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Is Nigerian Senate playing politics with PIB, Electoral Act and Constitutional Amendment?

On Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the 9th Senate had a special session to celebrate its anniversary. The occasion afforded the senators the opportunity to sing their praises and what they said they have been able to achieve individually and collectively within the last two years.

Despite being seen as a ‘rubber stamp’ Senate, one acclaimed major achievement of the 9th Senate was the interventions in restoration of the national annual budget to the January-December cycle.

Analysts have said the measure has made the nation’s fiscal plans more predictable and boosted the confidence of local and foreign investors in the economy.

The federal lawmakers also mentioned the passage of the Deep Off-Shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP D3 LFN 2004 (Amendment Bill, 2009). The senators passed the important law to increase Nigeria’s share of revenue from its crude oil.

For ease of doing business, the Finance Bill 2019 (Nigeria Tax and Fiscal Law) (SB.140), which amended seven existing tax laws and Companies and Allied Matters Act, Cap C20 LFN 2004 (Repeal and Reenactment) Bill 2019 (SB.270) were also passed by the lawmakers.

However, the current Senate headed by Ahmad Lawan has not gained the confidence of majority of Nigerians, who have continued to criticise the upper chamber and indeed the National Assembly of always doing the bidding of the executive, thus ignoring proper oversight and legislation.

Having learnt their lessons from the frosty relationship that played out between the executive and legislative in the 8th Senate, President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had to ensure that someone loyal to the president and the ruling party emerged as the President of the Senate. So, the emergence of Senator Ahmad Lawan from Yobe North Senatorial District and Ovie Omo-Agege from Delta Central Senatorial District as president and deputy Senate president, respectively, was largely seen as mission accomplished.

The usual bickering commonly displayed by both arms of government and the rejection of Mr. President’s nominees in the 8th Senate led by Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki has since been buried. Two years in the life of the current Senate, the relationship between the executive and legislature has been cordial.

Unlike the 9th Senate, the 8th Senate always did their due diligence and oversight before passing anything from the executive, be it a bill or confirmation of a nominee(s). For instance, one case that stood out and has continued to be applauded by Nigerians was the rejection of Ibrahim Magu as the substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He was rejected by the lawmakers on two different occasions based on a security report against his nominee from the State Security Service (SSS).

Similarly, the $30 billion loan request of the president to the 8th Senate was also rejected to save the country from sinking deeper into indebtedness. In his letter, Buhari explained that the amount was Federal Government’s 2016 to 2018 external borrowing plan meant to execute key infrastructural projects cutting across all sectors with special emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, water supply, growth and employment generation.

But the Senate Committee Chairman on Loan and Foreign Debt in the 8TH Senate, Shehu Sani, explained that they rejected the loan request from Muhammadu Buhari to save Nigeria from “sinking into the dark gully of a perpetual debt trap.”

He further argued that the lawmakers did not want the country to be re-colonised by creditor banks.

Unfortunately, it is no longer the case under the current leadership as majority of the senators, especially in APC, are hitherto seen as willing tools in the hands of the President.

As a way of returning back the favour done to him,November 2019, expressedwillingness to approve all requests that come to the Senate from President Muhammadu Buhari when the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, ItseSagay (SAN), paid him a courtesy visit in Abuja.

He quickly backed up the statement by saying that “any request that comes from Buhari is good for the nation and the Senate will take immediate action on them.”

He further said: “I want to assure you that any request that comes from Mr. President is a request that will make Nigeria a better place in terms of appointments or legislation and the Senate will act expeditiously to ensure that we play our part in the confirmation or passing of legislation appropriately.”

Therefore, it did not come as a surprise when the President’s $30bn loan request was approved by the Lawan-led Senate. Additionally, in April 2021, the Senate approved the sum of $1.5bn and €995 million external borrowings for the Federal Government.

The loans were part of the $5.5 billion and €995 million external borrowings Buhari had, in May 2020, asked the Red Chamber to approve to finance various priority projects of the Federal Government and to support the state governments facing fiscal challenges.

Again, the Senate on June 1, 2021 referred President Muhammadu Buhari’s loan request to borrow N2.343 trillion from external source to the Committee on Local and Foreign Debt.

Besides, on May 18, 2021, Buhari had sought the approval of the Senate to borrow a fresh N2.343 trillion ($6.18bn) external loan. The committee was subsequently mandated to look into the request of the President on Donor Fund Projects under the 2018-2020 Federal Government External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan and submit its report within two weeks.

More worrisome is the fact that the 9th Senate has not been able to pass the much-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) despite assurances of early passage.

The bill was passed into second reading in October 2020 and in January 2021, there was a public hearing on it where the President of the Senate said by May 2021, they would pass the bill. But sadly, that has not been the case. He has back-tracked to say that the PIB will now be passed by June 2021 as both committees in the upper and lower chambers are now writing the final report.

According to him, “The National Assembly was to pass the PIB in May, however, there was need to put in place a legislative framework to further encourage foreign investments and development in the industry.

“At the moment, I think they (Joint Committee of the two chambers of the National Assembly on PIB) are about to start writing the report, which they will lay before the two chambers of the National Assembly, probably by the middle of June.”

It is indeed a sad commentary that a bill of such nature, capable of entrenching transparency and accountability in the oil sector, has not been pass into law after about 20 years it was first. introduced.

Nonetheless, the Electoral Act Amendment bill is one bill Nigerians are calling the 9th Senate to also expedite action on in view of the 2023 general election. In fact, INEC, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), political parties, the media and other stakeholders have been voicing out, even protesting on the need to pass and sign the bill into law.

As violence and all manner of rigging have continued to blight the electoral process, the passage and signing of the bill into law now becomes imperative in view of the Anambra gubernatorial election coming up on November 6, 2021.

Lawan has again promised Nigerians that the Electoral Act Amendment bill and the Constitutional Amendment bill will the passed by mid July 2021 before going on recess.

The lawmakers are currently on a two-week break and will resume on June 22, 2021. Therefore, between June 22 and July 15, 2021 when they are expected to go on their summer break, the question is: can they pass these bills within 23 days?

Speaking on an interview session on Channels Television Sunrise Daily, Friday, June 18, 2021, AjibolaBashiru, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, expressed the optimism that the PIB, Constitutional Amendment Bill and Electoral Act Bill would be passed before the legislators proceed on their summer break.

“I am particularly optimistic that we will meet the expectation of Nigerians,” he said.

The 109 senators should bear in mind that history bacons on them at this critical time to always do the right thing by enacting and passing laws that would stand the text of time.

In their oversight function, they must carry out thorough screening and confirm only qualified nominees of Mr. President, and not all manner of persons sent to them just to please the Presidency.

They should serve Nigeria and Nigerians as their priority, not sycophantic allegiance to the President, to the detriment of the country.

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