OrderPaperToday- There are strong indications that the two chambers of the National Assembly will adjourn on Tuesday, 24th March due to the spread of Coronavirus.
On Thursday, 19th of March, the two chambers of the National Assembly adjourned plenary till the 24th of March but so many things have changed since then.
As at the time of adjournment, there were only 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections in Nigeria, but as at 23rd of March, the figure had risen to 36, with one. In the Federal Capital Territory where the National Assembly is located, 6 cases have been reported.
Why adjournment is inevitable
The fact that a death from the virus has been recorded in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, where the National Assembly is located, is a clear signal that desperate measures must be taken to curb its spread.
To add to that, a memo emerged on Monday from the office of the Chief of Staff of the President, accusing some lawmakers of refusing to undergo mandatory testing for Coronavirus at international airports when returning from foreign trips.
This disclosure caused outrage among lawmakers who are now unsure of which of their colleagues is a carrier of the virus. Therefore, it is quite certain that the House and Senate will adjourn to prevent the spread at the National Assembly as failure to do will mean exposing the comunity with banks, clinics, cafeterias and thousands of support staff to the risk of infection.
Although the House of Representatives resolved last week to ban visitors from the complex so they do not bring in the virus, it not seems like the danger may be from the members rather than the visitors.
On the surface, it looks simple, however, but 469 members, their aides, staff and over 200 journalists covering the two chambers is something to worry about.
But there are also reasons why the legislature may be reluctant to go on break
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives attempted to shut down parliamentary activities for two weeks, following a resolution of the House on Coronavirus. The green chamber was pilloried on social media, and the House rescinded its decision to avoid backlash over the matter.
Now with the spread of the virus in Nigeria, the executive has shut down public events, including FEC meetings, while the judiciary announced a 2 week break as well but the legislative arm must make itself available if need be to consider and pass laws that would give legal backing to some measures the executive is taking to curb the spread of the virus.
Already, legal luminary, Femi Falana, in a statement published by the Cable, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to trigger Section 305(1) of the 1999 constitution on state of emergency.
“Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari should, as a matter of urgency, issue a proclamation of a state of emergency in the entire Federation pursuant to section 305 (1) of the Constitution.
“Once the proclamation is issued by the President and published it is required to be approved by a resolution supported by two-thirds majority of each house of the national assembly,” Falana said.
Section 305 (1) reads in part, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the President may by instrument published in the Official -Gazette} of the Government of the Federation issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the Federation or any part thereof.
(2) The President shall immediately after the publication, transmit copies of the Official -Gazette of the Government of the Federation containing the proclamation including the details of the emergency to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, each of whom shall forthwith convene or arrange for a meeting of the House of which he is President or Speaker, as the case may be, to consider the situation and decide whether or not to pass a resolution approving the Proclamation.”
Another issue is enactment of laws relating to finance. The United States congress is currently considering economic relief package for citizens who will be staying at home or those who have lost or likely going to lose their jobs, in the event of a need for vehement, the National Assembly may be needed.
The parameters of the 2020 budget are presently off the mark set in the budget, particularly with the decline in the price of oil in the international market.
While the legislature continues to roll out resolutions on safety, the institution has not been following its advice. On Thursday, during the procession of the Senate president, the senators were engaging in handshakes. Although hand sanitizers were provided at the entrance to the senate chamber, its usage was more or less at the discretion of the lawmakers.
Also, the House directed the management of the National as5sembly to provide sanitizing facilities, but aside the alcohol based sanitizers, one would have expected mobile hand washing basin with running water and soap in strategic places as well.