THE SENATE IN 2012
http://www.nigerianbestforum.com/blog/?attachment_id=121852 Chibuzo Ukaibe, in this piece reflects on the activities of the Senate in the last one year.
For a year that had the trappings of great potentials for the nation, its pains, sorrows and few joys, were reflected in the mood of the Senate. Naturally, there were high and low moments and also moments in between like the applauded early passage of the 2013 budget amidst resounding complaints of the under performance of the 2012 budget, or the passage of the N161bn supplementary budget which was speedily necessary to avert an impending fuel crisis during the festive season, despite the expressed reservations by the Senate at the faulty economic mathematics of the executive who attributed the fresh demand to a 'forensic audit' which revealed that the initial N888bn provided for subsidy was underestimated; the Senate indeed approved the request admits grumbles of 'blackmail'.
Essentially, 2012, either by design or providence saw the Senate continue to play a mediatory role and a stabilizer in the polity.
Perhaps, this draws largely from the crucial role the present Senate leadership played in ensuring that the present administration came into being. The Senate was seen often times as the go between in the many tussles between the executive and the House of Representatives.
Some analysts opine that the somewhat easy bonding between the current senate leadership and the executive grows on the ingenuity of the doctrine of necessity principle as championed by the upper chamber, thereby positioning more strongly this administration as its 'baby'. Other analysts however believe that whatever bond that exists, is pure hinged on the need to ensure that the country does not go off on a tangent.
Whatever the case, in the first week of 2012, the Senate had cause to intervene in a fuel subsidy showdown between
President Goodluck Jonathan led administration and the organized labour strongly backed by the civil society, who were accused of being sponsored by the opposition parties. As both sides refused to shift grounds and the nation at the edge of an economic gridlock was slipping gradually into anarchy, the Senate was largely able to broker a deal which ensured that the country did not go off the cliff.
As normalcy returned in the polity after a tumultuous start in the year, the Senate settled down to its core duties of making laws, performing oversight functions and investigations, passing resolutions on pressing national issues as well as screening and confirming ministerial and ambassadorial nominees. The highpoint was that the senate was able to pass a total of 21 bills within the year.
Firing off, the Senate on January 18 passed the Universities (Miscellaneous) Bill 2011 to increase the retirement age of professors from 65 to 70 as well as the Retirement Age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education (Harmonization) Bill 2012 to peg the retirement age of staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education at 65. They also sought to increase the number of judges at the Appeal court from 70 to 90 when they passed the Court of Appeal Act 2005 (Amendment) Bill 2012. On May 16, the red chamber also passed the Federal High Court Act 2005 (Amendment) Bill 2012 to increase the number of the judges of the Federal High Court from 70 to 100.83 ambassadorial nominees were endorsed by the Senate on February 8, just as they On February 15, confirmed the nomination of Mr Ibrahim Lamorde as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) after the removal of his predecessor, Mrs. Farida Waziri They however passed the Hydro-Electric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (amendment) Bill 2012 on February 9.Flowing from the move to ensure probity in the utilization of the fuel subsidy, the Senate following a resolution, mandated its Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources (downstream), Appropriation and Finance, to investigative the 2011 subsidy regime. On February 13, they commenced operation but the outcome of committee's investigation is yet to be revealed, even though credibility issues plagued the report of the Lower chamber which also investigated the matter.
The Senate on February 29 frowned at the poor observance of the public procurement Act and called for the inauguration of the National Council on Public Procurement (NCPP) as provided in section 1 (4) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 to regulate, monitor and oversight public procurement.
By March 15, the Senate approved the 2012 Appropriation Bill jacking up the 2012 budget from N4.6trn to N4.877trn which was reflective of the Subsidy Reinvestment Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) as requested by Jonathan. In similar vein, the upper chamber, on March 29, approved the FCT Statutory Appropriation Bill 2012 to approve the N306bn budget estimate, admits complaints of a poor internal generated revenue drive by the FCT.
As the difficulty in dealing with the barrage of terrorist attacks continued, the Senate piled more pressure on the Executive, charging it to be more proactive in dealing with the problem. Specifically, on April 18 while entertaining a motion by Senator Mohammed Saleh on the terrorist attack in Kaduna during Easter church services , the Senate resolved that the Federal Government should deploy all its apparatus of power to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency because the nation was at the brink of national disintegration.Barely months later, precisely July 8, the Senate was thrown into mourning on account of a terrorist attack that claimed their colleague, Senator Gyang Dantong (representing Plateau North). He was killed while fleeing from an attack by gun men during a burial ceremony. Chairman of the Senate Committee on health, he was high revered by his colleagues for his forthrightness, discipline and dedication to service of his people and the country. On July 18, the Senate held a valedictory session in his honour.Still, the Senate was to cry more, as it mourned and prayed for the immortalization of some prominent Nigerians that died in the course of the year. Some of such Nigerians include, Senator Olusola Saraki, Justice Kayode Esho, Prof. Sam Aluko etc.
The Senate on June 26 was in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State Capital for its three- day retreat titled 'National Assembly and National Security: Securing the Future for Development'. The high point of its resolutions was a call on the Federal Government to create special courts for terrorism crimes.On April 24, nine individual bills for the establishment of the new nine federal universities earlier presented by President Jonathan were endorsed by the Senate. The Federal Universities include, Universities of Kashere (Gombe), Dutsin-ma (Katsina),Lafia (Nasarawa), Lokoja (Kogi), Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (Ebonyi), Otuoke (Bayelsa), Oye-Ekiti (Ekiti), Dutse (Jigawa) and Wukari (Taraba).After a long investigation plagued by credibility issues, the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration, led by Senator Aloysius Etok, on June 20 submitted its report on investigation into the alleged massive fraud in the management of pension funds. They revealed that N273 billion pension fund was looted in six years.
The Senate, among other resolutions called for the disbandment Pension Reform Task Force be and for Abdulrasheed Maina, who chairs the task force to be sacked for alleged complicity in the scam. Maina, on his part maintained that he was not giving a fair hearing accusing the committee of having a vindictive disposition towards him from the start of the probe.But the rigmarole of an investigation was to reopen again, as the committee on December 11, the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration said it has uncovered fresh N195 pension fraud and issued a warrant of arrest on the pension task force boss, Maina.
The committee became insistent that Maina must be giving a fair hearing on the matter. But frustrated by Maina's absence at public hearing for six consecutive times and the failure of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, to arrest him, the panel on December 19 committed the matter to God.However, On July 11, the Senate confirmed the appointment of the first female ChiefJustice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar.On July 12, having held a three-day public hearing on the increase of drivers license and number plates by the Federal Road Safety Commission, the Senate reviewed it downwards to N10, 500 and N4,200 for number plate and the driver's licence respectively.Eight days later, the Ike Ekweremadu-led Senate Committee on Constitution Review (which had promised to conclude the amendments to the constitution by July 2013) held a two-day retreat on the new phase of the amendment of the 1999 Constitution in Asaba Delta State. Subsequently, on October 11 and 12, the Senate kicked off a series of the public hearing on review process in Abuja. On November 15, the Senate embarked on a three-day zonal public hearing on constitution review.
As at the last count the number of memorandum swelled toHowever, in the wake of a move by the Governor of the central bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Malam Sanusi to introduce a N5000 note, the Senate on September 18 adopted a motion by Senator Ita Enang which called on President Jonathan and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop all actions on the issuance of the proposed note.On September 26 the Senate following an emotionally charged debate on a motion by the Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi's motion urged the Federal Government to appeal the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ)-which ceded Bakassi to Cameroon.The next day, the Senate passed the Occupational Safety and Health Bill which sought to repeal and re-enact the Factory Act 2004, make comprehensive provisions for securing the safety, health and welfare of persons at work; and establish the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.For the first time in recent times, President Jonathan, on October 10, presented before a joint session of the National Assembly, a budget of N4.92 trillion for the 2013 fiscal year. However remarks during the presentation ceremony was to generate some spat between the national assembly and the executive. The executive felt uncomfortable with the stern remarks by the Senate President David Mark who told the executive to stop regarding the legislature as 'a mere mechanical rubber-stamp that must robotically pass budget estimates as presented.'The situation however degenerated to a point where the senate, taking a cue from a remark by aides of the President over lingering Bills before the executive, which they (Senate) found to be disparaging to them, threatened to veto future bills, if the president refuses to sign them.
On November 21, the Senate passed a bill, which basically seeks to discourage heavy importation of vehicles but rather to promote the manufacturing of Nigeria-made vehicles. The bill was titled National Automotive Design and Development Council Bill 2012 which sought an Act to repeal the Centre for Automotive Design and Development (CADD) Act 1992 and the National Automotive Council (NAC) Act 1993.Earlier in the year the Senate having hinted at approving the death sentence for terrorism, it also passed On November 27, the Prisons Act 2004 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2011, which will replace 'hard labour' with 'prison labour.'On December 13, the Senate passed the N161.6bn supplementary budget requested by President Jonathan to pay off outstanding fuel subsidy funds for 2012.
The Senate on December 18 debated a motion by Senator Chris Anyanwu on the recent Navy helicopter crash which killed the Kaduna State Governor, Patrick Yakowa and the former National Security Adviser; Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi in Bayelsa State. While the Senate subsequently queried the indiscriminate use of military choppers for civil events operations, they also resolved to investigate the crash and called for the report of previous investigations carried out on plane crashed in the country.Earlier in the year, the Senate following the Dana Airline crash of June 3, banned the operations of the airline, called for the suspension of the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Mr. Harold Demuren and demanded the reports of the probes of past air crashes in the country.Still on December 18, the move to deliberate on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)was halted as the issue became too touchy to discuss by some Senators, raising fears that the Bill might suffer the same of earlier versions in earlier Senates.A day after, another deliberation on the anti- terrorism bill was stagnated following issues bothering on the legality of making the office of the National Security Adviser, the coordinating office in the war against terrorism in the country.On December 20 the Senate passed the 2013 Appropriation Bill, increasing the 2013 budget to N4.987 trillion as against the N4.924 trillion proposed by the executive. They on same day closed shop to observe the Christmas and New Year holiday.
The upper chamber might not have been as combative as the lower chamber, but it did the needful at the times it mattered most to get the job done. Nevertheless, even its leadership recognizes that it has not performed so well in the oversight department, which has been attributed in major part to the under performance of the last year's budget.
In all, one thing that counts in the face of the challenges faced by the nation in the past year is the stable maturity of the Senate, which largely helped in stabilizing the ship of state and steering her away from perhaps more troubled waters. At the risk of being accused of being too cozy with the executive, the senate leadership was able somewhat to manage its relationship with the executive ensuring that unnecessary frictions capable of stalling governance were avoided. The expectation is that such constructive relationship, not necessarily one meant to please a few, but the generality of Nigerians would blossom in the coming year.