On Thursday, Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, met with the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and some principal officers of the Senate to deliberate on developing a working relationship to ensure the seamless passage of bills.
What was discussed?
The AGF, Abubakar Malami, talked about the major issue of interest to the Office of the Attorney General and the government. He told Ahmad and Femi that having a harmonious working relationship that is targeted at advancing the interest of the nation should be the major interest of his office and the government.
The AGF lamented over several bills that were presented to the 8th National Assembly but were never passed nor assented to because of certain inadequacies or constitutional issues. He said many bills were proposed during the 8th National Assembly, while additional ones will be presented during the 9th Assembly.
He went further to talk about the enormous resources, energy and cost that have gone into legislative process of lawmaking, and suggested that the time is right for everyone to work together for the purpose of eliminating the associated bottlenecks that have constituted hindrances to the passage of the bills and assenting thereto.
Aside the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, other lawmakers at the meeting were the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi; Deputy Minority Leader, Ajayi Boroffice; Deputy Chief Whip, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi and Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha.
Deputy Minority Whip, Sahabi Ya’u Alhaji; Albert Bassey (PDP, Akwa-Ibom North), and James Manager (PDP, Delta South) were also in attendance.
Beneficial Approach And The Way Forward
Malami offered a beneficial approach that suggested the possibility of working together between the executive and legislature; and where the need arises, the judiciary, in working on the bills before they proceed to the stages of public hearing.
“We cannot afford to expend resources, time and energy in formulating and drafting bills that will eventually not be passed or assented.”
The AGF also suggested that, to put a stop to formulating and drafting bills that will eventually not be passed or assented, the way forward is to send advance legislative proposals for possible review and input of the lawmakers even before the final consideration of the draft bill by the executive.
The Senate President’s Response
The Senate President commended the approach of the Executive and the present cordial relationship between the Executive and the National Assembly. He stated that the relationship should be one driven by mutual respect and consultation between both arms of government.
The Bukola Saraki-led 8th Senate had boasted of passing the highest number of bills since inception but one flaw was the shaky relationship it had with the executive but Mr Lawan has promised that this new assembly will establish and maintain a good relationship with the executive.
Our relationship should be based on mutual respect and consultation. This is a clear demonstration of the kind of consultation we have been talking about. We shouldn’t work at cross purposes; and beyond bills, we need to extend the consultation to other spheres of engagements for us to achieve optimal performance. This shows the kind of relationship that characterise the ninth National Assembly and the executive arm of government, which essentially is for the benefit of Nigerians, the people we represent.
He went ahead to state the three major functions of the legislature which are the oversight, representation and legislation.
“Legislation is a fundamental pillar of what we do here. Your office is in charge of executive bills that find their way to the National Assembly and therefore, this is an effort by the executive arm of government to ensure legislative processes that will start from the executive to the legislature or vice versa, should be seamless, speedy passage and effective implementation for good governance. When we process a bill, so much resources, effort and commitment are put into it; so we have to do everything possible to ensure that the processes are such that the outcomes justify the enormous resources put into the processing of the bills.”
The Remedy To Ensure A Hitch-free Passage Of Bills
The AGF, the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives stressed that to ensure a hitch-free passage of bills, there is need for committees to be constituted on both sides of government for the purpose of engagement.
Mr. Lawan, the Senate President, said:
“If there’s anything we identify that will cause us not to pass a bill, we will draw the attention of the executive to it and mandate our relevant committees to engage with the concerned agency and the AGF’s office so that all such issues are sorted out. We should have our bills assented to, whether they are executive bills or private members’ bills.This relationship is productive so far, it is working and helping this country and we will continue with it. However, that is not to say that we will compromise on things that are our mandate”
The Senate President also called on the AGF, Abubakar Malami, to ensure that heads of agencies are carried along in the process of drafting executive bills “to avoid sabotage from any quarter” as this will help ensure that some members of agencies do not end up frustrating the efforts of the lawmakers.
Quoting the Senate President, he adviced that when an executive bill emanates from the AGF, he should exhaust all opportunities for heads of agencies that will be affected by the eventual passage of the Bill into law to participate. Further suggesting that the AGF should allow the heads of agencies put in their ideas before rounding up work on the draft that will be sent to the National Assembly for consideration.
“Often times, heads of agencies deliberately refuse to attend public hearings, and when the bills are passed and sent to the president to sign, then they go around saying things about the bill stopping government from working and so on. The National Assembly will do everything to ensure optimal productivity, but those civil servants who sometimes feel they would lose power and authority would attempt to jeopardise the assent of the President.”
He said that the deliberate absence of heads of agencies from public hearings will be addressed and attendance will be made mandatory for the heads of agencies that are supposed to participate.
“If they don’t attend, they shouldn’t go back to the President to advise against the assent to such bills. The government put in a lot of effort and resources, and we do the same. But one individual, like a Managing Director or Executive Secretary, who feels he or she may lose part of his mandate to another agency, may go ahead to sabotage the whole process. We need to guard against that.”