Nigeria’s economy in jeopardy as closure of NASS affects passage of bills
As the National Assembly recently shut down to prevent the spread of the dreaded coronavirus, the closure of the seat of the Legislature has not only hampered legislative activities but seriously affected passage of bills that could foster stability of the nation’s staggering economy.
Although the shut down by NASS, apart from obviously responding to the order by the Federal Government in terms of self-isolation and social distancing, it has further put the progress of legislative duties in jeopardy.
Findings by BDSUNDAY revealed that several bills that were read at different stages and were at verge of passage have all been suspended.
Also, some of the bills that were scheduled for public hearing by both Senate and House of Representatives committees were put-off due to the shutdown of the National Assembly.
By the process of enacting laws in the National Assembly, a bill is first introduced in plenary – first reading, and passed second reading before being subjected to public hearing. It is afterwards returned to plenary for third reading and, further concurred by the both Senate and House of Representatives before final passage and subsequent transmission to the President for assent.
When the coronavirus outbreak took a dangerous dimension, there was partial closure of NASS where particularly the Senate, had shut down all public hearings by its committees, and also had closed down the visitors’ gallery.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan had explained that the suspension of all committee public hearings was to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
“The Senate resolves to suspend all public hearings till further notice as a result of the Coronavirus; and
the Senate gallery will remain closed to the public till further notice including excursions from schools and other organizations from Tuesday, 24th March, 2020,” Lawan stated.
Thereafter, the NASS had finally shut down when it realised that the effect of the coronavirus was worsening and there was urgent need to adhere strictly to health guidelines.
Before the National Assembly was finally shut, lawmakers were making serious development in the aspect of rapid enactment of bills so as to provide solution to the many national economic challenges.
Particularly in the Senate, the Red Chamber had passed some bills, introduced many others for first reading while others passed second reading, and were awaiting further legislative process by the relevant committees.
For instance, six of the bills had passed third reading and were even assented into law by the President. These bills were very critical to socio-economic and political stability of the nation.
BDSUNDAY gathered that aside from the six bills that were passed and assented, about 200 Bills have so far gone through first reading in the ninth Senate, while more than 50 other Bills have passed second reading and were undergoing the necessary further legislative processes at the relevant Senate Committees, before the NASS shut down.
It will be recalled that Lawan had while giving assessment of the 9th Senate, within the first six months, in December 2019, named the passed and assented bills to include the Deep Off-shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP D3 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
Others were the two Executive bills – the Appropriation Bill, 2020 and the Finance Bill 2019, as well as the Public Procurement Act 2007 (Amendment) Bills, 2019.
To show that the bills are designed to stabilise the economy, the Finance Bill, 2019 for example, amended seven (7) existing tax and fiscal policy laws – (Companies Income Tax Act, 2004; Value Added Tax Act, 2007; Customs and Excise Tariff (Consolidation) Act, 2004; Personal Income Tax Act, 2007; Capital Gains Tax Act, 2007; Stamp Duties Act, 2007; and Petroleum Profit Tax Act, 2004) to reform Nigeria’s tax system for enhanced implementation and effectiveness.
The Federal Government took the initiative to reform the tax system so as to create an enabling business environment and reduce the tax burden for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
The Finance Bill also provides a framework for the 2020 Budget and to change the existed unhealthy and unpredictable budget cycle to a January to December fiscal calendar.
Also, the Public Procurement Act 2007 (Amendment) Bills, 2019 were passed to sanitise the public procurement process and curtail the incidence and influence of corruption.
But before NASS had shut down, some of the many bills that were undergoing legislative process which included the Petroleum Industry Bill, Electoral Reforms Amendment Bills and Amendment of the 1999 Constitution are seemingly sabotaged.
Also, a bill to amend the Companies and Allied Matters Act (Chapter C20) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 (CAMA), which has not been significantly amended in the last 28 years, and was enacted in Nigeria as a decree of the military government in 1990, was undergoing legislative process too.
Others are: a bill for an act to amend the Electoral Act, CAP E6 to empower the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise public debates for all candidates to the office of deputy governor, governor, vice president, president to help boost and strengthen electoral process; and to provide for other matters relating thereto, 2020 (SB. 176), and the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019”, protection from hate speech bill 2019 respectively.
Similarly, there was the proposed bill to repeal the police Act of 2014 and enact a new Nigeria police Act of 2020, and a bill seeking to establish Army University in Biu in Borno State, as well as a bill to for an Act to establish Nigerian Civil Defence Academy at Pando gari in Niger state.
Also, four bills seeking the establishment of zonal development commissions were before the Senate. They are: South East Development Commission (Est, etc) Bill, 2019 ( SB. 161) sponsored by Senator Stella Oduah, who represent Anambra North, the North Central Development Commission Bill, sponsored by the Chairman, Senate Services, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, (APC, Niger East) and Abba Moro (Benue South), a bill seeking the establishment of the North West Development Commission (NWDC) sponsored by Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano North) and a bill to establish the South West Commission (SWDC) sponsored by Senator Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun Central, APC), among others.
As the Senate has shutdown down, the implication is that legislative work on the bills has stopped and the bills cannot be passed till NASS resume.
Jude Ubani, an Abuja based public affairs analyst said in an interview that COVID19 has a terribly bad effect on legislative duties hence NASS has shut down.
According to him, there is urgent need for government to intensify effort to totally eradicate coronavirus and allow normal activities in the country to flow.
He said the adjournment by NASS will cause delay in making laws that will normalise the National economy which he said, had since collapsed.
“It is obvious that the shutdown of NASS will affect legislative duties, no doubt. The sorry thing is that so many bills that were being processed to cushion the badly ravaged economy of our nation are at stand still. In effect, it means lawmaking is stagnated and you know how this can affect a nation that is very challenged. As it is, we have crossed the red line and I think, government should intensify effort to end this pandemic before this country will finally sink,” Ubani stated.
Also speaking, a lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “We are on break and we don’t know when we shall resume. You can see how COVID19 figures are increasing everyday and I want to tell you that this is not a joke. At the moment, it is not bills that should be the concern but how coronavirus cannot spread.
“You were at plenary the day we (Senate) shut down and you heard how Senate President said we are on standby for any emergency. So if there are bills that require emergency process, I think we would not hesitate to come and perform our duties so far as that can help in stabilising the country,” the lawmaker stated.
Meanwhile, the chairman of National Assembly, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan has assured that despite NASS has adjourned to prevent coronavirus spread, the lawmakers are standby for any eventuality.
Speaking after a one-hour closed-door session Lawan said the senate would be on hand to attend to any urgent legislative matter.
“The senate further resolves to adjourn sitting for two weeks from today due to the pandemic of coronavirus ravaging the entire world and therefore the senate will resume on the 7th April.
“However, the Senate will be on hand in case there is an urgent issue that requires its attention,” Lawan stated.
Solomon Ayado, Abuja