• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

The Senate’s burden

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Will Nigeria’s apex legislative chamber produce a Senate President Pro-Tempore on Tuesday? This is the raging question that dominates the minds of political commentators who have maintained keen interest in the goings-on in the Senate, ahead of resumption on July 12 after a three-week break.

This comes as legal fireworks between the Executive and the Legislature over alleged forgery of the Senate Rules shifts to the Judiciary tomorrow. The first among equals in the upper legislative chamber Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu will tomorrow have their full trial at an Abuja High Court alongside two top management staff of the National Assembly.

Hopes of a likely emergence of a Senate President Pro-Tempore, to preside over plenary in the absence of Saraki and Ekweremadu had been dashed following the opposition of many senators to the idea. The Like Minds, comprising over 80 senators have already resolved to oppose any such move.

According to the Senate Standing Orders 2015 (as amended), plenary would only hold with a Presiding Officer to guide the day’s proceedings. And in the absence of the two Presiding Officers – Saraki and Ekweremadu – ‎the Red Chamber can only sit if it appoints a President Pro-Tempore.
“In the absence of the President of the Senate and Deputy President of the Senate, such senator as the Senate may elect for the purpose shall preside. Such senator shall be known as ‘President Pro-Tempore'”, Rule 27 of Senate Rule states.
Sixteen years on Nigeria’s new path into the democratic journey, the Senate has produced President Pro-Tempore only once. This was in the 4th Senate, specifically in Year 2000, after the voluntary step down of the then Senate President Chuba Okadigbo (of blessed memory) over corruption allegations.
The former number three citizen had withdrawn to pave the way for his close ally Azuta Mbata to emerge as President Pro-Tempore, thinking that after the investigations, he would return to his seat. But that was not to be, as his close ally allegedly betrayed him and the political drama produced Anyim Pius Anyim as the 9th Senate President since Nigeria gained independence in 1960. Mbata’s actions further buttressed the age long cliché, which says “In politics, there is no permanent friend, permanent enemy but permanent interest”.
With the Senate President currently controlling over two-third loyalty from senators, it remains to be seen how the 16 senators who passed a vote of confidence on President Muhammadu Buhari would impeach Saraki. But like they say, anything is possible in Nigeria’s brand of politics, considering the fact that there was a time in the nation’s history when 16 was greater than 19 at the realm of the Governors’ Forum when vested interests created the riddle which still leaves the greatest of political analysts in some sort of daze.
As the ‘roforofo’ fight between the two arms of government gathers steam, executive bills, special requests from the Presidency including nominations are expected to fall casualties, as some pro-Saraki senators have vowed to frustrate the Executive for trying to force leadership change in the hallowed chamber at all cost.
The executive bills include the N241billion 2016 Federal Capital Territory (FCT) budget, Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill.
Feelers from the National Assembly indicate that the Senate intends to escalate confrontation with the Executive in the weeks ahead by refusing to approve nominees sent by President Buhari for confirmation. Recently, it suspended the screening of 47 ambassadorial nominees, even as the screening of Acting EFCC chairman Ibrahim Magu and Acting Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris are being awaited.
Concerns have mounted about the inability of the upper chamber to pass critical economic bills that would improve the nation’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business report, as it passed only 11 bills in one year.
Experts at the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable agreed that passing 54 governance and economic reform bills by the National Assembly would add N5trillion to the Nigerian economy.
The bills, which they say would drastically change the business environment and promote inclusive growth in the real sector are still awaiting Senate’s consideration and passage.

Nigeria is ranked 169 out of 189 economies in the 2016 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report.
The bills include: the Railway Sector Reform Bill, Ports and Habour Reforms Bill, Regulatory Impact Assessment Bill, Climate Change Bill, Tax and Revenue Las/Bill, Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, Fertilizer Bill, Government Performance and Result Act (GPRA) bill and National Poverty Eradication Commission (Establishment) Bill.
Others are Executive Bodies Independence Protection Law, National Assembly Budget and Research Office Bill, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, e-Commerce Protection Law Bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill, Market Competition Bill, Credit Bureau and Referencing Bill, Agricultural Credit and Loan Scheme Bill, Private Sector Infrastructure Investment Protection and Regulation Bill and the Road Sector Reform Bill.
Also on the list are: Police Reform Bill, Justice Reform Bill, Criminal Procedure Law Amendment Bill, Whistleblower Protection Bill, Budget Reform Bill, Ecological Funds Utilization and Management Bill and the Excess Crude Account Management Bill.
As the Senate resumes on Tuesday barring any unforeseen circumstances, it emerged last week that a Joint Committee set up to investigate the operations of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Joint Venture Cash Call obligations from 2011 to 2015 had swung into action.
This is sequel to the failure of the Corporation to meet its Joint Venture Cash Call obligations put at over $7 billion.
The investigations is coming on the heels of the debate and adoption of a motion in April on the urgent need for effective implementation of the Joint Venture Cash Calls obligations by NNPC in accordance with various Appropriation Acts of the National Assembly and pursuant to Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
The Joint committee comprising of Committees on Gas Resources, Petroleum Upstream, Finance and Appropriations has already requested organisations and the general public to submit written memoranda before the end of July 2016 on the operations of NNPC Joint Venture Cash Call obligations from 2011 to 2015.
The committee, chaired by the Chairman Senate Committee on Gas Resources, Bassey Akpan is expected to hold an investigative hearing on the matter.
Some of the organisations expected to submit memoranda at the investigative hearing include the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Federal Ministry of Finance and the Petroleum Club, Forum of State Commissioners of Finance, oil and gas industry stakeholders among others.

 

Owede Agbajileke