Opprobrious NASS and the 2019 budget
By Gabriel Ikese
The ideal of popular election of Legislators is generally regarded as admirable. Yet the selection process does not always permit the widest possible choices.
And that has been our albatross here in Nigeria. The legislature is expected to reflect the electorate’s preferences, but that is in the Whiteman countries, not in our clime. In the 8th session of the National Assembly, it is rarely the case. If you followed the antecedents of our lawmakers and the trajectory of the NASS, you will obviously smell the dead rat.
In saner democracies around the globe, the legislature is an institution of reputable model for discipline and patriotism. It is the sanctimonious fulcrum of any working democracy as showcased in the America system. Legislators were embodiment of untainted character with high level of integrity, uprightness and moral decency. But that is clearly not our portion as the difference is miles apart.
Perhaps for the enormity of our sins against God the Father, He decided to inflict us with such pains, not with epidemic disease as alluded to by Governor Yari of Zamfara State, but allowing this 8th class of Lawmakers to represent us. The 8th NASS appears to be completely deficient of any sterling qualities and became the cynosure of chronic legislative rascality, demonic impunity and financial impudence.
Another budget session is here again, and the NASS has begun to manifest the usual symptoms of chronic insensitivity and unpardonable cluelessness. They are poised to throw up another frivolous mischief to undermine the 2019 budget process even before it is laid on the floor of the combine congress. The recurring acrimonious uproar that accompanied the passing of our budgets over the past 3 years is regrettably appalling.
Members of the House of Representatives at plenary has threatened to boycott the anticipated presentation of 2019 budget estimate by President Muhammadu Buhari over an alleged comment by the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma. The dignity of our lawmakers has greatly eroded. Their insensitivity to the plight of citizens is obviously very legendary.
Members could not choose a better time to demonstrate their folly, but when government is trying to consolidate on the progress at sustaining the economic growth with a sound budget proposal for 2019. They decided to lash on a frivolous and unsubstantiated allegation to sabotage the smooth passing of the 2019 Budget proposal. This irritating arrogance is the height of insensibility without even batting an eye lid to the reality of the plight of Nigerians that are dependent on the budget for sustenance and development.
The House dissipated so much energies and time discussing irrelevant and baseless allegation by a Minister accusing them of the delay in the presentation of the 2019 Budget. It is a surprise that the House would threaten to frustrate the budget process on a mere allegation that is largely irrelevant, and has not compromised the content of the 2019 budget.
Members were so serious that they vigorously amplified a derogatory word that the Minister LIED on television. It is an unparliamentary word that the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, carefully avoided in his response. To support their frustration, a member went further to cite Order Six, Rule 14 of the laws of the House alluding to a breech on his privilege and that of the House, and claiming that the Minister portrayed members of the NASS as “irresponsible people before Nigerians”.
Our lawmakers are good with their imaginations. If that is the line of thinking, then I will support any reasonable action that will prove the correctness or contrary of this line of thought. The Hallowed Chamber should not accommodate irresponsible characters that would bring the legislature to disrepute. With all seriousness, member should probe what perception ordinary Nigerians hold of their integrity. And would also probe their conscience and take a good look at the mirror. Perhaps, they will get answers that would satisfy their curiosities.
Be that as it may, the alleged remark by the Honourable Minister should not be enough reason for members to boycott the Budget presentation by the President. Such action would not only be irrational, it will be illogical and unpatriotic. Doing so will only confirm the allusion that members are indeed irresponsible and insensitive to the realities of the adverse effect a further delay in passing the 2019 budget could cause the economy.
Our budgets cannot continue to suffer unnecessary and avoidable delay after presentations. The primary responsibility of NASS is to make laws, such as the proposed 2019 budget, which will help to grow the economy. Lawmakers cannot be lackadaisical in passing the budget for whatsoever reason. Presenting the 2019 budget proposals in December should not be an excuse to delay the passing of the bill within reasonable time. 2017 and 2018 budgets were presented November, fairly reasonable time frame but still lingered for over 5 months at the National Assembly.
Members of the legislature should be patriotic enough to put aside personal interests and frivolous allegations from any quarters for the overriding national interest in passing the budget expeditiously. With commitment and adequate capacity, the budget can be passed in 30 working days. Hon Sergius Ogun, representing Esan North/East Constituency, said on National Television that the Nigerian Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU) bill was passed in 8 working days when the Egmont Group suspended Nigeria and threatened expulsion from the group over lack of autonomy. Therefore there is no reason the 2019 budget bill will not be accorded with such attention and speed.
It is sad that lawmakers would value treachery over integrity and flex muscles over issues of absolute irrelevance. While the budget bill lingers, 71 members of the House of Representatives seek to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary model in Nigeria. Again, if you ask Nigerians, it is another exercise that would end up in futility. The legislators can easily be predicted. The bill is another channel to corruptly enrich themselves like previous constitutional amendment exercise at the Senate.
The 8th NASS is endowed with remarkable quantity of mischief and insatiable financial lucre. The House sold us a dummy with an orchestrated agenda to deliver legislation in aid of development and reforms aimed at improving conditions of living in Nigeria. That was a fluke. Monetization took over legislative intellectualism and selflessness in lawmaking process in the country. Their arrogance and fastidious desire for luxuries has turned NASS into a chamber of business, which is akin to the biblical Holy Temple of Jerusalem converted to the House of trade and commerce by its entrusted custodians.
NASS members should embrace attitudinal change with the right mindset in the overriding interest of the country. The 2019 budget proposal should be expeditiously considered and passed in record time as a test of integrity and attestation of a responsible legislature. This would change the negative perception of lawmakers and the hallowed institution of the National Assembly.
Ikese writes from Jos