▪︎Say suspension of legislative, oversight functions is a matter of concern
A coalition of 39 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has expressed concern over suspension of legislative and oversight functions by the National Assembly, pointing out that both the Senate and House of Representatives have fallen short of their statutory minimum 181 sitting days in a legilsative year.
They issued the statement on Sunday in Abuja.
The statement reads: “We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are constrained to issue this statement over the drop off of legislative activities by the National Assembly at a time when its role is more critical than ever before, not only to join the Executive in finding solutions to the unprecedented challenges facing the country but indeed to also ensure that there is no Executive overreach as emergency powers are being invoked to implement a range of measures, ostensibly to check the spread of the Coronavirus in Nigeria.
“The legislative year is June 2019 to July 2020, two months vacation,
56 days public holiday,6-week Yuletide vocation, 42 days, 7-week coronavirus break, 49 days in addition to 62 days for Saturdays and Sunday. This means 216 days out of 365 days in a year. Therefore, the National Assembly sat for only 149 days instead of the 181 days prescribed by the constitution.
“Many had thought that owing to the intermittent closure of the parliament in the wake of the pandemic and given the critical issues requiring legislative attention, that the lawmakers could have devised means of extending its plenary sittings and meeting the constitutionally-mandated 181 sitting days in a legislative year given the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Furthermore, prior to and during the ongoing vacation, the lawmakers were conducting very important investigative hearings into the mismanagement of public funds by various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government as well as into the huge Chinese loans and their terms, among others.
“Citizens who were rattled by the revelations coming out of those hearings were waiting with keen interest for their logical conclusions and outcomes.
“Hence it was good to see these activities continue even into the vacation of the lawmakers.
“It was therefore shocking to wake up to the August 19th directive by the leadership of the House of Representatives suspending all legislative activities including those investigative hearings that had captivated the nation.
“The House leadership relied on established global practice of suspending legislative activities while the institution of the legislature is on break.
“However, given the importance of the hearings and the limited time available for the National Assembly to conduct reforms in nation’s electoral laws, review the Constitution, consider the 2021 Appropriation Bill, and attend to numerous other pending legislative assignments, there was no justification or reason given for the illogical step taken by the House of Representatives to suspend committee activities.
“We dare say that even if this decision was taken with good intentions, it is ill-advised, ill-timed and unhelpful as it fuels all forms of conspiracy theories and interpretation of collusion and attempt to cover up fraud, especially given that the National Assembly is already plagued by a lack of credibility or public trust.
“The National Assembly cannot afford another bad press given its already negative image and perception by citizens.
“We therefore urge the House leadership to treat these as matters of urgent national and public importance, rescind this decision and allow various committees to carry on with legislative and oversight activities, including concluding the suspended investigative hearings.
“We also call on the House to ensure that the reports and outcomes of these investigative hearings are made publicly available and that all those who are found to be culpable should be brought to justice.
“Finally, we call on all anti-corruption agencies to live up to their responsibilities by following up on these investigative hearings to gather actionable evidence to prosecute those who have violated various anti-corruptions laws and regulations.
“There is already an enormous amount of information in the public domain and it baffles the imagination that anti-corruption agencies are sitting helplessly and tight-lipped at a time like this when they should be busy filling criminal charges against those already indicted by the evidence that emanated from the legislative hearings.”
The CSOs that signed the statement are as follows:
1. Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
2. Centre for Democratic Research and Training (CRDDERT)
3. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)
4. Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
5. Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD)
6. Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP)
7. Zero-Corruption Coalition (ZCC)
8 Accountability Maternal New-born and Child Health in Nigeria (AMHiN)
9. Partners on Electoral Reform
10. Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, PLAC
11. African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
12. National Procurement Watch Platform
13. Say NO Campaign—Nigeria
14. Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civil Education (CHRICED)
15. Social Action
16. Community Action for Popular Participation
17. Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress (BOCODEP)
18. Global Rights
19. Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE)
20. Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA)
21. Tax Justice and Governance Platform
22. Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria
23. Women In Nigeria
24. African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD)
25.Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre(RULAAC)
26.Women Advocate Research And Documentation Centre
27.Community Life Project
28.Nigerian Feminist Forum
29.Alliances for Africa
30. Spaces for Change
31.Nigerian Women Trust Fund
33.Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa
34. BudgiT Foundation
35. State of the Union (SOTU)
37.Femi Falana Chamber
38.HEDA Resource Centre
39.Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution