Nigeria: Under Lawan, Nigeria's Senate Continues Norm of 'Delaying, Abandoning' Crucial Reports

Senate President Ahmed Lawan.
analysis

"If there was no National Assembly in the last four years, Nigeria would not have been any worse. There has been no impact," a policy analyst said.

It has been two years since the Ninth Assembly was inaugurated and members of the chamber took their oaths of office.

The inauguration was sequel to a proclamation by President Muhammadu Buhari of the termination of the Eight Assembly and commencement of the Ninth, after which lawmakers of both chambers elected their leaders.

Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila were elected as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively on June 11, 2019.

Following his election, Mr Lawan made many promises, all of which are aimed at making the country better. What has followed, however, are two years of struggling to keep the promises and lawmaking - most of which some will consider a success, and others, a failure.

Mr Lawan had said the Ninth Assembly would be different and characterised by fewer controversies and more positivity.

While the struggle to do things differently, especially in the Senate, is visible (with some successes recorded) some old and bad habits have crawled back into this assembly.

One of such is the delay in submission or consideration of committee reports despite deadlines and ultimatum - an act many political watchers have described as deliberate, unprofessional and a major failure of the Senate.

In this article, PREMIUM TIMES examines some important deliberations that have been referred to various committees in the Senate that are yet to see the light of day.

Elisha Abbo

A senator. One of them. The youngest. Formerly of the Peoples Democratic Party and now a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

He was caught on camera assaulting a lady in a sex toy shop in Abuja.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how he admitted his wrong publicly and apologised; only to deny the act later in court.

His action triggered outrage among Nigerians especially youth who looked up to him as a representative.

At first they did not want to discuss the matter, then came a motion by Uba Sani (Kaduna Central) asking the Senate to set up a panel and probe Mr Abbo.

An ad-hoc committee was set up and the probe began. A little controversy occurred between Mr Abbo and the panel. Later, there was a request for more time from the committee. Then came the excuse that the panel had to put the probe on hold because the case was in court.

By this time, the two weeks' deadline had elapsed.

Then came the report which the panel submitted to the Senate three months after. Noting has been heard of it since then.

For those not familiar with the workings of the Senate, whenever a report from a committee is presented, recommendations in the report are usually discussed on another legislative day - in most cases, the next legislative day.

It has been eight months since the report was submitted and the outcome of the probe has not been disclosed.

On the contrary, lawmakers seem to have forgotten the matter. Mr Abbo has been very vibrant in the Senate. He was also properly welcomed by APC lawmakers when he announced his defection.

One could liken the Senate's lackadaisical attitude towards this case to their failure to check themselves.

Special job slots allocated to senators

When the news broke that lawmakers were given numerous job slots in different agencies in December 2019, many of the senators indicted - including Mr Lawan - were quick to issue press statements denying the reports.

This was another case that stirred controversy among Nigerians, many of whom said it was nothing new.

As expected, the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs was tasked to investigate the case by grilling the indicted agencies.

The memory is still very clear of how the chairman of the panel, Danjuma La'ah, swore and vowed to make sure that lawmakers culpable are dealt with accordingly.

It has been over 18 months. No word. No report. No feedback. Not even an excuse or request for an extension of time for the committee. Nothing.

Attempts to reach Mr La'ah and ask how his promises are coming have not been successful either as he did not return calls to his phone.

Court invasion

The Federal High Court in Abuja was invaded by officials of the State Security Service when a former presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore, was arrested for the second time in December 2019.

A week later, the Senate discussed the matter in plenary and directed its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate the case. The panel was given one week to report back to the Senate.

It took the panel six months to carry out its investigations and prepare the report - which was submitted to the Senate in July last year. Eleven months after, the Senate is yet to disclose, debate or adopt the report.

For a Senate that vowed to fight for human rights and uphold the rule of law, their silence on the matter has been very loud.

Victims of police brutality

Just as discussions on insecurity dominated most part of plenary sessions in the last two years, the lawmakers also took time to consider assault and extra-judicial killings of innocent Nigerians by officers of the Nigeria Police Force and the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

But the conversations tend to die there despite resolutions taken to ensure that justice is served.

An example is the motion on the rape and killing of a member of the National Youth Service Corps, Ifeoma Abugu, allegedly by SARS officials in September 2020.

In a sober mood on September 29, 2020, Enugu senator Chukwuka Utazi moved a motion on the matter and resolutions were adopted - one of which was to mandate the Senate Committees on Police Affairs and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate the arrest, detention, rape and murder of Ms Abugu.

The committee was to report back after two weeks. Nine months later, no word from the committee.

FCC boss accused of abuse of office

This is one of the many probes started by the Ninth Senate.

This involves allegations of office abuse levelled against the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), Muheeba Dankaka, by over 20 commissioners of the FCC who petitioned the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs.

They accused Mrs Dankaka of committing offences that bordered on abuse of office.

She was accused of misrepresentation and misapplication of section 2(1) of the Establishment Act, and unwholesome arrogation of power which led to alienating commissioners, plenary, and the commission from the activities and operation of the FCC.

An investigative hearing on February 9, which saw tempers flare, forced the panel to enter into an executive session.

Although Mr La'ah had told journalists that the panel would get to the root of the matter the following week, four months later, nothing has been heard.

MDAs culpable too

Delayed or forgotten reports like these are also caused by Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) involved, legislative expert and political analyst, Desmond Akinloye, noted.

He referred to instances where MDAs will be invited to either submit necessary documents or attend a hearing and they fail to do so. Many times, lawmakers have queried MDAs who are culpable of such.

"And this happens because most of the heads of these agencies are close to Buhari or the presidency. When Abba Kyari was alive, many who were close to him didn't show up. So these affect the work of the panel and their reports.

"It's both ways. Both of them are culpable. We consultants normally would advise them to seek extension of time when they are having setbacks as such. But sometimes, you see them acting sluggishly."

He said lawmakers fail to sanction faulting MDAs "because of the kind of political system we run."

"How many resolutions taken by the lawmakers have been executed by the executive? The executive is not looking into it and the lawmakers cannot do more than resolutions expect they want to impeach.

"Normally when resolutions are taken and the executive, whether president or minister does not act on it, they can ask the person to leave office because it is a ground for misconduct and a valid reason to call for impeachment but it is difficult in this system.

"It also based on the kind of leadership of the National Assembly. Look at Saraki, in his time, Magu was not cleared as EFCC chairman and the executive kept him uncleared for years."

All of this, he added, started when the National Assembly allowed the executive to meddle into the affairs of choosing its leadership.

The way forward is to have an independent National Assembly, he said.

"Look at the National Assembly under Saraki, under Ken Nnamani and the House of Reps under Ghali Na'abba. Those people stood against the executive and did not let the executive meddle in their affairs. They turned down many requests from the executive.

"The way forward is to have a National Assembly that is not attached and not been put there by the executive."

Ninth assembly, the worst since 1999

For Sam Amadi, a legal and policy analyst, the ninth assembly is the worst since 1999.

Mr Amadi who has chaired several Senate technical committees faulted the workings of the Lawan-led assembly as he said the lawmakers have failed in their basic responsibilities like lawmaking and oversight.

"If the National Assembly was an accountable organisation, like a company with shareholders taking assessment, they would have sacked all the management staff because it is thoroughly inefficient and ineffective.

"This is the poorest since 1999. From Ken Nnamani to David Mark to Saraki."

Mr Amadi, a former chairman of the electricity regulator, NERC, questioned the number of laws made by the ninth assembly that have the capacity to improve democracy and ensure fair distribution. He also wondered how well the lawmakers have performed with regards to oversight especially in the wake of the pandemic.

"Take insecurity for instance. I am not sure of any rigorous hearing on insecurity, all you hear is lame invitation of army chiefs who end up sending representatives and having meetings behind closed doors.

"If there was no National Assembly in the last four years, Nigeria would not have been any worse. There has been no impact.

"These things happen because they have always played politics with these issues. Also there are no competent background staff. No one to question irregularities in the system. This National Assembly is thoroughly incompetent and inactive that if it disappears now, Nigeria's democracy will not suffer," he said.

On the way forward, Mr Amadi stressed the need to recover our politics from 'transaction people'.

"How many of them are former governors? It has become like a royalty, a retirement home irrespective of whether they have legislative expertise or not.

"It starts with parties giving tickets to those who have the attitude for legislative work. And retire those governors with their pensions. They are polluting the legislative chamber with those who cannot do the work.

"We also need to rebuild the bureaucracy of the National Assembly."

An unbothered Senate

The highlighted cases are a few of the numerous resolutions charged to committees whose reports are either yet to be submitted or considered. Many of them will not see the light of the day.

Apparently, the Senate Committee on Legislative Compliance has not been effective either because one of its functions is to check the workings of other committees and ensure they comply with rules and deadlines.

The chairman of the committee, Adelere Oriolowo, could not be reached for his comments for this report. His deputy, Sabi Abdullahi, was unavailable as well. Both men did not return calls nor reply text messages.

New Senate, old habits

The attitude towards compliance to deadlines and report submission by lawmakers has lingered for years - from past assemblies.

The eight Senate had its share of this attitude, prompting the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to issue queries and warnings to affected committees.

About 14 ad hoc committees were named by Mr Lawan in November 2019 as failing to meet deadlines for reports, yet there has been no compliance.

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