Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, last week, gave an Account of his six months stewardship, reports Deji Elumoye
That Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, representing Yobe North Senatorial district in the National Assembly, is ambitious is saying the obvious. The ranking Senator, who has been a member of the National Assembly for a record two decades since 1999 and twelve years of which he has spent as a member of the upper legislative chamber, had for sometime been itching to be the nation’s number three citizen.
The ambition propelled him to have a shot at the office of the Senate President at the inception of the Eighth Senate in June, 2015 and was roundly defeated by the former two-time governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki, despite the fact that he was the favoured candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the period.
He, however, kept hope alive and at the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly on June 11, 2019, he emerged the President of the Senate after defeating his close rival, Senator Ali Ndume.
Prior to his emergence as the Chairman of the ninth National Assembly, Lawan had formally launched a 20-page agenda for the Senate entitled, “A National Assembly that Works for Nigeria: Proposed Legislative Agenda for the 9th Senate (2019-2023), which encapsulated his plans as Senate President in the area of improving institutional capacity and capabilities for effective performance, legislative interventions for good governance and independence of the legislature.
Six months after, the Senate President, last week, showcased his performance at an interactive session with the media. Lawan, who lauded the importance of the media in the struggle for the enthronement of democracy in the country stressed that as the Fourth estate of the realm, the media were a great pillar of democracy and free society.
“The media do not just project the conditions of society and democracy, they also chronicle history for the understanding and guidance of posterity. You provide free society with a crucial platform for debate and deliberations.
“You set the agenda for development. You hold public officers and institutions to account especially, by exposing the inconvenient facts. And above all, you light the path to progress through public enlightenment.”
Speaking further, Senate President said: “The Nigerian media has a proud history and is a national treasure. Your courage and vibrancy set you apart on the continent and vividly reflect the indomitable spirit, dynamism and enterprise of our people. You are a consistent fighter for justice and liberty in our country.
“From the beginning when our founding fathers confronted colonialism, through the phase of military dictatorship, when the national struggle was for restoration of democracy, to this epoch, when our generational mission is to build a functional and enduring democracy, you have maintained your position at the forefront of the struggles and have remained an irrepressible fighter for the causes that you believe in. When other estates were captured or suppressed, your stoic resistance provided the people guidance and inspiration.”
He, therefore, solicited for the continued support of the media in solving identified National enemies such as poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, diseases, religious and political extremism, violent crime, environmental degradation and the deleterious effects of climate change.
Emphasising the need for a balanced reportage of the activities of the federal legislature, the Senate President added: “Our appeal here and always is that you are factual and balanced in your reports, constructive in criticism, put issues in perspective and never slip into cynicism, because it darkens perception and distorts reality.”
Highlighting the activities of the Senate in the last six months, Lawan disclosed that the Ninth Senate passed six bills into law, four of them members’ bills with the Deep Off-shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP D3 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill, 2019 being the first to be passed.
On the gains of the passage and signing of the Deep Offshore Production Sharing Contracts, he stated that the law would significantly increase accruals to the government from crude oil contracts.
“It has also ended our years of inexplicable failure to call in returns due to us from our joint venture partners. As a result of this law, we have expanded a critical revenue stream and ensured more funds will flow into the treasury that will enable the government to execute its budgets and critical developmental projects.
He named the two Executive bills passed by the Senate as the Appropriation Bill, 2020 and the Finance Bill 2019, stressing that the Finance Bill amended seven existing tax and fiscal policy laws namely Companies Income Tax Act, 2004; Value Added Tax Act, 2007; Customs and Excise Tariff (Consolidation) Act, 2004; Personal Income Tax Act, 2007; Capital Gains Tax Act, 2007; Stamp Duties Act, 2007; and Petroleum Profit Tax Act, 2004), all aimed to reform Nigeria’s tax system for enhanced implementation and effectiveness.
Lawan, who is the immediate past Senate Leader, did not fail to project for the future especially, the 2020 legislative year. He specifically mentioned the Petroleum Industry Bill, Electoral Reforms Amendment Bill and Amendment of the 1999 Constitution as top priorities of the Senate once it returns from Christmas break in January.
Tracing the history of PIB in the National Assembly to 2007, Lawan assured the people that the legislature would adopt a different approach to making the passage of the bill a reality.
“We want to see a situation, where the Legislature and the Executive work very closely to have a PIB that will attract investment into the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. We want to create an investment climate that will be competitive. We know some other countries have this product, therefore, we have to be competitive; we have to create an environment where the businesses make profit.
“This is a journey that involves everyone. We want both government – and that includes the legislature and executive – on the one hand and other relevant stakeholders in the sector, particularly the IOCs (International Oil Companies), to work together to ensure that this environment we are trying to create is an environment that will work for all of us.”
The Electoral Reforms Amendment Bill, he explained, was to be given priority due to the urgent need to improve the nation’s electoral processes and secure the democratic gains of the Fourth Republic.
“We want to pass the Bill well ahead of the next electoral cycle in 2023 and avoid the political heat and pitfalls that imperiled the efforts of the eight National Assembly, which passed the same bill close to the last general election.
“We are not oblivious of the interest and concerns some of these bills have generated from the public. But we must not forget that lawmaking is a rigorous process that allows for all sides of the argument to be heard and the true will of the people established before a bill becomes law.”
Lawan also alluded to the fact that within six months, the upper chamber had received 78 public petitions, which were referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.
“Most of these petitions were presented by private citizens with grievances against agencies or agents of government. The committee has so far examined nine of the petitions, concluded its investigations and laid its reports on the table. The Committee is also working on the other petitions with a view to satisfactorily addressing the grievances behind them.
Speaking on the relationship existing between the Executive and the legislative arm, Lawan stressed that, “We enjoyed a harmonious working relationship with the House of Representatives and the Executive.
“The benefits of the harmonious relationship with the Executive are evident in the timely passage of the budget and finance bills and the prompt assent by the President to the Deep Off-shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP D3 LFN 2004 (Amendment Bill, 2019.
“Our desire for cordial relationships with the other arms of government notwithstanding, the Senate and indeed the ninth National Assembly will continue to firmly exercise its oversight role on the executive agencies with a view to ensuring transparency, accountability and good governance.
“Our loyalty as legislators is to the Nigerian people, the Constitution and the oath that we took at our inauguration. I assure you that the ninth Senate and National Assembly will not betray the trust of the people.
We are going to serve our fatherland with love and strength and faith”.
However, with 2020 just by the corner, the Senate and by extension the National Assembly led by Lawan should ensure strict implementation of the 2020 Appropriation Act recently signed into law by President Buhari.
This is where the committees of the two chambers come in and they should be able to carry out their oversight functions on the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). A situation whereby the 2019 budget as at June, this year was less than 60 per cent implemented should no longer be tolerated in the next fiscal year moreso with the budget cycle now being returned to the January-December cycle.
The issue of checks and balances and separation of powers should also form the priority of the Senate leadership having tested the waters in the first six months of its tenure.
The constitution is very explicit about the different roles of the three arms of government and no arm should be an appendage of the other. Being on the same page with the Executive as often espoused by the Senate President should not prevent the legislature from carrying out its duties especially, in keeping the Executive in check whenever the need arises.
While it may appear too early to appraise the Ninth Senate after a six month stint, it behooves the Senate leadership to ensure that the upper legislative chamber is really one that could actually work for Nigerians as Lawan promised in his campaign slogan ahead of his election as Senate President last June.