A senate with many firsts
Recently, the Eighth Senate clocked two years and the senators marked the day by devoting a special session to reviewing their activities in order to talk about what and what have been achieved as well as areas that require improvements.
However, viewed from several perspectives, the last two years in the Red Chamber of the federal legislature had been filled with events and successes. It is true that this Senate resumed as a divided house over the issue of election of its leadership. There was a clash between the preference of the Senators for independence in the choice who leads them and the insistence by certain leaders of the party with the majority, All Progressives Congress (APC), to impose their wish on the newly inaugurated lawmakers.
As the facts today show, the Senators prevailed. This however exposed the lawmakers to mischief and sabotage by those who decided to ensure that if the Senators refused to be controlled from outside, then they would have to face public odium arising from manipulation from outside. This explains for the ceaseless attack and campaign of calumny consistently waged against the institution by those who specialize in manipulating public opinions and putting spins on issues, events and occurrences around the Senate and the Senators.
Today, the Senate has risen from the ashes of the division that plagued it in the early days. It is now very stable, united and focused on its agenda to build a strong economy through using the instrumentality of law making to create a working partnership between the public and private sectors. Thanks to the leadership acumen, foresight and resilience of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the. Senate President.
The Eighth Senate has set itself apart with many innovations that it has brought to the business of law making. First, in the consideration of the 2016 budget, the Senate introduced the concept of public hearing as part of the process. What this means is that the budget process is further democratized and many people from the professions, the civil society groups, the private sectors, youth groups and the rest have a say in the making of the budget.
Again, the 2017 budget was the first time the report of the Appropriation Bill was passed on the floor with the full details made available. The details enabled the executive and interested members of the public to have a holistic view of the budget with the necessary details to make informed analysis, review and comments.
This present Senate, in further revolutionizing the budgeting process, has passed a law establishing the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) which is to provide technical support, sustained specialized services and necessary research materials that would aid the legislators in the preparation of the budget.
The current National Assembly in demonstrating its transparency, openness and accountability acceded to popular request in making public details of its own budget. It was the first time in about a decade that the National Assembly will provide a 34 page detail on its budget instead of the one line item that members of the public had been presented with over the years.
Another innovation of the Eighth National Assembly is the establishment of the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER) which is now a clearing house for getting the private sector to take part in the conception, formulation and enactment of laws aimed at achieving comprehensive reform of the national economy and bringing it in line with international best practices.
The partnership created by NASSBER has helped the Senate to identify 56 laws which are said to be essential for reforming the economy. 13 of the laws are categorized as high priority laws. As as today, seven of the high priority law have been successfully passed. The remaining six are in the process of being passed while several others in the medium and low priority bills have equally being passed. These are among the 92 bills already passed as at the time of putting together this piece.
One of such successfully passed laws is the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) which has suffered defeats for the past 12 years in the federal legislature. The Eighth Senate has broken the jinx. The now successfully passed PIGB will be a precursor to two other key bills dealing with host community and fiscal issues. These proposed laws will revolutionize the oil sector in Nigeria, create efficiency, attract global players to invest in the sector, generate more money for the Federal Government and create massive employment, among several other benefits to the nation and her citizens.
Also, working on the NASSBER template, the Senate has successfully amended the Nigerian Railway Act, the first time in 62 years. The new law will allow private sector participation in ownership, management and investment in the sector. This is expected to create hundred of thousands of jobs, uplift the transportation sector, and revive the hitherto agro-politan economy in our rural areas. By the time the National Road Fund Bill, Federal Road Authority Bill and other proposed laws in the sector now in the final stages of their passage successfully become laws, the combined effect will raise the level of investment in national infrastructure, generate more jobs and improve the general standard of living of the people.
Also, this high-achieving Senate has successfully amended the Customs Act, the first time that is being done in 35 years. The amendment has been hailed by several international organizations as it incorporated the Kiyoto Agreement adopted by in many countries across the globe and seeks to modernize the operation of the revenue generation department.
In the same vein, the present Senate is the first to successfully amend the Electoral Act introducing key reforms like the use of card reader and electronic collation of results, all coming two years before the General Election. The tradition in the past is to amend the law governing elections few months to the polls and at a time when all interested parties focus on how the law could help their electoral fortunes. By amending the law when there was no election, the amendment was informed by non-partisan and patriotic considerations.
The plan is to follow up the amendment of the Electoral Act with making the desired changes in the constitution at a sane time when all issues could be viewed from the prism of national interest, rather than parochial personal interest.
This Eighth Senate is the first Upper Chamber of our National Assembly since 1999 to consider and conclude work on as many public petitions as 72 in an entire tenure. The 72 petitions were concluded in two years. It should be noted that the petitions are from Nigerians who have been short-changed in their dealings with government agencies and who prefer that the Senate helps them to seek redress rather than going to court.
The Committee on Public Petitions in serving as an ombudsman, arbitrator and mediator has helped to restore the jobs of those whose appointments were unjustly terminated or secure the necessary payments to those whose entitlements are denied.
As the Senate begins its third and penultimate year, it is believed that the members will not slow down the momentum and will move on to continue to make its work relevant to ordinary Nigerians by working for the improvement of their standard of living.
Olaniyonu is Special Adviser to Senate President, Bukola Saraki.