The title of this article is easily suggestive of the mood of gloom and cynicism currently trending in the country given recent happenings. But for those who expect to read another episode of lamentations, this may turn out to be a disappointing diagnosis. I make haste to add however, that this piece while not exactly a list of recorded performance, is intended to direct attention to the rays of hope for vibrant and results-driven legislative activity in the weeks, months and years ahead.
It is now a hundred days since the duo of Aminu Tambuwal and Emeka Ihedioha were overwhelmingly elected Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively by their colleagues in the House of Representatives. The natural questions that arise include: what is the remarkable feature of this 100 days milestone? What is there to highlight or celebrate? Or to put it in a dense tense given certain perceptions of the House, can anything good come out of Nazareth? It is however needful to background possible answers with this caveat: parameters of assessment are necessarily different for the executive and legislative arms respectively. While achievements for the former are often tangible and easily measurable even in the eyes of the ordinary man on the street, yardsticks for measuring success in the case of the latter are not so easily decipherable.
Upon the proclamation of the Seventh Session of the National Assembly and subsequent election of presiding officers on June 6, the House like the Senate adjoined for a period of about three weeks. This necessary recess was to enable the management of the National Assembly put things in place for effective running of the parliament. Among other things, offices needed to be assigned and prepared for occupation by Honourable members; the chamber itself needed some renovation and routine preparation; Honourable members majority of whom are first timers, needed some form of acquaintanceship with and induction in the serious business of law-making; and even the bureaucracy needed time to prepare itself for the daunting task of legislative business that lie ahead. It was therefore expeditious for the euphoria of the inauguration-cum election of presiding officers to diffuse into a timely recess for things to get sorted.
But things could not have gotten sorted if the duo of Tambuwal and Ihedioha had indulged in the hibernation of a recess. Instead, they took headlong, the challenge of leadership by coordinating efforts and putting things in place to ensure that the House had a hitch-free resumption on June 28. They used the period to tackle issues of administration and to calm nerves that had been frayed by their unprecedented and populist emergence as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively.
It is recalled for instance, how Hon. Ihedioha personally supervised and inspected renovation works going on at the time in the green chambers. The fence-mending shuttles made to chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other key figures of the political landscape of the country were undertaken by Tambuwal and his deputy during this period. That the House resumed in full verve at the end of that recess without needless distractions; and even attained some cruising attitude within the period it conducted legislative activities before a statutory recess at the end of July is testimony to the efficacious administrative acumen as well as political maturity and sagacity demonstrated by Tambuwal and Ihedioha during the break and thereafter.
Such leadership qualities, vital in piloting affairs of a 360-member House that is inherently dynamic, diverse and vibrant have been brought to bear almost instinctively by both presiding officers in carrying their colleagues along since the inauguration of the Seventh Session. Plenary sessions and meetings of the committee of the whole have been conducted with deep recognition for and appreciation of the rights, sensibilities and sensitivities of honourable members. This is because Tambuwal and his deputy are fully aware of the fact that they are merely first among equals and that they hold their offices at the grace of their colleagues whose interests and ultimately, those of their constituents must be protected and promoted. However, the most striking distinguishing feature of the Tambuwal-Ihedioha leadership so far is the unveiling of the legislative agenda by the Speaker.
The legislative agenda is by all intents and purposes the defining moment of visionary leadership of the Seventh Session of the House of Representatives. Drafted to secure the buy-in of a wide spectrum of stakeholders nationally and globally, the document which encapsulates workable and measurable benchmarks of achievements, is at one breathe a formal concession of past failings of the House and at another, a bold and courageous statement of intent to positively alter the image and perception of the green chambers in the eyes of the public.
The 23-page draft document was actively debated by honourable members who took turns one after another to commend the initiative before making suggestions and contributions that were all reflected in the final legislative agenda adopted as the holistic working paper of the House of Representatives.
In its introductory remarks, the document affirms the commitment of the House "to honouring the faith and trust reposed in it by the Nigerian people and determined to chart a new course of legislative business for the benefit of the people." Highlighting a 7-point General Principles of engagement, the legislative agenda seeks to engender legislative reforms and actions aimed at "reviving and diversifying the economy, generating employment, strengthening national security, curbing corruption, tackling the electricity crisis and general infrastructure decay that confront the nation, improving health and educational sectors and working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)."
It is clear that the ambitious task set out in the document will invariably entail relations and interface with the Senate, state legislatures, the executive arm of government, constituent bodies and the civil society among others because far-reaching activities like constitutional amendment and effective oversight for instance, cannot be undertaken effectively in the absence of collaboration and mutual support.
With this agenda through which the House "seeks to build a new image for the legislature- a strong, vibrant, effective legislature, able to assert itself as an important partner with other arms of government in the delivery of good governance, according to respect to the rule of law and due process," the Tambuwal-Ihedioha leadership has successfully laid the foundation for entrenching and deepening the country's democracy for optimal people-oriented benefits in the next four years. Apart from this novel achievement, the House also successfully amended its Rules for the conduct of legislative business before proceeding on recess. This is to strengthen the processes of the House to deliver better quality legislation, more passage of bills and effective oversight functions.
And it is precisely the quest to ensure better oversight services of the House that restructuring of the management and functions of legislative committees towards adequacy and improved productivity has been made a cardinal objective of the leadership. The need to get this foundational issue right partly explains why committees were not announced before the recess. A retreat by the leadership in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital last week clearly signals its intention to get things right. A very painstaking process has been underway to ensure that an all-inclusive selection of committee membership reflects the right balance of diversities, competencies and political sensitivities of honourable members. All of these are to ensure that the House hits the ground running when it resumes from its annual vacation on September 13.
Indeed, like Rt. Hon. Ihedioha stated in opening debate on the legislative agenda some weeks ago, the House of Representatives is now fully set to win the confidence of Nigerians. Given such pledge, the next 100 days and indeed, the thereafter, will be interesting to watch as far as people-oriented legislation is concerned.
Epia is the Media Adviser to the Honourable Deputy Speaker