100 DAYS OF 8TH SENATE AND THE NEW NIGERIAN 'NORMAL'
June 9, 2015 will forever go down in our country's legislative history as a day to be remembered. The 8th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria took off with Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the Senator representing Kwara Central, emerging unopposed as the Senate President and Chairman of the National Assembly. Since then, the legislative chamber has hit the ground running.
Dr. Saraki, in a bid to emphasize that he sought the position of 'first amongst equals' in the Senate to champion a new but progressive course, announced that he was devoting his efforts towards ensuring that the 'Change' that Nigerians voted for in the general elections would be the ultimate roadmap that would guide the affairs of the legislative body. Since then, the upper chamber has set out on a legislative journey that has been characterized by the efforts of Senators to ensure that Nigerians receive the dividends of the new Nigerian _modus operandi_: “The end of the inefficient and ineffective days of 'business as usual.'”
At a first glance, given the coordinated media efforts to disparage the leadership and the institution of the Senate, some may easily believe that the Red Chamber has been asleep since its inauguration. However, a careful tally of its activities in the last three months shows puts a lie to that claim.
One, last month’s decision of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) which abolished bulk metering and modified the fixed charges to reflect rate of usage has addressed the problem of distribution companies charging Nigerians predetermined and exorbitant fees for erratic power supply. Following a Senate resolution on the matter, NERC announced an end to the practice, and went a step further to restructure their billing system to ensure that electricity consumers would only be liable for what they consume.
In another development that is in line with the commitment of the leadership of the Senate to ensure an open, transparent and accountable legislature, the Senate President tasked members of the Rules and Business Committee to develop an e-parliamentary system for the business of the legislative house. This system, which is unprecedented in Nigeria, but is now the norm in many parliaments across the world, has been proven to be a cost-effective, and environmentally friendly way to embark on lawmaking. This system equally bridges the gap between direct and representative democracy, because its technological components will give room for direct access to legislative business by the citizenry, while its utilization by lawmakers will continue the process of representative action.
Another point worthy of note with regards to the Senate Committee on Rules and Business is that of appointing Senator Babajide Omoworare to Chair this committee, the Senate President has demonstrated that competency will be the ultimate guiding principle in making appointments in the Senate. This is because Senator Omoworare is a member of the Unity Forum that opposed Senator Saraki's candidacy for Senate President. However, given his pedigree as a lawyer and legislator, he has been called upon to steer the committee that is referred to as 'the engine room' of the Senate.
In the more than six years of the Boko Haram insurgency, no delegation from the federal legislature ever visited the North-east zone. Nevertheless, on August 3rd, the Senate President – defying the counsel of many who taught the venture unsafe – led a delegation of Senators on a fact-finding mission to Maiduguri, Borno State. Also, his deputy lead another delegation to Yola, Adamawa State on a similar mission – to empathize with the people. Since then, the Senate has committed itself to working on legislations and advocacy work that will aid the reconstruction, rebuilding and rehabilitation of the areas hardest hit by the insurgency. The Senate President, has taken this commitment one step further. In his Wednesday, September 2nd keynote address at the 4th World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Dr. Saraki sought the collaboration of the international community to end the Boko Haram menace, and curb terrorism in all its forms across the world.
He has equally used his various meetings with diplomats representing various countries to canvass international support for the reconstruction efforts that will soon commence in the North-east, after the inevitable end of the crisis.
To ensure that Nigerian businesses and the Nigerian economy is strengthened though strategic and meaningful partnerships, the Senate leadership has met with Ambassadors to Nigeria from countries like Germany, Mexico, United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and India, and heads of parliaments of Germany and France, to ensure legislative collaboration to boost Nigeria's economy. The Senate has also waded into the European Union ban on Nigerian agricultural produce, by tasking NAFDAC and the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) to tighten its oversight on Nigerian products to ensure their acceptance in international markets.
Also, in-line as a way of making the operations of the National Assembly open – as demanded by Nigerians, the Senate President set up a National Assembly Finance review committee that has been tasked with making the books of the upper legislative chamber open. Additionally, after his return from the meeting of parliamentary heads in New York, the Senate President took an unscheduled assessment tour of the National Assembly complex to assess the needs of the complex and familiarize himself with the environment. The tour which is the first to be made by any Senate President since the National Assembly moved into the present site in 1992 also enabled Saraki to get a better understanding of some of the areas that Nigerians can get more value for the money being spent on National Assembly. It was on this tour that a fully equipped, virtually unutilized National Assembly station – worth about N500 million – was discovered.
Additionally, the Senate President has reassured Nigerians that competency will be the watchword during the upcoming screening of ministerial nominees. What's more, Nigerians can be assured of a thorough process. Based on the objections to the old practice raised by the public, there is a general feeling amongst the Senators that the 'Bow and Go' custom might be jettisoned in the best interest of setting meaningful screening and confirmation precedents that future legislature can follow.
Based on the aforementioned, it is clear that the responsiveness of the 8th Senate to the yearnings of the general public cannot be called into question. This development can be added to the ongoing citizen engagement that has become a feature of the operations of some of the serving Senators who are following the Senate President's example by using social media to update Nigerians on their activities. This is a welcome development. The likes of Senators Gbenga Ashafa, Binta Garba, Babajide Omoworare, Ben Murray-Bruce, Dino Melaye, Oluremi Tinubu and Shehu Sani have led the online charge to make staying abreast of the Senate's activities easier.
On top of this, the Senate has worked to treat more petitions from Nigerians. This is demonstrated by the ongoing work of the committee in charge of public petitions – in spite of the recess – which has continued to meet and review petitions that have been sent to it concerning the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)and multinational companies that are being accused of abusing the rights of Nigerians.
It is clear that the 8th Senate, with Dr. Saraki at its helm, is not just preaching the 'Change Agenda’, it has also rolled up its sleeves to enact and work it. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, this could be the beginning of a 'New Nigerian Normal.' A new normal that works for everyone…
***Bamikole Omishore is the Special Assistant on New Media to the President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.