KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL writes on the lukewarm response to, and subsequent ineffectiveness of the many resolutions from the National Assembly
As a legislative instrument, motions are moved by lawmakers in the National Assembly to draw the attention of Executive and even key players beyond the public sector, with the goal of addressing issues as they arise and equally to enable those involved, take corrective measures and provide immediate solutions to the many challenges Nigerians face. Through motions, the National Assembly has intervened in matters which were hitherto unattended to, not addressed properly or out rightly ignored to the detriment of citizens.
Due to their usefulness, motions are raised during plenary on the three legislative days in the Senate and the House and unlike bills which undergo the long process of first, second and third readings as well as often combative public hearings, motions and the subsequent resolutions are a faster way of addressing matters of national importance as they arise. The mode of exercising the legislative powers of the National Assembly is defined in section 58 and 59 of the 1999 Constitution.
Nevertheless, the 8th House of Representatives since its inauguration in June 2015, has churned out dozens of resolutions to address major issues of national concern geared toward altering, stopping and or, introduction of policies it believes will improve the well being of the citizens around the country and beyond. However, while they are in the business of making these countless resolutions, there have been arguments as to how effective these resolutions have been and if indeed it has addressed areas which the House intended to but most importantly, whether the legislature as representatives of the people have the powers to influence other arms (given the principles of separation of powers) through resolutions given the circumstances that necessitates them, some observers are of the opinion that since resolutions do not undergo same processes as law making, they have no binding effect on other arms. Also, what the National Assembly Committees on Legislative Compliance does to ensure that bodies involved actually comply to these resolution.
Many have argued that while the National Assembly has the constitutional powers to make laws and carry out oversight functions, its resolutions are neither mandatory or binding on other arms as they are just persuasive as they are advisory.
Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay stated that resolutions by the National Assembly are merely advisory and any attempt at making them binding could lead to constitutional anarchy. “The National Assembly resolution is just an advice; it is not binding on the executive. The only thing that can be done by the National Assembly that can be binding is a bill that has been passed and transmitted to the president for assent, and he assents to it. Only then will it be binding on the executive as it is now a law”, he said.
Similarly, Segun Ajibola, SAN, posited that there are no constitutional or statutory backing for resolutions of the National Assembly to make it binding on the Executive or indeed the president. According to him, “at best, resolutions are persuasive although they are most times a product of legislative powers, by way of oversight functions provided for by the constitution”.
Even with dissenting views from both lawyers , section 5(1) (4)(a) of the constitution provides that: “The president shall not declare a state of war between the federation and another country except with the sanction of a resolution of both houses of the National Assembly, sitting in a joint session. Also, section 6(1)(4) which deals with the ideals and objectives of the nation’s economy provides that (a) the reference to the major sectors of the economy” shall be construed as reference to such economic activities made from time to time, be declared by resolution of each House of the National Assembly to be managed and operated exclusively by the Government of the Federation, and until a resolution to the contrary is made by the National Assembly, economic activities being operated exclusively by the Government of the Federation on the date immediately preceding the day when this section comes into force, whether directly or through the agencies of a statutory or other corporation or company, shall be deemed to be major sectors of the economy”.
Sections 16(2), 84(3), 105(2), 151(1)(2) and 305(1) are also explicit on resolutions of the National Assembly even as Section 1, Part III of the second schedule to the constitution also states: “where by this schedule the National Assembly is required to designate any matter or thing or to make any declaration, it may do so either by an Act of the National Assembly or by a resolution passed by both Houses of Assembly.
Although resolutions do not have the corresponding force of law, it serves as a strong legislative instrument used for influencing policies of government even as it reflects the wishes and aspirations of the people. One of many such resolutions by the House was the one urging the government to suspend of the ban on importation of vehicles through land borders, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2017. Concerned about the current economic situation in the country as well as the possible effects of such policy on Nigerians, the House called on the Executive to put to stop the policy which according to them, “will further increase the suffering of the masses at this critical time the country is in recession”.
This resolution was however, thrown back in the face of the House as well as its Senate counter-part like many others based on the argument that Nass resolutions lack binding effect.
Despite the strongly held opinion by certain observers over legislative resolutions, the House recently registered its displeasure over Ministries Department and Agencies, MDAs, ignoring directives contained in resolutions coming from the Green Chamber. The House Committee on Legislative Compliance last month, wrote the leadership of the House informing it that agencies such as Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Federal Housing Authority ,FHA, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, the Bank of Agriculture, BOA and Nigerian Export Promotion Council, NEPC blatantly refused to comply with the House’ resolution directing them to reinstate some disengaged staff who sought the intervention of the House.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Olasupo Abiodun explained that based on this, the Committee is working to ensure that these agencies get zero budget for undermining the powers of the House. Due to what could be described as the silent style of ensuring that directives from the Green Chambers is adhered to, many would consider the letter from Abiodun to be the first intervention from the Committee saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that resolutions of the House are complied with.
Some have opined that the committee on Legislative Compliance is not doing much at ensuring that MDAs, especially comply with resolutions of the House, others are of the view that the committee lacks the power to bring about compliance as resolutions, no matter how useful, are only advisory. Others blame lawmakers, for not following up to see that resolutions are complied with.
A member of the House, Hon. Abubakar Amuda Kannike who form the latter, emphasized that it is the duty of members to do a follow up on resolutions contained in motions they move. He also stressed that democracy can only be said to have blossomed in Nigeria when other Arms of government begin to comply with resolutions of the National Assembly.
“It is paramount for legislators to follow through with resolutions from motions they bring to the floor to ensure that objectives of such motions are achieved.
On his part, Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila is of the view that the Executive needs reorientation with regard to complying with resolutions from the National Assembly, even when they do not have force of law. Gbajabiamila in an interview in July 2016, also noted that the need for constitutional backing for motions passed by two-third majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in order for them to be binding. The House Leader disclosed that an amendment to that effect is in the offing.
Perhaps this development will provide the much needed legal backing to make resolutions of the House useful interventions that will impact positively on the lives of Nigerians.