• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Reconvened for greater goods

Reconvened for greater goods

By Opeyemi Bamidele

On June 13, precisely 44 days away from today, the tenth National Assembly—the Senate and House of Representatives—will mark its first anniversary. The anniversary will take place only a day after Democracy Day, a truly historic national day statutorily set aside to commemorate the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in 1999.

The road to this historic day was indeed tortuous, starting on June 12, 1993. This was the day that eligible Nigerians overwhelmingly cast their ballots for the then presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola. But the government of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, the first and only military president Nigeria ever had, annulled the election outcome on June 24, 1993, contrary to popular will.

The process was annulled even when the SDP had already polled 58.36 percent of the counted results, leaving the National Republican Convention (NRC) with only 41.64 percent. The annulment was perhaps the crudest political decision that any government ever made in the history of this nation, taking cognizance of the diverse ugly events that followed it.

Yet, the quest for the restoration of people’s mandate never died until the federal government finally recognised Chief M.K.O. Abiola was the winner of the process. And its implications were grave and unquantifiable for the nation at large. First, the decision prolonged the reign of tyranny by six good years, thereby inflicting varying degrees of setbacks on our economy and polity.

Besides, it culminated in the suspension of the National Assembly, the foremost democratic institution, with the seal of the people’s approval. It perhaps birthed the darkest era in history, which almost indelibly bruised the image of our nation before our long-time development partners and even the entire global community.

That era has now folded into the stinking armpit of history. Its stench keeps reminding us of the gory accounts of what we all suffered at the hands of the late tyrant. But we are now gradually building a democracy that is efficient, proactive, responsive, and vibrant to address the roots of our prevailing challenges. That democracy will officially enter its silver age precisely on June 12.

At the same time, we will be marking the first anniversary of the tenth National Assembly. It will indeed be a day of double celebrations to reflect on how we started, the grievous challenges that beset us on the path to freedom, and the measures we need to adopt to build a truly responsive democracy. And the day will help us put into context the gains of practising a democratic system for 25 unbroken years amid diverse challenges.

For 12 months or thereabouts, we have no doubt recorded moderate political payoffs, considering various interventions we have initiated to deliver collective prosperity, spur national cohesion, and set our fatherland on the path to irreversible growth. Even though we have been able to chart an entirely new path for Nigeria, it is not yet Uhuru, given the enormity of socio-economic and political challenges we are still facing as a federation.

Ahead of the anniversary, however, we are reconvening in the newly renovated hallowed chambers of the National Assembly to discharge our responsibilities as enshrined under Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). This is ostensibly an invaluable addition not just to the federal legislators but also to Nigeria, a federation of over 227 million people that the world always looks forward to as the hope of the black nations.

For two consecutive years, we relocated to the committee room on the ground floor of the New Senate Building to conduct core legislative business. Likewise, the House of Representatives moved its sessions to the main committee room on the ground floor of its wings. This movement was due to the intolerable conditions of the two chambers where we were conducting legislative business.

What were the conditions that compelled the legislators to relocate to makeshift chambers that were obviously unconducive and unsuitable for the conduct of legislative business? The worst of such conditions was the leakage of the roofs, which regularly disrupted plenaries and even caused damage to facilities within the two chambers.

Also, the cooling system was dysfunctional, especially in the central lobby, most committee rooms, and other parts of the complex. This no doubt created an unacceptable environment that inhibited the speed at which we were discharging our responsibilities. Among others, there were also challenges with the plumbing system, low-voltage equipment, and public address system, among others.

Each of these challenges necessitated the need to reconfigure, rehabilitate, and upgrade the entire National Assembly Complex to what it is today. After two years of comprehensive maintenance exercises, we now have state-of-the-art chambers where legislators can sit and work seamlessly. We now have a truly world-class work space fitted with modern equipment and technology that will no doubt aid the conduct of legislative business.

Our first thanks go to former President Muhammadu Buhari, the GCFR, and the Federal Capital Development Authority for supporting the budget proposal for the renovation of the entire complex in 2022. We also appreciate President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, and Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Mr. Nyesom Wike, CON, for prioritising the renovation of the complex, which has now been fully open for parliamentary activities. Henceforth, we shall conduct the national legislative business in the newly renovated chambers.

Now that we have resumed full legislative business, the weeks ahead promise to be busy and engaging for all legislators alike. In part, this may be associated with issues of national priority that require immediate parliamentary intervention. It may also be connected to diverse bills, for which we are duty-bound to expedite their passage in order to deepen the roots of public governance nationwide.

In the coming weeks, therefore, we will be interfacing with the core managers of our economy to ensure stability in our fiscal and monetary spaces. We understand the value of the naira has been galloping in the last five weeks. During Easter, for instance, the naira recorded 32.6 percent appreciation. Just after Eid-el-Fitr, the naira further appreciated by 42 percent. Currently, however, its value has again dropped, hovering between ₦1,250 and ₦1,300.

Obviously, the galloping value of the naira simply suggests that we need to adopt a collaborative approach first to strengthen existing measures and work out alternative measures that will decisively address the root causes of its depreciation. It also suggests the need to further carry out purpose-driven oversight of fiscal policies, robust engagement with the core managers of the economy, and initiating strategic interventions aimed at supporting real sectors.

Also, the need to recalibrate our security architecture will be at the core of our legislative priorities. Nearly all stakeholders now agree that the security architecture is no longer responsive enough to guarantee the security of lives nationwide. As demonstrated during the national policy dialogue recently organised by the House of Representatives, we are gradually building a national consensus on how best we can address our security challenges.

Security is everything, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. It is the main pillar on which the state system was built. And its absence is at the root of other heinous challenges we are facing today. Aside from its human cost, insecurity is a source of economic harm that we must permanently stop as soon as we can. It has driven thousands of farmers from their farmlands, complicating the food crisis we are working hard to address. It is also a critical factor responsible for the decline in the flows of foreign direct investment into this nation.

All these issues deserve more decisive legislative attention than at any time in history. The process has already commenced with the inauguration of the Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. The committee, chaired by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Jibrin Barau, has been collaborating with critical stakeholders to work out an entirely new security architecture that responds more efficiently to our security challenges.

But the National Assembly cannot do it alone, and neither can the Presidency. It is a collective responsibility for all critical actors: the media, civil society, traditional institutions, private sector religious bodies, and all socio-cultural groups. We are all under obligation to play pivotal roles in the task of rebuilding a federation that works for all.

Bamidele, leader of the 10th Senate, writes from Abuja.