How COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down NASS

As the National Assembly resumes today for plenary after a long lull in legislative business caused by the national lockdown, KEHINDE AKINTOLA examines some of the pending burning issues.

FINALLY, the National Assembly is set to hold an emergency plenary today, April 28,  2020 specifically to give accelerated consideration of the request by President Muhammadu Buhari for the passage of the N500 billion intervention fund, as well as an approval for the utilisation of over N100 billion in the COVID-19 Special Intervention Fund (SIF). The action is to enable the Presidential Task Force (PTF) carry out its functions effectively.

The plenary is coming amid public outcry over the lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states.  Some state governors have also pronounced total or partial lock down in their respective states, a precautionary measure to combat the Coronavirus pandemic, but with its far-reaching negative impact on the livelihood of millions of Nigerians, especially those in the informal sector of the economy.

The House had, on March 5, 2020, adjourned for two weeks, in the first instance, as part of efforts aimed at containing the spread of the virus among the lawmakers and parliamentary staff with over 5,000 population, who converge at the complex between Mondays and Fridays.

No doubt, the suspension of legislative activities at both chambers of the National Assembly has taken tolls on government operations. In the face of the lull in plenary, the lawmakers have remained anonymous and reclusive. They are scared of mingling among themselves and their constituents. Currently, virtually all the federal lawmakers are in their respective houses with their immediate families, awaiting the next clarion call to converge for the national assignment, simply to pass the one-line appropriation bill for the COVID-19 intervention fund, to enable the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, to utilise the fund for various intervention programmes.

Nonetheless, there is an urgent need for the leadership of both the Senate and the House of Representatives to reconvene with the view to considering the provisions of the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill 2020, already passed by the Lower Chamber.

A non-governmental organisation, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Executive Director, Mr Auwal Rafsanjani, in a statement recently, expressed regrets that the conclusive stage of the Bill was halted by the legislative recess necessitated by Covid-19 pandemic. He however called for “prompt finalisation and transmission of the Bill for presidential assent at resumption of legislative activities to provide appropriate legislative framework on relief to companies and individuals to alleviate the adverse financial consequences of a slowdown in economic activities caused by the Covid-19 disease; protect the employment status of Nigerians who might otherwise become unemployed as a consequence of management decision to retrench personnel in response to the prevailing economic realities; and implementation of holistic measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 lockdown on the vulnerable groups at all levels.”

It has also become necessary for the National Assembly to create a veritable technology-driven communication platform through which the members of each chamber can interface without physical contact, considering the enormous work that requires its attention. For instance, as announced by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, the World Bank facility called Regional Disease Surveillance Systems (‘REDISSE’) facility worth $90 million out of which $8 million had been drawn. According to her, efforts are being made to fully utilise the outstanding balance of US$82 million.

She also unveiled Federal Government’s plan to also request for additional financing in the sum of US$100 million from the REDISSE project to meet COVID-19 emergency needs in all the 36 States and the FCT, through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Federal Ministry of Health. All of these, required legislative interventions so as to ensure the country does not get into another foreign indebtedness, because of the nation’s huge domestic and external debt burden.




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