An Abuja-based constitutional lawyer, Professor Agbo Madaki, has said the continued sitting of members of the House of Representatives without the constitutional requirement of one-third quorum is worrisome and a challenge to constitutional democracy.
Speaking with Daily Trust in Abuja yesterday on the legal implication of such sittings, Professor Agbo said the issue was of particular concern because the National Assembly remained a part of the tripod on which Nigeria's democracy rested.
In his words, "The current practice in the House of Representatives, I mean going ahead to conduct sittings without quorum, is not only worrisome but a serious challenge to constitutional democracy in Nigeria.
"It (National Assembly) was established under Section 47 of the 1999 Constitution, and empowered to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigeria. But it must form a quorum before sitting as reflected in Section 54(1)(2) of the Constitution.
"This quorum is important to reflect the geographical spread and varied opinions of the representatives who are elected by the people solely for the business of law-making. Mind you, what we have is a full time, not a part time legislature.
"However, if you look at the constitutional provisions on quorum critically, you find out that the constitution incapacitates the implementation of that section because it is expected that either House prescribes the rules on quorum in its Standing Orders, otherwise it may not be strictly enforced," he said.
"Having said that, Section 53 of the Constitution makes it mandatory that each member shall sit for no less than 180 days in a year' are these members abstaining from sittings completed their stipulated 180 days? If they have not, then it is a mark of gross irresponsibility for any member to deliberately skip sitting in a House into which he or she is elected," he added.
The House of Representatives had in recent times conducted its plenary sittings without the one-third quorum stipulated in the 1999 Constitution.
Daily Trust had reported how the House went ahead with its plenary on 5 December with only about 30 of the total 360 lawmakers.
During the sitting, the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila had acknowledged the issue.
"Granted that there is a constitutional provision for a quorum before the conduct of plenary, we shall not lose sight of the events of yesterday," he said, apparently referring to the protest by the National Assembly workers the previous day.
Yesterday, Daily Trust correspondent equally counted only 39 of the 360 lawmakers present at the chamber when the plenary kicked off at 11:49 am, contrary to the 120 member quorum.
This contravened Section 54(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which stated that, "The quorum of the Senate or the House of Representatives shall be one-third of all the members of any of the legislative house concerned."
The Senate on Tuesday, November 13, 2018 adjourned its plenary for lack of quorum. On that fateful day, Daily Trust observed that less than 20 senators had converged at the Red Chamber for plenary.
Contacted, House spokesman Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa), said they had been meeting quorum before commencement of sitting, noting that journalists only based their position on the number of people they saw seated not from the attendance register.
"The quorum is not what you see in the chamber. The quorum is the register that individual lawmakers sign. People will come into the chamber, sign and later go out for either committee meeting, oversight or other legislative business.
"So, if you want to get the actual quorum, you have to check the register not to begin to count the number of members seated, or what the television shows. So, we have been having our quorum. The register isn't one. Each political party has its register that its members sign everyday," Namdas said.
Senate President Bukola Saraki had to adjourn when the Minority Whip, Philip Aduda (PDP, FCT) raised a point of order to that effect in line with Order 10(3) of the Senate Standing Order, which required a 25 per cent of the 109 senators.