Since 1959 when the Nigerian Senate was established, it has functioned as the political stabilizing unit of our nation by offering calmness, maturity, courage and unparalleled patriotism in times of national challenges.
Today, it is 365 days since the current Senate was inaugurated and the evidence is clear that it has upheld and continued in this enviable tradition offering legislative propositions that have unlocked constitutional lock-jams, planting the seeds for economic transformation and intervening when necessary to steady the ship of State.
At its inauguration on June 11, 2019 this Senate rose above its multi-party composition as members reached across the aisle to elect its leadership based on shared respect and proven capacity. Of its one hundred and nine (109) members, seventy-two (72) voted to elect the Senate President; Distinguished Sen. Ahmad Lawal (Ph.D) without acrimony that characterized election of presiding officers in the past.
Worthy of note is the fact that during his campaign, the President of the Senate lunched his proposed Legislative Agenda for the 9th Senate titled “A National Assembly that Works for Nigeria”. This Legislative Agenda was anchored on three pillars to wit:
Improving Institutional Capacity of the Senate for Effective Performance
Legislative Interventions for Good Governance
Special Areas of Concern.
Since his emergence, the activities of the 9th Senate have been geared towards attaining this agenda. Before elucidating further, and as can be seen hereafter, the 9th Senate is benefiting immensely from two decades of legislative experience of the President of the Senate.
IMPROVING INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY OF THE SENATE
This process encompasses the physical, human and material resources necessary to do the business of legislation. As a result, this Senate Leadership working with the Leadership of the House of Representatives ordered a comprehensive evaluation of the physical infrastructure of the National Assembly.
It was determined that the sum of N37billion would be required to renovate the National Assembly Complex and upon engagement of the Executive arm of Government, this sum was approved in the initial 2020 Appropriation Act.
Instructively, the National Assembly Complex had not undergone any major renovations for over 20 years therefore leaving most of its critical and basic components in a sordid state of disrepair. It was also important for the Senate to be transparent with this process and accordingly requested that all sums approved for the said renovation be domiciled with the Federal Capital Development Authority and this was done.
However, due to the economic crisis engendered by Covid-19 Pandemic and the crash in the price of oil in the international oil market the Senate agreed that the amount appropriated be dropped in the revised 2020 Appropriation Bill.
Aside adverting to the need of physical infrastructure, the Senate moved quickly to constitute 64 Standing Committees. These are the legs on which the Senate run and in an unprecedented manner, the Senate leadership puts square pegs in square holes while composing these committees.
The constitution of these committees reflects the bipartisan nature of the 9th Senate as composition was inclusive of all political parties in the Senate both in terms of chairmanship and membership. Senators belonging to opposition political party also had a fair share of Chairmanship of strategic committees of the Senate.
This decision bore immediate fruits in the national budget approval process. In the past, we were all witnesses to the menace of delayed passage of the Appropriation Act (budget). Being that the Federal Government is the largest spender in the Nigerian economy, indeterminate Financial-Year created a misalignment between public sector spending and private sector investment decisions.
This was even further exacerbated by a disconnect between budgetary process and implementation framework which is usually through an approved Medium-Term Expenditure Framework/Financial Spending Plan (MTEF/FSP).
The 9th Senate rose above partisanship and confronted this problem headlong by creating the atmosphere for all parties (Executive arm, House of Representatives) to work in lockstep towards the prompt passage both the MTEF/FSP 2020-2022 and the 2020 Budget in October 2019.
This milestone was achieved and also exposed to us the need to address other allied matters including the vexed issues of the principles and procedures for budget preparation, budget funding through maximum utilization of revenue generating capacities of MDAs, budget implementation and monitoring.
As the Covid-19 Pandemic and crash in the price of oil adversely affected the MTEF/FSP 2020-2022 and the 2020 Appropriation Act, the 9th Senate has been active in ensuring the prompt passage of the revised MTEF/FSP 2020-2022 and the 2020 Appropriation Act forwarded vide a communication by the President to the Senate on Tuesday 26th May, 2002.
The relevant Committees of the Senate had to work round the clock and the revised MTEF/FSP 2020-2022 was approved on Tuesday 2nd June 2020 and the Senate is primed to finalise work on the revised 2020 Appropriation Bill by the week of 9th June, 2020. The prompt consideration of the above is evidence of the commitment of the 9th Senate to the mantra that the 9th National Assembly is one that works for Nigerians.
LEGISLATIVE INTERVENTIONS FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE
In the one-year period of the life of this Senate, it has prioritized legislative interventions by enacting new laws and/or modifying existing legislations for the attainment of good governance. One of such interventions was the amendment of Finance Act 2019. Perturbed by dwindling national revenues largely due to vulnerabilities in international price of crude oil, it took steps towards improving revenues from other avenues notably Value Added Tax (VAT).
Accordingly, it passed an Executive Bill which proposed an increase in VAT from 5% to 7.5% in record time by invoking its powers under Order 79(1) of the Senate Standing Rules. This was an extraordinary step to take.
Another laudable and progressive intervention was the extensive work done on the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (Amendment) Act 2019 (Act) to repeal and replace Section 16 of the Act. A statutory mandate to review the Act was never complied with for decades and the country lost valuable revenue.
Thus, the amendment passed by this Senate achieved 4 major milestones which are:
It revised upwardly the regime of royalty payable on crude produced in deep waters.
It deleted Section 16 of the Act which provided for the trigger for a review of the Act.
It introduced Section 16(A) which mandated the Minister of Petroleum to cause the NNPC to under a review of Production Sharing Contracts every 8 years
It introduced Section 16(B) which provided for offences and penalties.
The cumulative effect of this amendment is that the sum of N320 billion has been unlocked according to several reputable industry experts and it goes without saying that the injection of such huge revenue into our economy will catalyse several positive outcomes.
With a view to getting maximum return from the oil industry, the 9th Senate is committed to prompt consideration and passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill once same is received from the executive. Necessary training and sensitisation programmes have been organised and attended by Senators belonging to all the relevant commiittees of the Senate.
Aside from its intervention to address economic challenges, this Senate also led the way to find lasting solution to the perennial security crisis this country has been plagued with. It has extensively engaged leaders of our various security agencies on attacks by Boko Haram in the North East, kidnaping and banditry in the North West and North Central Zones, clashes between herdsmen and farmers all across the country, proliferation of light and small arms and other forms of criminality. Its Adhoc-Committee on Nigeria Security Challenges made up of 19 Senators and headed by Senator Yahaya Abdullahi has offered 60 recommendations to be implemented in the immediate, short and long term.
It is noteworthy that the decentralization of the command and control structure of the Nigerian Police Force recommended by this Committee has now been adopted by the President as the official policy of the Federal Government.
Other sectors like the Power Sector also received strong attention from this Senate over the last year. Its 20-man Adhoc Committee led by Senator Dr Gabriel Suswam has issued its Report and implementation will find traction in the weeks ahead. The Senate is also working on other useful Bills that will impact positively on all spheres of the Nigerian Society.
The Senate has also set up the Constitution Review Committee under the Chairmanship of His Excellency the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and referred to the committee several constitutional amendment Bills aimed at improving governance in the country.
SPECIAL AREAS OF CONCERN
Similarly, this 9th Senate has consistently acted proactively when required in the last one year. For instance, when Covid-19 struck in Nigeria with our index case recorded on February 27, 2020, the Senate moved quickly to provide the necessary support for the government. It facilitated the prompt release of funds to address the needs of frontline health workers.
It also announced a contribution of half of the salaries of all 109 Senators henceforth to the government as its financial support to battling the unprecedented health challenge.
On electoral reform, much work has been done to review the Electoral Act and the work of committees will be advanced to the next stage in the days and weeks ahead. This Senate has collaborated in extraordinary manner with the Executive Arm of government and this has significantly accounted for the calm in the polity over the last one year and tangible gains we see in several sectors.
Overall, the 9th Senate will continue to provide the necessary legislative support to the Executive arm of government to drive socio-economic development and ensuring the delivery of democratic dividends to Nigerians. This support includes expeditious passage of the Appropriation Bill and other executive bills that will reposition the economy on the path of sustainable recovery, growth and development as well as confirming key appointments of the executive.
Every Senate like the 9th Senate has been heterogenous in its composition however, what is different with this Senate is that it has proven to be the melting pot of all political ideology, creed, tribe, religion with disregard for discriminatory persuasions. It is determined to run its 4-year term as a platform for building national consensus and bonds of patriotism within organs and tiers of government as well as between the people and the government at large.
This basic guiding principle coupled with the fact that it has bestowed upon itself a uniquely qualified leadership capable of meeting the demands of the moment will ensure that the 9th Senate is reckoned with as the most productive upper chamber in our democratic history. Mark my words.
Senator Ajibola Surajudeen Basiru Ph.D., BL is the Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Publicity and he writes from Abuja.