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Dear lawmaker, change begins with you

I had a hearty laugh, recently, when the National Assembly announced plans to embark on an image laundering project. The objective of the image laundering, according to to the leadership of the federal legislature is to change the negative perception of Nigerians about the parliament.

Addressing National Assembly correspondents, the Senate Leader, Lawan said the aim of the project was perception change ahead of the third anniversary of the eight Assembly on June 9, so that Nigerians can see the lawmakers in more positive light. As part of the project, the National Assembly would hold an “Open Week”, where members of the public would interact with the lawmakers at a close range.

In the words of the Senate Leader: “The planned open week is a welcome development, which will serve as a platform for the public to interact with federal legislators at close range towards understanding the constitutional functions of the National Assembly, particularly as regards constituency projects. “The open week will bring to the fore required knowledge about the workings of the National Assembly, which are, fundamentally, lawmaking, representation and oversight functions on the workings of all Federal Government agencies.

“As lawmakers, we no doubt feel bad about the negative perception of the National Assembly and we must change it in the interest of democracy which to us cannot be development driven going by the way the institution is misunderstood by Nigerians.” No doubt, the perception of the legislature among Nigerians is very negative. Not a few Nigerians see the lawmakers as a bunch of public officials, who fed fat on the nation, without adding much value. Therefore , the move to embark on an image laundering is understandable, especially as reputation is key in public relations.

Why then was I amused? The leadership of NASS has left the substance to begin to chase shadows. The decision of the federal legislature to change public perception about it is neither here nor there. Before embarking on any move to burnish its image, the parliament must first of all push for atitudinal change among lawmakers. Anything short of that is tantamount to a wild goose chase. The reputation problem, the legislature is suffering from, is self inflicted. Therefore, if the public is to begin to view them differently, the change must begin from them. A good public image is never accidental. It is achieved through deliberately planned and sustained efforts.

It is even ridiculous that the National Assembly, is planning an “open week”, to enable Nigerians interact with their representatives, who should be very accessible to their constituents. That in itself is an indictment on the legislature. It is true that every now and then, there is public angst about the mouth watering pay federal legislators get. However, methinks the issue is not majorly about the emoluments of the lawmakers. The bone of contention is that most of the lawmakers offer little or nothing in return to the polity. Afterall, it is said that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” For instance, there are 360 members of the House of Representatives. Out of the number, less than 120 members, which is one- third of the House, participate actively in the activities of the House.

On a typical legislative day, you can hardly have up to 80 members on the floor of the House at the commencement of plenary. Similarly, it is rare to find up to 50 lawmakers in the chamber at the close of the day’s business. There are several members of the House, who have not stepped their feet in the chamber since this year. Among the few House members who attend plenary, several of them have not uttered a single word in the Chamber since the 8th House was inaugurated in June, 2015. Many lawmakers have not even seconded a motion, not to talk of contributing to debates. Not even to get angry and bang the table.
For this group of legislators who are clearly in the majority, sponsoring a bill or motion is clearly out of it. A report by a national daily, recently, indicated that 161 members of the lower chamber of the National Assembly are yet to sponsor a single bill, 26 months after they assumed office. Although 199 members are credited with the sponsorship of one bill or the other, some of the so-called bills, are just one line amendments to existing laws. Now, tell me, how can an image laundering project help the National Assembly, without an attitudinal change by the lawmakers. That is not to say that there are no hardworking legislators. There are federal lawmakers, who are very committed to their legislative duties. However, they are very few.

The Constitution anticipated that there would be absentee members of the legislature and prescribes how to deal with them. Section 68(f) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states in very clear terms that a member of the National Assembly shall lose his seat if “ without just cause he is absent from meetings of the House of which he is a member for a period amounting in the aggregate to more than one-third of the total number of days during which the House meets in anyone year.”

Unfortunately , this section of the constitution is observed in the breach by the leadership. Similarly, the House rules, just like the Senate rules, in anticipation that there would be truants and deviants among its members provided for the Ethics and Privileges Committee. The committee is saddled with the discpline of errant members.

Ironically, no single lawmaker has been disciplined by the Committee for dereliction of duties in the past three years. The challenge of the National Assembly is that there are a lot of “Achans” in the camp. For the image of the legislature to change positively, these Achans must be isolated and “bombed”.

Re:On Peace Corps Bill, I stand with Buhari

I read your caption above and its content. I stand to say you got it all wrong. Did you know the reason? Boko Haram cannot be defeated because of insincerity on the part of our leaders; same as herdsmen issue. You produce graduates every year but no job. Is that what you like? May I remind you that if government fails to provide job to the numerous graduates; time will come, when all rich men will have no place to sleep, including you, the writer. You are from the eastern part of the country, tell me any federal road in that part of the country that is passable but all are included in the budget of 2017 and 2018.
If you have no meaningful suggestion on the Peace Corps, don’t write nonsense. You paid agent.
-Prince Elvis Somto, Anambra

Thank you for standing with the oppressors . And for failing to see the failures of the existing security agencies. You are indeed a great mind. Or are you just seeking for federal appointment? Where are those who were appointed in the past?
-Amutaeze Onyebuchi Nwodoh

The Peace Corps should be merged with the Civil Defence Corps.
Feyisetan Akeeb Kareem, Ogwashi-Ukwu

Re: Budget padding : Jibrin eats the humble pie
Jibrin backed out, because of lack of support from 200 million docile Nigerians. Imagine what would have happened if he raised such issue in a sound society.Thanks.
-Madam Ese, Port Harcourt.

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Online Editor: Aderonke Bello
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