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National assembly to resume on Tuesday and plenary goes digital

Plenary in the House of the Representatives will now become digital as the National Assembly resumes plenary on Tuesday.

Several electronic gadgets have been installed in the chambers to aid legislative proceedings.

The National Assembly had embarked on a two-month annual recess on July 23, 2020, and was billed to resume plenary on September 15, 2020. The parliament had postponed resumption till September 29 without citing any reason.

It was, however, learnt that the multimedia devices were still being installed and test-run.

Our correspondent observed on Wednesday that a monitor had been attached to each of the seats on the floor of the House.

The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, is billed to inspect the facilities today (Friday) to assess the readiness of the devices ahead of resumption.

Speaking with our correspondent on Wednesday, a top official of the House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak on the facilities, explained their functions.

The source said, “It is a touch screen. On the touch screen, you have the order paper, name, constituency and party of the member speaking currently; you will have copies of the Constitution,  Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act and, Standing Rules, among others, from where you can made quick references.

“Most importantly, you can vote electronically. By time the presiding officer says vote, three icons will come up – yes, no and abstain. You will have a limited time, while the timer counts down. Once it ends, the result will be displayed.

“Now, if a member wants to talk, instead of raising their hands, you will press a button and it will alert the presiding officer on his system. He will right there click on who to speak.”

Presently, lawmakers attend sessions armed with copies of the Constitution and other documents, while the secretariat and sergeants-at-arms usually duplicate other materials and distribute hard copies to members.

Speaking on the installations, the Director of Information, National Assembly, Rawlings Agada, said he could not ascertain if the project was part of the planned renovation and reconfiguration of the chambers as captured in the 2020 Appropriation Act.

The planned renovation of the complex with N37bn had generated criticisms from Nigerians. The Federal Government had, however, slashed the cost by 75 per cent to N9.25bn during the downward review of the 2020 budget due to COVID-19 pandemic and fall in oil prices.

Agada said it was a project initiated by the House and inspired by Gbajabiamila as part of his reforms.

He noted that though the legislative arm of government usually gets a lump sum to finance its budget, the fund was usually divided among the National Assembly Management, the Senate and the House.

The director said, “Due to the recent change of guard (appointment of a new clerk) and the fact that the pandemic took a larger part of this year, I don’t know the stage of the implementation of the 2020 budget. There are in-house projects undertaken by each chamber; the Committee on Services of each chamber can undertake such projects.

“The House had plans and the Speaker too had his eyes on it when he came on board, and it was in his inaugural address. Just like the purchase of vehicles, it comes from their individual budgets. It is within their own limits to do anything they have planned for within their budget. Outside the general repair work, there are other palliative repairs that are done.

“Don’t forget the property we are managing is not our own. Just like the Supreme Court, Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, the National Stadium (before now) and the Presidential Villa, they are all national edifices that are under the Federal Capital Development Authority.”

The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, described the facility as one of the best in the world.

Gbajabiamila had on July 2, 2019, said voting by members of the chamber on serious legislation would become electronic as the e-voting system would be introduced as part of the reforms to be initiated by his leadership.

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