Omo-Agege and the public service
Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, Deputy President of the Senate (“DSP”) first significant foray into public service was when he was appointed as executive assistant to Governor James Ibori of Delta State (2003-2005). The DSP, a lawyer, later served as Commissioner for Special Duties, and Secretary to the Delta State Government between 2005-2007. In 2015, he was elected by the people of Delta Central to represent Delta Central Senatorial District at the Senate. The DSP was re-elected to serve a second term in the Senate in 2019 and elected as DSP by his peers on inauguration day of the 9th Assembly.
The DSP made history as the first Senator from Delta Central to serve a second term at the Senate and as DSP since the inception of the 4th republic. It was not until the last year of his first term at the Senate that I met the DSP for the first time in his home in Abuja in the company of a mutual friend from the northern part of the country who introduced us. I was visiting from the United States at the time where I am a law professor. On that occasion, the DSP was engaging and happy to note my interest and knowledge about Nigerian politics and public service. However, it was not until we met again and had lunch at Harolds in London in April 2019 that the DSP made the most impression on me.
On assumption of office as DSP, he invited me to join his team giving me an opportunity to serve Delta Central and my country. Yet, this article represents my views on the implementation of his legislative agenda of the last 365 days. As a member of his team, I have observed in awed silence, the DSP’s disposition towards public accountability and performance evaluation in the execution of his legislative agenda. The office of the DSP is managed by an experienced administrator, Otive Igbuzor who functions as the Chief of Staff. The office comprises advisers, six operational departments and over twenty-seven units advising and assisting the DSP on the execution of his legislative agenda. The responsibilities of the advisers and assistants cover constituency matters, law, public policy, legislative drafting, constitutional review, education, electoral reforms, youths and sports development, inter-parliamentary issues, oil and gas, Niger Delta, women affairs, economic development, public engagement and political consensus building, to mention just a few. As a law maker, in championing these issues, the DSP exemplifies a policy of transparency and accountability.
Given that the DSP ran for office with a promise to pursue policies and causes that will be effective in contributing to socio-economic development in Delta Central and the Niger Delta, the principle of transparency and accountability that the DSP espouses is not a political liability.
To the contrary, the DSP’s notion of public accountability is foisted in the expectation that his performance as a representative of Delta Central and member of the leadership at the National Assembly, will produce the right results for the benefit of those he serves and make Nigeria a better participatory democracy. In analyzing the DSP’s political dispositions, the reader is invited to note that, the DSP is invested in the political and socio-economic agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressive Congress (APC). This was, perhaps, why the DSP was upfront with his frustrations with the inability of the leadership of the 8th Assembly to effectively collaborate and partner with the Buhari administration on policies and reforms that could have worked for a better Nigeria. Poised to make a difference in the 9th Assembly and to provide an effective representation to the good people of Delta Central, on assumption of office, the DSP approved and commissioned a monitoring and evaluation mechanism within his office to carry out a periodic assessment of his performance as a Senator. There are two fundamental reasons for this approach by the DSP. Firstly, to demonstrate the DSP’s openness to answer questions whether he is doing things the most effective way in the delivery of his agenda. Secondly, to find out through feedbacks from constituents and stakeholders, whether he is serving his constituency as intended.
Thus, the assessment of the DSP in his first 365 days in office reveal the execution of a robust legislative agenda that transcends his primary constituency. The DSP pursued policies and introduced Bills that tackled issues such as sexual harassment in tertiary institutions, education, electoral reforms, judiciary reforms, improvement of democratic institutions, economic development in Delta Central and the Niger Delta, robust public engagements, banking and finance, unemployment and human capital development, youths and sports development, inter-parliamentary engagement, primary health care, and community development.
In the execution of his legislative agenda, the DSP emerged as one of the Senators of the 9th Assembly with the most Bills introduced in the 9th Senate till date. The DSP proposed, sponsored, and introduced over 18 Bills. A feat that is uncommon by any Senator of his stature and pedigree. In the period under review, the DSP was most aggressive in electoral and judiciary reforms. On electoral reforms, the DSP introduced and sponsored the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2019.
The intention behind this Bill is to cover the pitfalls and the loopholes in the Act to address its limitations exposed by judicial review. The proposed amendments by the DSP seeks to, amongst other things, require the law to provide for mandatory inspection of election materials, electronic transmission of voters’ accreditation, electronic voting, substitution of political parties’ nominees and provision for the death of a candidate before the declaration of election results. The underpinnings of the DSP’s policy of pursuing electoral reforms is underscored by his interest to ensure that, the best reflections of government at all levels and democratic aspirations of the people are best expressed in a more credible electoral system. The DSP is desirous of improving the way elections are conducted in Nigeria through the instrumentality of the law and the proper enforcement of the Electoral Act. This is a step in the right direction because credible elections are fundamental to the success of any democracy.
In another poignant move reminiscent of taking his appointment by the Senate to Chair the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) of the National Assembly seriously, the DSP assembled an in-house committee within his office led by a Special Adviser to assist him in carrying out this national assignment. The DSP’s positioning of the in-house committee to assist him on this assignment, with particular attention to legislative drafting, law, legal research, policy evaluation, constitutional interpretation, and public engagements is indicative of his motivation to succeed.
In addition to the ongoing work of the CRC, within the last 365 days, the DSP has presented over 13 constitutional amendment Bills at Plenary for consideration by the Senate, all of which have passed through second reading. As at March 17, 2020 the Senate has formally referred the amendment Bills presented by the DSP to the CRC. The constitutional amendment Bills presented by the DSP during the period under review addressed pertinent issues critical to the survival and improvement of our democracy.
The idea behind some of the Bills was also to create opportunities for inclusion and constitutional reforms that establish better avenues for sustainable development and improved public institutions. In this regard, the DSP’s proposed Bills seek to make provisions for a standardized system for conducting a national census, establishing a system backed by law to increase the participation of women and youths at the highest levels of Government, proposing the establishment of separate election tribunals to address pre-election and election disputes to resolve the conflicting jurisprudence and forum shopping pertaining to election matters, and making the immunity clause in the constitution inapplicable for the protected public officers where the alleged offence involves the misappropriation of public funds belonging to the Federal, State, or Local Government or the sponsoring of political violence resulting in the death of a political opponent or a family member. On education, constituency matters, youths and sports development, and primary health care, the DSP made significant impacts that will stand the test of posterity. The DSP successfully introduced and sponsored the Bill for the establishment of a Federal Polytechnic at Orogun in Delta State. When operational, as Federal institution, the proposed tertiary institution will create more educational opportunities for Deltans and Nigerians.
The consequential development and employment opportunities the institution will create in Delta State and the Niger Delta cannot be over emphasized. In a move internationally acclaimed as a landmark legislation, the DSP successfully introduced and sponsored the Sexual Harassment Bill applicable in Nigerian tertiary institutions. The Sexual Harassment Bill tackled an issue that was important to youths and academic institutions in addressing a problematic matter with the backing of the law. The Bill arguably brought Nigeria in compliance with international best practices on how to address sexual harassment in tertiary institutions. With an open-door policy in mind, the DSP established a constituency office and a robust protocol operation to make him more engaged, accessible and in touch with constituents and stakeholders on issues that are critical in bringing development to Delta Central and the Niger Delta.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, the DSP facilitated the distribution of federal palliatives and programs to constituents through his constituency office. To support the Federal Government in this regard, the DSP donated the sum of eighty-five (85) million naira for cash distribution to more than seventeen (17,000.00) households targeting the aged and unemployed in the eight local government areas that make up Delta Central. In addition, the DSP donated food items to each of the eighty-five (85) electoral wards in Delta Central regardless of political affiliation to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. In the year under review, and because of his open-door policy, the protocol department facilitated audience with the DSP by constituents, stakeholders, traditional rulers, women, youths, and other prominent Nigerians from all works of life.
They sought audience with the DSP to discuss and interface on issues that were important in moving Delta State and Nigeria forward. Through the DSP’s constituency office, several individuals and Deltans were successfully recommended for federal employments and nominated for federal boards, commissions, agency, and ambassadorial appointments. Pursuing a policy of strategic engagement in his primary constituency, the DSP facilitated and donated solar powered streets lights, electric transformers, and constructed primary health care centers in Agbarho, Udu, Ughelli, Sapele, and Orogun areas of Delta State. The DSP also supplied medical equipment to selected primary health care centers in Delta Central during the period under review. It is interesting to note that there are ongoing constituency projects in Delta Central at the direction and auspices of the office of the DSP.
During the year under review, the DSP championed reforms in the judiciary designed to improve and consolidate a fair and speedy administration of justice in Nigeria. For example, the DSP introduced and sponsored a constitutional amendment Bill to increase the number of justices at the Supreme Court from twenty-one (21) to forty-two (42) to deal with the issue of backlog of cases at the apex Court. Regarding the National Industrial Court (NIC), the DSP introduced an amendment Bill to make all decisions of the NIC appealable to the Court of Appeals contrary to the current system where only criminal and fundamental rights issues are appealable to the Court of Appeals leaving the NIC as the final arbiter in all other matters. The DSP took up this issue because the notion that a Court of first instance will be the final arbiter on a substantive matter is antithetical to the fundamental principles of our legal system. To enable the legal system, benefit more from the experience and dedication of Judges of Superior Courts of record, the DSP also introduced and sponsored a constitutional amendment Bill to establish a uniform retirement age of sixty-five (65) for all Judges.
Given the opportunity at the international stage, the DSP did not shy away from advocating a policy of inclusion and accommodation in parliamentary democracy. As part of the delegation of the DSP to the 25th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth held in Ottawa, Canada in January 2020, I was proud to watch the DSP make the argument that an unfettered power by any assembly or parliament to suspend any member indefinitely is tantamount to dis-enfranchising that member’s constituency. This argument was well received. It drew the admiration of the attendees at the conference including the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, the Honourable Anthony Rota, M.P. and his Australian counterpart the Honourable Tony Smith, Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives.
The impressive performance of the DSP in law making, oversight functions, and leadership can be traced to a people centered and strategic legislative agenda designed to promote transparency, accountability, and public service. This approach to governance is worthy of emulation by all public office holders and any Nigerian citizen interested in making positive contributions to the development of our country. Based on his record at the Senate in the last 365 days since assumption of office, it goes without saying that the DSP will improve on his records in the interest of Delta Central, Niger Delta and a better Nigeria.
Dr.Okpe is a lawyer and SSA to Deputy President of the Senate on Policy Monitoring and Evaluation.
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