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8th senate: A year of motions, bills

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Abuja
12 June 2016   |   3:44 am
With one year gone in the All Progressive Congress (APC)-led Senate, the dominant questions from many, who have been following development in the Upper Chamber..

saraki

With one year gone in the All Progressive Congress (APC)-led Senate, the dominant questions from many, who have been following development in the Upper Chamber are, how has the apex legislative body impacted on the change agenda? What exactly is the key legislative measures initiated to facilitate achievement of positive changes and improved living standard of Nigerians?

A close observation of the current Senate opens up series of issues, which a stranger to the history of the National Assembly might not comprehend easily.

From the crisis in the ruling APC that preceded the inauguration of the National Assembly and the effects the crisis had on the unity of the Senate in its early days, the Abubakar Bukola Saraki-led Senate had experienced series of turbulence.

The most prominent was the eventual prosecution of Saraki over charges of false declarations at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Right from the beginning of the trial in September last year, Saraki and most Senators had insisted that it was more of political persecution.

He told journalists last week that despite the distraction the trial is causing the Senate; it has not affected the legislative agenda the upper house set for itself at its inauguration.

Motions And Bills
EVEN the political groupings that characterised the Senate before and after the election of the Senate President on June 9 last year are gradually disappearing into an atmosphere of calm that has taken over the chamber since February, when members of the ‘Unity Forum’ and ‘Like Minds’ ended hostilities and embraced peace.

A total of 300 bills were ‎introduced to the Senate between June 2015 and now, 162 motions were also considered and resolutions passed‎ within the period.

In an end of session speech last Thursday, Saraki listed legislations that were processed and passed by the Senate to address key problems of Nigeria.

According to him, “With the support from our international development partners, 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 up for private investments and business.”

This legislative intervention yielded about 15 major economic reform bills and seven business environment bills. Some of these bills have since entered the dockets of the Senate and are at various stages of consideration, as the Senate also has passed some.

Prominent among those passed include, the Electronic Transaction bill 2015; Debt Recovery and Insolvency bill 2015 and; the Railway Bill, which is being considered through the final lap. 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. Once signed into law, 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 logistics 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 (the UN Convention).

Railway Transformation Bill
THE bill is seen as one that could bring revolution to Nigeria’s rail sector and also serve as a catalyst for economic advancement. Saraki, who made this remark while declaring open a public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Land Transport on the bill, said passing the bill would have a huge impact on the nation’s economy.

Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB)‎
KEY among the bills being processed ‎ for the economy reform is the amended version of ‎the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which was introduced to the Senate last April. Now renamed Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), the bill was prepared by the two chambers of the National Assembly.

However, the desire to give accelerated consideration to the new PIB is suffering some setbacks following knotty issues emerging from the amendments made in the bill.

The removal of the Host Community Development Fund, as envisaged in the original PIB is, however, set to reawaken ethnic and geopolitical discontent in the country given the immense support for the proposal in the country’s oil producing regions in the Niger Delta. The opposition to the bill reared its head in Senate when it was presented for second reading.

The Nigeria Infrastructure Fund Bill
THIS bill, which was one of the earliest, introduced to the Senate August last year is for an Act to establish the Nigeria Infrastructure Fund.

Sponsored by Senator Andy Uba (PDP, Anambra State), the bill stated that the objective is to mobilise and provide financial resources to manage, coordinate, a diversified portfolio of infrastructure projects in Nigeria for national development.

To be controlled by a board, the fund according to the bill, shall engage in activities like undertaking investments for the development of infrastructure.

Sources of money to the Fund include, two and a half percent of the existing value added tax; 25 percent of annual budget to be applied to amortisation and direct infrastructure expenditure.

National Road Funds Bill
ANOTHER Bill in this list of 30 is a proposed legislation before the Senate to ensure that Nigerians pay for road tolls (toll gates), axle load fines, international transit fees as sources of financing the maintenance and rehabilitation of federal roads.

The bill is aimed at providing alternative sources of maintaining federal roads, rather than rely solely on government. It proposes to be a repository for revenues accruing for road user charges and other sources for the maintenance and rehabilitation of national roads.

According to the bill, sources of the Roads Fund will include five per cent user’s charge on pump price of petrol and diesel received from petroleum products to meet the routine road maintenance needs.

Other sources of financing the Fund, as prescribed in Section 16 of the bill include international transit fees collected from ‘vehicles conveying goods from outside of the country to a destination inside of the country’; road tolls, with exception of concession agreement; grants; voluntary contributions; earnings from investments and interests accruing from monies of the Fund deposited in Banks, amongst others.

While the Roads Fund will be managed by a Board, the bill also provides that Roads Fund will be applied for routine and periodic maintenance of national roads; road safety activities, including erection of road signs and related road equipment; operational and administrative expenses of the Fund as well as research, studies, training and dissemination activities associated with road works.

THE bill for an Act to repeal and re-enact the Bankruptcy and insolvency Act of 1979 is another piece of legislation, which processing had reached advance stage in the Senate.

Saraki had explained that this Bill‎ was among those aimed at repositioning the economy to effectively meet the challenges of the 21st century and a major priority of the current Senate.

Saraki‎ said, the Senate has prioritised business environment reform that would create more jobs and opportunities for the youths, promote and sustain domestic entrepreneurs, as well as to attract new investors into the country.