Senate Bills Make Presidential, Governorship Debate Mandatory, Restructure Polytechnic Education

  • To scrap FERMA, create FRA to fund, maintain roads

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

If the Senate bill which scaled second reading on the floor of the parliament wednesday is eventually passed into law, every presidential and governorship candidate will henceforth, participate in an organised debate before he can be eligible for election.

The bill, which also seeks to institutionalise debates during elections, also seeks to establish Nigerian Political Debates’ Commission to serve as the organiser and regulation of debates.
Sponsored by Senator Abdulfatai Buhari (Oyo North), the bill, tagged: ‘Nigerian Political Debates Commission,’ also makes debate compulsory for vice presidential and governorship candidates. The bill, if considered and passed by this hallowed chamber, will strengthen our democracy and bring it in conformity with practice in other renowned democracy of the world,” Buhari said.

According to him, the conduct of pre-election debates which he said had become a norm in the United States of America dates back to 1960 when Democratic Party’s nominee, John Kennedy and his Republican rival, Richard Nixon, tested their popularity at the maiden debate.

“The debate is the de facto election process in the United States, as results of elections are predicated on the candidates’ performance at the debates…An analogous experience of this crucial indispensability of electoral debate is the current presidential debate between Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party and Donald Trump of the Republican Party.

“The regular debate has enabled the electorate not only to know about the personality of the candidates but also about their lifestyles, beliefs, reactions to national issues and foreign policy. All this information has informed the electorate on the position to take during election. In fact, the exposures made possible by the mandatory political debate will definitely save that country from electing a tyrant,” he added.

Buhari listed the benefits of pre-election debate to include providing the platform to sample candidates’ knowledge on a wide range of issues such as how they intend to foster economic, foreign, health and education policies, among others.

He insinuated that anyone who shies away from participating in a debate which provides him with the opportunity to present his proposed administration’s roadmap is not fit to be a governor or president.
He also said if debate is institutionalised, it will “offer the electorate an avenue to evaluate candidates and vote along ideological lines rather than on ethnic or religious allegiance as it is prevailing in the country today.”

Also yesterday, another bill which listed a number of lopsidedness in the structure and composition of the nation’s polytechnic system and simultaneously provided for the organisation and restructuring of the institution passed second reading in the Senate.

The sponsor of the bill, Senator Ali Wakili (Bauch South), said among other things, the bill would “relieve polytechnics of the encumbrances inherent in the subsisting Act and make the institutions more efficient and functional as institutions of higher learning.”
Provisions of the bill include the restructuring of the Governing Board, Academic Board, management of the polytechnics and tenure of rectors.

Wakili also explained that nine polytechnics which are hitherto not in the Polytechnic Act have been incorporated into the bill. The bill also provides for a five-year single tenure for rectors and also includes deputy rectors in the Governing Board of polytechnics.

He said: “The present structure of the governing boards of federal polytechnics is a great burden on the administration of these institutions. There are 15 members on the governing boards, of which only two (the rector and one member representing the Academic Board) are internal members.

“The other 13 members are external members representing all kinds of doubtful interests, including, strangely, the university community, the state Ministry of Education, the host community, the Minister of Trade and Industry, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, and professional bodies. This is in acute contrast to the constitution of the governing councils of federal universities and colleges of education which have only four external members, the rest of the members being internal members.

“The proposed amendments will restructure the composition of the governing councils of federal polytechnics to include five external members and more internal members. This new structure will reduce the cost of running the councils and enhance the independence and academic autonomy of the polytechnics. The proposed amendment seeks to ensure that the external members of the governing councils are persons who are knowledgeable about polytechnic education and who are driven by passion for it.

The nine polytechnics which the bill seeks to include in the First Schedule of the Principal Act are: Federal Polytechnic, Auchi; Federal Polytechnic, Bali; Federal Polytechnic, Ekowe; Hussein Adamu Federal Polytechnic, Kazaure; and Waziri Umaru Federal Polytechnic, Birnin Kebbi.
Others are are: Federal Polytechnic Ukana, Federal Polytechnic Ile-Oluji, Federal Polytechnic Oil & Gas Bony, National Institute of Construction Technology, Uromi. This inclusion will confirm the federal government’s proprietorship of these polytechnics.

Meanwhile, a bill seeking to repeal the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (Amendment) Act 2002 and establish the Federal Roads Authority (FHA) to be saddled with the responsibility of maintaining and funding road infrastructure scaled second reading on the floor of the Senate wednesday.

According to its sponsor and Chairman, Senate Committee on Works, the agency “would be a semi-autonomous road agency,” with the responsibility of providing professional management for Nigeria’s federal roads.

The agency will also be responsible for planning, designing, constructing, rehabilitating and maintaining the roads.

Gaya who said the creation of FHA would put paid to duplication of duties between FERMA and Highways Department in the Ministry of Works, gave reasons the agencies’ creation was imminent.
He cited the existence of Maritime Authority, Inland Waterways Authority and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as a justification for FHA, pointing out that roads are “the most essential link for all other transport modes as we speak, has no authority hence the need for this bill to be passed into law.”

Enumerating the importance of road infrastructure to industrial and economic growth of any nation, Gaya said the move to establish FHA was in line with international road management practice, disclosing that the “Republic of Ghana, which once had many agencies for roads have eventually brought them together as Ghana Highways Authority. “

He added: “Road transportation remains the cornerstone of Nigeria’s economy, accounting for about 95 percent of cargo and passenger traffic. There is therefore the need for a sustainable development and maintenance of our country’s road transportation infrastructure as to provide a safe, reliable and free flowing system for motorists and other road users in order to facilitate economic activities in the country.

“Mr. President, Distinguished Colleagues, best practice around the world indicates that Nigeria cannot overcome its road infrastructure development challenges unless reforms are embarked upon to reposition the road sector and bring it in synchronies with its peers in the developed and developing nations of the world.”

The bill was referred to the Works’ Committee and has three weeks to conclude its assignment.
Gaya further listed the proposed duties of the agency to include promoting sustainable development and operation of the road sector; facilitating the development of competitive markets and enabling environment for private sector participation in the financing, maintenance and improvement of roads in Nigeria.

Other functions of the proposed agency are to ensure the efficient and effective construction, rehabilitation, reconstruction and maintenance of all federal roads, among others.

Also yesterday, the Senate committed to the committee stage a bill seeking to make lobbying a legal duty through the provision for registration of lobbyists under the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) with a view to making the act of lobbying a professional responsibility.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), said creating a legal framework to regulate the act of lobbying has become imminent in view of the regular influx of lobbyists to the National Assembly to lobby lawmakers for one legislative act or the other.

He listed the objective of the bill to include creating stricter registration requirement for lobbyists; authorising lobbyists to disclose how much they make and spend on lobbying; ban lobbyists from paying for gifts and food as a means of inducement; imposing a time period before a legislature can become a lobbyist; creating ethics oversight by establishing Ethics Commissions and Legislative Ethics Committee and giving Oversight Agencies more power to investigate violation of ethics laws.

He said the bill “would help the legislator take a better position in law making process,” adding: “Lobbyist can be a great source of information for the legislator and that can provide a transparent environment for the legislative interaction that promotes effective and constructive live opportunities for the public and interest groups to participate in legislative process.”