By NBF News

Senate President David Mark promised at the inauguration of the Seventh Senate on June 6 that this new session would enact 'landmark legislations' which would, hopefully, change the course of history and propel the country towards attainment of the goals of Vision 20:2020.

Senator Mark also acknowledged that lawmakers are accountable to Nigerians and would ensure regular consultations on key national issues.

'To you our constituents, you have sent us here to represent you. You are our bosses and we are simply your messengers. We will consult you on regular basis, we will brief you and we will seek your advice, guidance, and direction from time to time. We are here to serve you.

'This session of the Senate and National Assembly stands on the threshold of history. By 2014, Nigeria would have existed for 100 years as a country. History beckons on us to lay the foundation for a transformational agenda of development. 'As we celebrate the 100 years of our existence in another three years, this Session of the National Assembly would have to render a historic account to the Nigerian people on how we have laid the foundation for a new Nigeria; This calls for landmark legislations to change the course of history for the present and future generations.

Taking it further, Mark noted that Nigeria is at such a point where expectations from the National Assembly are quite high. He charged the remaining 108 Senators to live up to the billing.

'The expectations of the people are high; we must go beyond crisis management to transformation. We come from different constituencies but we are united in our quest for the provision of basic needs like power, food, good health, good roads, education, security, shelter and transport system. Our federation and economy need strengthening; our youths need jobs. To achieve these, we need appropriate laws and institutions.'

He harped on the need for the National Assembly to key into the vision of President Jonathan on his transformation agenda but reiterated that for that to happen, the country's budgeting system needs a radical overhaul.

'To truly lay the foundation for Nigeria's next 50years, this session of the Senate and National Assembly has to be truly transformational in all ramifications. We need to be transformational in the depth and content of our work, legislation, representation and oversight. Our legislative agenda is enormous. Indeed, the harvest is plenty but the labourers are few. Our budgeting system needs a radical change.

'There is a need for collaboration between the Executive and National Assembly to ensure that Nigerians get a budget that can be effectively implemented. Nigerians complain that our democracy is too expensive.

'Our target is that hopefully, this session of the National Assembly shall set a historic record by passing very critical legislations that would propel Nigeria to the 20 most advanced economies.'

Shortly after that inspiring message to his colleagues, one major step the Senate took was to set up an Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the activities of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) from 1999 till date.

It was the first major probe that would herald other probes in the Seventh Senate.

The move came after Public Accounts Committee Chairman, Senator Ahmed Lawan moved a motion demanding answers on how the privatization exercise was being run.

The probe covered the affairs of the BPE from inception in 1999 till date and was based on Senate Resolution No.S/Res/004/01/11, and sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.

The week-long exercise saw stakeholders as well as chief executive officers of the privatised public companies storming the Senate, some with salacious stories of greed and outright theft of national assets while others simply wanted redress. They demanded that a return to status quo as privatization didn't turn around the fortunes of such companies.

On conclusion of the public hearing, the committee moved round the country verifying claims of those who appeared at its public hearing in Abuja.

Surprise was the word concerning the Senate BPE probe as there was no inkling that there was any complaint about the BPE before that motion came up. Before then, however, there were reports of a perceived 'tango' between the Senate President and Vice President Namadi Sambo over the privatization of NITEL.

A Lagos-based newspaper in its report in the second quarter of 2011 alleged that Nigeria's number two and three citizens had 'vested interests' in NITEL.

It is instructive to note that Sambo heads the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) which supervises government's privatization exercise through the BPE.

Quickly, the Senate President's media unit refuted reports of any 'tango' with the Vice President over NITEL. Thereafter, the BPE probes alive in the Senate.

Four months after, the Lawan-led committee submitted its report to the Senate demanding the sack of the BPE Director General, Ms. Bolanle Onagoruwa having found her 'grossly inefficient in the discharge of her duties.'

Furthermore, the BPE boss was specifically indicted in the illegal sale of 5 percent shares of the Federal Government in Eleme Petrochemicals.

On December 20, Senate approved all the 45 recommendations of the Lawan committee,

Justifying the call for Onagoruwa's sack, the committee noted that she should be 'relieved of her appointment for gross incompetence in the management of the BPE and for illegal and fraudulent sale of the 5% FGN residual shares in Eleme Petrochemicals Company Limited (EPCL).'

Among other recommendations, the committee said that the 'former Directors General, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Dr Julius Bala and Mrs. Irene Chigbue should be reprimanded by the National Council of Privatisation (NCP) for seeking approval directly from the President instead of the NCP as stipulated in the Public Enterprises Act, 1999.

The committee also recommended that Dr Julius Bala 'should be investigated by (the) anti-graft agencies for giving approval to Folio Communication Limited for the illegal sale of assets of Daily Times Nigeria Plc.

The committee also called for the reversal of the sale of Daily Times of Nigeria to Folio Communication Limited in keeping with the court judgements in suit (1) FHC/L/CP/1328/2009, (2) FHC/L/CP/244/10, (3) FHC/L/CP/130/2010.

'The sales of assets of Daily Times Nigeria Plc by Folio Communications Limited and its directors should be investigated by anti-graft agencies and the sold assets recovered.'

Furthermore, the NCP been asked to reverse the sale of Transcorp Hilton as the owners have not kept to the terms of agreement regarding the sale.

'The NCP should rescind the sale of Transcorp Hilton for failure of the core investor to deliver on the following fundamental provisions of the Share Purchase Agreement/Post Acquisition Plans: *Construction of a shopping mall within the hotel grounds; *construction of short/long stay serviced apartments on the available land within the hotel premises to cater for corporate and similar clients whose needs may not be met by the typical hotel service structure; *construction of state of the art office complex for short stay guests who may have need for office infrastructure outside their immediate offices and * development of an amusement emporium to add to the hospitality profile of the hotel.'

Others affected include Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja which was also said to have failed to deliver on the terms of sales agreement on which the core investor entered into with the BPE.

After the April general polls, Nigerians suddenly woke up to a rash of bombings in the North east. The first bombing which shook the country was the October 1, 2010 bombing in Abuja. Some critics posited that it was a one-off incident which should be discarded, particularly when some of the perpetrators had been apprehended by the security agencies, both within and outside the country.

At first, the bombings were restricted to Maiduguri, Borno State but it assumed another dimension when the bombings came close home; to the nation's capital, with the bombing of the United Nations headquarters. The dreaded Boko Haram sect claimed responsibility unlike the previous one which was allegedly linked to MEND.

Nigeria and the international community reacted to the senseless killing of innocent people. At this point, the Senate could no longer play the ostrich and had to, on more than three occasions, intervene by initiating talks with all the nation's security chiefs on how to and what they are doing to curtail the sect's influence and spread.

Appropriation Committee Chairman, Senator Ahmed Maccido captured the mood of lawmakers concerning insecurity in the country when he said unlike the past, the National Assembly has agreed to grant generous allocations to address the problem in 2012.

He told Daily Sun in Abuja that hitherto, he had always opposed allocations to security when he was in the Appropriation Committee.

His words: 'In 2009, I was the Vice Chairman of the Appropriation Committee and the then National Security and Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator Nuhu Aliyu came to us to defend their budget and I quite remember that I insisted, quite vehemently, that we should de-emphasise providing so much money to security.

'I said we should rather spend the money we are supposed to spend on security on other areas. What is the essence of security in the first place? It is as a result of the agitation of unemployed youths who desperately need jobs. I said then that why not use that money being asked for security to create jobs for our teeming youths. 'At that time, that was how I saw it. I had my way then. But truly this time around, I believe we need to emphasise security and give them money because they need it.'

Such intervention may perhaps, have informed President Goodluck Jonathan's allocation of N931 billion for security in 2012 budget. Generous as lawmakers intend to be with the security allocation, they were clearly unprepared for the N931 billion budget brought by the President.

The most contentious of all the probes this year is that of the management of the current fuel subsidy scheme by government.

Senate in October resolved on a motion by former Kwara State Governor, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki calling for the investigation of the current fuel subsidy management and the challenges it poses to the implementation of the 2011 budget.

In his motion, Saraki noted that the NNPC and the oil ministry breached the 2011 Appropriation Act by spending N931 billion on fuel subsidy between January and August 2011 with fears that the illegal spending could increase to N1 trillion before December 31, 2011.

By the time the Senate debated the motion, the oil subsidy had climbed to a hefty N1.3 trillion, more than the N240 billion approved for the scheme for the fiscal year.

Although Saraki did not state any constitutional breach in the motion on notice, it was clear that the extra-budgetary spending is in contravention of section 80 of the 1999 Constitution. Besides, the spending is unknown to the National Assembly which has been empowered by the 1999 Constitution to approve any spending by the executive.

Section 80 and 81 (4) specifically states that all revenues accruing to the Federation must be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation from where it is shared by all tiers of government.

While the Presidency and the National Assembly agreed that any other fund kept outside the CRF is illegal, the Presidency has nevertheless continued with the operation of the Excess Crude Account which is a breach of the 1999 Constitution.

Past efforts to scrutinize how oil subsidy funds were being managed never managed to get off the ground. Moreover, attempts by the National Assembly to compel the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to tender its annual budget and how much it gets from sale of crude and its management has never yielded any positive result.

Last year, during the presentation of President Goodluck Jonathan's inaugural budget presentation to a joint sitting of the National Assembly, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, insisted that 37 federal agencies must either submit their budgets to the National Assembly or there would be no 2011 budget.

The directive was predicated on an enforcement of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 which compels all federal agencies to submit their accounts and budget to the National Assembly for appropriation. Besides, the Act compels the agencies to yield a certain percentage of their earnings to the CRF.

The NNPC was one of those agencies.
In September, the Senate mandated its Communications Committee to investigate how and why Nigeria's indigenous telecommunications carrier, NITEL, collapsed.

The Senator Gilbert Nnaji-led committee was also mandated to find out why public funds were allocated in the nation's budget for private GSM operators to register sim cards.

About N6 billion was reportedly appropriated for the exercise in the Sixth National Assembly.

The Senate President also ordered the committee to name and recommend for prosecution NITEL, M-TEL officials directly responsible for the collapse of the organizations, adding that the culprits must be prosecuted.

Senator Mark handed down this directive at the inauguration of the committee.

His words: 'What has really happened to NITEL? A government organization where government put in so much money where others are expanding and gaining attention, NITEL has just simply died and nobody is saying anything about it.

'I remember that when GSM licences were given to operators like MTN and Glo, in fact, when MTN got its licence, M-TEL also got a licence and it just died down.

'People cannot just afford to run down a government organization and walk away as if they have done nothing at all! Those who are responsible for that type of situation must be brought to book and they must account for it.

'That's tax payer money that has gone down the drain and nobody is doing anything and we'll just fold our hands and people will still talk nonsense.

'Those who buried NITEL and M-TEL are walking free as if they've not done anything and if anything else, they expect that we should be clapping for them and paying them that they buried an organization that should be yielding billions into the economy!'

In the third quarter of this year, state governors demanded the abrogation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) on the premise that it would hinder their ability to pay the new minimum wage. In its place, they demanded reinstatement of the Excess Crude Account (ECA).

The ECA (which is actually such monies realized from the sale of the nation's crude in excess of the agreed budgetary benchmark between the Executive and the National Assembly) was established during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Funds in the account were initially meant to address some infrastructural needs of the country without a quick recourse to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) which is shared by the three tiers of government on an agreed formula.

Noble as the ideal behind its creation was at that time, the National Assembly washed off its hands on the ECA, with a clarification that it was not party to such illegality.

Besides, Aso Rock was accused of operating the account solely without input from any other arm of government.

To address the illegality of the ECA, Senate on Wednesday, May 11 passed the bill for the establishment of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Fund (NSIA) with the assurance from Senate President David Mark that 'the Fund when eventually set up will be run properly because this will really secure the future of our generation or generations yet unborn.'

The NSIA, when established, will receive and invest in a diversified portfolio of medium and long-termed investments for the benefit of future generations of Nigerian citizens, a portfolio of the revenue of the federal, state and local governments to prepare for the eventual depletion of Nigeria's hydrocarbon resources.

The Authority will also receive investors for the development of critical infrastructure in Nigeria that will attract and support foreign investment, economic diversification, growth and job creation.

In addition, the Fund 'in exceptional circumstances as set out in the Act, utilize certain liquid assets in the stabilization fund of the Authority to supplement other available Fiscal; Stabilization Fund to temporarily sustain duly budgeted public expenditure in the interest of macro-economic stability in the country.'

It is the same Fund that state governors are now no longer comfortable with and want the Presidency to cause the National Assembly to reverse itself.

While the controversy over the propriety of the SWF was rounding off, the National Judicial Council (NJC) forwarded a recommendation to the President on the suspension of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami.

In his place, the NJC recommended Justice Dalhatu Adamu in an acting capacity. Justice Salami has already challenged his suspension in court and has already joined the President, the Senate President and the NJC in the suit which is already before a high court in Abuja.

The Salami imbroglio could be traced to an amendment of the Electoral Act, 2010. Shortly after the 2007 elections, the Action Congress (ACN), had gone to court challenging the result of governorship results in the South west.

One after the other, the ACN successfully proved its case in respect of Ekiti and Osun States. The Labour Party (LP) which had political affinity with the ACN also came to power in Ondo State.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) smelt foul play and resolved that such rulings which emanated from the Elections Petition Appeal Tribunal would be tested in the highest court of the land.

Before the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act, the Appeal Court was the last court of jurisdiction on election matters.

The Supreme Court could only adjudicate concerning pre-election issues.

And so, the PDP-dominated National Assembly amended the Electoral Act in such a way that litigations involving governorship cases will now be resolved at the Supreme Court. During the face-off between the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and the suspended PCA, the NJC resolved that Salami should apologise in writing to Katsina-Alu. He refused. Consequent upon that refusal, the NJC suspended him from office and communicated same to the President, with a recommendation that Justice Adamu act in his stead.

Critics have, however, contended that the President acted outside his powers as the power to do so reside with the Senate. as stipulated in section 292 of the 1999 Constitution Curiously, the Senate has kept mum over the matter but Senate Services Committee Chairman, Senator Suleiman Adokwe, who is also a lawyer shed more light on the matter.'The President hires and fires, first and foremost. If the President is removing the President of the Court of Appeal before his tenure ends, it is required that he must be supported by two thirds of the National Assembly.

'That is the position of the law. But let me ask you one question: Has he removed the President of the Court of Appeal? He has not. The man has gone to court, to challenge his suspension. So, we wait for the decision of the court. If his suspension is truly in order, the court rules so and then the President now wants to remove him, he would act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.'

Another unresolved matter in the first half of this session is the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Senator Emmanuel Paulker said in November that stakeholders are meeting to draft a new PIB that would be forwarded to the National Assembly for consideration soon.

This was after Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke requested a closed session on the PIB which she described as 'highly topical and very sensitive.' On November 28, Senate banned same sex marriage in Nigeria with a warning from Mark that western countries who were reported to have tied aid to same sex marriage to steer clear as they lacked the right to meddle into how Nigeria makes her laws. The ban was sequel to the successful passage of the bill for an Act to prohibit marriage or civil union entered into between persons of same sex, solemnization of same and for other matters related therewith.

The bill, which now awaits House of Representatives concurrence places a 14-year jail term for persons who entered into such union with no option of fine.

Also, any person, who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organization, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10-years imprisonment with no option of fine. The new law if eventually becomes an Act also punishes any person or group of persons that witness, abets and aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions in Nigeria commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment, with no option of fine.

First timer, Senator Domingo Obende sponsored the bill.

Senator Paulker dismissed fears that the PIB is dead in the National Assembly and that the bill has been hijacked by a cabal in the oil sector. The Senate President also assured of expeditious passage of the PIB whenever it comes before it in order to make the sector more viable. As the Senate resumes legislative business on January 10, it is hoped that all unresolved issues in the first half of this session would be addressed.