Senate’s mid term report and what stakeholders say
The Senate on Wednesday rolled out series of activities to celebrate what it called modest achievements in its last two years.
Proceeding with the celebration, the Senate leadership announced that 742 Bills were introduced during the two sessions of the Assembly, out of which 58 have been passed; 355 gone through first reading, 175 have gone through second reading and have been referred to the relevant committees for further legislative business. Eleven Bills referred by the House of Representatives for concurrence have also been passed.
But as the Senate leadership entered into celebration mood, opinions are divided on the justification for celebration, particularly when two critical issues that threaten political and economic survival of Nigeria were yet to get legislative redress.
Many believe that the delay in the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the Electoral Act amendment Bill, as well as the amendment of the Constitution have remained two issues that would taint whatever achievements the Ahmed Lawan-led National Assembly may have recorded.
It was the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that expressed disappointment that just about one year and nine months to the next general election, the National Assembly is yet to pass the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, in his remarks during a public hearing on Electoral Offences Commission Bill, said: “INEC is anxious to know the legal framework to govern the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
“The 2023 general elections will hold on Saturday February 18, 2023, which is exactly one year, nine months, two weeks and six days away from today.” He added.
Perhaps, aware of such criticisms, Lawan, declared that the upper legislative chamber would provide an atmosphere for amendment of the Electoral Act to enable Nigerians to elect good leaders and ensure improved governance.
He said: “We also promised to break the jinx on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and we are on the verge of doing this by finally passing the Bill this month after about 20 years of failed attempts.”
The Senate commenced zonal public hearings two weeks ago on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, which culminated in the national public hearing in Abuja.
The Senate came into being exactly two years ago with a very ambitious target called legislative agenda, a document that captured all that the 9th Senate sought to achieve within its four years tenure.
At mid term, the question being asked of the Senate is “how far has that legislative agenda being actualised?”
Key among promises contained in the legislative agenda is issue of timely passage of annual national budgets, which Ahmad Lawan in his campaigns had consistently stressed.
He had also promised that the leadership of the 9th National Assembly shall interface with the executive on the need for early presentation of budget proposals and cooperation during consideration for speedy passage.
The legislative agenda was developed against the backdrop of an underperforming economy, security challenges, unemployment and a myriad of other socio-economic problems.
The key areas of the agenda are the economy, security, constitution amendment, anti-corruption legislation, judiciary reform, electoral reforms, and socio-economic development through poverty alleviation, jobs creation, education and healthcare.
Another close look at how things have panned out shows that despite the tardiness on the part of the presidency, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework/ Fiscal Strategy Paper, MTEF/ FSP, which preceded the presentation of the 2020 and 2021 budget was treated with dispatch by the Senate to keep to its pledge. In the preceding year, the Senate passed the Appropriation Bill 2020 along with the Finance Bill 2020.
On its promise to enact laws to boost the revenue profile of government and ensure a paradigm shift from the yearly ritual of budget deficit, some legislative steps were taken to generate more revenue to the Federal Government.
To this extent, the Senate amended the nation’s tax laws to make this dream realisable.
The laws amended in this regards included, Petroleum Profit Tax, Custom and Excise Tariff Act, Company Income Tax Act, Personal Income Tax Act, Value Added Tax, Stamp Duties Act and Capital Gain Tax.
The Senate also passed the Public Procurement Act 2007 (Amendment) Bills, 2019 to sanitise the public procurement process and curtail the incidence and influence of corruption. Also, the Deep Off-shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP D3 LFN 2004 (Amendment Bill, 2019) sponsored by the duo of Senators Albert Bassey Akpan and Ifeanyi Ubah, representing Akwa Ibom Northeast and Anambra North, respectively were passed into law and subsequently assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari. Sponsors said the bills sought to amend the act by reviewing the sharing formula to accrue more benefits for the Federal Government from its contractual agreement with International Oil Companies.
The Senate President had after passage of the bill said the intention of the Senate was to assist the Buhari administration and the nation to use legislation to block all leakages and ultimately increase the Federal Government crude oil earning.
Peace, Stability in Senate
THE 9th Senate in that legislative agenda also promised to ensure harmony among colleagues irrespective of party.
To achieve this, the Senate President ignored advice from the then APC National chairman, Adams Oshiomhole when in July 2019, he gave 20, out of the 69 Committees slots, perceived as ‘juicy’, to lawmakers in the main opposition party.
PDP chieftains who were made chairmen of committees perceived as juicy and announced by Senator Lawan included: Senators Dino Melaye, (PDP Kogi now given to Senator Smart Adeyemi) Aviation; James Manager, (PDP Delta) Gas Resources; Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, (PDP Delta) Niger Delta; Senator Bassey Akpan, (PDP Akwa Ibom) Petroleum Resources; Gabriel Suswam, (PDP Benue), Power; Senator Ike Ekweremadu, (PDP Enugu) Environment. Others were Senator Rose Okoh, Trade and Investment; Senator Stella Oduah, vice- chairman, Appropriation; Senator Gershon Henry Bassey, Federal Roads Maintenance Agency; Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, Cooperation and Integration in Africa and NEPAD and Senator Francis Alimikhena, Customs, Excise and Tariff.
Despite the feats achieved by Lawan’s leadership in the last two years, Nigerians are not fascinated by what they call his open collaboration with Buhari’s presidency in some of its curious policies. Lawmakers across party divides, particularly from the southern part of the country have continued to squeal, consistently, on the floor of the Red Chamber, against appointments into federal boards and parastatals, which they noted was done deliberately to favour the North. Some of these include nominees for the Federal Character Commission, appointments of 40 nominees as vice chancellors and the board of Pension Commission.Senators have consistently argued against lopsidedness in the appointments into federal boards, which they describe as a breach of certain provisions of the Constitution and the Federal Character principle, enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Senator representing Ekiti Central and Chairman, Southern Senators’ Forum, Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, recently advised President Buhari and his appointees saddled with nomination of individuals for appointments to uphold the federal character principle. He maintained that apart from meeting eligibility criteria stipulated for the relevant public offices into which they are being appointed, adequate care must also be taken to ensure that the federal character principle established by virtue of the clear provision of Section 14, Sub-section (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is met by nominees.
The Senate rejected a bill for the establishment of Armed Forces Services Commission, 2021, sponsored by the senator representing Abia South and Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, at second reading. The bill sought to ensure that the composition of the Armed Forces of the Federation reflects federal character in the manner prescribed by Section 217 of the Constitution. With the exception of Senate Majority Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi and senator representing Taraba South, Emmanuel Bwacha, who spoke in support of the bill, majority of the senators from the North faulted the timing of the presentation of the bill as they claimed that it would politicise recruitment and promotion in the Armed Forces and undermine professionalism. That was a contentious matter.
As the nation prepares for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, some Nigerians have expressed strong reservations about the capacity of the Senate leadership to carry out fundamental amendments of the document. A source revealed that majority of lawmakers from the Southern part of the country were peeved at Lawan’s recent public denunciation of the call for restructuring of the country by the 17 Southern governors who met at Asaba, Delta State capital.
In an apparent reference to the derisive label of the National Assembly as a rubber stamp parliament, Senator Lawan has consistently maintained that his focus is to ensure a cordial relationship between the executive and the parliament, in the larger interest of the nation.
He said: “In terms of the relationship between the executive and the legislature, I believe that you can have two relationships.
“The first is a negative one, the other one is a positive one. If you choose to fight, the two arms suffer and the country suffers even more because it is not possible for you to fight and yet get something done for the country.”
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