OrderPaperToday– Although the new year started on the 1st of January, the National Assembly year will not kick off until 28th January, 2020 when the lawmakers resume plenary and other legislative activities.
In this piece, OrderPaper takes a look at some of the issues that will define the 2020 legislative year.
Lawan-Omolori face off
The leadership of the Senate under Ahmed Lawan has been at loggerheads with the clerk of the National Assembly, Sani Omolori and this bureaucratic battle is going to spiral into the new legislative year.
The crises between the two key National Assembly officials is connected to, among other things, alleged illegal recruitments into the National Assembly at a time when the board of the National Assembly Service Commission had not been constituted, attempted elongation of the tenure of office of the clerk of the National Assembly, allegation of abuses in contract awardd and issues of delayed payment of salaries and allowances of legislative aides.
A meeting between the Senate president and Omolori over these issues last November ended up with tempers flared as the duo reportedly shouted at each other without resolving any issue.
However, Senate President Lawan fought back and delivered a major blow in the battle by ensuring the nomination of his former aide, Ahmed Kadi Amshi, as the next chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission. Amshi hails from Bade Local Government Area of Yobe State, just like the Senate president.
Omolori might enjoy some support from Senators who are displeased that Lawan nominated his kinsman for the role of chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission, especially given the fact that the immediate past chairman, Adamu Fika, also hails from Lawan’s Yobe State.
The new nomination is said to be against the wish of the clerk who would have preferred Senator Joy Emordi. Emordi was pencilled down by former Senate president, Bukola Saraki, for the role before Lawan jettisoned her nomination in preference for Amshi.
All eyes will now be watching to see if Amshi will ensure that that Omolori proceeds on compulsory retirement leave that will mark the end of his tenure.
But will Omolori go down without a fight? We will find out in 2020.
Omo-Agege’s California conviction allegation
An allegation that the deputy Senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, was convicted in California, the United States of America, by the State Bar Court of the State of California, Los Angeles in 1996 is gaining prominence once again.
A group led by one Solomon Adodo, while calling on the deputy Senate president to step aside from office said it had “incontrovertible documentary evidences” that sometime in April 22, 1996, “Augustine O. Omo-Agege believed to be one and the same Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege”, was ordered to be suspended from the practice of Law following his conviction for violating California Penal Code section 470, a felony criminal offense involving moral turpitude, under the authority of subdivision (a) of rule 951, California Rules of Court.
He added that their findings revealed that the said Augustine O. Omo-Agege was admitted into the “State Bar of California on December 14, 1992 and that on or about March 7, 1992, the said Augustine O. Omo-Agege was alleged to have committed the crime of forgery of Check in violation of Penal code section 470, a felony. Furthermore, on or about March 7, 1993 the said Augustine O. Omo-Agege was alleged to have committed the crime of perjury-application for Driver’s license in the County of Los Angeles in violation of Penal code section 118, a felony.
“Following a lengthy prosecution of the said allegations levelled against Augustine O. Omo-Agege, he was convicted of violating California Penal code section 470 and was also subsequently suspended from the practice of law pending final disposition of the proceeding…”
“The said Mr Omo-Agege should be prevailed upon by the Nigerian Senate to resign from office and his senatorial seat declared vacant.
“In the event that Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege hesitates in resigning from office, impeachment proceedings should be immediately initiated against him in order to redeem the battered image of the Nigerian Senate”.
Although the DSP has admitted to being tried in the USA, he insists that he was found not guilty.
Nevertheless, various CSOs groups have threatened not to back down on the matter and it could be to be a serious issue in 2020, especially as the DSP was also linked to the theft of the Senate’s mace and symbol of authority in 2018.
Another key issue is the fact that Omo-Agege, in six months as deputy Senate president, is yet to preside over any plenary session, unlike his counterpart in the House of Representatives who has presided on several occasions even when the speaker is in town.
Does this point to a lack of trust by the Senate president in his deputy or are there other underlying issues? We will find out this year and it could define the Senate leadership style.
House minority leadership tussle
The dust is yet to settle over the minority leadership tussle in the House of Representatives following the emergence of Ndudi Elumelu as the House minority leader against the party’s anointed candidate, Kingsley Chinda.
Other nominees of the PDP for other minority positions were also rejected by the House leadership under Femi Gbajabiamila.
The PDP had nominated Chukwuka Onyema as deputy minority leader, Yakubu Barde as minority whip and Muraina Ajibola as deputy minority whip.
Gbajabiamila, however, announced Toby Okechukwu as deputy minority leader, Gideon Gwani as minority whip and Adesegun Adekoya as deputy minority whip.
Subsequently, a panel was set up to investigate an attempt to snatch the mace during the free-for-all episode that played out during the speaker’s announcement of the minority leadership positions.
The two big actors in this saga, Kingsley Chinda and Ndudi Elumelu (who was suspended by the PDP) are yet to sheath their swords. The supremacy battle hangs in the balance and might subside or escalate depending on the actions and inactions of the major players in 2020.
Progress of controversial bills
Some controversial bills are currently before the National Assembly that could put the legislature at loggerheads with Civil Society Organisations, the media and the general public in 2020.
In November 2019, the Senate introduced a bill to regulate the use of social media in Nigeria. The bill entitled ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019’ was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa.
According to the sponsor of the bill, the legislation will curb fake news on the internet. The bill, however, quickly attracted condemnation from members of the public and civil society.
A similar anti-social media bill was introduced by the previous eighth Senate but was later withdrawn. Nevertheless, the current bill has successfully scaled second reading and will undergo public hearing before possible passage this year.
Also in November, the Senate introduced the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill, popularly known as the Hate Speech bill. The bill generated public outcry over a provision that prescribes death by hanging as one of the penalties for engaging in hate speech, among other severe punishments contained in the bill.
There have been protests against the bill by Civil Society Organisations and criticisms form prominent Nigerians including a former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, who hails from the home state of the bill’s sponsor. Nevertheless, the Senator in the eye of the storm, Sabi Abdullahi remains defiant and has promised to pursue the passage of the controversial bill in 2020 albeit has agreed to soft pedal on the death penalty.
Also contentious is the introduction of the Communication Service Tax Bill in October last year. The bill sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno), seeks to enforce the collection of communication services tax (CST) on charges payable by consumers of electronic communication services in Nigeria (excluding private electronic communication services) at the rate of 9%. Voice calls, SMS, MMS, data usage (from telecommunication services providers and internet service providers), pay per view TV stations are all subject to the levy.
The bill states that the “tax shall be paid together with the electronic communication service charge payable to the service provider by the user of the service”. Furthermore, the levy is payable whether or not the person making the supply is permitted or authorised to provide electronic communications services”.
In addition, all service providers are required to file monthly returns not later than the last working day of the month immediately after the month to which the tax returns and payment relate. Failure to file this returns attracts a fine of N50,000 and an additional N10,000 for each day the returns are not submitted. Also, non-payment of the tax by the due date attracts monthly interest on the tax due at a rate of 150% of the average of prevailing commercial banks’ lending rates as published by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The bill has similarly been criticised by members of the public as it will increase the cost of using telecommunication services but it could be set for second reading and passage this year.
Litigation against NASS principal officers
The leadership of the both chambers of the National Assembly is currently incomplete with the unresolved status of two principal officers.
A Federal High Court in Lagos last December sentenced the Senate chief whip and a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, to 12 years in prison.
In a ruling delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris last month, Kalu was found guilty of 39 counts of N7.2 billion fraud and money laundering. Jones Udeogo, the state Commissioner for Finance during Kalu’s tenure as governor, was also found guilty of 34 counts and sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Furthermore, the court ordered that Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, should be wound up and its assets forfeited to the federal government.
The lawmaker then tried to get bail but Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, on 23rd December, 2019 dismissed the application for a post-conviction bail.
Nevertheless, the Abia State senator could pursue the conviction all the way to the Supreme Court if need be and this would determine whether he retains his seat in the Red Chamber. In the meantime, some senators are already coveting his position in the Senate leadership.
Similarly, in the House of Representatives, the Court of Appeal sitting in Kaduna last November sacked Alhassan Doguwa as the member representing Tudunwada/Doguwa Federal Constituency in the House of Representative. Until his sack, he was the majority leader of the House of Representatives.
The court ordered a fresh vote within ninety days and the election. The outcome of that election will go a long way in determining the composition of the House leadership in 2020.