The House of Representatives risks not meeting the constitutional threshold of a minimum of 181 plenary sessions in a year unless it changes the current trend of its sittings.
The House held only 14 plenary sessions in the first quarter of this year, less than half of the minimum of 36 sessions.
The expected minimum number was arrived at, by counting the Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in January, February, and March in line with the provision of the standing rules of the House. Premium Times reports.
Order 5, Rules 4 and 5 of the Standing Rules of the House allow it to sit from Monday to Friday.
Rule 4 reads: “On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the House shall sit at 10 a.m. and unless previously adjourned, shall sit until 6 p.m., provided that at 1:30 p.m., the Speaker may suspend the sitting until 2 p.m.
“On Fridays, the House may meet at 9 a.m. and if not previously adjourned, may sit until noon.”
However, Rule 6 gives the Speaker of the House the discretion to determine sitting days.
It reads: “Without prejudice to the above, the House shall sit on such a day as the speaker, having regard to the state of business of the House may from time to time direct.”
Over the years, the two chambers of the National Assembly have adopted Tuesday to Thursday as sitting days.
However, since the outbreak of COVID-19 in February 2020 in Nigeria, the Senate and House of Representatives have been adjourning their plenary sessions for various reasons.
The House embarked on Christmas and New Year break on December 21 and was scheduled to resume on January 26. However, it postponed the resumption by two weeks.
The lawmakers subsequently resumed on February 6. This means the House did not hold a plenary session in January.
Upon resumption, the spokesperson of the House, Ben Kalu, announced that the House will be holding only one plenary session a week due to the outbreak of a new variant of COVID-19.
In February, the House had five plenary sessions. Out of these legislative days, one was used to mourn the death of a member, Ossy Prestige, hence suspending all items on the Order Paper.
However, the lawmakers had a busy schedule in March, holding nine plenary sittings out of a possible 12.
But the House dedicated one of those sittings on March 9 to mourning another member, Kila Yuguda, who passed away.
House and Holidays
The 9th Assembly under Femi Gbajabiamila is becoming notorious for embarking on holidays despite not meeting the deadlines it had set on certain important legislation, such as the amendment to the Electoral Act and the Petroleum Industry Bill.
Despite the long Christmas and New Year holidays, the House again embarked on an 18-day Easter break, adjourning plenary on March 25 until April 13.
While on the holiday, the House lost two more members, Suleiman Lere of Lere Federal Constituency of Kaduna State and Haruna Mataila of Bassa/Jos North Federal Constituency of Plateau State.
The two chambers were expected to adjourn their plenaries on Tuesday, April 13, that they resumed, in honour of the two late lawmakers; but the House decided to take the entire week for the mourning.
The implication is that the lawmakers have started the second quarter of the year with another flurry of holidays.
The House had set for itself March 31 as the deadline for passing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
The Chairman of the House Ad Hoc Committee on PIB and Chief Whip of the House, Mohammed Monguno, had said the bill would be passed in the first quarter of the year.
But that deadline passed while the lawmakers were on holiday.
The Electoral Act amendment bill also suffered several postponements, while the Constitution Alteration bills are still at the committee level.
The 9th Assembly of the House will clock two years on June 9. In line with tradition, it will take a two-week holiday to mark the occasion. Before that, the lawmakers will also adjourn for the Eid Fitri holiday.
The annual recess is another holiday awaiting the lawmakers. The annual recess usually lasts about six weeks.
Section 63 of the Nigerian Constitution provides that the House or Senate “shall each sit for a period not less than one hundred and eighty-one days in a year.”
However, as of March 31, the 9th House only had 14 of the stipulated minimum of 181 sittings for the year 2021.
The spokesperson of the House, Mr. Kalu, did not respond to a request for his comments for this report and whether or not the House will be able to meet up with the constitutional provision.