Senate: Two years of delicate balancing
One popular maxim in journalism and indeed a true-life axiom is that facts are sacred but opinions are free. It is based on this paradigm that the two-year anniversary of the 8th Senate under the able leadership of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki would be reviewed.
Despite the various distractions and negative propaganda, the real facts on ground show that the 8th Senate has indeed taken its legislative duties and interventions to higher levels, in terms of keeping promises earlier made through its legislative agenda and in moving the country forward. At all times, the Senate has been able to demonstrate that when facts are separated from mere tissues of propaganda, it will be clear that the legislative institution is delivering on its mandate.
Available statistics show that the 8th Senate has done better than its predecessors since 1999, in terms of output. For instance, the Senate just last week broke the jinx over the 17 years Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB). It is note worthy that the passage of this bill is in line with the agenda the Senate set for itself after its inauguration in June 2015. By this singular action of the 8th Senate, this bill when concurred by the House of Representatives and assented to by the President is expected to create conducive business environment for petroleum operations
Apart from this, it will equally enhance exploitation and exploration of petroleum resources in Nigeria for the benefit of Nigerians, as well as help optimize domestic gas supplies, especially for power generation and industrial development and encourage investment in Nigerian petroleum industry
The passage of the PIGB by the Senate will optimize government revenue, establish profit-driven oil entities, deregulate and liberalize the downstream petroleum sector. The proposed law would create efficient and effective regulatory agencies, promote the development of Nigerian content in the oil industry as well as protect health, safety and the environment in petroleum operations. No doubt, the PIGB will lead to the establishment of the Nigeria Oil and Gas Investment Pact Scheme and this will ensure that components of industry equipment can be manufactured locally.
Also, for the first time in the last one-decade of budget processing, the 8th Senate kept to its promise to open the budget of the National Assembly for public scrutiny. It changed the narratives of the secrecy of the National Assembly budget by moving from a one-line budget item, to a 33 page budget details. Sponsored Civil Society Groups who believed the promise to open up the budget will never be done were caught pants down when the National Assembly budget was made open against their expectation. What else is transparency, if not this promise made and indeed kept.
Mischief makers have always fed some gullible members of the public that the funds in the budget of the National Assembly is shared literally between members of the two chambers by dividing the budget figure by 469- that is, the number of members of the National Assembly. Simply put, bring out your calculator and share the budget with either 109 senators or with 360 House of Representatives members and they go to town with exaggerated figures what they believe is the earnings of the legislature.
With this attitude, they choose to ignore allocations to other departments, institutions and purposes within the National Assembly, like the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS), National Assembly Civil Service Commission (NASC), the National Assembly Management and the over 5000 legislative aides, among others. Now the bottom of that campaign of calumny had been removed.
While there have been inadequate appreciation of the role of the legislature in our democracy, one can argue that the situation is understandable. But a retrospective mind would recall that in any military rule, whether in Nigeria or any other country that has had the misfortune of military involvement in politics, the legislature is usually the missing arm. Indeed, both the executive and the judiciary arms are what comprised the government in a military setting. However. It is obvious that none of these two arms is as representative of the peoples’ interest as the legislature.
So, within the prism of the role of the legislature, the 8th Senate under Saraki has proved and lived up to expectations despite all odds. On a comparative note, in the 5th Senate, a total of 370 bills were considered, 360 of the bills passed first reading and 196 passed the second reading. Whereas, in the 6th Senate 225 bills were processed, and in the 7th Assembly 526 were considered, in four years; but in just two years, the 8th has received 394 bills, which almost doubled what other sessions has done in four years.
Still on the legislative interventions of the 8th Senate, when it assumed legislative duties and to its chagrin, discovered the ripe off on the economy through the fragrant abuse of the waivers import duties on rice importation. The Senate took the initiative by setting up committee that came out with the revelation of how much the nation bled under the import duty regime. The rip-off from the import duties stood at over N447 billion. The abuse of the import duties on rice dates back to 2013
From the available records, the Senate as at press time has received request from the presidency to screen 196 presidential nominees, out of which 185 were successfully screened. In fact, it is on record that the 8th Senate gave a hundred percent clearance to the ministerial list.
None of the ministerial nominees despite protests from some quarters were dropped.
The fact of the matter is that only nine out of the presidential nominees did not scale through the Senate screening for appointments into their substantive offices. These included nominees for office of chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu and two ambassadorial nominees. One was a retired judge from Imo state who is 82 years old and refused to answer questions from the screening committee. The other nominee from Ondo State was disqualified due to report of the Department of State Security (DSS) indicting him. Whereas, the nominee for the office of the Chairman of the National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) did not even show up for screening and the three other nominees from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were disqualified for one reason or the other. Yet propagandists went to town accusing the Senate of not co-operating with President Buhari led administration. This is spurious claim not supported by facts.
Still on interventions and promises kept, within the period under review, it was through the legislative efforts of the senate that the fraudulent activities in the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) was discovered and over N20 billion was saved from the implementation of the policy. The same is the position with the fraud in the NNPC to which some top oil magnates are undergoing interrogation for their role in this economic sabotage ranging into billions of Naira.
The Senate in the cause of its duties mandated the National Electricity Regularity Commission (NERC) to abolish the fixed charges on electricity consumption as well as the bulk metering of villages and communities to be stopped. The same is the role played by the Senate when the National Communication Commission (NCC) increased arbitrarily the data price. The senate intervention made the NCC to reverse the policy.
Just two months ago, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN) commended the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki for his intervention, which led the Federal Government to introduce an Import Adjustment Tax policy in 2016 that has encouraged pharmaceutical industries in the country to thrive.
The National President of PMG-MAN, Mr. Okey Akpa, gave the commendation when he led other national executive members of the association on a thank you to the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki.
It could be recalled that last year, when PMG-MAN came to the Senate, Saraki assured them that the Senate would advocate for reduction in the prevailing Common External Tariff (CET) on the importation of pharmaceutical raw materials, to boost local production of drugs that would enable Nigerians all over the country have access to cheaper medications.
What else do you call this, if not evidence of promise made, promise kept?
Okocha is Special Assistant to the Senate President