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Issues, twists and turns in eighth Senate’s unsung ‘rescue mission’

Issues, twists and turns in eighth Senate’s unsung ‘rescue mission’

Issues, twists and turns in eighth Senate’s unsung ‘rescue mission’

The events of June 9, 2015, which began as attempts by politicians struggling to assert their will, ended up making the Red Chamber a difficult terrain for the lawmakers to be the best they wanted to be. With that defining moment over, the 8th Senate steadily turned out a legislature with aggressive and revolutionary bent. It set out its mission as one dedicated to reversing some trends in critical sectors of the country’s political economy.

However, despite the daunting and hostile political scenarios remotely stoked from outside the chamber, the Senate leadership succeeded in achieving internal harmony, which enabled it to kick-start its famed “parliamentary revolution” geared towards restoring citizens’ confidence in a country battered by and battling with rising unemployment, low oil prices, poor economic management, worsening insecurity, poverty and rapidly shrinking standard of living.

Against the background of the foregoing, it was surprising that more than 300 bills were passed by the 8th Senate. That feat informs the perception in certain quarters that the 8th Senate emerged as the most productive lawmaking body in the past 20 years of Nigeria’s democracy.

Eyes on the agenda
PERHAPS, in line with the ambitious legislative agenda adopted few months into its turbulent tenure, the 8th Senate evolved several legislative strategies with which it activated the provisions of the Constitution on the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. The section stipulates that the responsibility and duty of government is to provide for the welfare, security, and safety of citizens. On security, the 8th Senate held a Security Summit in Abuja. It followed up the initiative with resolutions, amendments of laws to guarantee the security and welfare of every Nigerian without discrimination on the basis of gender, region or religion.

From its rough beginning, the Senate made it clear that it recognizes the importance of a diversified national economy and would take legislative action to open the resource base of the country beyond the dependence on oil. Other sources of economic diversification such as agriculture, mining, tourism, services, etc were supported through legislative initiatives.

It went further to take legislative action to encourage the business environment by removing legal and bureaucratic bottlenecks. Special legislative measures to promote private sector involvement and collaboration with the government on projects and policies were also encouraged.But, as the nation’s economy continued to bleed in the face of declining oil prices, the need arose for diversification and the major strategy the 8th Senate adopted was to achieve that to create support for homegrown products, industrialization, and development.

By collaborating with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and amending the public procurement law, the Senate ensured that locally manufactured goods were given priority attention. Furthermore, it launched a social media advocacy campaign, #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira, which resulted in a 2.38 per cent increase in non-oil sector contribution to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018.

In its bid to further diversify and boost the country’s revenue, legislative inputs were brought about to tackle tax evasion by companies and taxable persons, who employed various tax avoidance tactics to escape evaluation and payment of their taxes. Just as specific laws were strengthened to encourage compliance with tax obligations by all, in a bid to curb leakages and wastages, the senators amended existing laws to enhance strict adherence to prompt remittance of all monies due to the country into the Federation Account.

It was in the attempt to give legislative effect to the relevant constitutional stipulations regarding generation and remittance that the 8th Senate found itself on the warpath with some Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs). MDAs were required by law to remit revenues generated by them into the Federation Account.

Another source of friction and crisis between the Red Chamber and the presidency was the insistence on religious monitoring of monies held under special funds, such as the Ecological Fund, Natural Resources Fund, Solid Minerals Development Funds, Industrial Training Fund, among others, to ensure accountability and transparency in their management.

Infrastructure funding, social empowerment
IT is on record that the 8th Senate equally amended some pieces of legislation and ensured budgetary approvals to encourage serious development of infrastructure, which it had observed was on the decline at the beginning of its tenure.

Legislative support was given to the rebuilding of public transportation, electricity, fast rail system, federal highways, modern airports, housing, and general infrastructure. For instance, such legislative support came by way of loans approvals for rail development, the approval of fund for the Abuja airport runway rehabilitation as well as legislative approvals for loans taken from China and other countries for infrastructure development.

Incidentally, to achieve its legislative agenda regarding poverty reduction and economic empowerment of the rural poor, the 8th Senate approved the N500 billion Social Investment Programme (SIP), through which such components as the N-Power, Home-grown school feeding, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), including MarketMoni, FarmerMoni and TraderMoni programmes that helped to alleviate the sufferings of citizens in the low-income bracket.

Equally of note is the fact that in fulfillment of its legislative agenda for the development of the North East zone, the 8th Senate not only approved money for the Presidential Initiative on North East, but also monitored the spending of such monies.

It was in the process of such close monitoring that the infamous grass cutting scandal was exposed for which the erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, is still being tried. Similarly, the Senate passed the North East Development Commission Bill to rebuild the insurgency-ravaged region.

In its desire to revamp the healthcare sector, the Senate passed a motion to ensure that one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) was set aside to provide effective healthcare delivery. And to achieve its agenda for universal healthcare for all Nigerians, the outgoing Senate also embarked on the legislative framework for the revitalization of primary health care across the federation to make healthcare affordable for Nigerians.

What looked like the most stringent legislative measure by the 8th Senate to sanitize the political system was the amendments to the Electoral Act. Nigeria’s democracy has been subjected over time to irregularities and manipulations, which continue to undermine the credibility of the electoral process. In the build-up to the 2019 elections therefore, the Senate passed the Electoral Amendment Act 2018 to correct the anomalies. The bill seeks to strengthen the autonomy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), by enabling transparency in the electoral process through electronic voting and full biometric accreditation of voters.

Although the bill was rejected four times by the president, with a question mark on its drafting and timing relative to the 2019 elections, the urgency of the Electoral Amendment Act 2018 continues to be imperative. Experts have noted that if only the Electoral Amendment Act was signed into law, the 2019 elections would have witnessed lower incidents of irregularities and violence.

Tears of oil
THERE has always been urgent need to remedy the problems associated with the oil and gas sector. Over the years, the petroleum sector, which contributes over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue, has 90 per cent of the earnings plagued by mismanagement, lack of transparency and the absence of corporate governance.

The 8th Senate decided on a strategy aimed at much needed reforms by breaking the 17-year Petroleum Industry Bill jinx. The strategy entailed separating the Petroleum Industry Bill into four components, which made it easier for stakeholders to review and eventually led to the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB).

It was expected that the signing of the bill would boost the overall productivity of Nigeria’s oil sector, enhance good governance and increase transparency through a harmonized regulatory framework. But, as the president refused to sign the PIGB into law citing constitutional reasons, the Senate had further revisited the bill and sent it to the president due its belief that the bill would help curb corruption in the petroleum industry when passed into law.

Coming to the education sector, the upper legislative chamber was moved by the high figure of over 13.2 million out-of-school children and sought to arrest the ugly situation by passing the Universal Basic Education Amendment Bill, which aims to make basic education free and compulsory for all Nigerian children.

The bill, when signed into law by the president, would also increase budgetary allocation to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), while reducing to 10 per cent the counterpart funding required by states to access education intervention funds from the commission.

The Senate also contended that with an unemployment rate of 23.1 per cent, investing in growth-enhancing innovation holds the key to creating jobs and opportunities for the Nigerian youth. That resolve led to the passage of the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) Bill to create opportunities for more innovations. According to the Senate, when signed into law, the NRIC bill will provide increased funding for research and innovation across the country.

Following up on that intervention, the Senate’s attention was drawn to the ravaging effects of drug abuse, rising unemployment and lack of social safety nets on the nation’s youth population. Reports indicated that over 14 million Nigerians suffer from drug abuse and that prompted the 8th Senate to organise a two-day roundtable in Kano City.

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The roundtable helped to create partnerships to combat the scourge and necessitated the ban on Tramadol, just as the Senate also passed two bills in that regard namely, the National Mental Health Bill and the National Drug Control Bill.

Disability inclusion
IN a bid to protect people living with disabilities (PLWDs), especially the challenges of access to education and ease of mobility, the 8th Senate paid keen interest to relevant legislations. The Senators learnt that these calibre of Nigerians are often subjected to various forms of psychological, physical and emotional abuse.

In 2018, the Senate, in collaboration with the House of Representatives, passed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act. That piece of legislation strongly discouraged discrimination on the basis of disability and criminalized such by imposing stringent sanctions against perpetrators.

Then, in terms of providing opportunities for youths in governance, it would be recalled that the 8th Senate passed the Not-Too-Young-To-Run-Bill in a bold effort to remove political constraints and providing access to young people to participate in decision making in elective capacities.

The bill, which was conceived and sponsored by the Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), through Honourable Tony Nwulu and Senator Abdulaziz Nyako, sought to reduce the age qualification for president from 40 to 30 years; governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.

During debates on the bill, the National Assembly leadership highlighted Nigeria’s need for youthful energy and innovation and therefore expedited its passage. While commending the lawmakers for passing the bill, convener of YIAGA movement, Samson Itodo, noted that it was the first time a National Assembly leadership played a visible role in passing a crucial bill meant to empower Nigerian youths.

During activities marking the third year anniversary of the Senate leadership, the President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, listed the achievements of the 8th Senate under his watch to include how the 8th Senate worked conscientiously to grow the economy by passing enabling bills.

Some of the bills include, the Companies and Allied Matters Act; the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act; the Credit Bureau Reporting Act and the Warehouse Receipts Bill; Nigerian Railways Authority Bill; National Transportation Commission Bill. These bills were designed to bring about notable reforms to the business environment and strengthen Nigeria’s lending frameworks.

Speaking after the World Bank upgraded Nigeria’s rating in its annual Ease of Doing Business Report, the Senate President stated: “We are particularly glad that the impact of the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act and the Credit Bureau Reporting Act became apparent immediately after they were signed into law as they form the basis for which the World Bank upgraded the rating of Nigeria in its Annual Ease of Doing Business rating.”He expressed optimism that when the new Company and Allied Matter Act (CAMA), which the 8th Senate passed comes into effect, it would bring about more significant results and help small and medium scale entrepreneurs access capital and upscale their businesses.

Some other important bills passed by the 8th Senate, which have national appeal, are the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, the Witness Protection Bill, the Whistleblower Protection Bill and the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill.

Although these were efforts aimed at supporting the Federal Government’s fight against corruption, the icy relationship between the two arms overshadowed these notable gestures. Interestingly, the National Assembly acted promptly and averted Nigeria’s expulsion from the global community by expeditiously passage of the NFIU bill, which guarantees the exchange of financial intelligence.

In a few days, when the 8th Senate passes the baton to a new legislative session, the popular expectation is that the 9th Senate will sustain the drive for pro-people reforms and agenda, which made the 8th session stand out from all others since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.Whatever would be the verdict of history, Nigerians would, with time, recognise that the 8th Senate was truly the embodiment of a people’s parliament despite its needless tug of war with the executive arm.

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