So Far, So Good: The 8th Senate And The Nigerian Mandate
Democracy is seen as one of the ultimate ideals that modern civilisations strive to create and preserve. The word democracy literally means rule by the people, taken from the Greek terms, demos (meaning ―people), and kratos (meaning ―rule). It is a political concept and form of government, where all people are supposed to have equal voices in shaping policy (typically expressed through a vote for representatives) and one thing is certain: no country can long have a workable democracy without a vibrant and meaningful legislature and legislative process.
In as much as the legislative arm of government is very important in any democratic state, the independence of this arm goes a long way in enhancing good governance. In Nigeria, the federal legislative arm, the National Assembly, is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. These two houses are charged with the sole responsibility of making laws that would impact on the people.
Since the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly under the leadership of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the legislative chamber has become more vibrant, with legislative processes that impact the lives of average Nigerians. Matching words with actions, Saraki in his inaugural speech promised that there would be a serious connection between the National Assembly and the Nigerian people. Since then, there have been steady updates of the plenary session to Nigerians via various social media networks. Because not every Nigerian can attend every single Senate plenary, the 8th Senate has made it easy of us all to follow its activities on the Red Chamber via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Another good point scored by the 8th senate was the huge success attained at the end of the Ministerial Screening exercise. The Senate screened President Muhammadu Buhari’s 36 ministerial nominees in an exercise that was both colourful and dramatic. The exercise also raised the issue of thoroughness as some of the nominees were hardly grilled as expected. Despite the threat shown by some of the PDP senators against some of the ministerial nominees, PDP senators vowed to make the screening exercise a hell for the likes of Rotimi Amaechi and Alhaji Lai Mohammed. However, Nigerians were amazed with the way Saraki handled the screening exercise. It is a known fact that the presidency under Buhari has not hidden his dislike for Saraki since his emergence on June 9, 2015. Nevertheless, the leadership of the 8th Senate was able to successfully screen all the ministerial nominees because of the political dexterity of Saraki.
Since the inception of democracy in Nigeria, we have not had a Senate that proposed a legislative agenda to Nigerians. However, this 8th Senate has a 18-member strong committee on the legislative agenda. According to Saraki, the committee has been would saddled with the responsibility of charting the course for the 8th Senate. The objectives and mission of the legislative agenda are geared towards increasing the institutional capacity of the Senate, building the legislative autonomy and strengthening the committee system, oversight functions, extensive representation and outreach, stakeholder and civil society involvement, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, reduction running cost, and effective legislative support system. With the legislative agenda Nigerians can always run a check on the Senate and always call the leadership of the senate to order whenever its about derailing from its legislative agenda.
The 8th Senate started on a shaky note, with the elections of the senate leadership causing a crisis both within the Senate and the ruling party, APC. Regardless of this, for the first time in a long time, the lawmakers in the Senate have a bi-partisan leadership with Senator Bukola Saraki from the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the Senate president while Senator Ike Ekweremadu as his Deputy from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Despite party and ideological differences among the senators, Saraki’s leadership of the Senate has been able to unite the lawmakers in the interest of Nigeria. As it stands, Saraki enjoys strong support of his colleagues thus making it easy for bills and motions to be passed.
The media is the link between the National Assembly and the Nigerian people. For the prompt, effective and efficient reporting of news, the Senate Press Corps has to be effective. On February 2nd, 2016, the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki unveiled the newly renovated Press Centre of the Senate Press Corps. The Vice-Chairman of the Senate Press Centre while appreciating the entire senate for this great gesture, said that in the history of Nigerian Senate, no Senate President has ever recognised the Senate Press Corps like Bukola Saraki.
Though legislators do not govern, they provide the means by which a political system can maintain the balance between effectiveness and consent. In this regard, legislators stand between the needs of the government to be able to raise resources necessary to carry out a programme of public policy and to maintain the consent of the people. The 8th Senate has focused majorly on energizing every sector, particularly those that directly affect the masses such as power, security, infrastructure and economic growth. For example, the Senate recently directed the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission to stop the fixed charges on electricity, and the bulk-metering of rural communities.
There have been several unsuccessful campaigns in 2004, 2009, and 2010 to pass a bill aimed at encouraging the purchase of locally made products. If such a bill is passed, it is capable of jumpstarting the Nigerian economy. As it stands, the #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira initiative has taken a positive new dimension, as Senators from both sides of the political divide are driving this campaign to promote our domestic economy. Saraki has also mentioned that the Senate would be working on the review and amendment of the procurement act. This amendment would work to ensure that Made in Nigeria goods receive ‘first dibs’ by the government. Some parameters of this amendment, Saraki explained, would include provisions that would ensure that government agencies would only resort to imported goods when there are no domestic alternatives.
Finally, for the very first time in the history of the National Assembly, the joint-leadership of both Houses invited the general public to have an input in the budget debate process. The Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, and representatives of Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, met with civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss the budget.The aim of this meeting was to afford civil society and non-governmental organizations an opportunity to contribute their ideas, perspectives, inputs and strategies to that of the National Assembly, in order to pass a budget that Nigerians can call their own. This meeting also signalled that the National Assembly under its current leadership is committed to a more open National Assembly.