A Parliament Filled with Dramatic Events

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Deji Elumoye capture some of the historic occurrences in the 8th Senate, which winds down in a few weeks

As the end of the 8th senate approaches, the tenure of that legislature will go down as one filled with very exciting and dramatic events; and apparently creating moments of high drama. So intense were the frequent occurrence of unfortunate but laughable spectacles that it mostly overshadowed the time-consuming work performed by the legislators. Upon its inauguration on June 9, 2015 and the emergence of former two-term Governor of Kwara state, Dr Bukola Saraki, as the Senate President, the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly took some time to stabilise. Saraki, who was not the choice of the then leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) teamed up with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senators to emerge as the nation’s Number Three citizen. Thus began an enduring season of chaos that attended the better part of the Saraki-led Senate. The leadership of the party never supported him and initiated a long-drawn battle to oust him.

For five months the 109-member Senate ran without the statutory committees, as only four special committees were constituted for legislative business. The special committees set up by Saraki in July, 2015 included Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition headed by Senator Sam Anyawu (PDP Imo East); Rules and Business chaired then by Senator Babajide Omoworare (APC Osun East); General Services headed by Senator Ibrahim Gobiri (APC Sokoto East) and Public Accounts (SPAC) which is the only constitutionally recognised committee headed by Senator Andy Uba (PDP Anambra South).

On November 4, 2015, the Senate leadership decided to constitute 65 statutory committees which was later increased to 69 and priority was given to ranking Senators in the choice of the Chairmen of the committees.

With the composition of the committees, the Senate swung into action in the performance of its legislative duties and oversight.

Almost four years down the line, the relationship between the legislature and the executive remains as it was in the beginning-everything but cordial. In between time, Saraki who entered the Senate as an APC legislature, switched political party loyalty to PDP. The Executive as represented by President Muhammadu relates with Saraki with suspicion because to them Saraki went against the directive of the ruling APC to emerge Senate President.

At the height of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, senators frequently abandoned their duties to accompany Saraki to the tribunal. Sometimes he had as many 50 senators and some members of the House of Representatives as escort. At such times, Ike Ekweremadu, deputy senate president, would preside over the plenary with only a few senators at the sitting. Saraki was being tried on three of the 18 counts of false assets declaration filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The matter went all the way to the Supreme Court, which finally laid the trial on assets declaration and sundry charges instituted against Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal to rest.

To President Buhari and others around him Saraki is a usurper and they tried everything possible to frustrate him but that didn’t work. The Executive also worked on APC Senators with a view to removing Saraki and the plan also failed because the Senate President’s popularity among the Senators cut across party lines. The cat and mouse relationship between the two arms of government really affected governance as most Executive bills were not promptly worked on by the Senate while President Buhari also failed to assent to, not less than, 38 bills transmitted to him by the National Assembly in the last four years.

The rejected bills by President Buhari included the controversial National Housing Fund Bill, Ajaokuta Steel Company Completion Fund Bill, Nigerian Aeronautical Search and Rescue Bill, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency Bill and National Biotechnology Development Agency Bill.

Others are the National Institute of Credit Administration Bill, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria Bill as well as the Chattered Institute of Training and Development of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill.

Other bills earlier rejected by Buhari  include: Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Amendment Bill, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill, National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (Est.) Bill, National Research and Innovation Council (Est.) Bill and National Agricultural Seeds Council Bill.

Also rejected are: Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill, Chattered Institute of Entrepreneurship (Est.) Bill, Subsidiary Legislation (Legislative Scrutiny) Bill, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill, Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill as well as six constitution amendment bills.

Others include: Nigerian Film Corporation Bill, Immigration (Amendment) Bill, Climate Change Bill, Chattered Institute of Pension Practitioners Bill, Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, National Transport Commission Bill, Federal Road Authority (Establishment) Bill, National Broadcasting Commission Amendment Bill, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Act (Amendment) Bill and Federal Polytechnics Act (Amendment) Bill.

The President also rejected the four versions of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill passed by the Eighth National Assembly.

In the areas of legislative duties and oversight, the Eighth Senate is working on priority bills at various committee stages. These include Customs and Excise (SB 246); Federal Competition Bill (SB 257); Federal Roads Authority Bill (SB. 219); Ports & Harbours Reforms Bill (SB 243); Independent Warehouse Regulatory Bill (SB. 255); National Road Funds Bill (SB 218); National Development Bank Bill (SB 8); and National Transport Commission Bill (SB 242)

Senate legislative interventions since June, 2015 include  the first-ever National Assembly Joint Public Hearing on the budget which gave the public, Civil Society Organisations and stakeholders like labour organisations an opportunity to weigh-in on the 2017 Appropriations Bill. Senate also intervened in the Abuja Airport Closure in 2017 saying the closure would affect businesses operating in the federal capital and pushed for alternatives to the closure of the Abuja airport.

In September, 2016, the Senate constituted an eight-man Ad Hoc Committee on the North-east charged with ascertaining the total amount of funds that have been released to the Presidential Initiative on the North-east and probing spending by the Federal Government on the humanitarian crisis in the North-east. The Committee indicted the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation for misappropriating funds upwards of N200million.

The Senate has passed 247 bills and treated 197 petitions since June, 2015. Other legislative interventions performed by the Senate include allocation of N10bn in March, 2016 to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-east in recognition of the dire situation.

The Senate also submitted a 21-point resolution on executive actions that the executive needed to take to shore up investor confidence, create jobs, increase revenues and get Nigeria’s economy back on track.

Although the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu could not be reached as calls placed to his line didn’t go through, his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Uche Anichukwu, however, said the 8th Senate had set a record in terms of the number and quality of bills passed as well as preserved of the independence of the legislature.

According to him, “Although this Senate has been through tough times, Senators have bravely preserved the fine principles of democracy such as the separation of powers and the independence of the legislature.

“I vividly remember the day armed hoodlums invaded the Senate and snatched the mace, the Senate did not buckle. Instead, Ekweremadu, who presided on that occasion said, ‘We will stand by our democracy. We will defend our democracy. We are going to stand together to ensure that we continue with the assignment Nigerians gave us to represent them. We will conclude everything here (order paper) because that is what we are being paid to do.

“And in the area of constitution amendment, the age requirement for the presidency and other political offices were reduced; time frame for the determination of pre-election matters was successfully set, while the state legislatures and judiciaries got their financial autonomy. These, among several other amendments will go a long way in deepening the nation’s democracy.”

For Senator Shehu Sani (PRP Kaduna Central), the Senate has been able to play its constitutional role and defended it. According to him, “The Senate has also been able to prevent the country from sliding into tyranny and any threat towards totalitarianism and dictatorship.” Sani, an activist, added that, “We must accept the fact that the Eighth Senate is one that runs through turbulence and hazardous moments in the history of democracy in Nigeria. It will be remembered that 8th Senate refused to be rubber stamp of the Executive and also resisted dangerous moves by the Executive to neutralise the voice of the people”. The Senator who is Chairman of Senate Committee on Foreign Debts and Loans stated that the Senate has achieved an unprecedented level of success in terms of passed motions and bills “and for the first time, the opposition and ruling party worked together in the interest of the country.”

On the part of Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (PDP Kwara South), the Eighth Senate has surpassed all previous Senate in the passage of numerous bills especially economic ones in line with the promises the leadership of eighth Senate made at inception in June, 2015. According to Ibrahim, who is Chairman of Senate Committee on Banks, Insurance and other Financial Institutions, “We hope the passed bills will help restructure the economy with the hope that the Executive will look into the bills and not play politics with the bills.” He said he was proud to be a member of the eighth Senate having gained a lot from the upper legislative chamber in the last four years.

On its relationship with members, the leadership of the 8th senate was known for not tolerating indiscipline. Senators who found themselves at cross purposes with the leadership were whipped into line. On the other hand, the senate leadership stoutly defended members from being victimized by institutions of state. However, Saraki was often criticized in some quarters for shielding his “friends”. An Abuja-based lawyer who preferred to remain anonymous said, “If you were a known anti-Saraki senator, he would either not recognize you to speak or he overrule whatever you had to say, no matter how relevant.”

On March 29, 2017, Senate suspended for six months, the Senator representing Borno south, Mohammed Ali Ndume, who raised a motion on the floor of the senate, demanding the senate to investigate media reports alleging that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki imported a bullet proof Range Rover with fake documents; while Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi west) forged Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria first degree certificate. Majority of the senators held that he should have investigated the truth in the media reports before bringing it to floor of the senate. They insisted that the motion by Ndume was in attempt to bring Melaye, his colleague, and the institution of the senate to, “Unbearable disrepute at this time of our National life when caution, patriotism, careful consideration and due diligence should be our watchwords.” The senate Ethics and Privileges Committee chairman, Senator Samuel Anyawu and few of his committee members that signed the committee report handed down a 181 legislative-day suspension. Though the sentence was commuted to six months of suspension against 181 legislative days or one year, the Senate Rules actually prescribes a maximum of four legislative days of suspension for a senator involved in a highly serious offence. Ndume served out 90 legislative days of suspension, but a Federal High Court in Abuja declared the suspension of Ndume by the Senate as illegal and ordered that he be paid all his outstanding salaries and allowances.

Another notable suspension was that of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege representing Delta Central by the National Assembly joint ad hoc committee for 180 legislative days over the theft of the Senate mace. The committee also recommended that Senator Omo-Agege be prosecuted alongside six other suspects who allegedly accompanied him into the chamber on the day of the incident. They were to be prosecuted for treasonable felony, assault on National Assembly members of staff, conspiracy to steal and eventual theft of the Senate Mace.

On the other hand, for all his theatrics, Melaye, an avowed ally of Saraki was often let off with a slap on the wrist, for instance when he assaulted his colleague, Senator Oluremi Tinubu. Incidentally, both Ndume and Melaye survived a recall bid by their constituents.
Much as the Eighth Senate surpassed earlier Senate in the areas of passage of bills, motions and other legislative interventions, it is hoped that the leadership of the current Senate will do justice to all other outstanding bills before it adjourns in June without appointing a day on which to appear or assemble again.

QUICK FACTS

  1. The 8th Senate was inaugurated on June 9, 2015
  2. The emergence of former two-term Governor of Kwara state, Dr Bukola Saraki, as the Senate President was frowned at by his party, the APC
  3. Saraki teamed up with PDP Senators to emerge as the nation’s Number Three citizen
  4.  The Upper Chamber of the National Assembly took some time to stabilise.because Saraki was not the choice of the then leadership of the APC
  5. For five months, the 109-member Senate ran without the statutory committees, as only four special committees were constituted for legislative business
  6. On November 4, 2015, the Senate leadership decided to constitute 65 statutory committees which was later increased to 69 and priority was given to ranking Senators in the choice of the Chairmen of the committees
  7. Almost four years down the line, the relationship between the legislature and the executive remains as it was in the beginning-everything but cordial
  8. The cat and mouse relationship between the two arms of government really affected governance as most Executive bills were not promptly worked on by the Senate while President Buhari also failed to assent to, not less than, 38 bills transmitted to him by the National Assembly in the last four years
  9. In the areas of legislative duties and oversight, the Eighth Senate is working on priority bills at various committee stages
  10. Senate legislative interventions since June, 2015 include  the first-ever National Assembly Joint Public Hearing on the budget which gave the public, Civil Society Organisations and stakeholders like labour organisations an opportunity to weigh-in on the 2017 Appropriations Bill
  11. In September, 2016, the Senate constituted an eight-man Ad Hoc Committee on the North-east charged with ascertaining the total amount of funds that have been released to the Presidential Initiative on the North-east and probing spending by the Federal Government on the humanitarian crisis in the North-east. The Committee indicted the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation for misappropriating funds upwards of N200million
  12. The Senate has passed 247 bills and treated 197 petitions since June, 2015
  13. The Senate also submitted a 21-point resolution on executive actions that the executive needed to take to shore up investor confidence, create jobs, increase revenues and get Nigeria’s economy back on track
  14. The leadership of the 8thsenate was known for not tolerating indiscipline. Senators who found themselves at cross purposes with the leadership were whipped into line. On the other hand, the senate leadership stoutly defended members from being victimized by institutions of state. However, Saraki was often criticized in some quarters for shielding his “friends”