Date Published: 11/01/09
NOVEMBER 1,2009 IS BANKOLE'S SECOND ANNIVERSARY AS SPEAKER: ANY DIFFERENCE?
Reps: Two years of Bankole Paradign Shift by Kayode Odunaro
With the successful transition of a civilian- to – civilian handover on May 29, 2007, much hope was placed on a thriving democracy able to deliver good governance for the people following the chequer experience of 8 years under a democratic rule.
Much hope was placed on the legislative arm of government particularly the House of Representatives in ensuring good governance for development. And when the house was inaugurated on June 2 2007 with election of Hon. Olubunmi Etteh as Speaker, the hope was renewed, the first ever female speaker expected to reposition the House for the task of good governance, accountability and transparency.
But alas, that was not to be as it soon become apparent the task was way beyond what Hon Etteh could conveniently handle. This was soon compounded by a renovation contract scandal that kept the House under tension and in public glare for months. Under the circumstance, not much could be achieve in all the critical function of the legislature and the House was divided into the Integrity Group opposed to Etteh and a pro Etteh group.
The crisis culminated in victory for the Integrity Group after, a member Hon. Aminu Safana dropped dead in the heat of one of the rancorous sessions. The House on November 1, 2007 for the first time in its history through a contested election overwhelmingly elected its Speaker without any external influence in the person of US/UK trained 37 years old Hon. Oladimeji Sabur Bankole, who promised to make the House of Representatives the “House of the Nigerian People” through robust debates and a faithful discharge of its constitutional responsibilities of law-making, oversight and representation.
From the platform that threw up Bankole as Speaker, it was clear that his mandate encompasses such virtues as transparency, integrity, accountability and pursuit of good governance. Since November 1, Bankole has set a new template for the House of Representatives in the discharge of its role with minimal confrontation and conflict with the executive arms while achieving maximum and often unprecedented results in its core areas of functions.
Using the variables of Input-Output and Outcomes, he set a tone of the House of Representatives asking relevant questions of the executives and making relevant legislation pursuant of providing solutions to anomalies of our society. The first major task and test of Bankole’s agenda was the 2007 Appropriation Bill (Budget). For Bankole, the era of the House, just ‘rubberstamping’ Appropriation Bill or any other bill for that matter is over as the House will ask questions in the format of input-output and out comes to ensure good governance. Thus its scrutiny of the 2008 Budget bill led to the discovery of unspent fund of N450 billion from the 2007 Budget in sharp contrast to the about N25 billion presented in the budget. This sum was now captured for re-appropriation in the 2008 Budget. This issue of unspent fund in the front burner of any legislative process on Appropriation Bill and in 2009 Appropriation Bill, N350 billion was return as unspent fund from the 2008 Budget. Hitherto, these unspent funds are pocketed through bogus end-of-year contracts that are not executed or some frivolous capacity building binge. As it is some ministers and legislators have fallen culprits of tampering with unspent funds and are now in court following President Umaru Yar’adua directives to MDAs to always return all unspent fund at the pain of serious sanction.
The Appropriation Bill is possibly the most important bill that the House usually passes. However, it is not the only bill that engages the House as laws has to be made in all areas of our national life. Pursuant of good governance and economic development the House under Bankole’s watch has passed 88 Bills affecting all areas of our life. Among them are two Appropriation Bills, Revolving Loan for Industry Bill, Local Content Bill in oil sector and Tobacco Smoking Bill and National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) bill among others awaiting concurrence of the Senate or Assent. This level of bill passage among over 300 bills undergoing one form of legislative process towards passage is a marked improvement for the Green Chamber. It compare favourably with similar periods in the past with about 20 bills.
Perhaps, the House under Bankole achieved most popular acclaim in the area of oversight activities. Following a resolution of the House, the House commenced an investigation to the $16 billion appropriated for Power between 1999-2007 without commensurate results. The high drama and publicity of the investigation revealed to Nigerian the level of rot, inadequate plans, misappropriation and misapplication of fund that is our lot. Inspite of controversies surrounding the report of the committee, the immediate benefits are that contractors that took huge some of money without execution of contracts are back to site and working while government is now confident to pump in more funds and avoid mistakes of the past in execution of power projects.
An similarly the House Finance Committee investigation into the finance of government discover the startling fact that in the last five years alone over N3 Trillion was not remitted to the Federation Account by MDAs as they should constitutionally. The House is now looking into our laws to rectify any defect in our laws leading to the unconstitutional expenditure of these funds or their possible misapplication or theft. If these unremitted funds are factored into our budget, Oil would begin to take the back seat in our financing of budgets. Other major oversight activities of the House are in the area of Ad-Hoc Committee on Niger Delta, Capital Market, NNPC, where it was discovered that Nigerians was losing billions of Naira in corrupt practices and Banking sector. The recommendations of these investigations are setting the pace for reforming these sectors of our national life.
The representative function of the Green Chamber equally received major fillip in the last two years in areas uncharted before now since 1999. In the first place, Bankole established the Constituency Outreach Committee that ensured member’s presence in the constituency through the establishment of functional offices. Furthermore, the issue of constituency projects was taken to a new height as it became a major appropriation issue to take care of MDGs projects across all constituencies of members. Inspite of the outcry arising out of the misunderstanding of the concept in the public domain to mean members collecting money and executing contracts, the House under Bankole was able to ensure that projects that are of benefits to various constituencies are included in the budgets for implementation by MDAs. While the MDAs have been foot-dragging in implementation, the House under Bankole is mounting pressure for implementation of the budget in this important area. The result has been a marked improvement in the level of implementation of budget. By the end of the third quarter, the country for the first time achieved a 45% budget implementation instead of the yearly range of between 25% - 30%.
On another level, Bankole has taken representative function of the House to greater heights in passing resolutions of the House addressing masses oriented issues like communication, Nigerians in Diaspora, ethnic and sectarian crises and personal and workers welfare issues. A typical example is the resolution that addressed the sectarian Jos crisis.
Again Bankole has taken representation of the people to the international level. Only recently, he lead a delegation of Nigeria legislators to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and one of the outcome was a bilateral agreement and the citing of Turkey’s aid agency TIKO, the equivalent of USAID in Nigeria with over 700millionEuros($1billion) per annum for development. Also for the first time, President Umaru Yar’Adua included Bankole in bilateral talks with the French Government last year and many BOT agreements were reached in the energy and road sector. It will be recalled that Bankole had earlier visited French National Assembly and was instrumental in this foreign policy initiative. These international forays paid off for the House as Bankole leadership qualities was recognized when he was early this year elected as the President of the Afro-Arab Parliamentary Union. Bankole equally positioned Nigeria House of Representatives strategically in the African continent by championing and sponsoring Hon Bethel Amadi to win the position of the keenly contested Vice President of Pan African Parliament
Other areas that Bankole made a difference were in human capacity building and creation of institutes. Acutely aware that over 80% of the members of the House are first timers, he facilitated many training programmes both in Nigeria and overseas on legislative practice. One of this capacity building events to USA for members revealed the dire need for legislative institutions to enhance the work of the legislators. For whereas, the US Congress have specialized institutions like Congressional Budget Office, CBO and Government Accountability Office GAO, to assist in effective legislation and a counter poise to executive control of relevant information, none of such had developed in Nigeria owing largely to prolonged military rule.
The House under Bankole’s leadership therefore passed the NABRO bill to work like US CBO and only a couple of weeks back, Bankole personal bill on Government Accountability and Audit Office passed its second reading stage preparatory to its passage into law. Indeed, this streak of creating institutions for the legislature commenced with the creation of new Standing and Ad-hoc Committees of the House. These committees as everyone can attest had made remarkable difference in the interest of the people. They include the Hon. Abike Dabiri – Erewa led Diaspora Committee, the Hon. Eziuche Ubani led Climate Change Committee and the Hon. Nnenna Ukaeje led Donor Agency Committees among others.
Of course two years of Bankole has not been restricted to the House of Representatives. Many national and international assignments have been thrust upon Bankole and he has discharged himself creditably. In 2008, Bankole was made the Amirul Hajj and leader of the Federal Government delegation to Saudi Arabia. Inspite of the usual challenges of Muslim pilgrimage which has often resulted in national scandal and shame, Bankole ensured that for the first time in 20 years, Nigeria airlifted all its intending pilgrims 48 hours ahead of the closure of Jeddah airport. Similarly feat was recorded on the return journey with all pilgrims except the sick returned home safely ahead of the January 4, 2009 deadline.
And during the sectarian violence that rocked Jos, Plateau State last year, it was Bankole that the President assigned the duty of on the spot assessment and dousing of the still raging violence. He was instrumental in restoring peace and the House’s resolution on Jos further consolidated the peace.
The achievements of these last years have come with minimal confrontation or conflict with the executive arm, a usual phenomenon in the last ten years. There is now a constructive engagement between the legislature and the executive with the president supporting the reformist legislative agenda of Bankole-led House. Mr. Speaker has also ran an orderly House where national interest, peoples welfare are the prime motivators of members instead of party affiliation or political ideology. On any debate, one can hardly differentiate arguments along party lines.
As Bankole enter another year, the major challenges are the constitutional amendment and electoral reforms, for which substantial progress has been made up to public hearings stage. Indeed, Bankole has galvanized Civil Societies, NBA and Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform, CODER to change from mere agitation to useful contributors to the House work on Electoral Reforms. And with the firm promise on delivering on these two key issues, this present House under the leadership of Bankole may yet be the most definitive in advancement of people’s interest, good governance and consolidation of our democratic experience.
Chief Kayode Odunaro JP
Special Adviser, Communications
Speaker, House of Representatives.