2021: House of Representatives in retrospect

JOSHUA EGBODO in this piece, examines key activities of Nigeria’s House of Representatives during the outgoing year, 2021 (in no specific order or sequence), and the promises offered as it resumes from the Yuletide break in January next year
The PIB, after a tortuous journey
To many Nigerians, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), now an Act of the parliament was an essential economic legislation, which unfortunately went through a lot of tortuous huddles, before it was finally passed, and subsequently signed into law. The legislation sought a unified legal framework for Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, after about two decades of its conception.
Regional, economic politics as obstacles
Conceived about 20 years ago, the PIB was formally transmitted to the National Assembly for its consideration and passage for over 13 years. Soon after its introduction, there were issues raised on its propriety, with regional interests and reported clandestine opposition of major international oil companies (IOCs) becoming the albatross against its progress, thus repeated failed attempts at passing it.
Opposition elements saw the bill as a move to adding too much more to an already substantially favoured Niger Delta area of Nigeria. The debates usually took into consideration, the existence of a special  federal ministry dedicated to affairs of the region, as well as the gap-bridging development interventions of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), an agency that came into existence through a rare feat of an override of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s veto, and then the 13 percent oil derivation revenue allocation to oil producing states.
The booster
Pundits observed that a fresh impetus to progress made by the bill may have been the new dimension through which it came. In the House of Representatives, it was usually a private member’s bill which many always took with a pinch of suspicion. However, this time, it came as an executive bill from President Muhammadu Buhari. That latest version of the  bill enjoyed a wide support of the parliament, with a lot of reforms introduced.
The Act offered a globally competitive and progressive fiscal framework that places Nigeria as the desired investment destination in Africa, balancing rewards with risk and enhancing revenues to the federal government, as well as easily implementable and clearer fiscal framework, transparency and effectiveness, and an enhanced revenue base for Nigeria amongst others.
Defying the odds
The 9th House of Representatives has been roundly commended by experts in the industry, for breaking the jinx, passing the Bill, which was seen as a motivating factor for the Senate to take a similar path.
Addressing newsmen after adoption of its report, Chairman of the Special Ad hoc panel on the bill, and Chief Whip of the House, Tahir Monguno, recalled how for a long while, the PIB suffered in the hands of past assemblies, noting that “this time, the 9th house has decided to take the bull by the horns. We passed it with the speed of light because of the urgency it required. Nigerian has lost a lot”.
Also, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila immediately after the adoption, described the action as underscoring a big feat achieved by the House. “I want to commend the 74 wise men (members of the Ad hoc committee) for their commitment, their industry, the scholarship in producing this document. This house will be remembered for a long time”, he said.
President Muhammadu Buhari, not long after signed the bill into law, even as he requested amendments to certain provisions in the Act.
The controversial Electoral Act amendment bill
Another legislative instrument which the current House under the leadership of Gbajabiamila was the Electoral Act amendment bill. Prior to inauguration of the 9th assembly, President Buhari had repeatedly declined assent to all further attempts at further reforms of the nation’s electoral system. Drafting errors, and later, closeness to the general elections were reasons he cited.
But with the wide belief that the President may have gotten his allies in place, as presiding officers of both houses of the National Assembly, and so a seamless sail for the bill, it was dramatic that the President again, vetoed the bill.
This time, the controversy was on the mandatory suggestion that all political parties in the country must adopt the use of direct primaries in selecting candidates for electoral offices. Another provision which almost stall the bill in the parliament, that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) electronically transmits election results appeared to have been suffice try addressed, and may have been a non-issue to the president.
In a letter read to members at the House’s last plenary of the year by Gbajabiamila, the President cited some possible challenges inherent in the recommendation for the use of only direct primaries for the election of candidates for electoral offices by political parties. 
“The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 seeks to amend certain provisions of the extant Electoral Act 2010. Part of the objective of the Bill is the amendment of the present Section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010 to delete the provision for the conduct of indirect primaries in the nomination of party candidates such that party candidates can henceforth only emerge through direct primaries.
He noted that after a careful review of the bill, “the pertinent issues implicated as follows to wit: The conduct of direct primaries across the 8,809 wards across the length and breadth of the country will lead to a significant spike in the cost of conducting primary elections by parties as well as increase in the cost of monitoring such elections by INEC who has to deploy monitors across these wards each time a party is to conduct direct primaries for the presidential, gubernatorial and legislative posts…. 
“The indirect consequences of the issues of high cost and monetization are that it will raise financial crimes and constitute further strain on the economy. It will also stifle smaller parties without thé enormous resources required to mobilise all party members for thé primaries. This is not healthy for the sustenance of multi-party democracy in Nigeria”, adding that the process will also put a strain on the security forces, which may need to be deployed, amongst other issues.
The climate change bill
One other notable, and also in line with global trends was the passage of the Climate Change bill, now an Act, now an Act, Sam Onuigbo disclosed after it was signed into law that the journey to getting his proposal into law was a long one.
“The journey to Nigeria getting a Climate Change Act was a long and tortuous one. Today, the success we recorded with Mr. President assenting to the Bill passed by this incredible 9th Assembly, glosses over the pains. For this, we must be thankful to His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, for exhibiting precocious leadership and matching his promise of May 29, 2015, with action”, the lawmaker said.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila had earlier commended his efforts at seeing the legislation through all the huddles.
Constitution review
Further efforts at altering the nation’s constitution has been ongoing, with zonal public hearings already held, and more engagements expected as the House resumes from the ongoing break.
Beyond lawmaking
Outside the conventional lawmaking exercise, followers have pointed out some interventions of the current House of Representatives in the course of the year, that has helped, or are helping to address certain challenges facing Nigeria. One of such readily cited was the intervention on insecurity: The House deliberated, passed and forwarded to Mr. President, the report of its Special Summit on National Security, making far-reaching recommendations, which president Buhari personally acknowledged, and pledged to implement by way of policies and legislative proposals where necessary.
Also on the mandate of the House through resolutions in some cases, intervention by Speaker Gbajabiamila paid off in resolving some industrial disputes, one of which was the yet, another threat by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to down tools. He got the key players, the union, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, and the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National planning on the same page for the way forward in addressing the earned allowances debacle.
The Speaker on the mandate of the House, also successfully made  the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to suspend its strike, which was taking a great negative toll on the citizens who were seeking care in federal government owned hospitals.
High expectations
The house is currently on the Yuletide break, with plans to resume on January 18, 2022. Nigerians are highly expectant that key unresolved issues will be addressed. One of the biggest, the Electoral Act amendment bill. Speaker Gbajabiamila though assured that the matter will be revisited as the House resumes, fears have been however that with the politics involved, the desires of greater number of Nigerians may not be granted after all.