Reps to prioritise security, economy, electoral reforms in 2024 – Speaker Abbas

…hails President Tinubu on performance target for MDAs

The Speaker of the House of Representatives Rt. Hon. Abbas Tajudeen, Ph.D, has said the National Assembly would prioritise issues concerning security and economy in 2024, proposing a National Legislative Security Summit.

Speaker Abbas also announced that the House would on Tuesday next week, engage the relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and the principal actors in the financial sector on the state of Nigeria’s economy.

The Speaker made this known in an address to welcome members back from Christmas and New Year break on Tuesday, saying the lawmakers were back to the chambers “with renewed vigour and commitment to serve our beloved country, Nigeria and our constituents.”

He said: “As we proceed with our legislative duties, our priorities are clear. With our Legislative Agenda set for ourselves, we intend to achieve significant mileage towards actualising the targets across the eight thematic areas. In the area of security, the most important challenge before us is to overhaul and strengthen the security architecture to improve overall effectiveness.

“As I noted earlier, the state of the economy is also of grave concern to us, and we must contribute to promoting sustainable economic growth. Our Agenda has identified concrete measures for economic restructuring, economic diversification, and agricultural development. All Committees are directed to streamline their activities towards the realisation of our strategic objectives.

“In this regard, I am pleased to announce that House’ Sectoral Briefs with MDAs will resume immediately. Accordingly, we shall engage with MDAs and principal actors in the finance sector on Tuesday, 6th February, 2024. This engagement will assess the nation’s readiness to mobilise the necessary financial resources for implementing the budget.”

Speaker Abbas listed other legislative priorities this year to include speedy consideration of electoral reforms, alteration of the 1999 Constitution, improved citizens’ engagement, enhanced oversight, institutional capacity strengthening, and greater collaboration with the Executive.

“Of immediate concern to us are electoral reforms to address grey areas in the 2022 Electoral Act. The purpose is to ensure that future elections are free, fair, and credible elections that truly reflect the people’s will. Recent data shows that 75% of gubernatorial elections conducted by INEC in 2023 ended up in the Supreme Court. A significantly higher percentage of gubernatorial, State, and National Assembly elections was litigated to the appellate level.

“Like all Nigerians, we are worried about the varying and conflicting judicial pronouncements, which can disrupt our democratic process if not properly and swiftly addressed. For this reason, the House will constitute a special technical committee with members drawn from the Committee on Electoral Matters, experts, academics and other stakeholders. The mandate of the Committee will be to review the Electoral Act 2022 and submit a proposal to the House on areas for amendment. The report of the Committee will be subjected to a public hearing to aggregate concrete suggestions for amendment.

In the area of constitutional alteration, the Speaker noted that the Legislative Agenda had identified key areas of interest for the House, including streamlining the procedure for constitutional alteration by enacting a Constitutional Alteration Procedure law to provide a timeline for the passage of the Constitution alteration bills by the National Assembly and adoption by State Houses of Assembly.

“We remain committed to continuing consultation towards assigning constitutional roles for traditional institutions, local government reform and statutory measures that promote women’s representation in elective and appointive positions,” he added.

Speaker Abbas also noted that the 10th House is aptly called the ‘People’s House’ and as such, recognised that improved citizens’ engagement is vital for fostering a participatory democracy. He said: “Therefore, we will enhance avenues for citizens to engage with the legislative process actively, provide input on policy decisions, and hold their representatives accountable. In line with Item 5 of our Legislative Agenda, the House will conduct a ‘Legislative Open Week’ to enable Nigerians to engage us in the work that we do.”

The Speaker, however, stated that as Members of the House commended themselves for the progress made thus far, “it is imperative that we do not become complacent or lower our standards. Instead, we must raise the bar even higher in the coming weeks and months.”

Speaker Abbas also noted that 2024 holds great significance in the democratic journey of Nigeria as a nation, as it marks 25 years of unbroken democratic governance since 1999. “This milestone represents the longest period of uninterrupted democratic governance in our nation’s history,” he said.

He said: “Honourable colleagues, I address you today not just as the Speaker of the House of Representatives but as a concerned citizen, deeply troubled by the widespread insecurity that grips our country. Indeed, Nigeria stands at a crucial juncture, facing formidable challenges that test our resolve, unity, and spirit. The threats of insurgency are severely testing the peace and stability of our country, the rise in kidnapping for ransom and the unsettling unrest and crises across all the six geopolitical zones.

“Families and communities have endured immense hardships, and our hearts go out to all those affected by these tumultuous events. We are particularly saddened by the tragic and senseless murder of our daughters, Nabeeha Al-Kadriyar and Folorunsho Ariyo; the heinous murder of over 30 people in Plateau State, as well as many others who have fallen victim to the mindless acts of terror in the last few weeks.

“We also remember those who lost their lives in the blast in Ibadan triggered by explosives stored by illegal miners. May we rise and observe a minute of silence in their honour.”

Continuing, the Speaker lamented that for too long, the country had been caught in the vicious grip of insecurity, a malaise that he said had spread its tentacles far and wide, sparing no one in its wake.

Despite numerous security measures, Speaker Abbas said “the menace continues to thrive, mocking our efforts and challenging our resolve to build a cohesive, peaceful and prosperous nation.”

He added; “It is a stark reminder that the conventional approaches to security we have espoused for so long are no longer sufficient. The time has come to think out of the box and adopt new and contemporary strategies that better respond to the complexities of our current challenges.”

While commending the “patriotic and brave security forces” for their “heroism and sacrifice,” the Speaker stated that the time had come for the forces to review their approaches and strategies, innovate and adapt. “The enemy evolves, and so must we. I challenge you to rise to this occasion, to demonstrate the indomitable spirit for which you are known, and to do more in safeguarding the lives and properties of our people,” he said.

The Speaker also noted that “in these trying times, President Bola Ahmad Tinubu, GCFR, had exhibited exemplary leadership through a proactive approach. He said the President’s recent interventions and directives for more action by security agencies were timely and reflective of his deep-seated resolve to restore peace and order.

“Indeed, the time has come for the President to demand greater performance and accountability from our service chiefs and all security and enforcement agencies. I implore the President not to shy away from making the tough decisions. If necessary, we must not hesitate to enact changes within our security apparatus, for the cost of inaction is far too great to bear,” he stated.

Speaker Abbas said in light of the challenges, he would propose convening a National Legislative Security Summit, which would serve as a crucible for ideas, where stakeholders from diverse sectors – security, traditional and religious institutions, academia, civil society, and more – would forge enduring solutions to our security woes.

The Speaker pointed out that it was “time to harness our collective expertise, to break the silos that have hindered our progress, and to chart a new course towards peace and stability.”

He noted that this aligns with the constitutional mandate of the parliament to enact laws that strengthen the security framework, allocate resources wisely, and provide the oversight necessary to ensure our strategies are well-intentioned, effective, and accountable.

“In addition, as a matter of urgent national importance, I charge all the relevant security-based Committees of this House to engage with the security chiefs on some of the most immediate measures and resources needed to improve security across the country,” he added.

On the economic front, Speaker Abbas also lamented that “our country continues to grapple with numerous hurdles that impede our growth trajectory.”

He said: “Inflation, unemployment, and infrastructural deficits are issues that touch the core of our people’s daily lives. The continuous depreciation of the naira has far-reaching consequences, given that Nigeria relies heavily on imports for many essential items, including food, fuel and machinery. Yet, amidst these challenges, there are signs of resilience and potential.

“The President’s economic policies, aimed at revitalising key sectors, promoting sustainable growth, and fostering inclusive development, are steps in the right direction. We in the legislative arm must align our efforts with the Executive to ensure that these initiatives are effectively implemented and yield tangible results for every Nigerian.”

After thanking Members of the House for the expeditious passage of the 2024 Appropriation Bill tagged ‘Budget of Renewed Hope,’ the Speaker said the House must shift its focus towards ensuring the judicious and meticulous implementation of the budget, “which is intended to be catalytic in lifting our economy from its current state of stagnation.”

Speaker Abbas also noted that every Committee was tasked with engaging the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to oversee the effective execution of the budgetary allocations and ensure that every naira allocated in the budget is utilised efficiently and transparently. “Our goal is to provide our people with much-needed relief from the current harsh economic realities,” he said.

The Speaker added: “The recent move by the President to track and review the annual performance of federal ministries, departments and agencies is indeed commendable and should be supported by all Nigerians. The lack of a proper performance assessment framework is a significant shortfall in government and public sector systems and processes. This has often resulted in insufficient alignment of organisational strategic priorities and budgets with national priorities as contained in the eight-point Agenda of Mr. President.

“We hope that the result of the government-wide performance report will be tabled before the National Assembly to provide lawmakers and the people of Nigeria an insight into the performance of government officials. Those whose performance falls below the minimum benchmark set by the President should be immediately replaced by more competent substitutes.

“I wish also to note and commend the President’s firm stance on public sector corruption. This steadfast commitment to uprooting the malaise of corruption from our public institutions is not just about preserving resources but is fundamentally about restoring the sanctity of governance and public service.”

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