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Senators last week passed the State of the Nation Bill. EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE and JONATHAN ISAIAH write on the essence of the Bill and its implications. There were other developments.

Last Wednesday, the Senate passed the 'State of the Nation Bill' which will make it mandatory for any sitting Nigerian President to address a joint session of the National Assembly in July every year. Senators say the practice is in line with best democratic practices as evident in the United States and other established democracies.

Also, Senator Ndoma Egba who led the debate, stated that the forum will make the president accountable to the Nigerian people and render account of his stewardship to the country.

The development was sequel to the consideration and adoption of a report of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs presented by Senator Dahiru Kuta (Niger, PDP). The Senate considered all the eight clauses of the Bill and adopted them with minor amendments. The Bill as passed, if assented to by the executive, makes it mandatory for the president, in company of the vice-president and the head of the judicial arm of government, to address a joint sitting of the National Assembly on issues including but not limited to national security, the economy, foreign policy and social justice.

Also, the Bill provides that the two Houses of the National Assembly shall debate the issues raised within 14 legislative days following the presentation of the State of the Nation address and thereafter, communicate resolutions to the President within 60 days from the date of the address.

The Senate in passing the Bill, activated powers to summon a sitting president via a resolution supported by two-thirds majority votes of members of each House of the National Assembly.

'Where the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria fails, neglects, or refuses to render account of his stewardship within the time stipulated by Section 1 of the Bill, the National Assembly may by resolution, supported by 2/3 majority votes of members of each House of the National Assembly, summon the President to address the Nation pursuant to the provisions of this Bill,'the passed Bill read in relation to the summon.

LEADERSHIP recalls that June last year, the House of Representatives, had through a resolution, invited President Goodluck Jonathan to appear before a closed session to brief lawmakers on the state of security in the country - a move that triggered varied reactions in support and dissent over the propriety of the invitation. Jonathan has refused to honour the invitation.

Senate President, David Mark, expressed hope that the Bill will be assented to by the executive. The Bill which was introduced in the sixth National Assembly, specifically in 2008 in the Senate and 2009 in the House of Representatives, failed to get presidential assent before the conclusion of that session.

Mark said, 'We hope the President will assent to the Bill because it is very important for the president to address the country and render an account of his stewardship to the Senate and the nation. This address is different from the budget address. This address will make the ordinary Nigerian know the progress of the country and what is happening in the country.'

Pundits hail the passage of the 'State of the Nation Bill' as step in the right direction as this would make the president accountable to the Nigerian people. Political analyst, Tanko Yusuf, posited: 'If this is done well (address), the president will be careful in decision making as the common man at the streets will know the agenda of the president and how he plans to achieve it. It is on record that most Nigerian presidents don't get to implement more than 30 per cent of the budget as the government merely pays lip service to budget  implementation. When carried out properly by any sitting president, he will have the advantage of laying out the progress of his administration on key issues based on facts and for any president seeking re-election, it's a good platform to sell his good points. The electorate will decide if the president has been making good on his promise every year during the four year tenure. Like in the United States of America where it is commonly practised, President Obama used  the State of the Union Address this  year to outline key issues of his administration. He laid out a comprehensively liberal policy agenda: a $9 an hour minimum wage, various government 'investments,' new environmental regulations, a mini-stimulus, and gun control.

A 'discriminatory' 2-year Marriage Restriction For Female Security Personnel.

A unified service rule which provides that female officers recruited into all military, Nigeria Police Force and para-military organisations must stay unmarried for two years after which she applies for express permission to marry, has been described by Senators as 'discriminatory and obnoxious'.

The provision is contained in Section 1(d) of the Official Gazette of No 15, Vol. 90 of March 2003.

Federal lawmakers in wide-ranging debates, insisted that the rule (Section 1(d) of the Official Gazette of No 15) was in conflict with Section 42 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which expressly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of age, religion, political opinion, ethnicity or sex.

The Senate however rejected a bid to repeal the 'offensive' section from the constitution.

These were fallouts of Last Tuesday's Senate consideration and adoption of a report of its Committee on Ethics, Priviledges and Public Petitions in respect of a petition from Mrs Inimfon Chris, on the discrimination against the female gender in the recruitment exercise into the Federal Civil Service, specifically the Nigeria Customs Service.

Inimfon, according to the Committee's chairman, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, was sacked from the Customs following fraudulent breach of the contentious rule

The report's findings/observations read: 'It was observed that the petitioner is not actually fighting for reinstatement back to the Nigeria Custom Service but for the generality of the female gender that are being discriminated against under the provision of the federal government of Nigeria Official Gazette No 15, Vol. 90 Section 1 (d) which deals with appointment of female officers into the Nigeria Customs Service… This is a provision of a general application as claimed by the representative of the Nigeria Customs Service and cannot be exempted for a particular person, unless the provision is generally expunged or reversed by the relevant authority for general application as the case may be in all unified service.'

'Cross Country Cattle Grazing Outdated'
Against the backdrop of several fatal conflicts recorded between nomadic Fulani cattle rearers and farm/land owners across the country, the federal government has been urged to ban forthwith, the 'outdated' system of cross country cattle grazing – a touchy issue that has defied several governments intervention for lasting solutions.

Senator Babajide Omoworare, who made the call on Monday at a media chat with Senate correspondents at the National Assembly, insisted that the causes of many crises recorded across the country bordered on economic reasons and not ethno/religious reasons popularly bandied in reports.

Omoworare (Osun/ACN), said the age-long practice of cross country cattle grazing has increasingly become outdated and burdened with security implications. He called on the federal government to ban the practice and seek ways of encouraging cattle owners to establish dairy farms.

'If we have a serious government in place, we should stop cattle rearing… you need cosmopolitan people in government to effect this kind of changes,' the Osun lawmaker stated.

LEADERSHIP reports that a Bill to create dedicated grazing routes for Fulani herdsmen across the country is presently before the National Assembly.

On the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Omoworare faulted provisions of the PIB which exempted it from the Procurement Act as well as granted unlimited powers on the president in allocating Oil Prospecting Licences (OPLs). Omoworare tagged the PIB a 'corrupt' Bill in this regard.

'How can a Bill talk about transparency in the petroleum industry in one section and in another section, the Bill empowers the President at his own whims and caprices to allocate oil blocs to whom he chooses, that's corruption,' Omoworare queried.

Also, Omoworare took a swipe at the President Goodluck Jonathan administration as being rudderless and reactionary to several challenges and complexities the country faces.

''The President does not understand the rudiments of government; he takes too long in making decisions. He doesn't have an agenda. He only reacts to issues when confronted. The president should have a clear agenda on how to tackle different problems. Also as Senators, we should be more than just elder statesmen. We should be able to look at the president straight in the eye when he is going wrong.

'A lot of politics is being brought to bear but there must be a limit to doing politics. It is in the interest of Nigeria as a whole that we take a decision and let us face that decision,' he said.

Senate Faults Immunity for Lawmakers
The Senate, last week distanced itself from moves by the House of Representatives to grant immunity to legislators in the country, declaring that such proposal, if presented at the Senate, will be turned down.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Enyinnaya Abaribe, told Senate correspondents at a briefing that the immunity granted by the Legislative Powers and Privileges Act, was adequate, hence seeking further immunity was misplaced.

LEADERSHIP recalls that Representatives recently passed for second reading, a Bill sponsored by Hon. Ali Ahmed (Kwara, PDP), seeking to amend the 1999 constitution (as amended) to grant immunity to legislators in the country through a second reading. Proponents say granting immunity to lawmakers would not only strengthen democracy but allow members to speak freely without fear of molestation or litigation.

Abaribe stated, 'I think that the Legislative Powers and Privileges Act already gives every legislator immunity for whatever you say on the floor of the chamber. So, that is already a settled law and fact. It (immunity Bill) has not been brought to the floor of the Senate yet… I will be very surprised if somebody is asking for immunity outside of the chambers of the National Assembly. Why will anybody ask for such because we do not want to grant anybody such immunity?

'I do not think that will pass the floor of the Senate, because whatever you say inside there, is already covered under the Privileges Act. If we see such a bill, then we will consider the merit and whatever anybody will bring to us,saying what we have now is inadequate,that is when we will consider the Bill…No legislator should seek immunity outside the chamber for whatever he does outside of parliament.'

On the 2013 budget, Abaribe disclosed to newsmen that President Goodluck Jonathan has submitted signed copies of the budget to Senators. He said in the coming days, Senators will be cross-checking the signed budget to ensure that prior legislative amendments were duly reflected.

Abaribe allayed fears of reported moves by International Oil Companies (IOCs) to corner Senators in a bid to frustrate passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). He said the Senate has resolved to pass a PIB that will be of utmost interest to Nigerians.

He said, 'For every legislation that seeks to fundamentally affect how business is done in Nigeria, especially the oil business, you will necessarily expect that people will have different opinion from one another… The meeting of the joint committees will take place on Thursday. In other words, we hope that the six-week deadline that was given to the committee to submit the report to the floor of the senate will be met.

'Let me say that the oil companies themselves are also stakeholders in the oil producing business. Therefore, they also have their own reservation about what is there in the bill. They are also at liberty to bring the information forward and once they do that, I am sure that we will consider everything because what we want is not to kill the oil industry but to be able to make the oil industry to also compete with the rest of other oil industries in the world. This is the fundamental restructuring, a change in the way that the business of production, increase in reserve and also to make sure that our way of life is also fundamentally affected by it. So, I do not agree that oil companies will hijack anything. They will not. Every senator who is there is patriotic and we are going to work in the best interest of Nigeria and not in the interest of any oil company.