By Carl Ndukwe
As the year, 2017 winds down, it is imperative to assess the contributions of the eighth Nigerian Senate against the backdrop of this aphorism by poet, Mary Oliver; â€œTo pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.â€ We have a very â€œgoodâ€ habit in these parts by focusing on the negatives in a way that blinds us to some of the good work that may have been done.
To many times, we often remember the Senate for the frequent face-offs that they have with members of the Executive arm, invitations to public office holders, motions of National importance and resolutions, however, there are also many times when they do make the people proud. This piece seeks to interrogate some of those memorable bills through which our senators have demonstrated that their service and fealty do indeed rest on the interests and wishes of the people.
In the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill, the Senate demonstrated that not only does it listen but also has it fingers on the pulse of the people. The Senate has via this bill, which reduces the required ages for seeking political offices, ignited greater participation of the youth, not just in politics but also in political leadership.
For a country with over 70 per cent of its population under 35, this is a wonderful development that holds a lot of promise especially for young people going into 2018 when political realignments will gain momentum ahead of the general elections.
The #OpenNASS was another pivotal movement that made the transition from online advocacy to fruitful offline engagement like #theNotTooYoungToRun campaign. The decision to open the Budget of the National Assembly to the general public showcased an exemplary commitment to transparency and accountability which the institution hasnâ€™t always been known for.
For the first time, since Nigeriaâ€™s return to democratic rule 17 years ago, anyone could Google up and see, in fine print every dime that the Senate did intend to spend and how it planned to spend it. Such move has raised the level of confidence and trust that ordinary Nigerians have in the Nigerian Senate and the important work that they do there.
No single issue has, over the past decade, caused so much economic and social destruction to our country as the extremist insurgency in the North East of the country. It has been a thing of great pride to see how citizens all over the country contributed their best to this painful road of recovery.
Here again, the Senate chimed in with commitment and focus, passing the North East Development Commission Bill (signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari), which among other things establishes a commission tasked with the responsibility of rebuilding and rehabilitating the North East whilst ensuring the resettlement of the internally displaced persons into their homes. Surely rebuilding the North east is the most definitive way to defeat the insurgents, and itâ€™s great to see the Senate playing its part in the fight.
In November, the World Bank released its Ease of Doing Business Report for 2018 with the joyful news that Nigeria had moved up 24 places to be ranked in the 145th position out of 190 countries against the backdrop of a decade of decline in the global rankings. While the Executive arm received tonnes of plaudits for this great feat, many commentators forget that the Senate had helped to lay the groundwork with the Ease of Doing Business Bills – the Credit Bureau Services Bill and the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets.
The Credit Bureau Services Bill passed in May 2017 helps reduce the risk of lending or engaging in business with individuals or companies with a financial history of not paying back while the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets, enables ordinary Nigerians use invoices and receipts to access loans and working capital. Together, both laws smoothen the rough edges of doing business in Nigeria by securing lenders from working with people who have questionable financial history and also enabling more Nigerians to borrow towards growing their businesses. This, no doubt, would translate in unlocking more growth potential for our economy.
Lastly, as a nation we have always paid lip service when it comes to leveraging technology to make life easier for the people. What better way to side with the people than to show understanding that the viability of our whole democracy lies in the integrity of our electoral system with the passage of the INEC Reform Bill which will shore up and safeguard our voting process.
Thanks to the bill, there shall now be full biometric accreditation of voters with Smart Card Readers, INEC Officers must now instantly transmit accreditation data and results from Polling Units to various collation centres in a manner that determines final results on real time basis. INEC is also now mandated to keep a National Electronic Register of Election Results as a distinct database or repository of polling unit by polling unit results for all elections conducted by INEC.
Collation of election result is also now mainly electronic, as transmitted unit results will help to determine final results on real time basis. But the best part of the bill is that it kick-starts, in earnest, the technological evolution of our voting system. Such adoption of technology to drive our political system as piloted by the Senate would make our elections more free, fair and transparent.
The Whistleblower Protection Bill, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill all passed this year are aimed at giving fillip to the fight against corruption. This somewhat deals a lie to the notion that the Legislative arm of government is not interested in killing corruption before it kills the nation.
The 8th Senate seems not to be as tone-deaf as a lot of critics make them out. A wise man once said, looking back and looking forward is the only way to make progress. In looking backward, we have seen the grounds covered by our legislators in the 8th Senate and that they can deliver progress. In looking forward, we can challenge our lawmakers to always place service before and above self while delivering a future that we all can be proud of.
* Ndukwe, a communications professional, writes from Abuja