SENATE BEYOND THE NOISE
It is just three weeks since the Eight Senate was inaugurated on the proclamation prepared by President Muhammadu Buhari. Since then, a lot has happened within the institution which under normal circumstances should have attracted positive attention from members of the public, including the ardent critic of the nation’s legislature. However, all the developments in that upper chamber of our legislature had been overshadowed by the din emanating from the circumstances in which its leadership emerged.
The quest and hunger for sensationalism and controversy by the press and its audience as well as the deliberate propaganda by a power group in the polity has made it impossible for people to see the Senate beyond the externally propelled and inspired schemings, quarrel and struggle for power that attended the election and selection of its leadership.
After the June 9 inauguration in which Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki was elected Senate President, he has continued to articulate the issues which he believed should be the focus of the eight Senate. The man had talked about the need for the Senate in particular, and the National Assembly, as a whole, to be prepared to support the programmes, policies and projects of President Buhari with enabling laws, motions and moral force necessary for their accomplishment. The President had spoken about addressing the issues of security, unemployment, corruption, development of agriculture and mining as ways to diversify the economy, improving on power and fuel supply, among others.
The Senate President therefore believe there is need for the federal legislature to develop a legislative agenda which will complement the identified direction of the Presidency.
There are two indicators that can give anybody the direction that Saraki is already nudging the Senate. One is the various groups that the Senate President has hosted so far. Another one is the committees that he has set up and the address to the visitors and the committee members.
The Senate President had deliberately opened his office doors to visitors who can be of help to the realisation of his plans. First to visit was the civil society. They visited Senator Saraki exactly a week after his election as Senate President. Their visit was to open discussion with the Senate President on how to create an open, transparent and just process in the affairs of the federal legislature.
In his address to the group under the aegis of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Saraki said the 8th Senate has an agenda to bring the lawmaking process through broader participation. ” We are determined to have a more focused legislative session that will prioritise on bills that will help us deal with revenue leakages, inculcate accountability, reduce impunity and ensure prudence in our public governance through a concerted oversight function”.
He enjoined the civil society to help “galvanize civil support and provide field feedback that will enrich the deliberation and implementation of these agenda”. “We believe that this will further enrich our democratic process, guarantee public buy-in and ultimately empower our people”. The ultimate aim of engaging with the civil society is “to help the government of the day to actualise its policy agenda of reducing unemployment, infrastructure renewal, improvement of the business environment, power generation, justice delivery and agriculture”.
By June 24, the next critical group of visitors were the National Executive Council members of the Nigeria Bar Association led by Mr. Augustine Aleghe (SAN). The Senate President believe there is need for partnership between the bar and the law making institution so that the instrumentality of the law can be used to effect the positive change that APC promised Nigerians in the last general elections. He told the senior lawyers that ” the NBA has been at the forefront of advocating and advancing legal and political reforms in Nigeria (and) the change that our people voted for is in line with the ideals the NBA has consistently advocated over the years : better justice system, accountability, improved business environment , reform of the criminal justice system and the advancement of our people’s rights and opportunities”.
He said the federal legislature under his leadership aim to help the executive plug the loopholes in the revenue mobilization and management systems which have made accountability of public funds very weak, leading to brazen corruption and mismanagement in the system.
From now on, he said the Senate will improve on the budgeting process to make it easier for scrutiny, interrogation and accountability.
Saraki appealed to the NBA to help the Senate to achieve a reform of the justice system to improve justice delivery system, strengthen alternative dispute resolution systems, reduce delay in courts, improve our people’s confidence in its processes and incentive arbitration and remove regulatory bureaucratic bottleneck.
Then, the oil sector operators gathered under the umbrella of the Oil Producers Trade Section (OPTS) of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce to discuss with the Senate President. The Senate President used the occasion to articulate the objective of the Eight Senate which included partnering with the government on how to deal with the common challenge of falling price of oil in the international market.
“We are desirous of having an oil industry comparable in structure, systems and output with international best practices…The oil and gas industry in Nigeria needs to evolve . We know the importance of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in making this happen”, the Senate President’s speech directly posed a challenge to the team led by Mrs Elisabeth Proust, the Managing Director of Total Oil.
As he told the OPTS, the Senate President in an earlier speech while receiving the delegation from Shell Production and Development Company led by the MD, Mr. Osagie Okunbor stated that the falling oil price presented a golden opportunity for the oil companies to retool and become much more efficient and proactive.
“It is high time we eliminated gas flaring in the country, deal with oil spills and third party related spills in a manner that is responsible and just to those affected”, he said. He expressed the willingness of the Senate to work with operators in the oil industry to ensure that the PIB is passed into law to stimulate investment in the industry.
“We are open to your suggestions and opinion on how we can move the industry forward so that investment decisions are not tied down. We are determined to ensure that our partnerships endures and we can do our best to promote the growth of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria so that it becomes an index for measuring international best practices, competition, transparency and environmental friendliness”, he said.
In the last three weeks too, Saraki played host to envoys from United States, Britain, China and France, all of whom came to assess the man and listen to his agenda, particularly to judge whether he shares the same goals and objectives with the new President of Nigeria.
However, all the envoys had left fully satisfied that a competent, mature, exposed and intelligent man is heading the new Senate and that there is no cause for alarm in the synergy that will exist between the two critical arms of government in Nigeria that is destined to change for the better.
Incidentally, the Senate President had used all the occasions to also tell his guests about the two committees he inaugurated on June 25 with the aim of markedly defining the road map for the Senate. The Committee on Finance of the Senate is billed to submit its report this week. The report is aimed at opening up the financial process in the Senate for public scrutiny so that members of the public can easily access the facts and figures on the finances of the institution. The plan is to eliminate rumour and exaggeration concerning the budget and funding of the senate. This will encourage accountability, transparency and financial discipline in the Senate.
As for the committee on Legislative Agenda, their duty is to develop a plan of action for the Senate. The primary aim of the plan is to improve on service delivery to the people.. This plan of action becomes the barometer and standard with which members of the public can measure the success or otherwise of the Eight Senate. Thus, the Senate is putting itself up for public scrutiny, judgement and periodic assessment.
Accompanying the Senate President to these sessions were Senators from the two parties who also use the occasion to familiarise themselves with the goals and objectives of the new Senate leadership. One would think that debating some of these plans, goals and objectives emanating form these sessions with degrees will help the legislative institution to grow and serve the purpose for which the members are elected, rather than focusing on the issue of what complexion the leadership has and which camp they belong to or who is sporting their candidacy.
*** Yusuph Olaniyonu is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the Senate President.