All eyes were on the House of Representatives last week as Nigerians awaited the scheduled debate on the Petroleum Industry Bill.
Ahead of the debate, opposition political parties in the House held a meeting on Monday evening presumably to brainstorm and map out strategies on how to tackle the controversial bill. This meeting raised fears about a possible plot to scuttle the bill. In view of the long and tortuous journey the bill had travelled in the National Assembly, no one was sure of what would happen to the bill.
There was some relief, however, when it turned out that the meeting of the opposition legislators was not necessarily a gang- up but an opportunity to fill a knowledge gap on the bill. The legislators were briefed by a team of consultants on the contents of the bill as a way of arming them with enough details to enable them take an informed position.
However, this eleventh hour extra mural coaching raised yet another red flag on the preparedness of our parliamentarians to handle such a sensitive bill.
Here was a bill presented to the parliament in July just as the legislators were proceeding on their annual vacation that lasted for more than two months and here were some legislators stÍll trying to understand what it was all about on the eve of the debate. Does it mean that these parliamentarians never studied this all -important bill throughout their holidays? If they were students preparing for an examination, failure would have been the outcome.
This apparent poor level of preparedness showed clearly during the debates about two-third of lawmakers who had earlier indicated interest to speak on the bill eventually stayed away from the debate.
Although the bill seeking to establish a new Legal Fiscal and Regulatory Framework for Petroleum Industry in Nigeria received a barrage of criticisms, the attacks were not as ferocious as many had predicted. The venom and fireworks, which the bill was expected to ignite in the Green Chamber, were all subsumed in a rare display of understanding that the reforms in the oil and gas sector can no longer be postponed.
Well, the good news is that the House resisted the temptation of allowing regional politics and primordial sentiments to becloud their judgment on the bill. They stuck to the issues and the bill has passed Second Reading. When one considers the doom that had been predicted and the obstacles laid on its path, the passage of the PIB was like an escape from death.
It has been sent to an ad hoc committee for due diligence. Nigerians are waiting for the outcome of the process. It is still too early to celebrate!
No to Same Sex Marriage
Following in the footsteps of the Senate, the House rose against same sex marriage. The lawmakers dared the United States of America, United Kingdom and other Western nations to keep their grants, donations, aids and other financial assistance they normally dish out to poor and developing nations if the new condition for Nigeria to access such credit facilities was for the National Assembly to legalise same gender marriage. The resolution came as the lawmakers debated and passed through Second Reading a bill prohibiting the solemnisation of marriage or civil union between persons of same sex in Nigeria.
A similar bill was passed by the Senate during the Sixth Assembly but the House could not concur with them before the tenure of that session elapsed.
The bill was therefore returned to the House in the current session for re-consideration. The House affirmed that the practice of same sex marriage was alien to the culture and sense of morality of the African society.
In what appeared like a stern rebuke, the lawmakers warned that Nigeria will not tolerate any attempt by the so-called civilised and developed nations to impose same sex marriage on Nigeria under the guise of promoting the human rights of some deviants in the society.
The message was that though the practice had gained a lot of grounds in some Western countries, Nigerians should be spared same gender marriage because it is against the norms and traditions of the various ethnic and religious groups in the country. It also came to the fore that in spite of the convergence of morality and legality on the issue, there was really no legal justification for the parliament to enact a separate law prohibiting same gender marriage as the Marriage Act in Nigeria does not recognise such absurd unions.
The consensus was that same gender marriage was like a human rights advocacy carried too far and nothing must be spared to halt this drift towards Sodom and Gomorah.
It is interesting to know that in the open, no lawmaker spoke against the bill. However, outside the chamber, there were whispers that the gay and lesbian community had some silent patrons even in the hallowed chambers. Could this be true? Only time and circumstance will tell.
The House received reports of the Peoples Public Sessions held last weekend in all the 360 federal constituencies in Nigeria. The preliminary report which was presented at a brief ceremony was derived from those earlier submitted by the individual lawmakers after the town hall meetings where the people voted on 43 aspects of the 1999 Constitution slated for review.
Deputy Speaker and Chairman, House Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, disclosed that following the successful conduct of the People's Public Sessions and the formal submission of the preliminary reports, professional bodies, civil society organisations and other stakeholders are expected to nominate members to observe the collation of the reports received from the various constituencies.
Ihedioha said the collation process would begin from tomorrow (Monday) at the Secretariat of the Constitution Review Committee of the House of Representatives.
The stakeholders, he said, were being invited to participate in the collation exercise to boost the transparency of the process.
This is indeed commendable and Nigerians look forward to a credible outcome. May the collation not be like the collation of results after an election. May there be no back door votes arriving late due to distant and difficult terrains. May the voice of the people be heard resoundingly.
There was mourning in the chambers following the passage of Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki, former Senate Leader in the Second Republic. The demise of the man fondly referred to as Oloye triggered a flood of tributes from the National Assembly as former and serving legislators eulogised the deceased politician. Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi said Saraki was a mentor who instilled political discipline and confidence in the younger generation of politicians in Nigeria.
Emodi described the deceased as a nationalist, a patriot par excellence and a de-tribalised Nigerian who played politics according to the rules of the game.
"He played politics the way it should be played and that is by bettering the lot of the less privilege. He joined politics as a very comfortable man but devoted his political career to improving the lives of the people. This is why he held sway from the day he joined politics till his death.
"He was a beautiful book in politics and I will call on our politicians to emulate him - go down to the grassroots, help your people and impact positively on the lives of your people. He dined, wined and danced with the common people.
This is why the people of Kwara will not forget him in a hurry. It will be difficult to forget him because he played his part perfectly and left great legacies," Emodi said.
Inside the chamber, a minute of silence was observed in honour of the deceased political gladiator. Thereafter, House Speaker Aminu Tambuwal described the late Saraki as a quintessential politician and an influential figure who gave his best for the development of the country.
Saraki, Tambuwal said had earned his place as one of Nigeria's most consistent advocates of democracy. He said Saraki would be best remembered for his pioneering role in the formation of leading political parties in the country especially during the Second Republic which led to the establishment of the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and in the present dispensation, the All Nigeria Peoples Party in the current dispensation.
Tambuwal recalled that as the Senate Leader in the Second Republic, Saraki, along with his colleagues, worked assiduously to entrench a vibrant parliamentary culture that put national interest above personal and parochial interests in Nigeria's democracy.
He urged Nigerians to emulate Saraki's virtues of dedication, humility and compassion for the ordinary folks. There were several other glowing tributes that flowed from amongst the lawmakers. All were in praise of the titan who carved a niche for himself in the annals of politics in Nigeria. Even persons who used to accuse Saraki of creating a fiefdom for himself and his children and monopolising the political landscape of Kwara paid homage and sang his praises.
This is typical of Nigerians and even Oloye might be smiling at the hypocrisy of his political detractors who now mourn him like a dearly beloved father.