Saraki’s Senate: Milestones on the Road Towards National Development

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Chuks Okocha

Unlike the seventh Senate, which tended to pass fundamental bills for national development towards the twilight of the session, the eighth Senate under Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki hit the ground running after it was inaugurated on June 8 last year. The Senate under Saraki has exhibited courage and leadership to ensure harmonious relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government.

In keeping with his campaign promises as the Senate President, Saraki has tried to ensure a transparent leadership by opening the books of the National Assembly for public scrutiny. This became an issue against the back drop of demands by Nigerians that the National Assembly should open its books for the public to see. In line with the senate president’s campaign manifesto of transparency, the eighth Senate was the first to state what the budget of the National Assembly looks like.

It was the first time that the books of the Senate and House of Representatives were opened. Since then, whatever the National Assembly is embarking upon has remained an issue in the court of public opinion. It is on record that due to the campaign promise of the senate president, Nigerians have come to know that N105.4 billion has been set aside for recurrent expenditure and N9.6 billion is for capital projects.

The National Assembly under the chairmanship of Saraki has, indeed, come to represent a listening legislative arm, to the extent that when civil society groups complained against a planned legislative amendment to some laws of the federation, the senate stepped down such efforts in deference to public opinions. Nothing stopped the Senate from going ahead in the course of doing its legislative duties, but in a mark of respect to Nigerians, it stepped down the proposed amendments.

The eighth Senate was the first organ of government to respond to the plight of Nigerians living in the Internally Displaced Peoples camps. It was this visit of the members of the upper chamber that opened the eyes of Nigerians to the deplorable condition of Nigerians in the Boko Haram insurgence-destroyed North-east. Thereafter, the zone became the cynosure of officials from the executive and legislative arms, like the famous race to Nikki between the British and French colonial masters. The action of the senate has come to put it before well-meaning Nigerians as a law making body with human feelings, because it brought to the fore what fellow Nigerians suffered on account of Boko Haram’s inhumanity.

In the course of its legislative duties, the eighth Senate set up an ad-hoc committee to unravel the names of companies and other commercial outfits that were granted import waivers to the detriment of the national economy. The Senate ensured that companies and individuals that benefited from the import duty bazaars were made to refund what was due to the federal government. It is on record that several billions of naira was eventually remitted to the coffers of the federal government, courtesy of the insightful eyes of the Senate.

Nigerians will not forget in a hurry the mandatory fees charged by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission on every prepaid electric metre purchased. But today, such fees are history, as the Senate under Saraki has ensured through dialogue with NERC that Nigerians only pay for what they consume. The Senate has passed motions that led to the review of the electricity tariffs by NERC. It is on record that the Senate on August 11 last year asked NERC to abolish the N700 mandatory fees charged Nigerians as part of its fixed rates. Today, the issue of bulk metering is a thing of the past.

At a time the naira was becoming like the Ugandan currency, which was once referred to as toilet paper, the eighth Senate under Saraki engaged the Central Bank of Nigeria in series of dialogue on how to ensure that the value of the naira was improved. It was followed by Made-in-Nigeria trade fairs with the fundamental message of the need to patronise Nigerian goods as the only way out of the present economic woes.

Additionally, there were talks with indigenous auto manufacturers, like the Innoson Motors and other promoters of made-in-Nigeria goods. No doubt, all these added positive thoughts on how to make the eighth Senate a people-oriented upper chamber; after all, they are the people’s representatives. There are no better ways to represent the people than to take to heart issues that concern them. This, indeed, opened new vistas in the Senate’s relationship with the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, and other civil society organisations.

Though, the Petroleum Industry Bill is yet to be passed, has passed Second Reading at the plenary of the Senate. What remains is the public hearing, where stakeholders in the industry will air their views. This bill is critical to the reaping of the benefits the country expects as an oil producing and exporting nation. Its benefits can never be underestimated.

It was within the period under review that the Senate set up the Senator Adamu Aliero committee to probe the power sector. It was during the probe that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Power, Godkmnows Igali, revealed that over N2.77 trillion had been spent on power generation since 1999, and Nigerians are still suffering epileptic power supply

The Senate in the course of its legislative duties partnered with the British Department for International Development and some commercial lawyers in the country to ensure the review of some of the laws considered as hindering investment in Nigeria. In a 168-page report titled “Comprehensive Review of the Institutional Regulatory, Legislative and Associated Instruments Affecting Businesses in Nigeria,” the team of commercial lawyers outlined obstacles that hindered economic development by making Nigeria unattractive to investors.

The leader of the team of experts sponsored by DfID, Professor Paul Idornigie, said the group reviewed 54 commercial laws in the country’s statute book and did a comprehensive analysis of 50 other bills pending before the two chambers of the National Assembly. Idornigie said the priority rating list will help the legislature to focus on some areas that require urgent intervention.

He recommended nine bills that if passed into law in the life of the eighth National Assembly would help to comprehensively reform the business environment.
The bills recommended by the experts as requiring urgent attention are Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill 2015, Federal Roads Authority Bill 2015, National Inland Waterways Authority Bill 2015, National Roads Funds Bill 2015, National Transport Commission 2015, Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Bill 2015, Nigeria Postal Commission Bill 2015, and Nigeria Railway Authority Bill 2015.

The Senate followed up with the summoning of a business roundtable where the relevant issues were discussed and a bill was proposed to remediate laws that hinder investment.

The above achievements represent only the tip of the iceberg, as the Saraki Senate has done a lot more in several areas of the country’s life, despite the political distractions occasioned by his trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
––Okocha is Special Assistant to the Senate President on Print Media