BY MOSES IDIKA
On June 11, 2019 the 9th National Assembly was inaugurated with fanfare in Abuja as Nigerians from all the 36 states converged on Abuja to celebrate the “induction” of their representatives into the hallowed chambers of Nigeria’s apex lawmaking body.
All the hotels and many private homes in and around Abuja were filled with well-wishers, supporters and family members who arrived the nation’s capital to rejoice with their new or re-elected lawmakers. One week earlier, June 6th, 2019, the life span of the 8th National Assembly had elapsed and it subsequently adjourned, sine die.
By nightfall of same June 11, 2019, however, some of the earlier excitement had already began to wane in some circles, especially when the leadership of the National Assembly was “done and dusted” (as young Nigerian fresh university graduates would want to say).
The emergence of the duo of DR. AHMAD LAWAN (APC Yobe North) and HON. FEMI GBAJABIAMILA (APC Surulere 1, Lagos) as the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, left many Nigerians feeling that the Nigerian parliament may have been “conquered” by some forces in the Presidency.
The feeling by Nigerians that the National Assembly may have been “conquered” was against a background hinged on the frosty relationship that characterized the immediate past 8th National Assembly led by SENATOR BUKOLA SARAKI and HON. YAKUBU DOGARA, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively whereby, the Presidency blamed every misfortune of PRESIDENT BUHARI’S government on the “sabotaging” efforts of the leadership of the 8th National Assembly.
In other words, the Presidency insisted that until it installs its own lackeys as the leadership of the National Assembly nothing good was ever going to come out of the parliament.
In the 8th National Assembly, the Nigerian parliament was seen as being on the side, with the Nigerians, while the Presidency and the entire cabinet of PRESIDENT BUHARI saw the Assembly as a “clog” in the wheel. The 8th National Assembly rejected several bills and initiatives that they argued were not in the interest of Nigerians. In retaliation, PRESIDENT BUHARI withheld assent to several bills passed into law by the 8th National Assembly, including the very important electoral Act amendment bill. The President of the Senate was even docked for corruption charges, while other members of the 8th Assembly leadership had anti-graft agencies unleashed on them endlessly throughout the life of the Assembly.
Chief among some of the outstanding decisions of the 8th Assembly include the rejection by the senate of a $29.96 billion loan request by PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI.
In a media interview, the then Chairman of Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt, SENATOR SHEHU SANI said that the Senate rejected the request to save Nigeria from fresh colonization by creditor nations and foreign financial institutions.
“We turned down the Federal Government loan request of $29.96bn to save Nigeria from sinking into the dark gully of a perpetual debt trap. We don’t want our country to be recolonized by creditor banks.”
“If we had approved that loan request, our external debt could have catapulted to over $52bn and that is not sustainable.
“With the current escalation of borrowing, we will be walking into debt slavery and move from landlords to tenants in our own country.
“They will always tell you that even America is borrowing and I don’t know how rational it is to keep on borrowing because another country is borrowing,” SENATOR SANI explained.
Another watershed decision of the 8th National Assembly that shaped the perception of Nigerians about the parliament was the outright failure to sail through a bill that sought to gag Nigerians in the social media sponsored by then Spokesman of the SENATE, SABI ABDULAHI, a senator from Niger state.
Enter the 9th National Assembly
Since June 11, 2019 when it was inaugurated, the President of the Senate, AHMAD LAWAN promised that he was going to lead a senate, nay National Assembly that will “work collaboratively with the executive arm of the government.” And true to LAWAN’S promise, the National Assembly has collaborated with the executive on all its decisions irrespective of what the intensions of the executive decision may be.
A Retinue of Anti People Legislations
As if choreographed, all the anti-people and unpopular policies rejected by Nigerians and the 8th National Assembly have all found a fertile ground in the 9th National Assembly and the 9th session has barely spent one year out of its four year term.
The Anti Social Media Bill
Barely five months after its inauguration, the 9th National Assembly fired its first missile against Nigerians and specifically targeted its youths through the introduction of an obnoxious and draconian bill aimed at caging and gagging the young people from expressing themselves against the government policies, especially as government policies continues to incapacitate the future of Nigeria and Nigerians.
On November 5, 2019, SENATOR MUHAMMED SANI MUSA (APC Niger East) introduced the “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019,” a bill he admitted to have copied from a country with some of the worst Human Rights record in the world, Singapore. The bill sought to ensure that Nigeria government effectively controlled what the citizens could say or not say, especially against the government.
As if that was not enough, one week after the introduction of the gag bill, a second bill couched in even more dangerous nomenclature was also introduced by another APC senator, also from Niger state, SAHABI ABDULAHI who coincidentally is the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate.
“The National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Est. etc.) Bill, 2019 otherwise known as the “Hate Speech Bill” sponsored by Sabi Abdulahi prescribed death by hanging for any Nigerian the commission he seeks to establish deemed to have made any “hate speech.” Curiously, the bill did not specify what constitutes hate speech, but rather left the interpretation of what constitutes hate speech to whims and caprices of the government through the head of the Commssion.
Notwithstanding, the obvious evil intentions of these two bills, the 9th Senate gave overwhelming support to them. It took a hard fight from Nigerians, including protests, community advocacy actions and outright intervention of various rights groups, including Amnesty International and the Nigerian media (the primary target of the two bills) to shoot down the draconian bills.
$22.7 Billion Loan
The 8th Senate had rejected an opaque request by PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI to borrow a whopping $29.96 billion from various countries and international financial institutions because, like SENATOR SHEHU SANI said, the loan was going to plunge Nigeria into the abyss of “financial colonization” and subsequently “burying ourselves and leave behind for our children a legacy of debt burden.”
Nevertheless, on March 5th, 2020 the 9th Senate without any form of scrutiny approved the $22.7 billion loan request by PRESIDENT BUHARI.
In fact, the speed with which the loan was approved made it impossible for even the lawmakers themselves to notice that the entire Southeast geopolitical zone, a region comprising 5 states were not in any way accommodated in the bogus projects the government said the loan was going to be expended on.
It took the over 4hours protest by the Southeast National Assembly caucus led by former Deputy President of the Senate on the alleged “exclusion” of the Southeast for the House of Representatives to pause a little before giving the bill a similar jet-speed approval as the Senate did. The loan request has since been approved, albeit clandestinely by the House.
Now the Infectious Disease Bill
The fourth in the series of anti-peoples bills that have come out of the 9th National Assembly within a six month period is the Control Of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020 (A Bill For An Act To Repeal The Quarantine Act And Enact The Control Of Infectious Diseases Act, Make Provisions Relating To Quarantine And Make Regulations For Preventing The Introduction Into And Spread In Nigeria Of Dangerous Infectious Diseases, And For Other Related Matters.) sponsored by the Speaker of House of Representatives, HON. FEMI GBAJABIAMILA (APC Lagos) Hon. Pascal Obi (APC, Imo), and HON. TANKO SUNUNU (APC, Kebbi).
The latest offering to Nigerians from the 9th National Assembly may be the most dangerously encompassing yet in the history of anti-people law in Nigeria to date. This bill in a most audacious manner simply seeks to abrogate the rights of both the elites and masses of Nigeria.
The “satanic bill” as former lawmaker and a member of the 8th National Assembly, SENATOR DINO MELAYE described it seeks to turn Nigeria into a banana republic where any Nigerian can be removed from the society and quarantined into oblivion by as simple as innocuous suspicion by a new leviathan to be called the Director General (DG) of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Reading through the various provisions of the infectious disease bill, one will only then appreciate the position of the current DG of the NCDC, DR. CHIKWE IHEKWEAZU who told GBAJABIAMILA that he (CHIKWE) was looking “forward to working with the Speaker to bring a new bill after the COVID-19 pandemic was over.”
Obviously DR. IHEKWEAZU must have read the bill and wondered while anyone in their right mind would propose such a law in a democracy.
The Infectious Disease bill can pass for the worst bill ever contemplated in any democracy in the world. The bill is and outright frontal attack on the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and an audacious attempt to emasculate all the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
Even dead Nigerians are not exempted from the all-powerful and audacious leviathan the bill seeks to create!
Section 4 (5) of the proposed bill seeks to strip medical practitioners in Nigeria of their right to maintain the privacy of their patients. Section 12 of the proposed bill seek to ensure that the dead were not allowed to rest in peace as it empowers the DG, NCDC to impound any dead body he “suspects” to have died of any infectious disease.
Section 13 empowers the DG, NCDC to forcefully seize and isolate anyone or groups (including minors which the bill provides that they be isolated with their parents) of persons they suspect to be infected of such a disease as they may deem to be infectious, while section 14 empowers DG, NCDC to place anyone in Nigeria under surveillance on suspicion of being infected by any disease the DG feels is infectious.
Section 15 of the proposed bill even goes further to empower the DG, NCDC to be able to isolate entire areas or even communities they suspect of having an infectious disease. In section 15, the bill empowers the “health officer” or a police officer on the direction of the DG, NCDC to seize anyone on the street, in their homes, church or any gathering and quarantines such person or persons on any suspicion of having an infectious disease.
Sections 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25-30 makes various obnoxious provisions that expressly removes the rights of Nigerians to gather in groups, including religious gatherings. It is instructive that the infectious disease bill poses serious threat to all sections of Nigeria’s national life, including abrogating the rights of governors and the President and giving same to the all-powerful Director General of the NCDC.
The infectious disease bill also removes the courts from the affairs of Nigerians as it seeks to empower the Minister of Health to be the last arbiter (sections, 17, 18, 19 and 20). In the bill, the Minister of Health and the Director General, NOT the courts decides the fate of the offenders of the obnoxious law.
Good enough, while the National Assembly has the oversight rights over other arms of the government, the people, happily are the ones constitutionally empowered to oversight the parliament.
Nigerians must, therefore, as a matter of survival stand up to the opaque intentions of the 9th National Assembly which is daily baring its fangs to strangulate Nigerians and return the country to a despotic authoritarian nation.