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Stewardship: How Bankole stands at point of exit
The House of Representatives is set for its valedictory session next week. Idowu Samuel writes on the stewardship of the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, as he prepares to exit the lower chamber next week.
The precepts in the book of Ecclesiastes must play out in every human life. There is always time for everything; a time to start and a time to end, a time to come and a time to go. The 360 members of the House of Representatives are already home-bound.
In less than two weeks, the lawmakers will be having their valedictory session, after which each of them must bid farewell to the hallowed Dome. However, an assessment of the stewardship of the present crop of lawmakers could be done with an X-ray of the nature and the standing of the leadership.
Honourable Dimeji Bankole stands as the mirror to view the performances of the House and its members in the last four years. Bankole did not start the present session in the House as Speaker; he occupied the seat after his predecessor, Honourable Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, succumbed to the composite malice and intrigues from her traducers. At the time of his emergence as Speaker, he was one of the youngest ever to head the House.
The ruggedness with which the present House took its strides most times is understandable. Bankole will be remembered for some striking achievements, much as the slips he made are also glaring.
On resumption in November 2007, the Bankole leadership brought about a paradigm shift in lawmaking and the process started with the 2008 Appropriation Bill. That was when he changed the era of ‘rubberstamping’ appropriation or executive bills.
He made that possible by inventing the principle of input, output and outcome in processing bills towards ensuring good governance. That principle began to work, beginning from 2008, when the House discovery the sum of N450 billion as unspent fund, a fallout from the 2007 budget, in sharp contrast to the sum of N25 billion that was recorded in the budget. This sum was rolled over into the 2008 budget. In the 2009 appropriation bill, N350 billion was returned as unspent fund from the 2008 budget. Hitherto, the unspent funds were usually siphoned through bogus end-of-year contracts or through frivolous capacity building exercises.
To date,the Bankole-led House has saved the nation about N1 trillion in unspent funds through this method. So far, the House has passed a total of 136 bills affecting all areas of our life in fundamental ways. Among them are four appropriation bills which Bankole re-engineered to save the nation almost a trillion naira.
Another important bill is the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007, which seeks to provide for prudent management of the nation’s resources, ensure long-term macro-economic stability of the economy, secure greater accountability and transparency in fiscal operations within the medium term fiscal policy framework, and the establishment of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission to ensure the promotion and enforcement of the nation’s economic objectives. It was under the Act that Bankole ordered 32 revenue generating agencies of government to present their budgets for scrutiny, as required by the Act during the presentation of the 2011 budget by President Goodluck Jonathan. The agencies, which include the CBN, NNPC, Customs, etc, spend trillions of naira yearly without appropriation by the National Assembly.
The House also passed the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) Bill. The House Budget Office (HBO) will be inaugurated by Vice-President Namadi Sambo on Friday, May 26. The office is patterned after the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to strengthen the legislative functions of the legislature.
Another landmark achievement by the House was the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill. The House commenced its journey in 1999 and it suffered defeats in 12 attempts, until Bankole ensured its passage. He did that by waiving the rule of the House as a means of neutralising the intrigues and perceived conspiracies against the bill. It was under Bankole that the process of constitution amendment, which started also in 1999, got a leeway. It was the first time in the history of democracy in Nigeria that the constitution of the country would be amended, as reflected in the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2010.
This amendment led to a qualitative development of the nation’s democracy. The amendment has helped to stave off the possibility of a president or governor getting so powerful in a manner that would make either of them stay out of the country for as long as they wish.
The Bankole-led House also successfully passed the 2010 Electoral (amendment) Act which was instrumental to the success of the recently-concluded 2011 election. It also ensured appropriation to fund the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) activities. The House is at the final stage of passing the Petroleum Industry Bill, which will revolutionalise the oil sector and ensure the development of indigenous technology as well as empower local communities.
The House also performed creditably under Bankole by admitting a total of 328 motions, while it approved not less than 282 to become resolutions. The most memorable and germane among the motions include the “Doctrine of Necessity” that made the then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to become acting president, following the illness of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
Following a resolution of the House, the House commenced an investigation into the $16 billion appropriated for power projects between 1999 and 2007, without significant results. The investigation revealed to Nigerians the level of rot, inadequate plans, misappropriation and misapplication of fund in the power sector reform.
In spite of controversies surrounding the report of the committee, the immediate benefits are that contractors are back to site and working, just as it also enabled the Federal Government to produce a blueprint for the power sector. The House Finance Committee’s investigation into the finance of government had discovered that in the last five years alone, over N5 trillion had not been remitted to the Federation Account by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), as they constitutionally should.
The general belief now is that if proper accounting had been made with the revenue generating agencies of government, the petroleum sector would not have remained the king among the agencies that generate money for the government.
The Committee on Aviation oversees the aviation sector. The most recent of its investigations was the outrageously inflated N63.5billion contract for a second runway for the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport in Abuja. Its investigation led to the termination of the contract by the Federal Government, thus saving Nigeria from huge financial loss, estimated at about N40 billion.
The House has also established the Constituency Outreach Committee that ensures member’s presence in their constituencies through the establishment of functional offices with requisite staff. It appropriated adequate funds to constituency projects to fulfil the dream of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The result is that members now average 10-15 constituencies projects in their areas, instead of the usual two or three. Bankole has been able to take the representative function of the House to greater heights in passing resolutions, addressing masses- oriented issues like Nigerians in the Diaspora, ethnic and sectarian crises and workers welfare issues. A typical example is the resolution that addressed the sectarian Jos crisis.
The Speaker fared well on international assignments. Recently, he led a delegation of Nigeria legislators to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and one of the outcomes was a bilateral agreement and the siting of Turkey’s aid agency, TIKA, the equivalent of USAID in Nigeria with over 700 million Euros($1billion) per annum for development.
Also, for the first time, the Federal Government included Bankole in bilateral talks with the French government and many build, operate and transfer (BOT) agreements were reached in the energy and road sector.Bankole had earlier visited the French National Assembly and was instrumental to this foreign policy initiative. As a result of the visit, the French National Assembly has invited a delegation of the newly elected members of the House to Paris on a capacity building tour, an invitation Bankole has refered to the incoming leadership of the House. Early in the year, the Speaker was elected as the president of the Afro-Arab Parliamentary Union.