Senate begins critical self-assessment after legislative year
The Senate leadership has commenced serious ‘stock-taking’ and assessment of its performance and failures in the last year. It was learnt that the exercise, among others, is aimed at identifying the key issues and challenges the upper chamber faced within the outgoing legislative session to determine how well such issues had been addressed.
It was also learnt that the entire 90 committees had received strict directives to prepare comprehensive reports of their activities during the session, identify progress made, failures recorded and come up with suggestions on possible areas of improvement. But as the upper legislative chamber strives towards improving its legislative interventions and effecting corrections on some mistakes made so far, what it did or failed to do could serve as a kind of template or framework.
Indeed, facts, figures and developments that shaped the upper legislative chamber, particularly as they affect governance as well as the socio-economic lives of the people in the last year are the real factors identified to set the right stage for the next legislative year. Looking back, the National Assembly that was inaugurated on the 11 June 2019 was one borne into a generation of teething socio-economic and political challenges requiring some legislative remedies.
According to one of the presiding officers, it was obvious that the assignments of the 9th Senate predated its inauguration. Some of those pending issues include the passage of the much-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill and the enactment of legislation that would introduce the conduct of the credible, free and fair election in the country. While these are still being awaited, the National Assembly attempted to address other problems including unrealistic and non-performing national budgets, hostile and suspicious relationship between the executive and the legislative arms of government which had adversely affected development programmes in the past, and internal crisis among legislators.
Many lawmakers had drawn attention to the politics and campaigns that preceded the emergence of the current Senate President, Mr. Ahmed Lawan, which they said were bases for giving immediate attention to some issues they addressed.
“You would recall that the campaigns and politics were not only robust but attracted some rough and hostile exchanges which threatened the peace expected in the 9th Senate as seen in the early life of the 8th Senate where some aggrieved lawmakers dragged presiding officers to court for allegedly forging Senate Rules,” a lawmaker stated.
According to him, “To avoid that experience and return the Senate to a path of peaceful co-existence among lawmakers, Lawan did not waste time in initiating peace talks among potential ‘warriors’ in the Senate. Opposition lawmakers were especially reached for political ‘truce’.”
A naughty issue that attracted criticisms to the leadership of the 9th Senate was its relationship with the executive arm of government. Many still describe the Senate leadership as a body desperate to make peace with the executive arm of government. It has been argued that the upper chamber is being made a rubber-stamp legislature.
However, Lawan, in defence of the chummy relationship between the Senate and the presidency had said that the Senate “will commit to the partnership rather than partisanship and between us and the executive arm of government, we will choose unity of purpose over conflict and discord while also working towards further strengthening and guaranteeing our independence and that of the judiciary.”
Lawan continues to insist that his belief in President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision and that of the All Progressives Congress should not be misconstrued as eroding his independence of mind and that of the Senate.
He said: “During my campaign, I was called a potential rubber-stamp Senate President to the executive, maybe because I am close to the president, or because I believe in his cause. There is no time that I will ever be a rubber stamp. Yes, I believe in President Buhari as a person and I believe in my party, the APC, but I believe that our problems as Nigerians are Nigerian problems.
“They are neither APC nor PDP problems; they are Nigerian problems that require a Nigerian solution. So, we have to work together. We will be there for the executive arm of government all the time in moving this country forward.”
The lawmaker argued that in recent times, the leadership of the Senate openly disagreed with the executive arm on the issue of palliatives, pointing out that in a rubber-stamp parliament, nobody would do that. A few weeks ago, allegations of monumental fraud perpetrated at the Social Investments Programmes (SIP) attracted serous criticisms and anger from the leadership of the National Assembly.
Lawan had said, “I want to tell you that the majority of those who are supposed to benefit have no access to power. They have no access to the Internet. They have no bank account, so no BVN.
In fact, many of them don’t even have phones and these are the poorest of the poor. Yet, some of the conditions or guidelines which you set inadvertently leave them out.”
A principal officer in the Senate said the result of the peaceful relationship with the executive arm of government attested to the achievements that have been made in terms of economically useful legislations in the first half-year of the 9th Senate. According to him, among the most useful legislations passed are the Deep Off-Shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP D3 LFN 2004 (Amendment Bill, 2019).
Lawan said passing the Bill ensured that Nigeria could generate more revenues from its endowments, adding that the National Assembly passed the bill as a precursor to its determination to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill in 2020.
“The Deep Off-Shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Bill was promptly assented into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 4, 2019, within days of being passed by the National Assembly. This is another result of the peaceful relationship between the National Assembly and the presidency.
“This law will significantly increase accruals to the government from crude oil contracts. It has also ended our years of inexplicable failure to call in returns due to us from our joint venture partners. As a result of this law, we have expanded a critical revenue stream and ensured more funds will flow into the treasury that will enable the government to execute its budgets and critical developmental projects.”
Listing the benefits of other bills passed by the Senate, Media Adviser to Lawan, Mr. Ola Awoniyi, said, “The Senate passed the Finance Bill, 2019 on 21 November 2019. The Bill amended seven existing tax and fiscal policy laws (Companies Income Tax Act, 2004; Value Added Tax Act, 2007; Customs and Excise Tariff (Consolidation) Act, 2004; Personal Income Tax Act, 2007; Capital Gains Tax Act, 2007; Stamp Duties Act, 2007; and Petroleum Profit Tax Act, 2004).
“Its object is to reform Nigeria’s tax system for enhanced implementation and effectiveness. It is in line with the reform of the tax system initiated by the federal government, so as to create an enabling business environment and reduce the tax burden for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).”
Another issue that has kept generating controversy is the 2020 budget, which the Senate said it passed in line with the commitment of senators, to realigning the fiscal calendar to a predictable January-December budget cycle. The passage was the earliest in recent memory and was done by the lawmakers to enable government to have a full year to implement its budgets.
Lawan said the lawmakers believe this would “enhance planning, implementation and monitoring of the budget by the relevant organs and agencies and significantly improve our annual budget performance.”
The 9th Senate also passed three Public Procurement Act 2007 (Amendment) Bills, 2019 to sanitize the public procurement process and curtail corruption. The emergency of these objectives, according to Awoniyi, could not be overemphasized in an economy where corruption in the procurement process continues stymy service delivery from the public sector.