Deconstructing Saraki’s Senate

0
Bukola Saraki

The Eighth Senate inaugurated on June 9, 2015 will come to an end by June 8 but it has to its credit amidst many challenges, laudable achievements, writes Deji Elumoye

Less than two weeks from now, the Eighth National Assembly under the Chairmanship of a former two-time governor of Kwara State (2003 to 2011) and two-time Senator (2011 to 2019), Dr. Bukola Saraki, will wind down to give way for the Ninth Assembly, which is expected to be inaugurated on June 11. Both chambers of the Eighth Assembly hit the ground running upon the election of Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.

Although for the better part of the 8th Assembly, there was no love lost between the Senate leadership and the Executive and this really affected the legislative duties of the 109 Senators. Because Saraki emerged Senate President against the wish of the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), every possible step was taken to intimidate and harass him.

At a point, Saraki was arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over allegations of non-declaration of his assets since leaving office as governor in 2011.The case dragged on till the Supreme Court discharged and acquitted him of all the allegations. The Nigeria Police also leveled allegations against Saraki over the Offa robbery incident that claimed over 30 lives in April, 2017 and again the Senate President approached the court even as the Attorney-General of the federation advised the Police that there was no strong evidence to prosecute Saraki over his alleged involvement in the robbery incident.

Despite all the witch-hunt by the President Muhammadu Buhari government, the Senate President refused to be cowed and forged ahead by providing the required leadership for the Senate in particular and Eighth Assembly in general.

From June to November, 2015, the Senate was ran without the statutory committees as only four special committees were constituted for the legislative business of the upper chamber of the National Assembly to run.

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).

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

The list of the committee chairmen included Senators Abdullahi Adamu from Nasarawa West (Agriculture and Rural Development), George Akume from Benue North West (Army), Duro Faseyi from Ekiti North (Air Force), Chukwuka Utazi from Enugu North (Anti- Corruption and Financial Crimes), Danjuma Goje from Gombe Central (Appropriations) and Adamu Aliero from Kebbi Central (Aviation).

Others were Senators Adebayo Ibrahim from Kwara South (Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions), Gilbert Nnaji from Enugu East (Communications), Stella Oduah from Anambra North (Cooperation, Integration in Africa and NEPAD), Fatima Raji-Rasaki from Ekiti Central (Culture and Tourism) and Abubakar Kyari from Borno North (Defence), Hope Uzodinma from Imo West (Customs, Excise and Tariffs), Rose Okoji Oko from Cross River North (Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organisation), Joshua Lidani from Gombe South (Drugs and Narcotics ), Bukar Abba Ibrahim from Yobe East (Ecology and Climate Change), Aliyu Wamakko from Sokoto North (Education, Basic and Secondary), Sam Anyanwu from Imo East (Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions) and Tijjani Kaura from Zamfara North (Police Affairs).

Also listed were Senators Kabiru Marafa from Zamfara Central (Petroleum Downstream), Tayo Alasoadura from Ondo Central (Petroleum Upstream), Albert Akpan from Akwa Ibom North East (Gas), Oluremi Tinubu from Lagos Central (Environment), Monsurat Sunmonu from Oyo Central (Foreign Affairs), John Enoh from Cross River Central (Finance), Lanre Tejuoso from Ogun Central (Health), Dino Melaye from Kogi West (Federal Capital Territory), Barnabas Gemade (Housing), Buhari Abdulfattah from Oyo North (ICT and Cyber Crime) and Suleiman Nazif from Bauchi North (INEC).

There were Suleiman Adokwe from Nasarawa South (Information and National Orientation), Andy Uba from Anambra South (Interior), Bayero Nafada from Gombe North (Inter-Parliamentary Affairs), Samuel Egwu from Ebonyi North (Industry), David Umaru from Niger East (Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters), Olugbenga Ashafa from Lagos East (Land Transport), Babajide Omoworare from Osun East (Legislative Compliance), Shehu Sani from Kaduna Central (Local and Foreign Debts), Ahmed Sani from Zamfara West (Marine Transport), Sabi Abdullahi from Niger North (Media and Public Affairs), Suleiman Hunkuyi from Kaduna North (National Identity and National Population ) and Rabiu Kwankwaso from Kano Central (National Planning and Economic Affairs ).

Not left out were Isa Misau from Bauchi Central (Navy), Peter Nwaoboshi from Delta North (Niger Delta), Mao Ohuabunwa from Abia North (Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases), Ben Murray- Bruce from Bayelsa East (Privatisation), Mathew Urhoghide from Edo South (Public Accounts), Baba Garbai from Borno Central (Rules and Business), Ajayi Boroffice from Ondo North (Science and Technology), Ibrahim Gobir (Senate Services), Magnus Abe from Rivers South East (FERMA) and Adeola Olamilekan from Lagos West (Local Content).

Lucky too were Mohammed Shittu from Jigawa North East (Water Resources), Enyinnaya Abaribe from Abia South (Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy), Abdulaziz Nyako from Adamawa Central (Special Duties), Binta Masi from Adamawa North (Women Affairs), Obinna Ogba from Ebonyi Central (Sports and Social Development), Abdullahi Gumel from Jigawa North West (States and Local Government), Jibrin Barau from Kano North (Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND), Sabo Nakudu Mohammed from Jigawa South West (Trade and Investment) and Kabiru Gaya from Kano South (Works).

With the composition of the committees, the Senate in November, 2015 swung into action discharging its legislative duties and oversight.

The Eighth Senate in the areas of legislative duties and oversight worked on and passed priority bills that included the Nigerian Railway Bill 2015; Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act CAP B2 LFN 2011 (Repeal and Re-enactment) 2015; National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment Bill 2015; Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria Bill 2015; Electronic Transaction Bill 2015; Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme Act (Amendment) Bill 2015; Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme Bill 2015; Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2015, and National Poverty Eradication Commission Bill 2015.

There were also the North East Development Commission (NEDC) Bill 2015; Erosion Control and Prevention Commission Bill 2015; Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous provision) Amendment Bill 2015; Federal University of Petroleum Resources Effuru Bill 2015; Food Security Bill 2015; Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service Bill 2015; Environmental Managers Registration Council of Nigeria Bill 2015; Nigeria Institute of Soil Science Bill 2015; Nigeria Football Federation Bill 2015; National Sports Commission Bill 2015; Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill 2015; Witness Protection Programme Bill 2015; Defence Space Agency Bill 2015; High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja (Amendment) Bill 2015; Air Force Institute of Technology Bill 2015 and Credit Bureau Reporting Bill 2015.

The bills passed by the Eighth Senate in 2016 include Federal Roads Authority Bill 2016; National Assembly Budget and Research Office Bill 2016; Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill 2016; National Lottery Act 2005 (Amendment) Bill 2016; Electoral Act 6 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2016; Public Procurement Act (Amendment) Bill 2016; Petroleum Industry Governance Bill 2016; National Inland Waterways Act Cap N47 LFN 2004 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2016; Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Act (Amendment) Bill 2016 and JAMB Act (Amendment) Bill 2016.

There were Nigerian Customs Service Bill 2016 and Nigerian Customs Service Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2016; Warehouse Receipts Bill 2016; Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Bill 2016; Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institution Bill 2016; Federal University of Wukari (Establishment, etc) Bill 2016; Maritime University of Nigeria, Okerenkoko (Establishment, etc) Bill 2016 and Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2016 and Universal Basic Education Act 2003 (Amendment) Bill 2016.

In 2017, the upper legislative chamber also passed the National Open University of Nigeria Act (Amendment) Bill 2017; Nigerian Peace Corps (Establishment, etc) Bill 2015 and the National Unity and Peace Corps (Establishment, etc) Bill 2015; Federal University of Maritime Studies, Oron Bill 2017; National Institute for Legislative Studies Act (Amendment) Bill 2017; National Research and Innovation (Est, etc.) Bill 2017; Nigeria Financial Intelligence Agency Bill 2017; Institute of Chartered Biochemist and Molecular Biologist Bill, 2016; Whistle Blowers Protection Bill 2015; Abduction, wrongful restraints and wrongful confinement for ransom bill 2017 and Prohibition and Protection of persons from lynching, mob action and Extra Judicial Executions Bill, 2017.

Also to the credit of the eighth senate were Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2017; Hydroelectric Power Producing Area Development Commission (Amendment) Bill 2015; Chartered Institute of Entrepreneurs (est., etc.) Bill 2015; Chartered Institute of Capital Market Registrars Bill 2017; Presidential Inauguration Bill 2016; National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (Establishment, etc) Bill 2016; Federal University of Agriculture Kaaba (Establishment, etc) Bill 2016; Federal Colleges of Education Act (Amendment) Bill 2017; Niger Delta Development Commission (Amendment) Bill 2017; Nigeria Arabic Language Village, Ngala Bill 2017; Nigeria French Language Village, Badagry Bill 2017 and Demutualization Bill 2017.

The bills passed in 2018 included the Revised Edition (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria) Bill 2018; Arbitration and Conciliation act cap A18 LFN 2004 (Repeal and re-enactment) Bill 2018; Emergency Powers (Repeal and re-enactment) Bill 2018; Federal University Gashua Bill 2018; National Transport Commission (Est., etc.) Bill 2018; (SB. 242), Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill 2018; River Basin Development Act cap R9LFN2004 (Amendment) Bill 2018; National Centre for Disease Control Prevention (establishment, etc) Bill 2018; Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Act (Amendment) Bill; Chartered Institute of Directors of Nigeria Bill 2018; Chartered Polymer Institute of Nigeria Bill 2018; Companies and Allied Matters Bill 2018; Federal Polytechnics Act (amendment) Bill 2018 and Federal University of Health Sciences Otukpo (Est., etc.) Bill 2018 (SB. 504).

For 2019, no few than 45 bills including the National Minimum Wage Bill, which pegged the least salary of a worker at N30,000 had been passed by the Senate, while 25 out of the 2019 bills were passed within the last two weeks.

Alluding to the number of bills passed by the Eighth Senate, Saraki, in a statement issued on April 22, 2019 boasted that, “This Senate has surpassed the records of all previous Senates in the number of bills passed, the significance of these bills to the revival of the economy, the fight against insecurity and corruption, improvement in the provision of health service and the education sector, as well as better social service delivery to the generality of the people.

“The bills passed, motions moved, intervention made and frequent engagements with the people were all directed towards addressing the day-to-day issues that affect the lives of the ordinary Nigerians. This Senate has passed 282 bills (the highest any Senate had passed is 129 bills recorded by the 5th Senate), among which is the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, Public Procurement Act (amendment) Bill, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, Electoral Act (amendment) Bill, Police Reform Bill, Police Trust Fund Bill, Nigeria Railways Authority Bill, Company and Allied Matters Act (amendment) Bill, Secured Credit Transactions Act, Whistleblowers Protection Bill, constitution amendment bills, Discrimination Against Persons With Disability Bill, Electronic Transaction Bill, Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, North East Development Commission (NEDC) Act, Witness Protection Programme Bill, Credit Bureau Reporting Bill, Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institution Bill and Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill, National Financial Intelligence Agency Act, Federal Audit Services Commission Bill, among others.

“Most of the bills listed above got international and national endorsements from stakeholders, who lauded the Senate for the move. For example, the Financial Intelligence Database Agency (Ultrascan) commended the Senate for passing the NFIU Act, which enabled the country to be re-admitted into the Egmont Group.

“Also, the Nigerian Police leadership has praised the Senate for passing the Police Reforms Bill and the Police Trust Fund Bill. Again, when the National Assembly in the 2018 budget gave effect to the law allowing one per cent of the budget to be devoted to Primary Health Care Delivery; it got kudos from Bill Gates, Bono, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of WHO, and various national groups, who believe the move would bring health care delivery to the poor people across the country.

“The passage of the UBEC Act (amendment) Bill was praised by Pakistani child education campaigner and youngest Nobel Laureate, Yousafzai Malala. When the PIGB was passed, Political parties, National Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), among others, hailed the Senate for a good job.

Even the World Bank commended the National Assembly for the passage of the Company and Allied Matters Act and Secured Transactions in Movable Assets and Credit Bureau Reporting Act.

“The Eighth Senate has done very well and will leave a good legacy. Despite all the underhand tactics to undermine the legislature by outsiders and the public posturing, members have always worked as a team on critical issues that have benefits for our people and our nation. That is why hitherto unachievable legislations like the PIGB, Police Reforms Act and other bills or amendments to existing laws were passed with ease, because the members and the leadership know that they are elected as Senators of the Federal Republic and not as party representatives”.

However, despite the large number of bills passed by the Senate and by extension the House of Representatives, President Buhari had in the last four years refused assent to no fewer than 47 bills.

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, National Biotechnology Development Agency Bill, 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 included 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, National Agricultural Seeds Council Bill, 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.

He also rejected the 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.

In addition, the President rejected the four versions of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill passed by the Eighth National Assembly.

The legislative interventions of the upper chamber of the National Assembly 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 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 North East, charged with the task of 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, Babachir Lawal, for misappropriating funds upwards of N200million.

Other legislative interventions apart from the Eighth Senate passing 277 bills and treating 197 petitions include Senate allocation of N10bn in March, 2016 to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Northeast 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.

The last legislative intervention of the Senate was the N10billion it added to the N8.916trillion 2019 federal budget passed last month by the National Assembly for tackling humanitarian crisis in Zamfara State as requested for by Senator Marafa in a motion moved to that effect on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 and accordingly adopted and effected in the 2019 budget estimates in collaboration with the House of Representatives.

All said and done, one is not too sure if President Buhari will assent to the recent 45 bills passed by the Assembly before the 8th National Assembly winds down on or before June 8. But one thing is certain, the eighth senate is leaving behind a legacy too big and cosmopolitan for the faint-hearted. Kudos to the quality leadership provided by Saraki!

JOY M. IMIE