Is the 9th Senate Truly Working for the People?

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Nigerian Senate

Egbo Mon-Charles opines that the federal legislature is committed to guide the executive arm to excellence

Democracy is meaningful only when it is reflective of a sustainable collaboration between the government and the masses and also unity of purpose among the three arms of government, wherein the people are active participants in the scheme of things. Although it appears merely imaginary given the sad legacies of military incursion in Nigeria’s politics, this ideal state is the ultimate goal of democracy as envisioned by the founding fathers. Instructively, it is attainable only through the instrumentality of a legislature that is alive to its roles and responsibilities.

Hence, the security and welfare of the citizenry which is the sole obligation of sovereign governments can be delivered only with a parliament in which the interest of the masses shape every legislative thought, word and deed. And critically as well, its leadership must be experienced, creative and focused so as to always inspire the chamber to uncommon responsiveness and willingness to make sacrifices for the well-being and progress of the masses, without compromising standards whatsoever.

Apparently those were the major factors that informed the choice and eventual emergence of the present senate leadership.

The 9th senate inherited daunting challenges of dwindling economy with citizenry ravaged by insecurity, hunger, poverty and infrastructural deficit. It was also faced with huge image and reputational crises flowing largely from certain actions and inaction of the previous assemblies. But rather than become deterred, the upper chamber saw in them, viable opportunities to make marks. They showed patriotic resolve. And to this end, the Senate President rose to the responsibilities of his office. Meanwhile as a consummate parliamentarian, Senator Ahmad Lawan demonstrated that the legislature can effectively guide the executive to excellence only when it is adequately mobilized to chart the course. He had prior to becoming Senate President developed a strategic plan that was to become a decisive foundation for a functional senate dedicated to the Nigerian people.

By his concise Legislative Agenda Ahmad Lawan had galvanized amongst his colleagues the consciousness that good governance and national development are sequel to strong institutions driven by people’s participation. And by way of deepening it with culture of benchmarked performance, he instituted publication of “an annual report titled, ‘Senate that Works for the People.’

Guided by shared vision, the senators became self-motivated and oriented towards meeting the expectations of the masses through deliberate legislative interventions. And with that collective sincere service mentality, Lawan has been providing the needed leadership towards principally reinventing the economy, boosting the fight against insecurity and also opening up the legislature in deference to the people as the major stakeholders in the business of governance.

Lawan further stressed that “the 9th Senate shall focus on legislative intervention as a matter of urgency, to effect a change of course in Security, Economy, Criminal Legislation Reform, Public Finance Management Legislations, Anti-Corruption, Youth Unemployment and Substance Abuse, improve Standard of Education, Healthcare Services and other fundamental needs of Nigerians.”

Noteworthy is that despite the acceptability and efficiency already in place, Lawan recognized parliamentary convention by making the senate to develop a corporate Legislative Agenda. The ad-hoc committee in furtherance of the 9th senate commitment to shared vision, came up with a version that is a valid reflection of his. And therefore with the roadmap handy, the chamber has since been walking the talks with sufficient vigour and passion. Every senator looks forward with enthusiasm for a new legislative day for a new round of robust session. The motions and bills taken at plenary are as evidently people-oriented as the zeal for national development is overwhelming.

For example, the senate postponed by one week its statutory annual vacation just to ensure that the ministerial nominees were screened and confirmed for governance to take off earnestly in favour of the masses.

By the same token, the Senate President displayed conviction that good governance and quality service delivery begin and end with budgeting. He initiated some viable reforms capable of kick-starting the processes of repairing the economy and providing better living standards for the Nigerian masses. Among others, he is committed to seeing Nigeria revert to January-December fiscal cycle. With the cooperation of his colleagues, he has targeted this December for passage of 2020 budget. In an unprecedented manner, he literally and repeatedly begged the executive to present the 2020 budget draft so that legislative actions could commence timely. The Mid-Term Expenditure Framework/ Fiscal Strategy Paper was accorded an accelerated consideration and subsequent approval which paved the way for eventual presentation of the budget proposal by the president, Muhammadu Buhari. Barely one week after receiving the fiscal document, deliberations on the general principle of implementation was concluded while committee works has taken off, all with rare energetic spirit and patriotic zeal towards serving the people.

However, the salient point in this sincere commitment to pass the budget in good time, is that thoroughness and quality were not sacrificed for speed. Attention was paid to details for-which popular opinion among the legislators favoured the belief that the budget draft as presented was relatively insensitive to the exigencies of the moment and unrealistic considering several fiscal dynamics. The 9th senate has restated resolve that budgeting is no longer to be treated as an annual ritual where items are merely listed without specifics or are based on illogical predictions. Deliberate effort was made to ensure that the budget is impactful to achieve set objectives of at least stimulating economic growth and fiscal stability.

During the review of the MTEF/FSP, the senate increased the estimate to the tune of N700 billion primarily towards addressing the challenges of banditry, kidnapping, terrorism, insurgency and farmer-herdsmen clashes impoverishing the country. And also with a view to achieving further increase in budgetary allocation in this regard, the committee on Army has been up and doing seeking to provide lasting solutions to the insecurity in the land. It has undertaken a fact-finding visit to the military operational headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno State, which is the epicenter of insurgency, and subsequently identified combination of equipment deficit and underfunding as the major setback to the efforts of government to put an end to the scourge. This is the first-of-its-kind by the legislature aside visiting the Internally Displaced Persons camps.

During the MTEF/FSP consideration, it was discovered that the international oil companies, IOCs, that are involved in the petroleum production in Nigeria are shortchanging the country. The senate therefore called for a decisive action so that Nigeria could be getting her fair share from the series of joint-venture operations with the IOCs, for adequate finance of federal budgets. This prompted the presidency to quickly send a bill to that effect. While presenting the budget to the National Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari requested for the amendment of the Product Sharing Contract Act. Within one week of formalizing it, the senate has gone through the processes and passed the bill which would raise the country’s revenue profile from deep offshore and inland basin operations. Nigeria will get at least $1.5b in 2020 as a result of this amendment.

The signs are clear that at the expiry of the 9th senate, the Nigerian economy would have stabilized. Therefore, Nigerian masses are expected to reciprocate this patriotic show of responsiveness and empathy. The public particularly the elites should close ranks with the legislature. Those that take delight in antagonizing, demeaning and undermining this institution should have a rethink, so that our democracy can be participatory and sovereignty truly belongs to the people.

Egbo, a public relations practitioner can be reached at moncharles@yahoo.com