By Merit Ugolo
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila has highlighted some of the achievements recorded by the 9th House in its legislative agenda, with six months to the end of the tenure.
Gbajabiamila said the 9th House has done a lot, which was a clear departure from what obtained in the past, adding that “the last four years have been a period of consequential interventions and essential reforms that lay the foundation for future growth and prosperity. We must acknowledge this and draw lessons to guide us in the future.”
Gbajabiamila spoke when he delivered a paper titled ‘Delivering on our contract with Nigerians: Implementing the Legislative Agenda of the 9th House of Representatives – Progress, Challenges and the Way Forward’ at the Second Edition of the Distinguished Parliamentarian Lecture Series organized by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) in Abuja on Monday.
He said the 9th House has been an unusually productive parliament despite the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have taken legislative action to address longstanding challenges of governance and economics in our country. We have passed landmark legislation to fix our oil and gas industry, reform the police and reorganise the corporate administration system in our country.
“We have considered and passed meaningful legislation impacting all areas of our national life. Some of these bills are the Police Service Commission Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (Amendment) Bill, and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act (Amendment) Bill, amongst others.
“We passed a slate of bills to reform the aviation sector and clean up our airports so that these critical national assets can be properly administered to the best expectations of the Nigerian people. We have reformed the annual budget process of the Federal Government. We have used the appropriations process and the power of parliament over the public purse to pursue community and constituency development across the country.
“We have invested in primary, secondary, and tertiary education infrastructure. We have provided ICT training centres to facilitate learning and enhance educational outcomes. There is virtually no constituency in the country that hasn’t benefited from significant investment to improve primary healthcare, rehabilitate classrooms and schools, and provide community roads,” Gbajabiamila said.
In the area of critical interventions, Gbajabiamila said the House intervened to help resolve outstanding issues between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government “so our young people could return to their academic pursuits after an extended period of industrial action by the union.
“Since then, the House of Representatives has worked to address the issues that led to the strike. We are currently working on the 2023 Appropriation Bill, which includes the sum of N170 billion to provide a level of increment in the welfare package of university lecturers. The Bill also includes an additional N300bn in revitalisation funds to improve the infrastructure and operations of federal universities.”
Furthermore, Gbajabiamila said, the House convened the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other stakeholders to facilitate the adoption of elements of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
“This effort is being supervised by the Chairman of the House Committee on Tertiary Education, Rep. Aminu Suleiman. Now, these issues are the fundamentals that have been at the heart of the perennial agitation by the union.
Having addressed those, we are now motivated to focus on addressing the issues of funding, education standard, and student and staff welfare that are necessary to build twenty-first century tertiary institutions worthy of their name.
“This is the reason why just a few weeks ago, we convened a National Summit on Tertiary Education Reform (NSTER) that brought stakeholders together for two days to conduct a holistic review of the tertiary education sector in the country and make recommendations for necessary action to improve the sector. This and other interventions in the education sector are a critical component of our Legislative Agenda commitments to strengthening human capital development by providing access to quality education opportunities across the country.”
By outlining some of the many achievements of the 9th House, the Speaker said it was not his intention to take a victory lap of any kind.
“Our system of policing and the judiciary, our infrastructure and public services, and so many areas of our national life still fall far short of our best aspirations. We have made improvements to our electoral laws to enable far-reaching reforms to improve the process through which we elect political leaders. Yet, we still need to improve the internal process of nominations within the political parties.
“The amendment of the Police Act 2020 put in place a new system for reporting, investigating and sanctioning abuses of police power, yet such incidents persist across the country. Though much has been done, much yet remains to do to deliver our people from the degradations of poverty and lack, protect them from the machinations of criminals and terrorists, and reform our politics and government to better reflect the best of who we are and be more responsive to the obligation to be a catalyst of national development.”
Gbajabiamila said, “the biggest challenge of implementation we have encountered with the Legislative Agenda is one that often imperils reform efforts worldwide: the refusal to embrace change. Both consciously and otherwise, there usually is institutional resistance to fundamental changes in policy and processes in the public sector. This is compounded by the number of constituencies whose interests, concerns and expectations must be factored in and managed.
“We have three hundred and sixty members in the House of Representatives from nearly a dozen political parties. We have the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) as the parliamentary civil service with thousands of personnel, a multitude of political and policy aides, and so many other interested parties, many of whom may be used to doing things differently. Time and careful management are indispensable components of successful reform in arenas like this.
“Then you have the issue of competing objectives. How do you set a Legislative Agenda that adequately captures the priorities of constituents in Surulere, Nnewi, Daura, Gubio, Ogoja and Wase at the same time? How do you assure the members representing these diverse constituencies that the priorities of their constituents won’t get lost in a streamlined, collaborative, and coordinated approach to legislative policymaking? How do you bring the Senate and the Executive along when you have managed to ensure that the House is committed to the same priorities and rowing in one accord to the same destination?”
Going forward, Gbajabiamila said the House of Representatives, in its future iterations, should continue the agenda-setting, prioritisation, monitoring and evaluation model of legislative policymaking embodied in the Legislative Agenda of the 9th House.
He noted that the Committee on Monitoring and Implementation of the Legislative Agenda should become, in the new parliament, a standing committee fully funded to serve as the in-house think tank, policy coordinator and delivery unit of the House.
“We need to adopt a new system of vetting legislative proposals for quality control and compliance with legislative agenda priorities. Amendments to the Standing Orders of the House will be required to achieve this.”
“The design of future Legislative Agendas needs to be more collaborative to aid implementation. Efforts must be made ab-initio to harmonise competing priorities of the various interests and stakeholder groups and align the different arms of government towards the same goals.
“Whatever the political settlement that emerges after the 2023 general elections, all concerned must recognise that government cannot afford to be at cross-purposes with itself. This doesn’t mean that we must all agree on what needs to be done and the process of getting things done. But we must make concerted efforts to identify areas of agreement and work on those together whilst seeking accommodations in other areas that allow us to advance little by little.”