By Aminu Tambuwal
Today’s sitting marks the third anniversary of the Seventh Assembly, House of Representatives of Nigeria’s National Assembly. We have come a long way indeed since our inauguration on 6th June, 2011, and we all must give thanks to the Almighty God for His guidance and protection.
2. Before proceeding further, Honourable Colleagues, you will recall that in the course of the past year, one of our colleagues, Hon. Raphael Nomiye passed on. The loss of any member of the family diminishes the whole family and we the members of this family fortunate to have been spared so far by the Almighty mourn our brother, Hon. Nomiye.
3. Of course, needless to say, virtually every member lost some of his or her constituents. Most heart-wrenching of all are the deaths of hundreds of Nigerians as a result of Boko Harm terrorism and communal conflicts. Shall we therefore rise to observe one minute silence in honour of the memory of our fallen colleague and our lost constituents especially our compatriots lost to the needless bloodshed of terrorism, including our dedicated men and women in the armed forces.
4. May their souls rest in peace. Amen.
ON THE LEGISLATIVE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE 3RD SESSION
5. We will recall that at the inauguration of this 3rd Session, I had called our attention to the need to deal decisively with the core issues that diminish the quality of lives of Nigerians, especially unemployment, poverty and insecurity. Our legislative agenda unveiled at the commencement of the 7th House of Representatives session was designed to advance these goals. I must commend you all for your sense of diligence, patriotism and self-sacrifice and for the way you assiduously applied yourselves to the execution of your mandate and the advancement of our legislative agenda. As your Speaker, I can proudly and confidently attest to your commitment and dedication to the cause of nation building. The result of your commitment is seen in the modest achievement recorded by this House in this 3rd Session.
6. On legislation, a total of 169 bills were introduced during the Session, of which 46 passed second reading and 27 were subsequently passed into law. Six more bills have been laid on the Table and are awaiting the action of the Committee of the whole. In addition to the bills, several motions on matters of national importance were passed during the session.
7. On the performance of its oversight functions, the House did its utmost best to exercise this very important constitutional mandate which has always been contentious because of the direct and indirect opposition by the very entities that the Constitution gave us the power and the responsibility to oversight. During the session under review, findings at oversight visits as well as complaints and petitions from members of the public consistently revealed the extent to which corruption has eaten into the fabric of the stewardship of public resources. We responded by launching necessary investigations to shine needed light into the darker recesses of public resource management in Nigeria, and where routine investigation is inadequate, we empanelled special committees to carry out a more thorough inquiry.
8. Strangely, the collective experience of our members in the course of their exercise of their oversight functions is that there is a growing culture of impunity on the part of public officers in Nigeria which makes them inclined to resist the ethos of accountability. Some hesitate to honour their invitation to appear before the House, while others resort to litigation in an attempt to frustrate legislative oversight of their activities.
9.I wish to assure Nigerians that the House of Representatives will not be intimidated into abdicating its sacred duty to provide robust checks and balances to executive action, especially for the purpose of exposing corruption in the polity and of ensuring the judicious management of our commonwealth.
CHALLENGES TO OUR DEMOCRACY
10. Unfortunately, over the course of the past year, we have witnessed several challenges to our democracy. These challenges have manifested both in the affairs of this House and in the larger Nigeria society. Permit me to highlight some of the instances where obstacles were seemingly deliberately placed on the path of our progress to genuine democracy.
Challenges in the Budgetary Process
11. This Honourable House has only recently concluded the exercise of approving the 2014 Budget. The problem which the House experienced in the budgetary process emanated from several factors including the entrenched culture of lateness in budget preparation and submission to the National Assembly by the Executive branch.
12. There have also been attempts to denigrate the National Assembly for our insistence on instilling sanity in the budgetary process. Only recently, a certain government spokesman was quoted as claiming that the National Assembly ‘distorted’ the 2014 budget. It is inconceivable that an institution endowed by the Constitution with the legal duty and power to perform a function can be said to be distorting the performance of that function. Those desirous of a National Assembly that will merely rubberstamp a draft budget submitted to it by the Executive must look elsewhere.
Resorts to the Courts
13. During the session, we witnessed the dawn of a disturbing trend whereby people now go to court to stop the National Assembly from exercising its constitutional mandate and conducting its internal operations. This is unheard of in jurisdictions where genuine democracy is practiced and venerated. The usual democratic practice is that the powers of the courts are activated to challenge laws enacted by the legislature. This is the proper manner in which the judiciary is enabled to perform its constitutional function as the interpreter of both the constitution and duly enacted laws. It is neither usual nor appropriate for the judiciary to be used pre-emptively to stop the legislature from acting in the first place. This is an encroachment on the powers of the legislature and a slap in the face of the principle of Separation of Powers. I urge all members of this Honourable House to recommit themselves to the defence of the integrity of the legislative process and resist the temptation to be part of this dangerous trend that will only succeed in bringing the legislature to ridicule.
Abridgment of the Rights of Nigerians
14. Outside the chambers of this House, we have witnessed far too many instances of abuse of the fundamental rights of Nigerians. Perhaps the greatest challenge to democracy is the trampling underfoot of the fundamental rights of citizens. Without a doubt Nigeria has made appreciable progress in the enthronement of a culture of respect for human rights, but there is still so much left to be done and it is the duty of this House to ensure not only that new gains are achieved but also that the gains of the past are not eroded. We have had several sad cases of extrajudicial killing, detention without trial, denial of due process, etc.
15. As if to buttress our descent into the pits of reckless disregard for the rights of citizens, the nation recently woke up to the sad dawn of a Commissioner of Police acting on his own initiative, without clearance from his superiors and in flagrant contravention of the clear Constitutional guarantees of the right of citizens audaciously purporting to ban the peaceful assembly of Nigerians. This is an unacceptable abridgement of the rights of Nigerians to freedom of speech, association and peaceful assembly, and this House must treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves. The fact that the office of the Inspector-General of Police felt compelled to deny the action of the Police Commissioner only goes to underscore the audaciousness of the conduct of the Police Commissioner.
16. As important as all our duties and functions as the legislative arm in a democratic government are, none is more important than our duty to protect and preserve the rights guaranteed to all Nigerians by our Constitution. Any attempt by anybody to infringe on the rights of Nigerians is a direct affront to this House. This House must therefore take necessary measures to ensure that such sacrilege does not repeat itself anywhere in Nigeria. The culture of impunity at the highest levels of governance in Nigeria must be brought to a halt.
17. These are some of the several instances of direct and indirect challenges to the development of our democracy, and I urge Honourable Members to rededicate themselves to the defence of democracy in Nigeria. This mission is now even more desperately urgent in view of the fact that the 2015 elections are fast approaching and by all indications, those elections will test the resilience of Nigeria’s democracy.
THE STATE OF THE NATION
18. Honourable Colleagues, as you all know, it is customary for us to use the occasion of the anniversary of our inauguration to review our activities in the past year, celebrate our achievements and acknowledge our failings with the objective to use these failings as launch pad for more focused action in the next legislative session.
19. This year’s anniversary demands a different approach. Our 3rd anniversary is coming at a time that our nation is in a particularly agitated state, to put it mildly. The state of the Nation, dear colleagues is dire and disturbing. Those same national problems that we identified at the beginning of this Session as issues to address frontally seem to have escalated in intensity, subjecting Nigerians to excessive hardship and psychological trauma. Our people are still caught in the stranglehold of poverty. Unemployment has reached levels hitherto unknown in Nigeria. A most blatant manifestation of the dangerous burden of unemployment on Nigerians was displayed on Saturday 15th March 2014, when hundreds of thousands of Nigerians thronged stadia all across the nation to vie for a few thousand jobs advertised by the Nigerian Immigration Service. No less than twenty young Nigerians lost their lives in the stampede that emanated from that poorly organized and hopelessly mismanaged exercised. Do we as members of this Honourable House not have a duty to find a way to protect Nigerians from such horrible experiences and needless loss of promising lives?
Insecurity in the Land
20. By far the most disturbing challenge to our nation at this time is the challenge of insecurity. The spiraling spate of insecurity occasioned by mindless violence and brutality by Boko Haram insurgents and terrorists has stretched our mental and emotional resistance to unacceptable limits.
21. On Tuesday, 11th March, 2014, on a day we designated to mourn the dastardly act of the murder by Boko Haram of dozens students peacefully asleep in their beds in Government Secondary School, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, I delivered a speech in this Honourable House in which I lamented the failure of the Nigerian State to protect its young and vulnerable citizens. Sadly, the Buni Yadi horror turned out to be only the beginning of more horrors. Since the Buni Yadi attack, Nigerians have been subjected to more terrorist attacks of increasing brazenness and brutality. We have witnessed bomb attacks on Nyanya in Abuja, in Kano, in Jos, and of course in the frontline states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States.
22. And then, on the night of 14th April, 2014, the nation was visited with a most excruciating nightmare from which it is yet to awaken. On that night, in Chibok, Borno State, more than 200 school girls were abducted from their dormitories by Boko Haram terrorists and have been held in callous captivity ever since. Can we even imagine the horrible deprived life that these poor children have been living in captivity? Can we begin to imagine the pain that has been wracking the souls of the parents of these children since their abduction?
23. The sad, unfortunate and callous abduction of the Chibok girls has greatly injured our national pride and attracted for Nigeria unwanted global attention and global scorn. Once again, the attack on our innocent children on their school calls into question our credential as a nation that takes care of its citizens and our capacity as a government to perform the very basic constitutional duty of safeguarding the security and welfare of our people. It is now almost two months since the kidnap of the Chibok girls. We must ask ourselves in this Chamber whether we have done all that is in our power to ensure the release or rescue of these poor innocent girls of Chibok.
24. Today, on this august occasion of our third anniversary, I wish to unreservedly add my voice to the chorus of national and global voices that are pleading, requesting and demanding: BringBackOurGirls. But this House must not limit itself to the slogan of #BringBackOurGirls. We must come up with imaginative ideas not only to bring back these girls alive and well but to protect other children of Nigeria against such trauma in the future.
25. We wish to commend our Military for their gallantry in the ongoing campaign against terrorism. May we also express our profound appreciation to the international community for the spontaneous outpouring of solidarity with Nigeria in our war with terror.
26. Granted, this House has not exactly been folding its arms over Nigeria’s security’s challenges. Over the past year, we have authorized the necessary appropriation towards the enhancement of our national security, and recently we timeously approved the extension of the State of Emergency proclaimed by the President to facilitate the prosecution of the campaign against insurgency in the three North East states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. But given the grievousness of the situation, perhaps we are called upon to do more.
IMPERATIVE FOR HOUSE COHESION AND UNITY
27. During the past year, unfortunately, some of the core attributes that represent the source of our strength in this House came under attack. Over the past three years, Nigerians have observed in the members of the House of Representatives of the 7th National Assembly a strong sense of brotherly and sisterly love, a unity of purpose and a unified embrace of a vision of greatness for our dear nation, Nigeria. That unity of purpose was most famously demonstrated and cemented in the manner we chose our leadership at the commencement of this Session. The manner this House withstood external pressure and endowed for itself a leadership of its choosing remains a source of bewilderment to those who were used to politics of imposed leadership and shortchanged followers but a source of confidence in ordinary Nigerians that democracy has a future in Nigeria.
28. We have gone ahead to continue to demonstrate that unity of purpose and mutual respect and affect, despite repeated and intensifying attempts by external forces to unravel that fabric of togetherness that has held us in cohesion. Brothers and sisters, we must continue to resist these forces of division.
29. Developments on the floor of this house in recent times remind us that as united as we are, we still have to contend with the reality of political party cleavages. Certainly there is nothing wrong with advancing the cause and interests of our respective political parties. That is the essence of democracy. But we must never lose sight of the fact that this House has succeeded most on those occasions when we have risen above our political differences and worked together as a cohesive unit. We must also never forget that the interest of our nation Nigeria far outweighs the parochial interest of the political parties.
30. My dear colleagues, we must not waver in our love for our dear nation, in our commitment to its progress and development and in our dedication to the cause of nation building. Whatever action we take, let these continue to be our guiding principles. Whatever action we take, let these continue to be our guiding principles. We have never had any doubt of God’s love for Nigeria, the proof of which is that this nation has continued to survive despite all the dark predictions of its disintegration.
As Nigerians, we have a duty to love ourselves at the very least as God loves us, and for us as Honourable Members, this House affords us the platform and the opportunity to demonstrate that love for our dear nation.
31. Congratulations once again on the 3rd Anniversary of this House. Thank you for listening and for being the most honourable Honourable members any Speaker can ask for.
32. May God bless you all and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.