A Senate’s three years of successes and failures
The most prominent measure of a thriving democracy is the existence of a very robust and vibrant legislature that is committed to the constitutional role of making laws for good governance, peace and welfare of the people while also serving as a check on the executive arm of government.Although in the last three years, the question of how well the Nigerian Senate has fared in performing this constitutional role is debatable, some yardsticks exist with which to make an unbiased judgment.
Views and opinions may vary but areas of success and failure would remain very glaring. There are issues of quality and impact of legislations, relevance and depth of resolutions as well as motives and gains of oversight functions.
There are also issues of whether or not the parliament has met with the expectations of the people regarding the restructuring of the Nigerian nation for effective governance through key amendments in the constitution.But first, the question of how well the Senate has fared in the last three years is very germane.Borne out of the politics and controversies associated with the new administration put in place by a political party largely constituted by what many called a group of strange bed-fellows, the Abubakar Bukola Saraki-led Eighth Senate sees itself as having excelled mainly because of the number of legislations it has passed in the last three years.
According to records released by the office of the Senate President, 35 months after its inauguration, the Eighth Senate has passed a total of 205 bills including Senate bills, concurrent bills and constitution amendment bills.
Saraki took to his twitter handle @BukolaSaraki to make the announcement and to congratulate his colleagues for a job well done.He further disclosed that from its inauguration on June 9, 2015 the Eighth Senate has surpassed the Seventh, Sixth and Fifth Senate in the number of bills passed. While the Seventh Senate passed only 128 bills in four years, the Sixth passed 82 and the Fifth Senate passed 129 bills.Saraki expressed optimism that in the few months that were left, the Senate would pass more bills that will affect the lives of Nigerians. “We still have some months to go, yet, we have reached this milestone.”
According to Saraki, “With the support from our international development partners and the organised private sector, we commissioned an expert report which identified 54 extant laws that must be reviewed and brought in line with international best practices in order to open up our economy for private investments and businesses.
“This legislative intervention yielded major economic reform bills and seven business environment bills. Prominent among those passed include the Electronic Transaction Bill 2015; Debt Recovery and Insolvency-bill 2015 and the Railway Bill. All these bills represent a watershed in economic and business legislations in our country.“The Electronic Transaction Bill 2015 for example, will be the first legal framework in the country that provides the legal foundation for electronic signatures and guarantees predictability in contracts made electronically. This bill will offer full protections to contracts entered into via emails, and transactions conducted with online shops, electronic commerce and services platforms, which are currently not provided for in our laws.
“Another obvious benefit of this bill is that it will reduce the cost of doing business by eliminating transportation and other logistic cost. By passing this bill, the Senate has given legitimacy and local application to the United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 23rd November 2005.”
On the Railway Reform Bill which is considered as one that could bring revolution to Nigeria’s rail sector and also serve as a catalyst for economic advancement, Saraki said passing the bill would have a huge impact on the nation’s economy. He made the remark while opening a public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Land Transport on the bill.
On the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, which seeks to reform the country’s oil and gas industry that has been bogged down by decades of a lack of transparency and corruption, the Senate leadership described it as another serious issue that enabled the upper chamber to boost its image.
One of the most strategic bills passed within the period is the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which is the biggest business reform bill in Nigeria in over 28 years.
The bill, according to the Senate, heralds a new dawn for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) development in Nigeria, as the country will now join a select group of countries with attractive investment environments.
Speaking on the passage of the bill at plenary, Saraki stated that it was a significant milestone in the Eighth Senate’s Legislative Agenda.“With the passage of CAMA, which is by far the biggest and one of the most far-reaching legislations ever passed in any legislature in our country, we have now put in place a regulatory framework to promote the ease of doing business and reduce regulatory hurdles.
“This is a pro-business law. This bill that we have just passed will show the audacity that we have to move Nigerian businesses into a new era of success and development,” Saraki said.The new bill, once it is passed and signed into law, will help to make Nigeria’s business environment as competitive as its counterparts around the world; allow business owners to now register their businesses in a faster and more efficient way, using technology; removes all the unnecessary regulatory provisions such as the requirement for Annual General Meetings and Company Secretaries; and reduces the minimum share capital for all companies and start-ups in Nigeria — which will encourage more investments and create new jobs.
HOWEVER, despite its bid to play landmark roles in strengthening democracy in Nigeria, the Senate has recorded some negative trends that acted as major drawbacks for democracy.A very popular definition of democracy is one offered by a prominent former United States President, Abraham Lincoln in 1863,which described democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The meaning of this description is that any democratic government must exist to do the wish of the people.
In Nigeria, one of the topical solutions that have been preferred by democracy watchers as capable of helping the operation of democracy in Nigeria and which enjoys the support of the majority of the people, is that of restructuring the Nigerian State in such a way to ensure that power is devolved from the strong centre to the other parts like the regions and the states. Unfortunately, the Senate, for whatever reasons, has chosen to go against the wish of the people they claim to represent even though the cry for the redefinition of the structure of government is becoming more strident by the day.
The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan had adopted this through the report of the 2014 National Conference but because that government failed to succeed itself in the 2015 general election, executing the recommendations of the report has been put in abeyance.But the issue continues to gain prominence in debates and discussions across the country until the Senate began to consider it as one of the amendments proposed to the constitution.
The Nigerian people were disappointed to see the clause rejected when it was time to vote on whether or not the amendment should be approved.Although the Senate had promised to reconsider it in the next constitution amendment, the failure of that devolution of power clause has become a major stain on the record of the upper chamber particularly in the promotion of democracy
Another clear setback for democracy in the Senate is the April 18, 2018 invasion of its chamber by some thugs leading to the stealing of the mace and beating of some critical staff of the parliament.Although the leadership of the National Assembly is conducting a comprehensive investigation to unravel the circumstances surrounding the ugly development, it has attracted condemnations across the country.
Many have equally blamed the development on the “dirty politics” played by the present crop of lawmakers in the Senate. Others see the Senate as still being haunted by the politics of its birth.But critical stakeholders in Nigeria’s democracy did not waste time in condemning the invasion of the upper chamber and the stealing of the mace.
Saraki, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the incident as a direct assault on the legislature and bold attempt to truncate Nigeria’s democracy.Saraki commended the swift reaction by the leadership and members of the House of Representatives in demonstrating their solidarity with the red chamber; an action which he noted had sent a strong signal that enemies of democracy and those who want to undermine the legislature would resisted by all parliamentarians.
“With the way the Senate has defied those seeking to undermine it, we have sent out a strong signal that we are always ready to defend our constitutional mandate and nothing will deter us from this.”Abubakar described the attack as a dangerous precedent and an assault on Nigeria’s democracy by anti-democratic elements.“I am utterly embarrassed, shocked and outraged by this ugly development because it is not only a threat to a major democratic institution, but also represents a grave danger to the survival of our democracy.”
Also reacting, the Peoples Democratic Party described the invasion of the Senate and seizure of the mace as an attack on the legislature.
The party said the incident had been emboldened by a series of interferences and direct attacks by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Buhari Presidency on the institution of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate.“Is it not strange that a legislative day appointed to further deliberate on the re-ordering of sequence of election will be the day that strange elements would invade the National Assembly, particularly, the hallowed chambers of the Senate, to disrupt legislative proceeding and seize the mace? “It queried.”
The PDP noted that it was equally strange that security was compromised in the National Assembly to pave the way for the invasion just as it pointed out that the parliament, all over the world, is the bastion of democracy, without which government becomes totalitarian.
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