the legislature in the days ahead. Incidentally, all through the life of the present administration the interface between the executive and the National Assembly cannot be said to be cordial. Hence unless a more discrete approach by the legislators is adopted on their return - to ensure minimal turbulence and distractions the country may have to wait for the Ninth National Assembly to conclude much of the assignments which the present one should have concluded. Put differently, the country may lapse into a state of arrested development with respect to those areas where the intervention of the National Assembly remains critical.
For the purpose of clarification, the complement of unfinished business before the Eighth National Assembly is not only significant but urgent. Among them is the outstanding challenge associated with the Electoral Act Ammendment Bill 2018, which is now on its fourth missionary journey to President Muhamadu Buhari for assent and he is yet to do so. Three earlier versions had been presented to him on equal number of times and in each instance, he declined assent. Although the legislators describe the bill as a matter of utmost “national importance”, they are yet to match words with action. Even their constitutional power to override the Presidential veto on declining assent to the bill and give it life as a law, seems to have been lost on them. Meanwhile this is the very legislation that may determine their political fortunes and those of other actors on the country’s political theatre.
Another issue whose fortunes may also hang in the balance is the 2019 Federal Government budget which by now is already late for presentation. A point of interest with it, is that it is coming in an election year when the present administration will run for only half of the year and terminate on May 29, 2019. In a bizzare twist of fiscal alchemy, the annual Federal Government budget no more runs religiously from January 1st to December 31st as has been the case traditionally. Rather, its life is now determined as from whenever the budget is passed and assented to by the President. Hence if the budget is assented to by December of the year of implementation, so its life will terminate in December of the succeeding year.
Legislators ascribe this anomaly to the imperative of accommodating the perennial delay in budget presentation to the National Assembly by the President. That notwithstanding its impact on the country is more telling than may be casually realized. Suffice it to be held that the situation places the country’s mainstream business cycle out of sync with much of the world’s business and trade operations.
During his recent visit to the USA for the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Buhari took time out to mingle with Nigerians in diaspora and stated that he needed another four years, which is the second term, to fix Nigeria. Much of the success factor for that expectation starts with how he and the National Assembly conduct the country’s business, from Tuesday October 9, 2018 when the legislature resumes plenary.
Among the reasons for heightened interest in the resumption is the anticipated drama that could ensue, but whose plot and course remain largely unpredictable for now.