AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH captures the strides made by the 9th Senate.
The doctrine of separation of powers are contained under Sections 4, 5, and 6 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In particular, Section 4(2) of the 1999 Constitution provide that the “National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof …”.
So much responsibility is placed in the Senate being the upper chamber in the nation’s bi-cameral legislative system. Under the herculean task devolved upon the federal lawmakers, as provided in the 1999 Constitution, the grundnorm of the country, the head of the Senate is also the 3rd in the protocol or roll-call of heads of government in Nigeria.
Of the three arms of government, so much premium is placed on legislature, of which its absence is unarguably an absence of democracy. Therefore, irrespective of the odds, the Ahmad Lawan-led 9th Senate has got to make very difficult choices for it to make a difference in addressing Nigeria’s multi-faceted socio-economic and political contemporary issues.
Beyond the promises and campaigns, what matters is whether this Senate and indeed the National Assembly succeeds in aligning and re-aligning government’s policies in favour of the people.
These are some of the submissions that emerged as critical stakeholders like Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), senior lawyers, and even legislators when they reviewed six month old activities of the 9th Senate.
Comments from these key stakeholders became imperative as President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has insisted that the renewed improvement in the relationship between the National Assembly and the executive arm of government as well as the resolve by lawmakers to work together for the good governance of the country are the reasons for the speedy approval of the budget and other key legislative decisions that have been taken.
Observers of the legislature share the opinion that “from the serious business of cabinet formation through the screening and confirmation of ministers, Budget processing and approval, amendment of relevant laws for good governance as required by the Constitution, the approaches the Senate adopted in its operations is key factor in determining its success.”
With the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly on June 11, 2019, the Senate leadership did not mince words in declaring total readiness to cooperate with the executive arm of government in promoting issues that facilitate good governance.
While many cautioned against the danger of what they called turning the National Assembly into a stooge in the hands of the executive, some CSOs equally warned against unhealthy rivalry.
For instance, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), noted that such crisis between the executive and the National Assembly could jeopardize democracy and good governance.
Auwal Rafsanjani, the executive director of CISLAC, said:
“We recall that a combination of internal and external crisis has at different times, resulted in the removal of three senate presidents and the speaker of the House of Representatives by 2014. We also note that since 2015, there has been crisis between the executive and the legislature that has affected the effectiveness of both arms of government in performing their statutory functions.
“As civil society activists, we note with deep concern that a lot of the crisis have been caused by narrow intra and inter-party partisan interests rather than legislative priorities aimed at promoting good governance,” it stressed.
The shift from crisis to smoothness in the relationship between the two arms of government, according to some stakeholders appeared to be yielding fruits.
Some lawmakers declared on Wednesday that “With the approval of the 2020 budget and its signing into law by President Buhari, Lawan has succeeded in fulfilling one of his cardinal promises to return the country to January-December circle.”
Lawan, while briefing newsmen in Abuja, said the benefits of the harmonious relationship with the executive are evident in the timely passing of the budget and finance bills and the prompt assent by the President to the Deep Off-shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP D3 LFN 2004 (Amendment Bill, 2019.
“Our desire for cordial relationships with the other arms of government notwithstanding, the Senate and indeed the ninth National Assembly will continue to firmly exercise its oversight role on the executive agencies with a view to ensuring transparency, accountability and good governance,” he added.
In a lengthy remark on some of the key achievements of the 9th Senate, Lawan said: “As members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, we have a commitment to provide support and guidance for the development agenda of our government. This commitment we are pursuing through quality legislation and prompt consideration of public petitions and requests from the President for confirmation of appointments into important offices.
“In doing these, we placed a premium on internal harmony of the Senate and indeed of the entire National Assembly as an institution, through a bi-partisan approach to legislation. We allow the expression of every view in true parliamentary tradition, but we always try to build consensus on issues, no matter how critical they are.
According to the Senate President, “Parties and other inclinations may divide us, but we always strive to act as the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, an institution established to bolster national unity; and through the experience and maturity of its members provide guidance for good governance.” This was even as he disclosed that “Within the first six months of its inauguration, the ninth Senate has passed Six Bills into law, four of them members’ bills.”
The Senate President delighted that the National Assembly passed the Deep Off-shore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act CAP D3 LFN 2004 (Amendment Bill, 2019) which he noted had become absolutely to generate more revenues from our endowments.
“The signing of this law demonstrates what two institutions can achieve when they are guided in their actions by patriotism. This law will significantly increase accruals to the government from crude oil contracts.
“It has also ended our years of inexplicable failure to call in returns due to us from our joint venture partners. As a result of this law, we have expanded a critical revenue stream and ensured more funds will flow into the treasury that will enable the government to execute its budgets and critical developmental projects.”
Lawan was equally full of appreciation to his colleagues and the Presidency for the passing and signing of the Appropriation Bill, 2020 and the Finance Bill 2019.
“We passed the Finance Bill, 2019 on 21 November, 2019. The Bill amended seven (7) existing tax and fiscal policy laws (Companies Income Tax Act, 2004; Value Added Tax Act, 2007; Customs and Excise Tariff (Consolidation) Act, 2004; Personal Income Tax Act, 2007; Capital Gains Tax Act, 2007; Stamp Duties Act, 2007; and Petroleum Profit Tax Act, 2004) to reform Nigeria’s tax system for enhanced implementation and effectiveness.
“The Federal Government took the initiative to reform the tax system so as to create an enabling business environment and reduce the tax burden for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).” he added.
On the restoration of the January – December life cycle of the National, Lawan said “We also promptly passed the Appropriation Bill in line with our commitment to changing the current unhealthy and unpredictable budget cycle to a January to December fiscal calendar. This structural change and the prompt passage of the Appropriation Bill will give the government a full year to implement the budget.
“We believe this measure will enhance planning, implementation and monitoring of the budget by the relevant organs and agencies and significantly improve our annual budget performance.
“The three other bills that we have passed are the Public Procurement Act 2007 (Amendment) Bills, 2019; which we did to sanitise the public procurement process and curtail the incidence and influence of corruption.”
The Senate President said a total of 185 Bills have also gone through first reading in the ninth Senate, while 32 other Bills have passed second reading and are now undergoing the necessary further legislative processes at the relevant Senate Committees.
He hinted that the National Assembly would begin processing of the Petroleum Industry Bill after the Christmas and New year holiday.
“Some of the bills that will be accorded priority when we return from the Christmas and New Year break in January are the Petroleum Industry Bill, Electoral Reforms Amendment Bills and Amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
“The Petroleum Industry Bill was first introduced in the National Assembly in 2007 but is yet to be passed in its entirety. The National Assembly will this time around adopt a different approach to make the passage of the PIB a reality.
“We want to see a situation where the Legislature and the Executive work very closely to have a PIB that will attract investment into the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. We want to create an investment climate that will be competitive. We know some other countries have this product, therefore, we have to be competitive, we have to create an environment where the businesses make profit.
“The Electoral Reforms Amendment Bill is a priority because of the urgent need to improve our electoral processes and secure the democratic gains that we have made in the Fourth Republic. We want to pass the Bill well ahead of the next electoral cycle in 2023 and avoid the political heat and pitfalls that imperiled the efforts of the eight National Assembly which passed the same bill close to the last general elections.
“We are not oblivious of the interest and concerns some of these bills have generated from the public. But we must not forget that lawmaking is a rigorous process that allows for all sides of the argument to be heard and the true will of the people established before a bill becomes law.
“On behalf of my Distinguished colleagues, I pledge that we, as elected representatives of the people, will always ensure that the will of our people is pivotal in our legislative business. This Senate and indeed the ninth National Assembly will not pass any bill that is not in the national interest. Ours is and will remain a Senate that will always work for Nigerians,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the Bills being processed by the National Assembly to alter the 1999 Constitution to achieve various reforms in government is attracting comments from many stakeholders.
Specifically, some senior lawyers have been commenting on the ammendment Bill to grant financial autonomy to Local Government Areas (LGAs).
The upper legislative chamber is amending the nation’s Constitution to abrogate the existing and much criticised States and Local Government Joint Account and in its place, “each Local Government Council is to create and maintain its own special account to be called Local Government Allocation Account into which all allocations due to the Local Government Council shall be paid directly from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State”.
To that effect, a Bill for the alteration of the Constitution sponsored by Senator Rose Oko, (PDP, Cross Rivers State) has already been gazetted and made to pass the First Reading in the Senate.
In separate interviews, the lawyers had clarified that in the 1999 Constitution, as amended, State Governors lacked the power to distribute statutory allocations that accrued to LGCs in their state.
According to them, section 162 of the Constitution merely permitted the transfer of funds from the federation account to LGCs through the account of States, and not for governors to assume the responsibility of sharing such fund to the LGs.
A professor of law, Mr. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN), said however that there was need for the LGs to abide by accountability standards.
He said: “I don’t think any law states that Local Government fund must be passed through the State. But just passing money directly to Local Governments does not solve the fundamental issue of transparency, openness and accountability.
Similarly, Yunuz Uztaz (SAN), said: “Section 7(6) of the Constitution provides that it is the National Assembly that shall make provisions for statutory allocation to the Local Governments. There is no provision that their money’s should go through the State Governors”.
On his part, a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Mohammed Abeny (SAN), said: “The present Constitution is based on three tiers of government to wit; Federal, State and Local Governments.
“Allocation of revenue has followed that pattern. The fact that state governors have continued to divert local government financial allocations to their use, is an aberration that is contrary to section 7 of the constitution under which the financial autonomy of local government Councils is guaranteed.
Equally weighing-in on the matter, a former governorship aspirant in Ondo State, Chief Olusola Oke (SAN), said: “The constitution is very clear on the allocation of funds in the federation account. Section 162 of the 1999 constitution stipulated that funds that accrued to the government of the federation shall be allocated in a defined formula among the three tiers of government to wit: Federal, State and Local Governments. Even though it also provides that monies due to the LGs shall be paid through the State. The state is a mere passage through which that money goes to the LGs.”