Senate’s 3-bills in 7 months: Matters Arising!

January 12, 2016

Seven months into the life of the 8th Senate, the senators have so far considered 125 bills and 48 motions on issues relating to various aspects in the country. Out of the bills considered, only three were passed, eight are in second reading and 114 are in first reading.

The National Assembly, comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives is charged with the responsibility of making laws for the country through bills. Section 58 (1) of the1999 Constitution, says “The power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised through bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives...”

Inaugurated on June 9 last year, amidst what people saw as a controversial manner, the first bill that was passed by this Senate was on December 1, 2015. It was the supplementary budget, an executive bill from President Muhammadu Buhari. On the 17 of the same month, the senators also passed the “Electronic Transactions Bill (SB.15) sponsored by Senator Hope Uzodimma (PDP, Imo West). Before embarking on the Christmas and New Year break on 22, December, the senators passed the third bill, the 2015 Appropriation Amendment Act, which was also an executive bill from President Buhari.

The bill, which has since been assented to by President Buhari, extends the capital component of the 2015 budget to March 31st, this year.

Of all the bills that are being considered on the floor of the red chamber, no bill attracted the attention of Nigerian masses as the one sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South). The bill, which scaled through second reading on December 2nd set the lawmakers against the social media public. Named, “an Act to prohibit frivolous petitions; and other matters connected therewith”, the bill was renamed the Anti-Social Media Bill. The prescription of ‘two years jail or a fine of N2m or both’ for social media abusers was the main contentious part of the bill.

One area that attracted several bills sponsored by the senators is the 1999 Constitution. So far, six bills have been sponsored to amend various section of the constitution. From all indications, amendment of the constitution will feature prominently on the agenda of the 8th Senate.

Recall that efforts by the 7th Assembly to review the constitution under the chairmanship of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, hit the rocks after billions of naira were reportedly sunk in it. Already, a new committee has been set up by Senate President Bukola Saraki with Ekweremadu as chairman.

Aside from lawmaking, the Senate also carried out probes in the period under review. Out of all the investigation undertaken by the legislators that of the erstwhile chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Lamorde, chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Danladi Umar and that on Treasury Single Account (TSA) got unequal attention.

The commencement of the probes of Lamorde and Umar at a time issues affecting Saraki were being probed by the duo created an impression that the Senate President was fighting back. Lamorde’s probe commenced when the Senate President’s wife, Mrs Toyin Saraki, was facing corruption charges at the EFCC, while that of Umar began when Saraki was facing charges at the CCT over false declaration of assets.

It was at the peak of the Senate investigation that Lamorde was sacked at the EFCC and since then his case has been hanging on the Senate. Similarly, the pace of Umar’s case at the Senate has been slowed as that of Saraki at the CCT.

The dust raised by the legislators on the one percent commission being deducted under the TSA by Systemspecs, owners of the remita software that is used for the TSA transactions opened the eyes of federal government to the magnitude of money the company is making in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria and commercial banks.

The probe on the TSA is still ongoing but the one percent charges have since been stopped. The confession of the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, that he got to know of the magnitude of the commission being deducted under the TSA through the Senate blossomed the ego of the lawmakers.

Speaking on the floor of the chamber, a day after the investigative hearing was carried out on the TSA, Saraki said; “The outcome of the investigative hearing has punctured the claim that we are not doing anything for the good of the country. I want us not to be derailed, if by one singular action, we have saved this country N8.8bn, this shows we are working,” he said.

Senate Leader Ali Ndume while commenting on how they have fared so far, said they have done creditably well in the performance of their constitutional responsibilities. He said all hanging probes and bills would be dealt with in the second half of the 2015/2016 legislative year.

“We have passed three bills, eight are in second reading and 114 are in first reading. We have also considered 48 motions. All the probes that are being carried out by ad hoc committees will be continued by the standing committees and we are even going to continue with those that were started during the last senate,” he said.

A survey conducted by a group monitoring the activities of the National Assembly, showed that the lawmakers are already in breach of Section 163 of the 1999 Constitution, which requires the legislators to sit for a minimum legislative days of 181 every year. The survey showed that in the first half of their first year, the Senate sat for only 47 days. Same also applies to members of the House of Representatives. It is therefore doubtful how the lawmakers would make up for the shortfall in the second half of the year.

Interestingly, both chambers of the National Assembly preoccupied themselves raising multiplicity of motions on both floors of the congress. The unfortunate thing about those motions is that some of them were not well thought out and frivolous to say the least. Besides, almost all the motions without exception were not thoroughly, painstakingly, seriously or conscientiously debated before arriving at resolutions on them. The implication of that is that those resolutions, like the ones in the previous assembly, will not command the authority of the executive or President for implementation.

So far, in both chambers of the National Assembly, it has been difficult to single out star legislators to look up to, to distinguish themselves in the current 8th assembly as was the case in the previous 7th assembly.

It was however, not all gloom in the first half of the year in the National Assembly. There were some highpoints. In the Senate for instance, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki led a strong delegation of the Senate to visit the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the insurgency-infested Borno State. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu undertook a similar mission in Adamawa State.

Also, through the proactive action of the Senate, the lawmakers were able to unearth and halt the sum of N25 billion, being the one per cent commission on the N2.5 trillion collected from the Treasury Single Account (TSA).

As the lawmakers resume on Tuesday, January 12th, Nigerians are watching how they would dispense the probes and the 2016 budget proposal presented by President Muhammadu Buhari.