BY HENRY UMORU
THE Senate on Thursday December 21, 2012 closed for the Christmas and New Year celebrations to enable the lawmakers rest, visit their constituents and brainstorm with them.
Prior to the vacation, Year 2012 began for the Senate with the January 1 fuel hike ‘gift ‘to Nigerians from President Goodluck Jonathan.
For 14 days running in January 2012, there was a general strike in Nigeria against an over 120 per cent increase in fuel price from N65 to well above N142 per litre. It was the biggest and the most widespread general strike and mass protest in Nigerian history.
Senate cuts vacation
The Senate then was forced to cut short its vacation and resumed a week earlier than the resumption date. The leadership of the Senate headed by Senator David Mark undertook a mediatory role to see how to mitigate the situation that threatened the very root of the existence of the current democracy in the country.
With tact the leadership of the Senate got the Federal Government on one hand and the organised labour on the other hand to come to a compromise on the matter and get the country back on course once again. The strike was suspended with a partial reinstatement of fuel subsidy and reduction of fuel price to N97. This was after a series of meetings both day and nocturnal with the Federal Government and Organised Labour.
The fuel brouhaha over, the Senate, again, began the process of amending the 1999 Constitution with Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu West) as the chairman. The Committee organised a public hearing in Abuja and zonal public hearings in the six geo-political zones of the country. Issues of state creation, autonomy for local governments, reducing the powers of the Federal Government by empowering the states with yet additional functions, constitutional role for tradition rulers, among others dominated the discourse.
The upper chamber also contended with the unending issue of probe of the controversial Pension funds by the Senator Aloysius Etok, PDP; Akwa Ibom led Joint Senate Committee on Establishment, Public Service and Local Governments with the Chairman of Pension Taskforce, Abdulrasheed Maina becoming untouchable as well as counter-accusations from both the Committee and Maina’s side.
Weeks after the adoption of the report by the Senate and calling for the arrest of Maina, the story was still the same and the anti-climax of the unfolding scenario was Maina’s refusal to appear before the Committee despite the warrant of arrest issued by Senate President David Mark that he should be brought to the National Assembly by the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar.
The Senate and the Executive clashed on budget implementation with the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming almost an everyday visitor to the National Assembly. In fact, it was like warfare as the National Assembly disagreed with the implantation level of the 2012 budget.
There was also the rift between the Senate and the Executive on the attack on the lawmakers by President Goodluck Jonathan’s men especially on implementation of resolutions by the President. When Jonathan’s men like Doyin Okupe, Minister of Information, Labaran Maku and the Political Adviser, Ahmed Gulak, made some unpalatable statements against the Senate, President Jonathan was then asked to caution and call his men to order. Maku was invited to the Senate, he however showed remorse, and it became a case of ‘go and sin no more.’
The Senate for the first time in recent years passed the budget before the end of the year following its early presentation to the National Assembly. The feat was accomplished through the goodwill in the chamber of the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi who put into play her political experience as a former senator to push the appropriation bill through the Senate.
Also adopting the report presented by Senator Mohammed Magoro (PDP, Kebbi South) Joint Committee on National Security and Intelligence; Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters and Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, the Senate passed the Bill for Terrorism Act, 2011 and other related Matters as amended as part of moves to nip in the bud the present security challenges in the country.
With the passage by the Senate, it was expected that President Goodluck Jonathan would sign it into law against the backdrop that the House of Representatives had earlier passed the Bill.
Oppose introduction of N5000 bill
As the people’s representatives, the Senate during the year stopped proposed plans of Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi Lamido to introduce a N5,000 note. Following the outcry of the people the lawmakers intervened and stopped it
Vehicle plate, drivers’ licence
The Senate following the report of the Senator Dahiru Kuta, PDP, Niger East-led committeeFederal Character, slashed prices for new drivers’ licences and vehicle number plates issued by the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, from N6,000 and N15,000 to N4,000 and N8,400 respectively.
Air fare disparity
Also during the year under review, the Senate directed the Senator Hope Uzodinma, PDP, Imo West-led Committee on Aviation to look at airfare disparity and unholy acts of foreign Airlines following complaints from Nigerians.
The report was presented, but stepped down because it failed to address the terms of reference that had to do with disparity in air fares charged by foreign airlines. The lawmakers also rejected one of the recommendations that Arik Air be granted National Flag Carrier status. The Committee went beyond its scope; it is an issue for another session as the Senate resumes next year.
Following President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry by removing fuel subsidy, it became imperative to reform the oil sector hence the reintroduction of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB to the Senate.
At the moment, Northern senators are not comfortable with the passage against the backdrop that their perception that the South-South will benefit more if passed. This issue awaits the Senators as they resume in 2013 where very stormy sessions will be expected, a fight between Northern Senators and Southern Senators.
During the year, the Chairman, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, Dr. Christopher Kolade came under serious attack by the Joint National Assembly Committee on Petroleum Downstream during the budget defence; it was a hot seat for him.
The Senate in 2012 also expected report from the Senator Magnus Abe led Committee on Petroleum Downstream which investigated the management of oil subsidy funds, the expectation is rife especially as the House of Representatives had come up with its own; it is hoped that come 2013, the report which has been laid will be discussed and adopted.
The State of the Nation address by the President also came up and passed with threats that if not signed into law, the President would be forced to do that by the Senate exercising its veto power.
It is hoped that as the Senators return from the holiday and resume on January 19, 2013, these unresolved and unfinished agenda would be thrashed in the interest of Nigerians, even as Nigerians expect a more vibrant Senate especially from the opposition political parties even though the lawmakers have in the Seventh Senate adopted ‘one family’ slogan to place Nigeria above other issues.