It was carefully hatched to shock President Muhammadu Buhari at the presentation of the 2018 Appropriation Bill last Tuesday. But at the eleventh hour, members of the House of Representatives, for reasons best known to them, failed to act the script that they had rehearsed severally.
For some time now, members of the House of Representatives have not being too happy with the executive arm of government. Their grouse is that the executive has been treating issues concerning them with levity.
The lawmakers are particularly angry that funds have not been released for their constituency projects. Constituency project is very dear to every lawmaker, as it affords him the opportunity to “execute projects” for his constituents. It is these projects that they show off as evidence of their quality representation during elections. And to think that the next general election is just around the corner, yet most of them have nothing tangible to showcase to the electorate? So, you can imagine the frustrations of the lawmakers.
One of the House members, lamenting the non-release of the N100 billion budgeted for their constituency projects in this year’s budget, had told me during the week that the executive arm of government was treating federal lawmakers as if they were not part of the government.
The lawmakers were apparently thinking of how to get back at the executive, when President Buhari wrote to the House leadership, notifying it of his intention to present the 2018 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly.
As the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, read the President’s letter at plenary last week, the lawmakers shouted “no, no” in unison, indicating their unwillingness to receive the the President. But they have no choice in the matter, as the constitution provides that the budget must be laid by the President before the National Assembly every year for consideration and approval.
Dogara had rightly pointed out to the aggrieved lawmakers that” I wish we have the constitutional right to say no. Unfortunately, we don’t have it…”
Consequently, many of the lawmakers resolved to stage a protest at the budget presentation to show their displeasure with the executive arm of government. Somehow, the Presidency got wind of the plan and quickly dispatched the new Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, to the National Assembly to lobby the leadership ahead of the budget presentation.
On Tuesday, there was palpable tension in the House. After sitting briefly, they went into an executive session. The executive session, which lasted for over one hour, was a last -minute effort by the House leadership to calm frayed nerves in the Green Chamber.
Immediately after the executive session, members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), caucus led by the Deputy Minority Leader, Chukwuka Onyema, quickly convened in Hearing Room 2, White House, for an emergency caucus meeting.
The meeting of the PDP caucus was an indication that the All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers had pulled out of the planned protest. At that meeting, the PDP caucus resolved to proceed with the protest to draw attention to non-implementation of previous budgets, which, of course, include the non-release of funds for their constituency projects.
The opposition lawmakers agreed to carry placards, with various inscriptions, during the presentation of the 2018 Appropriation Bill by Buhari to drive home their point. After perfecting their plots, the PDP lawmakers left the caucus meeting at about 1.28 pm for the chamber armed with their placards. Some of the placards bore inscriptions like “Implement or Resign,” “Impeachment loading”.
While some of the lawmakers simply folded their placards, some of them were seen tucking theirs inside their clothes.
Against this backdrop, National Assembly correspondents eagerly awaited the execution of the plot.
For the over one hour the budget speech lasted, everyone was at alert, so as not to miss any detail of the drama that will characterise the protest. In fact, many correspondents, yours sincerely inclusive, had even cast different headlines in advance to go with the story of the anticipated protest.
But we all waited in vain. After all the initial ‘gragra’, the PDP members could not muster the courage to execute their plot.
It would have been good if the opposition lawmakers had gone ahead with their protest, not for the purpose of embarrassing President Buhari, but to let him know that a lot of Nigerians are not happy with his administration, especially as it concerns the conscientious implementation of budgets.
Although the lawmakers aborted their protest on the budget last Tuesday, I expect them not let the issue fizzle out just like. The members of the House, especially those from opposition political parties, must keep pushing for a fair and reasonable implementation of the budget.
This, because it is only when budgets are implemented to a great extent that the citizens benefit. Besides, the executive arm of government must be made to understand that a budget is an Act of parliament, which must be enforced dutifully. And that its breach attracts severe sanctions.
But my fear is that the lawmakers are likely to abandon their crusade for a reasonable implementation of the budget, once funds for their constituency projects are released. That must not be the case. Constituency projects, no doubt, are very important to lawmakers, as according to them, it helps to boost their ratings in their respective constituencies. But they must understand that the electorate stands to gain more when national budgets are well implemented.
Point of Order…
Last week, the House of Representatives took a bold step towards curbing sexual offences against minors in the country, as it introduced a bill seeking to establish a Sexual Offenders Monitoring Unit under the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
The bill essentially seeks to set up “a Sexual Offenders Registry where sexual offenders shall report for routine registration…maintain a Sexual Offenders website where current and relevant details and status of offenders will be accessible to the general public.” The registry will, among other things, open a register for sexual offenders in the country. The register shall be made available to law enforcement agencies, school owners, social workers, employers and the general public, to serve as a caution against reoccurrence of sexual offences.
Apart from registering the offenders, the registry shall also be saddled with the responsibility of monitoring persons that have been convicted for sexual offences against children under 18 years of age, by a court of competent jurisdiction within and outside the country.
For me, this is actually one of the best bills that have been introduced in the lower chamber recently. And I expect the House to expedite action on it, so that it will be passed into law soon.
Besides, I expect relevant Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to make meaningful contribution to this proposed piece of legislation, so that it can come out better.
Perverts who violate our little girls, in addition to other sanctions prescribed in the constitution for such offences, must be kept under close watch and made to bear the shame of their ignoble actions for life, same way their victims bear the trauma of their insane actions for life.