Senate’s mid-term score card
The 7th Assembly of the Senate started with the election of Senator David Mark as its President for the second term. The return of Senator Mark as the President of the Senate was without much ado, having successfully distinguished himself as the President of the Senate by bringing stability to the much troubled Senate left by Senator Ken Nnamani, who happened to be the only survivor of that era that saw the exit of the likes of late Chuba Okadigbo and Anyim Pius Anyim – now the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
But the past two years have been a mix of sadness and a little bit of joy. Sadness came through the death of Senator Gyang Dantong, a senator from Plateau North who was killed in the sectarian crises of Plateau State. The circumstances of Dantong’s death were particularly a source of concern for the Senators, especially because Dantong has been at the forefront of the struggle for amicable resolution of the Plateau crises before he was eventually consumed by the same crisis. He was buried with all the respect due to a fallen senator, but the Plateau crises have not ceased. The senate and the nastion found Dantong’s death quite sad because Dantong was killed while attending the burial of victims of the same sectarian crises.
Dantong’s burial was followed closely by the motion on the discovery of thirty bodies floating on Ezu Rivers in Anambra State, in mysterious circumstances. The most worrisome of this discovery was that two weeks after those bodies were found, nobody came out to identify any of them and neither did anyone from that environment declare a known person missing. Even the autopsy report ordered to be carried out on the bodies by the Anambra State Governor has not yielded any positive result. The communities around the river were left bewildered as the polluted water became a no-go-area for them.
Of course the communities also became fearful of their safety since none of the bodies could be identified to be a member of any of the five communities around the river that serves as boundary to both Anambra and Enugu States. That motion was brought by Senator Andy Uba to the floor of the Senate.
It was not long after that, that the Senators embarked on the tour of the six geo-political zones for the zonal public hearing on the constitution amendment. The zonal tour turned out to be a successful one but not without some allegations of mischief against the committee chairman by some northern governors, especially the Sokoto State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who said the committee was not honest.
But the public hearings forged ahead without much ado until the DANA plane crash disaster threw the whole country into mourning and the whole thing eventually landed on the table of the Senate which ordered immediate probe into that incident by its committee on aviation chaired by Senator Hope Uzodinma. The probe turned out to be a drum spilling can of worms and a web of scam in the aviation sector. At the public hearing there was weeping and emotion was very high as relatives of victim poured out their hearts, calling for the head of DANA Airline management.
From the DANA probe the Senate also commenced the investigation into the mismanagement of pension fund in the country and in the process the Senate Committees on Establishment and Public Service and States and Local Governments, chaired by both Senator Aloysius Etok and Kabiru Gaya, were locked in a long controversy that almost smeared the image of the Senate over the bribery allegations raised by the Chairman of Pension Task Force, Abdul Rasheed Maina. The committee report was eventually submitted and it asked for the sack and prosecution of Maina for mismanaging N196 billion.
The past two years was dominated by probes and investigations of scam, in line with the promise of the senate President, Senator Mark, in his opening speech in which he promised that the Senator would intensify its oversight role to put the executive on its toes. David Mark opened the floor in his opening speech at the joint sitting of the two chambers for the presentation of 2013 budget with a direct blow at the President in his usual subtle but obviously strategic way of saying you are not doing well at all. He went straight for the jugular of Mr. President with his comment on the raging controversy between the legislature and the executive on whether the parliament has the right to tamper with the budget proposal or not.
Mark said: “Our stand is that parliament is constitutionally empowered to make inputs. What the Constitution enjoins Mr. President to lay before the National Assembly are mere estimates, not immutable figures. And once the estimates are so laid, their consideration becomes subject to the constitutionally prescribed modes of exercising legislative power. Therefore, we do not think that the Constitution intended to turn the National Assembly into a mere mechanical rubber-stamp that must robotically pass budget estimates as presented.
“However, in exercising this constitutional power, we will be mindful of the fact that the social and economic challenges currently besetting our nation are the severest in our contemporary history. The National Assembly is also conscious of the fact that urgent steps need to be taken to address our dire infrastructural challenges.”
On the issue of implementation, Mark said so long as the budgets were only partially implemented, the full benefits of this administration’s economic policies may not be accomplished. He told the President that when the 2013 budget is passed and signed into law, the National Assembly would deploy its weapon of oversight, more than ever before, to ensure accountability, probity, transparency and full implementation.
According to him, the need to ensure the efficient utilisation of public finance for the promotion of the public good would be the lawmakers’ guiding principle. “We will work to ensure that the lofty developmental goals embedded in the budget are fully realized,” he said.
It was not long after that when the Senate again commenced the probe of MDAs over the job for sale scam. And while all this was going the nation continue to role in security challenge. The senate had on several occasions been forced into series of security meetings over the insurgence of terrorism in the country but in one particular instance the meeting went for so long that the senators, after the meeting, could not wait to do any other thing for the day.
Immediately the meeting was over, all the items on the order paper were suspended and the Senate President rushed to the ground zero auditorium to quickly inaugurate the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) Joint Committee for the public hearing. The PIB has been a subject of attraction for both the local and international interests because of its particular interest in the economy of Nigeria. The federal government had forwarded a new version of the Bill to the Senate for consideration but it attracted a lot of controversies among the Senators and up till now the Bill is still unresolved in the Senate. Jonathan’s letter requesting for consideration and enactment of the PIB into law was read out by the Senate President, Sen. David Mark.
Chairman of Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, called on Nigerians especially the civil society organizations who have been mounting pressures on the PIB to exercise patience as the Senate was committed to attending to the PIB with utmost urgency.
He regretted that the Senate could not attend to the Bill because it was received on the eve of its annual recess which ran from July 20 to September 17, 2012.
According to him, the PIB had gone through long processes in the past one year before it was finally sent to the National Assembly which will also subject it to its own laid down processes.
“We will be very reasonable in our timing and consideration of the PIB, knowing the importance it has in investments in the petroleum sector and the economy in general”. Talking about the Bills that were successfully passed by the Senate within the period under consideration, two amendment bills critical to the effectiveness of the Anti-terrorism Act and Money Laundering Act were passed to make them conform to international standards but the Senate rejected a clause in the Transfer of Convicted Offenders Bill that denies the convicted offender the right to express his wish to be transferred or not.
Meanwhile, Senators from the Southern parts of the country had embarked on a move aimed at saving the Petroleum Industry Bill from total collapse in the National Assembly for the second time and given it a soft landing. The Senators had decided to engage the services of consultants who would brief the Senators on the technical aspects of the Bill. Their counterparts from the North had kicked against some clauses in the Bill, but the Southern Senators are insisting that the bill is not about a personal or sectional interests but about the whole Nigeria as a nation.
“We want consultants to come and brief on the technical areas of the Bill. There are so many parts of it that needed interpretations and we cannot do this by ourselves so we are inviting experts to do it for us.”
The PIB failed to scale through in the sixth Assembly due to what the National Assembly members perceived as lack of unified version of the bill to work upon. Various attempts to harmonize the versions failed as the members of the Senate could not sit to commence the consideration of the bill due to time constraints.
Although, the bill was already at second reading in the House of Representatives, it could however not be completed as the lawmakers ran into election period.
Consequently the PIB was returned to the Presidency for re-presentation to the National Assembly in the 7th Assembly. The PIB is to deal with the critical sectors of the petroleum industry and provide a guide line for using proceeds from the industry to develop other sectors of the economy. However, amid the heated debate, the PIB eventually scaled second reading, a huddle it failed to scale in the 6th Assembly.
The Terrorism (Amendment) Act will strengthen the existing legislation in order to meet with the United Nations Convention on Anti-Terrorism and provide for the creation of the office of a National Coordinator of all the security agencies responsible for the fight against terrorism. Also, stringent penalties were introduced for all terrorist activities and financing.
But the Money Laundering (Amendment) Act would bring anti- money laundering law to meet standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)
The FATF had given Nigeria up to Oct 15 to amend the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 and the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 to strengthen the relevant laws to combat the money laundering and financing of terrorism.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Senator Mohammed Magoro said with passage of the amendments Nigeria will now have a co-ordinating centre for security activities.
“What they had wanted to hear from us is the coordinating centre for the security activities. We have already got that in our constitution that the President will appoint the coordinator so it is not anything new.
“ Although the deadline has elapsed what happened was that the House of Representatives had already passed the Bill before the deadline passed and it was made known to them over there.
“The implication for Nigeria is that we are now in conformity with international best practices on Anti-Terrorism bill that exists in any part of the world, ‘’ he said.
When the Chairman of the senate Committee on Judiciary, Human rights and Legal Matters presented his report for consideration, the senator vehemently opposed the clause seeking not to allow the opinion of the convicted offenders on their wish to be transferred or not.
This much was the highlight of activities in the upper chamber of the National Assembly in the last two years.
Source: Daily Independent