• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

10th Senate @ 1: Any hope for the nation?

Senate introduces bill to establish Local Government electoral commission

Speaking to the thematic areas of the 10th Senate’s legislative agenda, its president, Godswill Akpabio, remarked that the agenda is driven by “a vision of a nation where food security is guaranteed for all citizens, where poverty is not just reduced but eradicated, where the economy grows at a pace that creates substantial jobs, and where access to capital is not a barrier to entrepreneurship. It is a vision of a nation where politics is inclusive, reflecting the diverse voices and aspirations of our people; where our security apparatus is robust enough to protect lives and properties; where the rule of law is the bedrock of our societal interactions; and where corruption finds no sanctuary.”

Thus, in this non-exhaustive appraisal of the first session of the 10th Senate, there are certain facts worth noting for fairness and objectivity.

One, whatever the legislature delivers is a function of the quality of cooperation it receives from the people on one side and, principally, the executive arm of the government on the other. If there is an abundance of public trust and the executive’s respect for legislative outputs, then there will be meaningful progress in governance.

Two, the Constitution offers enormous powers and influence to the presidency, such that it controls every apparatus of governance, making it near impossible for the legislature to check certain excesses. So collaboration is a viable option if the people are the ultimate goal of governance.

Then three, the present federal government has yet to implement the budget it originated. Though the Senate has checked the box for the January-December budget cycle, the 2023 statutory and supplementary budgets are still in operation until June 30, 2024.

You may wish to read through the foregoing again!

However, the Senate’s overall interventions were intended to advance the welfare and safety of the citizenry.

It began by adjusting the 2022 supplementary budget “for the provisions of palliatives and other items to Nigerians to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal” and also approving the presidential request for “additional financing of the National Social Safety Net Programme” to provide for “the cost of meeting the basic needs” of the vulnerable Nigerians, in addition to amending the National Social Investments Programme Agency Act.

Continuing and empathising with the masses, the Senate twice vehemently rejected “the proposed increase in electricity tariffs by the distribution companies.”

Then, driven by its recognition of the road infrastructure as key to accelerated economic development, the Senate responded to the deplorable state of many roads across the nation by packaging “a compendium of all the affected federal roads and erosion sites across the country, either awarded but abandoned by contractors or have not been awarded at all, to be forwarded to the executive arm for urgent intervention.” Despite the fact that the 2024 budget has yet to commence implementation, some of the identified roads are already receiving due attention.

Similarly, “with a view to finding solutions to the spate of insecurity plaguing the nation,” the Senate reviewed the internal security reports of the 8th and 9th senates and presented them to the presidency for urgent action while recommending the development of “a national policy document outlining the framework for an improved and streamlined synergy and coordination between the various security agencies.” Also, while a bill discouraging open grazing is rapidly progressing, the Senate constituted an “ad-hoc committee to work out modalities for a holistic solution to the problem of farmers and herders clashes and killings all over the country.”

These actions were deepened with the passage of the bill establishing the National Centre for the Coordination and Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Nigeria, as well as amendments to certain bills that are central to effective security. Beyond the justifiable wrangling about the levy aspect, the passed Cybercrime Act is among them, including the Terrorism, Firearms, Proceeds of Crime, and Violence Against Persons Acts.

Towards economic recovery, the Senate undertook a series of extensive investigations.

Some of them were on “the Disbursement of Loans by Development Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, NIRSAL, and related banks from 2015 to date”, all the contracts awarded for the rehabilitation of the refineries between 2010 and 2023, the non-completion of the Abuja Centenary City project 10 years later, and then the identified 11,866 legacy projects abandoned nationwide.

Others were on “the Controversial Make-up Gas Reprocessing Deal involving the Federal Ministry of Finance, Niger-Delta Power Holding Company Calabar Generation Company Limited, and ACUGAS Ltd,” in which Nigeria suffered humongous economic losses under the previous administration, the huge expenditure on importation of fuel under the subsidy regime, the “Incessant and Nefarious Acts of Crude Oil Thefts in the Niger Delta,” as well as the level of “implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act with regards to potential exits of international oil companies from Nigeria.”

Again, the Senate investigated “the alarming cases of delays in payment and allegations of corruption associated with the capture and payment of newly recruited university staff under the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information Systems (IPPIS),” as well as the “abuse of the federal character principle, lopsidedness, and several infractions in the ministerial, departmental, and agency’s recruitments,” and also called for the prohibition of “public and private employees in Nigeria from putting up job advertisements with an inherent undertone calculated to deprive any qualified Nigerian from being gainfully employed merely by reason of his or her age.”

Above all, the Senate held an extraordinary session on the state of the economy. Armed with far-reaching recommendations, it had a strategic meeting with President Bola Tinubu necessitating its investigation of “the N30tn Ways and Means obligation and the various Central Bank of Nigeria interventions made under the Ways and Means expenditure, which include the Anchor Borrower Programme, budget supports to states, support to the power and manufacturing sectors, airlines, etc.”

The reports of these probes are for the executive arm’s necessary actions towards good governance. For instance, the Senate’s discovery that “the sum of N10 billion released by the Ministry of Finance for the proposed NIPOST restructuring and recapitalization” was “injudiciously utilised” led to the revocation of the certificates of incorporation of those companies linked to the fraud.

Again, the Senate’s recommendations informed the federal government’s deliberate actions, culminating in the re-engagement of the pioneering contractors, Tyamzhpromexport and TPE, who possess the profound knowledge and capacity to resuscitate the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, which gulped over $8 billion without steel production.

Also, following the Senate’s resolutions on the need to revive the local government system in Nigeria, the federal government dragged the state governors to the Supreme Court to restore the independence of the local government. Again, the petroleum subsidy spending issue is already raising dust.

The Senate initiated advocacy for an increase in the number of functional dialysis centres as well as comprehensive insurance coverage for chronic kidney disease patients to ensure that financial constraints do not hinder access to essential treatments, even in remote areas. Furthermore, it intervened in the challenge of out-of-school children, including “the travails of pensioners, their next-of-kin, and deceased relatives over unpaid pensions, gratuities, and other entitlements.”

Still, on the federal character principle, the police authorities recently acknowledged as indeed a veritable guide the Senate’s call for the recruitment of “a minimum of 10 candidates from each of the 774 local government councils in Nigeria” rather than going about it on a state basis, which creates and propagates lopsidedness in employment. Ideally, similar results are expected regarding its call for the implementation of the recommendations in the Electricity Act towards enhancing the security of transmission infrastructure and also providing intervention funds for the maintenance of old transmission lines for operational effectiveness.

Likewise, the Senate’s commitment to protecting citizens’ rights is manifestly robust given the speed of processing petitions from the public and the passage of resolutions that border on abuses of various kinds.

For example, it called for an immediate end to the cases of “extortion, intimidation, and harassment of motorists and commuters on the highways” and other public roads by the police, as well as “the act of harassing, shooting at innocent citizens, raiding markets, and chasing smugglers into towns, leading to chaos and loss of life” by the customs personnel. Also, to promote “local capacity building, employment generation, and economic growth for Nigeria,” it demanded exclusive opportunities in favour of the local metre manufacturers in the National Mass Metering Programme.

Meanwhile, as a short-term measure to address the challenge of food shortages, the Senate recommended the introduction of food assistance programmes. It particularly referred the executive to countries “where food stamp, which is a government-issued coupon that is given to low-income and non-income persons and is redeemable for food… as a measure to cushion the resultant hardships and sufferings on the poor and less privileged as well as low-income earners.”

Added to the introduction of bills on the National Food Bank, Nigeria Agricultural Preservation Council, Agricultural Processing Zones, and Integrated Rural Development Agency and also initiating amendments to the Agricultural Research Council and the National Agricultural Land Development Authority, including passing bills that established tertiary and specialised institutions of learning in agriculture, the Senate recommended that “auctioning of legally seized items (rice, etc.) should be done promptly or in time to avoid contamination, depreciation, or outright waste.”

Then, to “enhance sustainable socioeconomic relationships across the country and also promote national integration, ultimately boost the economy, and give a sense of belonging to all,” the Senate recommended “that all the four geopolitical zones within the Eastern Rail Line Corridor (traversing Port Harcourt to Maiduguri) benefit from the on-going Railway Standardisation and Modernization Programme.”

Instructively, the bills cumulatively are rooted in the legislative agenda, and of course, the ones passed so far have strategic good governance implications.

Whereas some have been variously mentioned, other passed legislation include the amendments to the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Acts, to strengthen their operations, the National Educational Loan Fund to provide loans to Nigerians for higher education, vocational training and skills acquisition, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Trust Fund to provide a sustainable source of funds for skills development and empowerment of corps members, capacity building of the NYSC workers, development of camps and NYSC formations and facilities, the Judicial Office Holders Salaries, Allowances and Fringe Benefits Bill to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, the National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration, the South-East, North-West and North-Central development commissions establishment bills and then the Electricity Act amendments.

While the constitution review committee is already collecting and collating input from diverse sources, there were also passed bills establishing universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education in addition to the National Anthem and the National Anti-Doping Bills.

Other critical establishment bills that are making rapid progress in the Senate include the ones on the Unemployed Youth, Elderly, and Indigent Sustainability Allowances Trust Fund, Nigeria Gold Reserve, Social Assistance, National Internship and Unemployment Benefit Scheme, Inflation Reduction Programme, and Victims of Banditry and Kidnapping Trust Fund.

Equally, there are proposed amendments to the National Directorate of Employment, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation Acts to strengthen and update them in line with current realities, including those on anti-corruption.

And then, to ensure that governance runs smoothly, the Senate demonstrated a high sense of diligence in its confirmation of nominees for appointment.

Empirically, the 10th Senate is deliberate in demonstrating that the legislature is all about the good of the people. Notably, it is not interested in the quantity but in the quality of legislation, as long as the overall fulfilment of the citizens is attained.

Once again, this piece is just an overview, and every claim is verifiable.

Egbo is a parliamentary affairs analyst