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WHAT MARK FOR THE MARK-LED SENATE?

By NBF News
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More often than not, Nigerians assess the performances of the National Assembly based on the number of bills passed. In any caase, the primary function of the legislative arm of government is lawmaking. So how has the Senate fared in the past one year?

Since the Seventh Senate was inaugurated on June 6, 2011, a number of bills have been introduced; 106 of which were initiated between June and December last year, but with only one of them read third time and passed—the Same Sex Bill – which was passed on November 29, 2011. The bill, otherwise known as anti-gay marriage bill, sought an Act to outlaw marriage between persons of same sex. The bill calls for a 14-year imprisonment for homosexuality convicts and a 10-year imprisonment for anyone aiding same sex unions.

Available records show that a total of 53 bills were introduced and read the first time between January and April this year out of which 15 are executive bills; and the rest, members' bills. 22 other bills were read the second time and referred to the relevant committees of the Senate for further legislative input.

But within that period (January 18 to April 3, 2012) only seven bills were read the third time and passed. They are the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Amendment Bill) 2011, the Retirement Age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Bill, Acts Authentication Act (Amendment) Bill 2011, the Court of Appeal Act 2005 (Amendment) Bill 2012, the HAPERDEC Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2011, the 2012 Appropriation Bill and the FCT Statutory Appropriation Bill 2012.

On January 18, the Senate passed the Universities (Miscellaneous) Bill 2011 to increase the retirement age of professors from 65 to 70 and the pensionable age of other academic staff and non-academic staff of universities to 65 years. The passage of the bill also permits registrars, librarians and bursars of tertiary institutions to hold office for five years and an extension of one year if the need arises.

The same day, the bill on Retirement Age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education (Harmonization) Act, 2012 was passed to harmonize the compulsory retirement age of staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to be 65 years and exempt them from the public service rule which mandates a civil servant to retire after 35 years in service. Both bills are expected to avoid waste of talents facing tertiary institutions with the early retirement of their academics and prevent early retirement of professors.

On January 19, 2012, the Senate passed the Court of Appeal Act 2005 (Amendment) Bill 2012 which sought to increase the number of judges at the Appeal Court from 70 to 90 with a view to ensuring quick dispensation of justice in the country. The same day, the red chamber also passed the Acts Authentication Act 1962 (Amendment) Bill 2011 which sought an Act to criminalize illegal printing and circulation of fake Acts of the National Assembly by unauthorized persons.

The Hydro-Electric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HAPERDEC) Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2011, which was passed on February 9, 2012; brought in Benue State as one of the beneficiaries.

According to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, 'the second arm of the proposed amendment relates to the financial provisions made for the host communities under section 14(2) of the Principal Act. However, if the said provision is left in its original state, it would adversely affect the Federal Government's Power Reform Agenda and the progress in the sector and make hydro electric companies unprofitable. It would also amount to a discriminatory practice against hydro electric power generating companies in relation to other electricity providers who don't have such statutory financial burden, and this may serve as a major disincentive to investors.

The passage of the bill also replaces the 30 percent revenue initially earmarked for the affected communities to be derived from the total revenue generated by any company or authority from the operation of any hydro electric dams in any member state of the commission with 10 percent of the total revenue derived from the concession of hydro plants and royalties paid to the Federal Government.

On March 15, 2012, the Senate passed the 2012 Appropriation Bill approving the budget of N4.87 trillion for the 2012 fiscal year. The budget was increased from the original N4.6 trillion presented to the National Assembly by President Goodluck Jonathan in order to accommodate the Subsidy Reinvestment Empowerment (SURE) programme.

The FCT Statutory Appropriation Bill 2012 was passed on March 29, 2012 to approve the budget estimate of N306 billion for the 2012 fiscal year out of which N42.6 billion was earmarked for personnel costs, N34.5 billion for overhead costs and N228 billion for capital projects.

Four bills for the establishment of four new federal universities were passed on April 24, 2012. They are the Federal University of Kashere (Gombe), the Federal University of Dutsin-ma (Katsina), the Federal University of Lafia (Nasarawa) and the Federal University of Uyo (Akwa Ibom) which was founded in 1992; while six other bills were passed the following day for the establishment of the five remaining new federal universities which are in Lokoja (Kogi), Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (Ebonyi), Otuoke (Bayelsa), Oye-Ekiti (Ekiti), Dutse and Wukari (Taraba).

On May 16, 2012, the Federal High Court Act 2005 (Amendment) Bill 2012 which sought to inc-rease the number of the judges of the Federal High Court from 70 to 100 was passed. This, according to Senate President David Mark will ensure some level of expeditious trial of most of the cases pending at the moment.

The operation of the Act entails no more cost on the government than recurrent expenditures in the payment of salaries and other emoluments to the judges appointed and the provision of statutory benefits applicable to their offices which are included in overhead costs of the court.  The average expected expenditure on each judge appointed will be N13.35 million per annum made up of salaries, allowances, vehicle and accommodation.

The Senate may, as expected, pride itself on having passed this number of bills within the period under review. While many Nigerians seem to be near the mark in asking what mark for Mark-led Senate with the passage of 19 bills within 358 days, others say they are primarily concerned with how the laws enacted so far will impact positively on their lives.