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National Assembly’s ‘Methuselahs’: From 1999 to 2011, still counting…

SINce the advent of democracy in 1999, some National Assembly members have continued to win elections to represent their constituencies, either at the Senate or at the House of Representatives.

At the last count, almost a dozen of these federal lawmakers still bestride their districts like colossus. From the Senate President, David Bonaventure Mark, to the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, the fededral lawmakers have argued on many occasions that the National Assembly remains the arm of government that less than 20 per cent of the legislators return after their first tenure.

Mark, who is at the forefront of the campaign for the return of all federal lawmakers to their seats, felt that instead of fielding a new lawmaker at every election to represent his constituents, and lawmaker starting afresh to learn the House rules and other details necessary for effective lawmaking, if most of the lawmakers are returned, it would guarantee stability and continuity in the act of lawmaking.

But many have argued that the National Assembly members have not justified the huge investment on them, either through quality legislation or effective representation. The recent public discourse on the jumbo pay being received by federal lawmakers has also attracted criticism that they are insensitive to the plight of the average Nigerian, who could barely eat three square meals a day. Some are even canvassing that the National Assembly members should work on part-time, in order to cut down the effect of the salaries and allowances they receive on the economy.

But spokesman of the Senate, Ayogu Eze, would not agree that federal lawmakers’ emolument is outrageous. Eze maintained that what people are now referring to as jumbo pay is the overhead cost and salaries meant for the staff of the National Assembly members. He believes the Executive is earning more than the legislature, but that nobody has bothered to find out the actual salary of the federal ministers and other heads of parastatals.

According to him, the National Assembly is the most criticised of all arms of government in the country.

While speaking on the jumbo pay, Mrs. Abike Dabiri- Erewa explained that she has been in the forefront of the Freedom of Information Bill to show that there was nothing to hide in the National Assembly as it’s being bandied about.

Her words: “I have been in the forefront of the FoI Bill to demonstrate that everybody needs the bill. It is not for only the media practitioners as some people are saying. For instance, do you know how much a council chairman receives? These are the things we ought to know and once this bill is passed, everything will be in the open. The bill is not only for journalists, but for everybody.”

But in spite of the criticisms about the federal lawmakers and the desirability of giving them automatic tickets, Mark has been vociferous in his campaign for the country to return most of his colleagues at the National Assembly in the forthcoming election.

Some of the lawmakers that have enjoyed the luxury of representing their constituencies since 1999 include: David Mark, Gbenga Ogunniya, Patricia Etteh, Farouk Lawan, Habeeb Fasinro, and Ita Enang.

David Mark

He has been in the National Assembly since 1999, representing the Benue South Senatorial District. Mark, current Senate President, a consummate politician and retired Army General brought all who-is-who in Nigeria political arena, including the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, about 12 state governors and federal lawmakers to declare for his fourth attempt at the National Assembly in Oturpo recently.

His declaration must have sent a strong signal to his opponents, who may want to slug it out with him in 2011 poll, especially, the arch rival in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), such as Gen. Lawrence Onoja, Alhaji Abubakar aka Young Alhaji, who nearly ousted the Senate President in the 2007 election, who is also waiting in the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP). But Mark seems to have mastered the Benue politics over time; moreover, his governor, Gabriel Suswan, is supporting him for the fourth attempt at the National Assembly.

Gbenga Ogunniya

He represents Ondo Central Senatorial District at the Senate. Ogunniya started with the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 1999, before he moved to the PDP. He is the Chairman Senate Committee on Interior Affairs. Until recently, Ogunniya was the chairman of the Police Affairs Committee. But unlike the previous attempt, Ogunniya may find the 2011 senatorial election a daunting task; this is because of the incumbent governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, who hails from the district as Ogunniya. The Senator has however told his supporters that he is prepared to clinch the district for the fourth term. But the governor too also needs to win the district to prove that his victory at the Court of Appeal was not a fluke. It promises to be an epic battle because of the two personalities who were friends before party affiliation separated them.

Patricia Olubunmi Etteh

The former Speaker of the House of Representatives is a consummate politician from Osun State. The recent Court of Appeal verdict that ousted her governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, may have altered the political calculation of the PDP candidates in the next election in the state. The ACN still savouring its judicial verdict may want to prove cynics wrong and show that it has the capacity to win election without court judgement. Etteh who represents Ayedaade/Isokan Federal Constituency is also in the race for the fourth time.

Farouk Lawan

The diminutive House of Representatives lawmaker is a power broker, both in the National Assembly and in Kano State politics. He was in the race for the governorship before he made a U-turn and stepped down for his former governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. He is the Chairman, House Committee on Education. Lawan is heading for the House for the fourth attempt.

Habeeb Fasinro

If there is any federal lawmaker that is enjoying the goodwill of his father, he is Habeeb Fasinro, a member of the House from the Lagos Island Federal Constituency. Fasinro has been in the House since 1999, because of his father’s influence in Lagos politics. Those in the know say Fasinro has not moved any motion, nor contributed to debates vigorously since 1999. In fact, when the Action Congress of Nigeria wanted to appoint the leader of its caucus, the lot fell on Femi Gbajabiamila, a new entrant to the House at the time because Fasinro, whose family resides abroad, may not have the time, because he shuttles between Lagos and the United States of America (USA). He is in the race for the fourth time.

Ita Enang

Unlike his colleagues in the House of Representatives, Enang, the Chairman, House Committee on Business and Rules is moving up. A vibrant lawmaker, the Akwa Ibom-born federal lawmaker is vying for the Senate in the forthcoming election, and if the rapport between him and his governor, Godswill Akpabio is anything to go by, the Senate may be up for grabs for him.

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