Fred Itua, Abuja
In another two weeks, the Eight Senate will hold its valedictory session. The session will signal the end of the assembly. For lawmakers who didn’t win reelection, it will be the end of the road for them. For those who returned, it will be the beginning of another four years.
The Eight Senate was inaugurated on June 9, 2015. Since then, a number of good, bad and ugly things have happened. For some stakeholders, the outgoing Senate has been exceptional and has curtailed the excesses of President Muhammadu Buhari. For others, the Parliament was a clog in the wheel of progress.
Regardless, the outgoing Senate, vis-a-vis the National Assembly, is reputed to have passed the highest number of bills, motions and other critical interventions since the return of the country to democratic rule 20 years ago.
Fraud in humanitarian crisis management in the North East
On October 4, 2016, the Senate launched an investigation into alleged corruption in the management of the humanitarian crisis in the North East. For months, the parliament had a running battle with a former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. David Lawal.
For several weeks, Lawal refused to appear before Shehu Sani-led committee. After a hide and seek, a fact-finding technical team went on an on-the-ground assessment of the situation. This led to the dismissal of Lawal, over the alleged misappropriation of N200 million meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Although Lawal denied all the allegations against him, insisting that the Senate was out to witch-hunt him for political reasons, the case has been charged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). As at the press time, the trial is yet to commence.
Transparency in the National Assembly budget
Until 2016, Nigerians were not privy to the workings of the National Assembly and its finances. However, that changed in 2016, when the detailed budget of the National Assembly was laid on the floor of Senate plenary alongside the report of the annual Appropriations Bill. The budget was also published online for closer public scrutiny.
Since then, it has become a practice in the parliament. For many keen observers, this is one of the high points of the outgoing Senate. The unveiling of the details of the budget of the National Assembly, has also opened a new discussion on how the funds are expended.
Addressing drug abuse
Drug abuse by millions of Nigerians resurrected on the floor of the Senate in 2017, deliberations were made and lawmakers who contributed to the issue offered robust responses. In December 2017, the Senate held a two-day roundtable on the drug abuse crisis in Nigeria. It was held in Kano, which is seen as the epicenter of drug abuse in northern Nigeria.
The roundtable discussion was a major pushback against drug abuse in the country and it helped in galvanising larger public response. It further led the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to move against the unregulated sale and distribution of Tramadol. The roundtable also led to the initiation of two important bills in the Senate: the National Drug Control Bill and the National Mental Health Bill.
Summit on national security
In the Senate, the issue of insecurity is a reoccurring decimal. Day in, day out, senators lament on the floor of the chamber how things have degenerated in the country. As part of moves to rework the security architecture of the country, the Senate held a summit. It intervened in the escalating incidence of insecurity across the country by organising a national security summit held in February 2018. The summit provided a platform for heads of military and paramilitary agencies to make submissions to the parliament. At the end of the summit, the Senate put forward 20 recommendations to the executive on strategies for bolstering national security. It’s been over a year since the report was submitted to President Buhari. Despite the escalating security menace in the country, the recommendations are yet to be implemented.
Irregular migration and human trafficking
Irregular migration is a big issue in the country, particularly in the southern parts. Every year, hundreds of young people die while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to access Europe. The issue is the same in Libya, which is a major route for irregular migrants. To this end, in February 2018, the Senate intervened by holding a two-day roundtable discussion in Benin City, Edo State. With the participation of Edo State Government, traditional rulers, government agencies and international partners, the Roundtable help to evolve a number of strategies and initiatives in Edo State, and the country as whole, towards curbing the problem.
Intervention in primary healthcare
In May 2018, the Senate intervened in the health sector by passing a clause in the 2018 budget to set aside 1 percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) for the provision of primary healthcare in the country. Since the National Health Act was enacted in 2014, the National Assembly had made its provision of an additional N55 billion for primary healthcare a core legislative focus. Subsequently and in addition to that, funds are now provided for over 180 million Nigerians to have access to health services.
Police reform interventions
In the past, attempts had been made to reform the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), but each time, the attempts were unsuccessful. Underfunding, lack of motivation for officers and men of the Force, as well as recruitment of personnel were identified as some of the key problems. Following calls by Nigerians to improve the activities of the Force and in order to make it more effective and efficient, the Senate intervened. Between January and April 2019, the Senate resolved to completely review and amend the Nigeria Police Act. This culminated in the passage of the Police Reform Bill and the Nigeria Police Trust Fund Bills. The two bills are awaiting the assent of the president.
Public hearing on budget
The Eight Senate announced its first public hearing on the Budget for the year 2016. The hearing, which was adjudged successful, continued to hold in years that followed up until 2019. This is another milestone recorded by the parliament.
However, on the flipside, the Eight Senate after its inauguration was faced with one battle after another.
Emergence of Saraki
The emergence of Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate, didn’t go down well with many stakeholders and chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). For almost two years, Saraki was in and out of the court. The last minute attempt to oust Saraki in July last year saw the prevention of lawmakers from accessing their offices. For many keen observers, this was seen as one of the low points of the Eight Senate.
Speaking on Saraki’s emergence shortly after his defection from the APC last year, Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said “A Yoruba adage says, ‘If we build a house on spittle, the first fog will demolish it’. The foundation for what you see today was laid the day the Senate President forced himself on the party as Senate President. That was the day the foundation for what you are witnessing today was laid because traditionally it is the party’s prerogative who becomes the presiding officers in the two houses. Here, we were met with a fait accompli when Dr. Bukola Saraki, against the wishes of the party, did the unthinkable by aligning with the opposition and making them an offer they could not refuse. I can’t quite remember the number but in a situation whereby almost the entire 40 plus Senators in PDP voted for him, he needed only a minority from the APC. From that day, we know we had two problems. Number one, we had a Senate President who imposed himself on the party and to make it worse as insurance, he arranged for an opposition person to be Deputy Senate President and that makes it impossible for us to remove him. We have a situation like ‘If you remove me, you are going to have a PDP Senate President’. I think from that day we had a problem.”
Invasion of the Senate
On April 18, 2018, armed thugs attacked the National Assembly and stole the mace of the Senate while plenary was ongoing. A senator from Delta State was fingered in the saga. It was the first time external armed men will attack the National Assembly. No charges were filed against culprits named in the attack. An ad hoc committee constituted by the Senate President to look into the matter has since submitted its report. However, legal encumbrances have continued to frustrate the consideration and passage of the report. But among the senators, they appear to know all those who were responsible for desecrating the hallowed chamber. Will they ever be made to face justice? It seems only time will tell.