By David Mark
I welcome all of us, most heartily, back from the Christmas and New Year recess. I am happy to see so many of us looking radiant and refreshed. I hope you were able to snatch some rest during this period that was not entirely free from bustle, but was in fact, a working break. That, indeed, is the reality of a legislative recess - a period of interactions and consultations with constituents; a period to feel the pulse of the people; and, a period to rekindle the synergy between the lawmaker and his constituents.
During the recess, we received with heavy hearts the news of the tragic death of Prince Chukwuemeka Ekweremadu, the elder brother of our very dear Deputy President of the Senate. Our thoughts and progress are with the Ekweremadu family in their hour of grief. On behalf of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I commiserate with my brother, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and the entire Ekweremadu family on this painful loss. We pray that the soul of Prince Chukwuemeka Ekweremadu and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in perfect peace.
I have no doubt that we have all returned to our challenging legislative tasks totally reinvigorated. When I welcomed you back from our annual recess on the 19th of September, 2012, I called for sacrifice and statesmanship. I stressed then that we must rise above narrow and parochial interests in the discharge of our mandate of making laws for the peace, order and good governance of our nation. As I spoke to you most solemnly on that occasion, the spectre of insecurity and sectarian strife hung ominously across our nation. Our national mood was sombre and was made even darker by uncertainties as to which course government’s fiscal policy would take in 2013.
Today, the horizon is not as bleak as it was three months ago. The agents of anarchy and sectarian strife have been kept largely in check by the huge sacrifices of our security forces. I salute the commitment, the sacrifice and the bravery of our men and women in the security services, who on our account, place themselves daily in harm’s way to confront the formidable perils tearing at the sinews of our corporate existence. Continued vigilance and even greater sacrifice are still needed for terror and insecurity to be totally routed. Internal security operations can certainly benefit from our imaginative legislative efforts aimed at deterring potential perpetrators of such crimes and making the task of the security forces less hazardous.
The Senate will continue to work towards these twin objectives. Not only will we endeavour to enhance the capability of the security agencies to detect and nip these pernicious crimes in the bud, we will also work to ensure that the penalties for their commission are made even more stringent. In this connection, i strongly reiterate my earlier calls for capital punishment for this category of offences.
I salute you the more, distinguished colleagues, for collectively living up to your billing as the vanguards of the democratic tradition. It is truly difficult to imagine a greater assemblage of statesmen and patriots than the 7th Senate. When Mr. President unprecedentedly presented the 2013 Budget Estimates in October, 2012, you admirably rose to the challenge, put aside partisan considerations, and you made history. After a robust, meticulous and exhaustive consideration and debate, the National Assembly passed the 2013 Appropriation Bill on Thursday, 20th December, 2012. Anyone who ever sat in a legislative chamber, or who is even remotely acquainted with the rigors of the legislative process, will appreciate the prodigious amount of work and sacrifice that preceded this feat.
Without any fear of contradiction whatsoever, and I have been long in this chamber to know, I can state that this is the first time, since the commencement of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, that the Appropriation Bill would be passed by the National Assembly before the commencement of a fiscal year.
We have eloquently made our point. The National Assembly is capable of rising to any constitutional challenge. Not only has the 2013 Appropriation Bill been passed in good time, the National Assembly has prudently and constructively made inputs that we hope will help give vent to this administration’s economic and social vision. The inputs we have made derive from a responsible and scrupulous synthesis of the desire of the average Nigerian to be freed from the shackles of abject poverty and deprivation and to put the nation on the path for sustainable economic development. What remains now is for the Executive to ensure that the lofty developmental goals embedded in the budget are fully realised, through full implementation. On our part, we will deploy the mechanism of oversight to ensure that the 2013 Budget is fully implemented, once it is signed into law.
Distinguished Colleagues, we have already raised the bar through our stellar performance in 2012. From now onwards, we will be judged by the very high standards we have already set. We cannot therefore afford to flag as we settle to confront the numerous other critical activities dotting the legislative agenda. On our agenda for 2013 are the further Review of the 1999 Constitution, Petroleum Industry Bill, the Education Act Bill, the Procurement Act (Amendment) Bill, the Nigerian Police Reform Trust Fund Bill as well as Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, Genocide and Related Offences Bill, just to mention a few.
Distinguished Colleagues, you will recall that at the commencement of my stewardship in the 7th Senate, I promised on behalf of all of us that this Senate will always stand with the Nigerian people, at all times and in all circumstances, because we are their elected representatives. We have remained unflinching in this respect. And we will continue to do so in 2013 and the years ahead.
Therefore legislative activity for 2013 should perfectly dovetail with the synthesised expectations and wishes of the Nigerian people. Such expectations and wishes are not difficult to discern. The inputs we have made in the 2013 budget are in acknowledgement of some of these expectations.
The task of the Senate in 2013 would be to work to restore confidence in the ability of the government to rise to the challenges elicited by the public expectations. We will seek to bring succour to our nation, and re-energise our people’s faith in one indivisible nation, and in constitutional democracy. We will do this by pursuing a legislative agenda that not only promotes the common good, but is also responsive to the national mood and expectations.
Some of these expectations can be met within the framework of existing laws, provided that the legislative task of oversight is discharged with firmness, diligence, transparency, courage and commitment. Those expectations requiring constitution amendment will definitely be accommodated and addressed in the ongoing efforts to further amend the 1999 Constitution. What we should never countenance is any talk about the balkanisation of our country. We have become a melting pot, melded by a common history, a common destiny, and a common heritage. The result is that the fault lines if any have become blurred!
It is gratifying to note that our people have continued to repose their faith in democracy. That faith can only be repaid through sustained good governance. This is why all of us, without exception, must resist the temptation to sacrifice governance on the altar of politics as the 2015 elections approach. Not to do so is to inordinately pander to the mere selfish craving for career advancement.
I therefore call for even greater sacrifice, commitment and patriotism from all of us.
We will continue to constructively collaborate with the Executive, within the context of the principle of separation of powers, to ensure that our nation emerges stronger and more dynamic. Such collaboration in no way diminishes the constitutional status of the National Assembly as the driving force of this democracy. It rather enriches it, for the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, are partners, all working towards good governance.
Just before our last recess, we did observe certain incidents smacking of disrespect and contumacy towards the Senate, and particularly of its power to investigate some MDAs. For now, let me make this very clear:
The power to launch investigations into agencies of government is expressly given to parliament by Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), as part of parliament’s oversight functions. The Senate will not brook any act contemptuous of it, nor will it abnegate a responsibility so expressly conferred.
Distinguished colleagues, my bosses, I welcome you back to this chamber, and wish you a very happy and fruitful 2013.
Being an address by Senate President Mark at the resumption of Senate Plenary on Wednesday, January 16, 2013.