As the Senate prepared to end the year 2016, it’s chambers were busy with a flurry activities. As members were submitting reports from the oversight visits to different agencies, so many bills were getting to their final stage with public hearings being completed. At the same time, new bills were being introduced. And in the last week before it embarked on the recess, the National Assembly hosted President Muhammadu Buhari who used his visit to achieve two objectives – submit the government spending fiscal plan for the coming year for approval and also address the nation as previously demanded by the legislature on the government’s plan to tackle the current economic recession in the country. Also, the Medium Term Framework (MTEF) and Financial Strategic Plan (FSP) were approved.
The last week also saw the Senate concluding the clearance process of the nominees into the board of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). It also deliberated on the report of its adhoc committee on the humanitarian crisis in the North-East. The last days of the year were such a busy period for the Senate not only because the members wanted to quickly conclude some of the processes they had started, but more importantly because they were inadvertently setting agenda for the issues that will pre-occupy the legislative institution in the first quarter of 2017.
This end of year review will be easy to understand when one remembers that between June 9 2015 and today, the eighth Senate has passed into law 32 bills while 411 bills have been introduced by members. Out of this total figure, 68 bills have passed the second reading stage while 145 are due for second reading. There are also 54 others from the House of Representatives that are awaiting concurrence process before being passed to the president for his assent. Among the bills that are now at the final stages are nine of the 11 priority economic bills which are deliberately designed to help pull Nigeria out of recession.
The plan, according to President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, in his speech during the presentation of the 2017 budget proposal by the president is to pass the remaining economic bills alongside the budget for presidential assent by the end of January or thereabout. The priority bills are to jump-start the economic, open new areas of investment and encourage investors.
These proposed laws include the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill; National Development Bank of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill; Nigerian Ports and Habours Authority Act (Amendment) Bill; National Road Fund (Establishment) Bill; and the National Transport Commission Act of 2001. Others are the Warehouse Receipts Act (Amendment) Bill; Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA); Investment and Securities Act (ISA); Customs and Excise Management Act; Federal Competition Bill; National Road Authority Bill; and the Customs and Excise Management Act. The bills are also at the final stage of passage.
Among the already passed bills are the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act Cap. B2 LFN 2011 (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2015; Public Procurement Amendment Act Bill 2015; Nigerian Railway Corporation Act 1955 N129 LFN 2004 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2015; Electronic Transactions Bill 2015; Joint Admission and Matriculation Board Act (Amendment) Bill 2016; Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Bill 2016; and North East Development Commission Establishment Act Bill 2016.
The rate of work being done on bills in the National Assembly has received commendation from the executive as President Buhari last week signed eight of the newly passed bills into law. The president’s liaison officer in the Senate, Ita Enang, said “I use this medium to commend the National Assembly for the industry and dexterity they have shown and the concentration on the core functions of the legislature because compared to times like this in previous parliaments, I think this is the highest number of bills passed by any single parliament within its one year and six months.”
The work of the legislature is not limited to law making. It includes oversight and advocacy. The current Senate has excelled in these two areas more than even in the passage of bills. For example, its oversight helped to save billions of naira being overcharged by Remita, the managers of the platform through which state funds are collected into the TSA. Same oversight revealed the abuse of the waiver policy on custom duties on imported rice and other items, gross leakages and failure to remit funds by revenue collection agencies of government and the exposure of irregular remittance of profit by a telecommunications firm.
Some of these investigations are as a result of motions. Like the probe of the humanitarian crisis in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the North -East zone which has revealed the gross misuse of funds and abuse of trust by people in high positions.
In its advocacy duty, the Senate had made critical interventions which nipped potential national crisis in the bud. It got the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to change its policy of not allowing people who have foreign currency to lodge them into their accounts and when there was a talk of punishing people who hold foreign currency in cash for longer than two weeks, Senate compelled the apex bank to stick to the free trade policy of free entry and free exit. It intervened to make the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) abandon its fixed charges on electricity tariff and bulk metering in communities.
The legislative body swiftly moved in to get the National Communication Commission (NCC) withdraw its endorsement of proposed hike in prices of data plan. It is currently mediating between University teachers and government to avert crisis in the academia and once intervened to compel release of funds for military operations in the North east. Also, its intervention led to the sourcing of funds for the Super Eagles travel to Zambia.
Apart from the series of achievements, the Senate is now a more united body. The members have refused manipulation so from outside that will divide its ranks. Also, Senators demonstrate both punctuality at plenary which now commence unfailingly as stipulated in the Rule Book and more commitment to their duties. That is why the bills are coming in torrents, the motions flow ceaselessly and the debates are more rigorous and informed.
There is no doubt that the current Senate is working so hard to make positive impact on the lives of Nigerians. Like its Leader, Dr Saraki would often say, the institution’s relevance can only be enhanced and appreciated when the ordinary people feel the positive impact of its law, oversight and advocacy in their life.
Yusuf Olaniyonu is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the Senate President.