Laws of every nation are made by lawmakers, which are usually elected by the citizens. The legislative arm of government is the institution charged with the responsibility of making laws in Nigeria.
The National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a bicameral legislature established under section 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which comprises of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It consists of a Senate with 109 members and a 360-member House of Representatives. The Nigerian National Assembly is modelled after the Federal Congress of the United States, is supposed to guarantee equal representation of the 36 states irrespective of size in the Senate and proportional representation by population in the House.
They are simply described as the lawmakers. The legislative arm of government also serves as a check and balance mechanism for the Executive arm of government. Before any bill may become law, it must be agreed to by both the House and the Senate, and receive the President’s assent.
Should the President delay or refuse assent (veto) the bill, the Assembly may pass the law by two-thirds of both chambers and overrule the veto and the President’s consent will not be required. The present Assembly has not hidden its preparedness to overrule the executive where they disagree.
Each of the 36 states has their own State House of Assembly, established by Section 90 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), and endowed with powers to legislate, as well as privileges and immunities to enable them to exercise these powers without hindrance. The Constitution provides that each State House of Assembly must have no less than twenty-four (24), and no more than forty (40) members.
The importance of voting competent legislators is that first, they will be accountable to the constituents who voted them into office and try to make a difference in their communities. We have witnessed several incidents in the country, where serving senators that have been stoned or attacked because they failed to have a concrete impact on their constituency and the nation as a whole. If they were competent legislators such incidents will never occur.
A member of the House of Representatives Garba Hamman Julde was attacked by some angry
people from his constituency in Taraba on Saturday, March 31. The attack occurred on
Saturday, March 31, 2018, as the lawmaker presented gifts to some APC executives in Bali local government. The lawmaker was injured in the attack before he was carted away to safety by security operatives. The angry constituents accused the federal lawmaker of abandoning them for years only to show up just before elections.
On Monday, April 2, 2018, Senator Joshua Lidani, the senator representing Gombe South, was held hostage by protesting members of his constituency. He had an unscheduled visit to Talasse town, the headquarters of Balanga Local Government Area to meet with political associates when the crowd gathered and refused to let him leave. The protesters demand answers to why he had abandoned them for ages, only to ‘sneak into town’ on Monday, April 2 2018. The protesters asked the senator to come out and “answer some of their questions” after “he refused to visit Talasse since his election despite several appeals.” They further, accused the senator of always refusing to answer or return calls from the people of his constituency.
Passing laws of utmost national priority is critical to the enduring value of a strong National Assembly as well as fostering good governance. For instance, there are some bills of critical importance that the country has still passed. The Gender Equality Opportunity Bill, essential for a country, was pushed out of the house for frivolous reasons for the rejection of the bill the first time it was presented at the floor of the national assembly but after the social media outcry the bill was reintroduced but has still failed to make any headway.
The country has no data protection law to protect the data of citizens and the government. There also is no competition bill, to drive and enable healthy competition in the business environment and prevent monopolies.
The role of the National Assembly according to Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution as amended is mainly to make laws for good governance, peace and welfare of the people while also serving as a check on the executive arm of government. But some attackers accuse their senators of poor performance because he failed to influence the location of government projects in their communities. That in itself is a problem because it ends up distorting the value we bring to the table, so I decided to make a comparison in my area, specifically because the subjects of comparison are vying for the position of member of the House of Representatives, representing my area – Kosofe Federal Constituency.
It also happens that one of them, Dayo Alebiosu, had served in the House of Representatives, before the other, Rotimi Agunsoye. Both in their tenures did the whole constituency project nonsense and played the politics of the stomach, which is sadly an important part of the game in these parts. But crucially, based on the tracking system for bills by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Mr Alebiosu sponsored six bills in his time at the House of Representatives and moved 15 motions. One of those bills, HB455: Tobacco Smoking (Control) Bill of 2013, went through the system, was consolidated with a Senate Bill, and passed into law. Mr Agunsoye has a grand total of one, HB 335: Infrastructure Management and Maintenance Bill, 2015, which was presented on 16th December 2015, passed the second reading on 8th June 2016 and was referred to the House Committee on Works. It has been stuck there ever since. Need I say more?
Folarin Bala writes from Lagos