It is exactly a year today that the 9th Senate was inaugurated for its four year term after the dissolution of the 8th Senate which was presided over by Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki. The 9th Senate came on board to meet pressing national issues awaiting legislative interventions which were crucial for the development of the Nigerian State.
To set the path for a meaningful legislative contributions during its dispensation, the first hurdle it needed to scale was the conduct of a rancor-free election of Principal Officers which is the cornerstone of a harmonious Chamber.
Impressively, the current Senate weathered the storm excellently by overwhelmingly electing experienced Dr Ahmad Lawan, who has been at the National Assembly since the inception of the Fourth Republic—1999— with 72 votes spread across political parties. Sen. Lawan’s election on June 11, 2019 which was facilitated by Senators across the political divide at the Chamber prepared the platform for the 9th Senate’s giant strides recorded within the first year of its inauguration.
Senator Lawan’s campaign mantra, “A National Assembly that Works for All” has been the roadmap for the 9th Senate’s agenda which was largely responsible for its achievements just within the first 365 days of its life span.
The roadmap is based on three pillars, namely; “Improving Institutional Capacity of the Senate for Effective Performance”, “Legislative Interventions for Good Governance” and “Special Areas of Concern”.
Without mincing words, one of the landmark achievements of the 9th Senate in its first year is the return of the budget cycle to January-December with the speedy passage of the 2020 Appropriation Bill alongside the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework/Financial Spending Plan (MTEF/FSP) in October 2019.
The delaying of passage of Appropriation Act by the National Assembly in the past had been a clog in the wheel for budget performance over time, but with the hard work put in by the 9th Senate, coupled with its harmonious relationship with the Executive arm, the speedy passage of budget has been entrenched as a culture for better fiscal performance.
The prompt passage of the Appropriation Act also revealed the need to address the principles and procedures for budget preparation, budget funding through maximum utilization of revenue generating capacities of MDAs, budget implementation and monitoring.
To further display its proactive nature and sense of responsibility, the 9th Senate has been labouring hard to promptly pass the revised MTEF/FSP 2020-2022 and the 2020 Appropriation Act which was informed by the fall in oil price occasioned by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The revised MTEF/FSP which was forwarded to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari on May 26 was passed on June 2 while the revised 2020 Appropriation Bill is expected to be passed today. (Thursday)
Its prompt intervention by supporting government during the COVID-19 pandemic through facilitation of prompt release of funds to address the needs of frontline health workers in the fight against the disease, further underscored its proactiveness. It is also worthy of note that the Senate announced a contribution of half of the salaries of all 109 Senators as its financial support to government in fighting the scourge.
In a bid to further improve the institutional capacity of the Senate, the leadership of the current red chamber, in collaboration with the House of Representatives, ordered the renovation of the National Assembly complex for the first time in over 20 years which was evaluated to gulp N37bn. The current Senate displayed its spirit of transparency by requesting that the sum, which was approved in the initial 2020 Appropriation Act be domiciled with the Federal Capital Development Authority.
The amount was however agreed by the Senate to be reduced in the revised 2020 Appropriation Bill due to the economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fall in oil price—an act which showed the patriotic side of the red chamber.
In the face of dwindling oil revenues caused by the fluctuation in the international market, the red chamber rose up to the occasion and intervained through the amendment of Finance Act 2019 aimed at improving non-oil revenues. It passed an Executive Bill which proposed an increase in Value Added Tax from 5% to 7.5%. Also, as part of efforts to improve national revenue, it worked on the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (Amendment( Act 2019 (Act) which repealed section 16 of the Act. The overall achievement of this amendment is the unlocking of N320bn from the industry which will go a long way in improving the country’s economy.
The 9th Senate has often expressed its unflinching commitment to prompt consideration and passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) once it is received from the Executive.
In the past one year, the 9th Senate has been actively involved in making effort to see the end of insecurity in the country as it extensively engaged security chiefs on Boko Haram attacks in the North East, Kidnapping and banditry in the North West and North Central as well as farmers/herders clashes, proliferation of light and small arms and other forms of criminality across the country.
The Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Nigeria Security Challenges which is chaired by Sen Yahaya Abdullahi has worked hard to come up with 60 recommendations on how to end the scourge of insecurity which are to be implemented in the immediate, short and long term.
The President has also adopted as the Federal Government policy, the decentralisation of the command and control structure of the Nigeria Police Force which was recommended by the Senate committee.
In its first one year, the Senate has come up with its report on the Power Sector which was produced by a 20-man Ad-hoc Committee led by Dr Gabriel Suswam, while the Constitution Review Committee chaired by the Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege has also been set up to receive several constitutional amendment Bills aimed at improving governance in the country.
In recognition of a robust electoral process as the hallmark of democracy, the Senate has worked extensively on the review of the Electoral Act which is expected to be advanced to the next stage in the days to come.
It is worthy of mention that the 9th Senate contrary to what was obtainable in the past, has enjoyed harmony internally and externally (with the Executive). Its cordial relationship with the Executive is evident in the timely passage of Executive Bills and approval of appointments.
The constitution of 64 Standing Committees on which the Senate runs, with a fair share to the opposition Senators, highlighted the bipartisan nature of the Chamber. The composition which was all inclusive had square pegs in square holes while Senators from the opposition also enjoyed chairmanship of strategic committees.
With the remarkable achievements recorded by the 9th Senate within a year of its four-year life span, the hallowed red chamber has shown the capacity to provide legislative support to the Federal Government in driving socio-economic development and ensuring the delivery of dividends of democracy to Nigerians.
Senator Ajibola Basiru is the Senate’s Spokesperson.