As campaigns resumes in full swing, BIYI ADEGOROYE, writes that governance in many parts of the country has been pushed to the back stage
From the start of the electioneering campaign in December last year, it was crystal clear that the tardiness and late commencement of the parties would have untold effects on governance. Whereas the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) timetable stipulated November 18 as the take-off day of the presidential campaign, none of the political parties commenced that month.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) tarried till December 3, while the All Progressives Congress, (APC) delayed for another 16 days, commencing theirs on December 19. Since then, governance in all states of the federation has practically shut down, leaving the 2019 budget proposals sent to the national and state assemblies unattended to.
While President Muhammadu Buhari junkets from one state to another seeking re-election, his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is either on the campaign train, or he is soliciting subtlety for votes through the distribution of Tradermoni at the markets to the excitement of many beneficiaries.
Hence on Wednesday, January 24, even the Federal Executive Council could not hold in Abuja for the same reason – President Buhari and his team were on campaign trip to the North-East states of Sokoto and Kebbi, selling his candidacy to the electorate. The following day, he moved to the South-East commercial city, Onitsha, in Anambra State for the same purpose.
Of course, the President does not go alone on such trips. Besides his national campaign committee that follows his trail, many government officials, especially ministers, top appointed public officers and lawmakers in the respective region of campaign are on his entourage leaving their offices almost empty.
The legislature is not any better as only 10 senators out of the 109, last Tuesday were at plenary, while 98 stayed away, preventing the highest lawmaking body in the land from forming a quorum. The 10 senators who were present at plenary were: Bukola Saraki, Olusola Adeyeye, Philip Aduda and Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha.
Others were Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Francis Alimikhena, Andrew Uchendu, Gbenga Ashafa (APC-Lagos) and Shaaba Lafiagi (PDP-Kwara). Also, Senators Suleiman Adokwe (PDP-Nasarawa) and Gbolahan Dada (APC-Ogun) were present in the Chamber for the aborted plenary.
At 10:30a.m, when the Chamber was called to order by the Chief Whip, Senator Shola Adeyeye, the Red Chamber was scanty. The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, had called on Senator Andrew Uchendu (APC-Rivers) to move for adoption of votes and proceedings of Thursday, January 17, which he did and seconded by the Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda.
Shortly after the adoption, the Senate Chief Whip had moved a motion, calling for adjournment of plenary on the ground that the Chamber did not form a quorum and was seconded by the Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha.
Order 10(1) of the Senate Standing Rule, 2015 (as amended), stipulates that the quorum of the Senate shall be one-third of the members of the Senate, which is 37 out of 109 senators. Also, Section 54(2) of the 1999 Constitution (Amended) states that “the quorum of the Senate or the House of Representatives shall be one-third of all the members of the legislative house concerned.”
Therefore, for any decision of the Red Chamber to be valid and binding, 37 senators are expected to be present in the Chamber to form quorum. This means that 98 serving senators out of the 109 senators were absent from the session, as one of them, Senator Joshua Dariye (APC, Plateau Central), is currently serving a prison sentence, following his conviction of charges of corruption last year by an Abuja court.
From all indications, the forthcoming Presidential and National Assembly elections were responsible for the low turnout of senators for legislative activities in plenary. According to inquiries, most of the senators, particularly those who got return tickets in the last primary elections, have gone to their various constituencies to campaign and canvass for votes.
It will be recalled that the various political parties across the country conducted their primary elections in September and October 2018, ahead of the general elections, which according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) timetable, will hold on February 16 and March 2 this year.
Following the INEC schedule, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 16, 2019 while the governorship and state assembly elections will take place on March 2nd.
In the senatorial elections, only 69 out of the serving senators, who contested for return tickets, were successful at the primaries and will test their popularity at the polls.
Similarly, eight out of 12 others, who contested for gubernatorial tickets in their respective states made it while the remaining 33 others totally lost out of the primary elections and will subsequently not participate at all in the forthcoming general elections.
The 68 senators striving to return to the apex legislative chamber in the National Assembly elections slated for Saturday, February 16, 2019 will be contesting under different political party platforms.
Those who did not get return tickets from their parties to re-contest also went home to join the campaign trains of either their state governors or other governorship candidates or presidential candidates they are supporting, to carry on with the on-going campaigns across the country.
Commenting on the lack of quorum by the lawmakers, Senator Shehu Sani (PRP, Kaduna Central), corroborated the position that the on-going nationwide election campaigns were responsible for the development.
He also said that the situation would continue until after the general elections, saying that the passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill currently before the National Assembly would not be passed till after the elections.
“Senators and even the House of Representatives members are all in the field campaigning for votes because the presidential and the National Assembly elections will take place in less than a month. So, don’t expect them to come and sit down here when they are facing these very serious elections.
Following the inability of the lawmakers to form the required quorum, none of the items listed on the day’s Order Paper were considered.
A similar incident occurred about two months ago, (on Nov 13, 2018) where inability to form a quorum forced the Senate to adjourn its plenary to November 20. While the Red Chamber needs at least 38 senators to carry out legislative activities at plenary, the total number of senators who attended the day’s sitting was about 20, who according to order 10.3 cannot sit to legislate.
The same Senator Aduda cited Order 10 and moved that since a majority of senators were on oversight duty, plenary should be adjourned. He was seconded by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. The reason then was that all senators were then on oversight functions and should try to complete such duties and return to the Senate. The Senate has adjourned till after February 16 elections.
House of Rep
In the House of Representatives, there seem to be a measure of difference, though both Houses have never recorded full or 80 per cent attendance since they reconvened for parliamentary activities on January 16 after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The lower chamber has a lot of unfinished businesses, like the 2019 budget, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which was rejected by President Buhari early December, 2018, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Like the electoral act amendment, President Buhari had in August 2018 withheld assent to the harmonised Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) for constitutional and legal reasons.
Also pending is the Obono-Obla’s indictment were the House adopted the report of its ad hoc committee led by Hon. Aliyu Ahman-Pategi, which indicted the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu on Anti-corruption and Chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla of forgery and alleged abuse of office.
In line with our earlier report, there are many ongoing- investigations by the House requiring attention. They include investigations into the OPL 245 also known as Malabu oil bloc scandal, which was half way through before the lawmakers went on break.
Protagonists, however, argue that negative effect of the campaign of governance was minimal, since the bureaucracy still operates daily. A Director in one of the federal ministries said that governance was not stalled by the absence of a minister because, to him there is no vacuum as “the civil servants carry out their daily activities.”
SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said there is no doubt that campaign would affect governance, because there are many serious state and national issues that require attention of the government.
“I am aware that many of them are seeking re-election, which is their right, but they should endevour to serve their current term to the benefit of the people. Also, the constitution is very clear as to the number of sittings they must have every year.
“The constitution says they must sit for at least 181 days in a year. So if they are still within that time frame, then all well and good. But the fact is that governance should not suffer at the expense of politics,” he ssaid