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There Was A National Assembly — By Tony Eluemunor

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The Ninth Assembly has been carrying on its duties in a way that frustrates true democracy. It has so prostrated itself as the Executive’s foot mat that all it would leave for Nigerians is just a legacy of cowardice.

And like the ruling party itself, it has hypocritically been praising itself to high heavens. Sometimes, one would just wish that the All Progressives Congress would just change that middle word in its name, call itself anything it would choose as long as it is not “progressives”.

Has anybody in the top echelon of the Senate and the House of Representatives asked themselves whether their passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the Electoral Act would strengthen the bonds that bind the various sections of Nigeria together or would they further slash into pierces those weather-beaten bonds? Will they make Nigeria a better place?

Whatever happened to the independent national legislature that many of their predecessors struggled mightily to build? Just a few years ago, the Dr. Bukola Saraki-led Senate was as independent as it should be. And the Dogara-led House of Representatives was worthy of the records the House of Representatives had set when the Lion of the National Assembly, Ghali Umar Na’Abba occupied the seat of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Perhaps, I should begin by giving you an example.

On 16th July 2021, the House of Representatives hosted the Nigerian Communications Commission in its chambers to answer some questions. This was subsequent to the House Resolution of 15th July, that the NCC should appear before it to brief/guide the entire house on the reality of Electronic Transmission of Election Results.

I saw on a WhatsApp forum a version of what transpired when the NCC officials showed up. It was purportedly a verbatim report of what the Chairman, House Committee on Communications, Hon. Prince Akem Adeniyi Adeyemi himself wrote. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the report, so, I will treat it with great circumspection, and so I will ask, is it true that…. Hon. Adeyemi wrote words to this effect?

“I asked the NCC two questions to open the floor and guide us accordingly

Question 1: Could the NCC provide the House with the detailed analysis of coverage of the entire nation in this regard?

Question 2: Does the NCC have the technology to avert hacking of the electronic transmission of results by hackers?

Answer 1: Based on NCC and INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) exercises of the entire 120, 000 polling units in Nigeria in 2018, 50% of Nigeria is covered with 2G/3G network, while 40% of Nigeria is covered with 2G network only and 10% is not covered at all.

Electronic transmission of results could only occur via 3G network. Hence only 50% of Nigeria is where electronic transmission can take place.

Answer 2: Developed countries are battling with hackers. Therefore, NCC cannot guarantee non-hacking of the system.

These, however, guided the House of Representatives accordingly, and we took a safe decision to reject the amendment”.

Sincerely, I hope that Hon. Prince Akeem Adeniyi Adeyemi did not write the words credited to him and that a good for nothing impersonator dreamed up those question and answers and the comments that followed.

I say this because I would not in a million years bring myself to imagine that Nigeria would ever witness such a day, when a member of the House of Representatives, let alone a Chairman of a Committee would so advertise his queasy service o his fatherland.

This bill had been in the National Assembly for years. It has been debated for a long time. The Committee had deliberated on it before it would have been brought to the main floor of the Committee of the whole for the final decision on it before it would progress to the level of harmonization with the Senate.

So, that should not and would not have been the time to ask the NCC or telephone industry experts the questions so pertinent to the bill that they should have been asked at the very beginning of the Committee’s deliberations.

So, if the Communications Committee was just getting such answers on the day the Committee of the whole House sat to cast the final votes, what input did the House Committee on Communications make into the bill? Exactly what had the Committee been deliberating on?

Sincerely, had the House of Representatives been a private enterprise owned by Prince Adeyemi and a worker in his company, who had been paid for months to, among other projects, help amend an Electoral Act for the company, did not bother to find the answers to some burring questions that should help the company take the right decisions on which its getting the right Chief Executive officers depend?

Instead, if that staff would begin to ask such questions on the final decision making day, won’t he sack the laggardly and slacker staff? Or would he in all sincerity give him an award for waiting till the dying minutes when the company was closing shop after many months’ countdown?

And just for the sake of argument, what if the NCC’s representative misinformed the house in any way? What if the person lied? How was the House Communications Committee Chairman to know if the NCC representative was talking arrant nonsense or the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Has he cross-check such claims? Or is there no need for such?

It is even a cause for worse shame that the second answer from the NCC’s representative was given any weight by the House of Representative. Who on Earth does not know that computer hackers do exist and that they can hack into even a central bank’ account? Yet, have closed every bank on planet Earth?

It is globally known that the US election which threw up Donald Trump as President has remained controversial because of the accusations that it was hacked. And Russia has been at the end of the United States of America’s finger pointing. Yet, five years later, didn’t the US conduct another election in the same way it did when Trump won? And didn’t Trump lose this time around?

I’m surprised that a Chairman of a House of Representatives Committee on Communications could have asked such an inane question. His inquiries should have gone to a totally opposite direction; what to do to minimise hacking of the INEC electoral communication system, especially its result uploading system. If the House of Representatives was so scared stiff of the possibility of hacking, why would it allow INEC to have anything at all to do with computers in its entire voting and result collating system?

I pray that the level of keenness of spirit to duty Prince Adeyemi has exhibited is not exactly the sign of how dead things are in the present Communications Committee of House of Representatives or of that House itself, or of the National Assembly, even.

Ah, why would memory so torment me? It is sheer torture just remembering the zest with which a former Chairman of that same Committee had approached his duties. Thank God that Nigeria had Hon. Nduka Irabor in that duty post when Nigeria was welcoming the GSM companies and technology into the country.

Chief Irabor went at the task before him with the total commitment that he could sum up; and he fought stoutly for the common Nigerian. Had last Friday’s interaction between the House of Reps and the NCC taken place by 2001, 2002 or 2003, Irabor would not have been asking the sort of useless questions his successor asked.

Irabor would have already obtained some answers that would make electronic transmission of results feasible in Nigeria. Or are we saying that no African or Latin American or even Third World country transmits election results electronically?

In those heady days of GSM’s entry into Nigeria, Irabor made it plain that his Committee was committed to the good of the citizenry and was ready to defend the people from the hands of an administration that was colluding with the GSM companies. The Presidency made it look like those companies were doing Nigeria some charitable work by setting up shop on our shores. And once Nigerians knew they could trust him, those with some experience and competence in telephony issues started bombarding him with information and a road map to an effective and cheap telephony system for Nigeria.

Of course, Irabor was not alone. He had the support of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’Abba. At the time when the National Assembly enjoyed its greatest independence, the late Chuba Okadigbo was Senate President. With Na’Abba, they kept President Obasanjo on his toes. Even during the session that ended in 2015, the National Assembly was still independent – thanks to Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara.

Now, the National Assembly has become a branch of the presidency. Whenever the President sends a request for an approval for a loan, he gets it automatically. Senate confirmation hearings are predictable for it is almost a charade – except for a Ms Lauretta Onochie who could have been taught a lesson that there must be a limit to lusciousness.

There was once a National Assembly in Nigeria; vibrant, independent, assiduous and concerned for the needs of the ordinary citizen. Now, it is just an outpost of the APC political party. Yet, it is pertinent to point out that when Okadigbo and Na’Abba turned the heat against former President Obasanjo the most, just to keep him in check, the National Assembly was overwhelmingly of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members.

It was a PDP controlled National Assembly that tossed out Obasanjo’s veto of the NDDC bill by a two-thirds majority vote against a PDP President. And it was a PDP controlled Senate, under Senate President Ken Nnamani, that threw out the Third Term bill that should have benefitted Obasanjo, a PDP President.

Such a National Assembly has since been buried. And history will remember the NASS leaders under whose watch this happened. There was a National Assembly! What exists now in its place is a shameful imitation

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