National Assembly has battled series of criticism over the years, these excoriation seems never ending. Most appalling of all, discussion around the budget and remuneration of our representatives are reprehensive.
Castrating our institution of law-making on the platter of satisfying a paymaster’s quest will continue to spell doom to our desirous aspirations as people. These outbursts, either through ignorant or a deliberate attempt to diminish the good deeds of legislature over the years are undeserving. No wonder, average Nigerians see their representatives as mere lazy, corrupt and uninspiring politicians.
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For days now, the Nigerian media space had knocked the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio over his statement on ‘holiday allowance’ for the Senators who observing the annual recess as stipulated in the legislative calendar of the National Assembly.
Akpabio sin was that he was transparent to air the lawmakers’ entitlement to recess allowance which is backed under the law. This recess allowance which is 10 per cent of the annual basic salary of each legislator, is paid once a year directly into the Lawmakers’ bank account.
Even the statement announcing the Recess package was immediately retracted by the Senate President, having noticed the backslashes that will follow a sincere and transparent process which is a major in the Legislative agenda of the Senate.
Nigerians woke up to news headlines and utterances mostly condemning the Senate President action. Newspapers and online platforms are busy feeding their audiences with the latest breaking news in town, but most of whom forgot to enlighten the general public the basic truth and the legitimate of the said allowance.
The unnecessary controversy erupted basically to dent the image of the Senate President and that of the Senate as a body. I beseech Nigerians from all works of life to endeavour to understand the legislative procedures, having background knowledge of the establishment of the National Assembly and its organs will lay to rest these grey areas.
The Federal lawmakers are faced with series of disparagement, most of these were birthed of hatred, misrepresentation and ignorance which some individuals might allegedly nurse against the workings of the Legislature or in an attempt to dent the image.
Setting the Record Straight; National Assembly Budget has been from puzzle to tussle. Earlier to reminisce is the 2023 National Assembly Budget of N169bn out of the N21.8trn 2023 National Budget. To Nigerian public, the sum of N169bn is been shared by the Lawmakers while the legislative arm of government rotten in penury. This is gnarled to what is obtainable in the Budget.
Now, let us break it down for clarity, the National Assembly have four other organs that all work with this annual budget, these organs are; the Public Complaints Commission(PCC) · National Assembly Service Commission(NASC) · National Assembly Budget and Research Office(NABRO) and National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, NILDS. In fairness, five organs of legislature are not mere science, they have roles much relevant to lawmaking but most Nigerians are just aware of the main body, the National Assembly.
Additionally, as a lawmaker at Federal level, you have huge responsibilities that cannot be compared to any functions of the Executive nor the Judiciary. The Legislators drive the wheel of governance. There is no gain saying in this. Among these roles we have laws making, repelling obsolete law, approves the amount citizens are to pay for tax, approves loans to be obtained by the country, approve budget and carryout oversight functions. National Assembly make or endorse policy for government, serve as the mouthpiece of their constituent; they articulate the interest of their constituent and present it to the national government.
Not yet done with the roles of National Assembly, they also amend the constitution when necessary, in some instances, the control the executive officials; the control of the executive officials is done to prevent autocracy on the part of the executive. Any member of the executive that goes contrary to the law can be invited to the national assembly for questioning or strict discipline.
Moreover, the national assembly can impeach the president or vice president when found to have committed the act of gross misconduct.
Furthermore, ministerial and ambassadorial nominees are approved by the national assembly. This they just exercised and it is done to ensure that only qualified candidates are appointed to head post and to ensure strict adherence to federal character principles.
Almost on a final note the Lawmakers, , they approves treaties. When a country enters into agreement with another country, the agreement is not valid until the National Assembly approves it.
National Assembly controls the expenditure of public fund. It examines the implementation of budget by ministries. They supervise the expenditure of the government in line with budget funds.
The National Assembly has power to declare a state of war between Nigeria and another country or state of emergency on any state of the federation.
It is only the National Assembly that has power to approve the deployment of the armed forces on combat duty outside Nigeria.
The National Assembly enacts the bilateral and multi-lateral treaties between Nigeria and other countries into law.
National assembly ratifies the agreement and resolution between Nigeria and international bodies and conventions and protocols on Nigeria’s international obligations.
National assembly receives visitors from friendly countries, members of legislative house of other countries.
They also receives complaints from the public and advises government on such complaints. Senators and members of the House of Representatives act as the spokespersons of their constituencies.
Can anyone be bold to an extent to now say, Nigerian Legislators are lazy….? The question should rather be, how well are we, Nigerians applauding these individuals that have made sacrifices to serve our fatherland untiringly….?
On the issue of expenses by lawmaker, Nigeria is a state where we place goodwill above hardworking. Sorry, but that is the truth. Our people want to elect or see a Senator who can shoulder their responsibilities, pay their bills and create jobs for them at no expense. Once you fail to deliver on the above needs, you are automatically a worse politician ever in the history. You will be seen as underperformed lawmaker and the spell on your political career may be devastating.
Let us take a critical look at a Senatorial District in Nigeria, under the watch of a Senator, we have the regular political party, under which his candidature was flagged to represent. We have the National party executives, same as State, Local government and the Ward level. We have associations both religious and socio-political, we have Royal fathers, Chiefs and other traditional leaders. We should never be quick to forget the youths bodies and women groups to mention just few. We are not talking about the immediate family and relatives of the elected representative.
Now, the issue is, as an individual, how can you satisfy the yearnings of these numerous people and groups who are in one way or the other stakeholders in your journey to excel in the task of lawmaking.
Here is where the Constituency Allowance come in, it was initiated initially to help Senators and House of Rep Members address socio-economic challenges in their immediate constituencies. It is also meant to support local development efforts. Let us face it, lawmakers confront a lot of challenges and pressure from voters mostly seeking personal and collective needs. These challenges, you cannot run away from it, unless, you are ready to leave the stage. We all know what I mean. I can tell you of a Senator, who sold three properties, in order to empower his constituents. As we speak, in the history of Constituency empowerment, his name stand tall but how can one justify that sacrifice to all he got while serving as a Senator. That is ultimate sacrifice.
In this part of the world, we have our belief, our culture and customs. In Africa, for example, you may not need an approval from your adult child before visiting or living with them, we see this as a traditional norms. Same goes either having a philanthropist around you, many don’t hesitate before seeking help and we don’t want to understand how these individuals derive the means to help.
Moreover, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, should not be taken to Golgotha over his comment on Holiday Allowance to Senators, this tradition has been in existence in the Senate and National Assembly in general. The Senate President had sets a positive precedent for public officeholders and fosters trust between elected officials and the citizens they serve. He has shown leadership and integrity in his commitment to serving the Nigerian people.
The public have the right to be abreast on the activities of those elected to serve. When information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement, then, transparency became the standard bearer.
Soji Ikotun, is a public affairs analyst and an Abuja based media consultant.