BY JOSEPH ERUNKE
Until the advent of the Mark Senate in 2007, the Senate had largely been seen as a body in perpetual crises given the undue influence of the executive in its affairs. Now with a leadership largely seen as independent of the executive arm, the legislative body has an opportunity to make its marks
The first half of the life of the seventh senate was an opportunity for self discovery for a legislative body that had largely been defined by internal and external crises.
Though the sixth senate that had the same leadership in the persons of Senator David Mark and Ike Ekweremadu was largely removed from the crises that beclouded the preceding senates, it was, nevertheless, confronted with the monumental crisis that arose from the sickness of President Umaru Yar‘adua.
That senate rose to make a name for itself when Senator Mark proposed the Doctrine of Necessity to salvage a nation that was perched on the margins of an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
Indeed, the return of Mark and Ekweremadu to the leadership was devoid of the tension and intrigues that preceded the 2007 leadership election when the duo was almost sabotaged at the last minute by a last minute rebellion instigated by Senator George Akume and a number of former governors that had just entered the senate then.
Remarkably as the leadership contest got near in 2011, the tension was taken from Mark and Ekweremadu to Akume following insinuations that Mark and his crowd were set to make a payback to Akume who had defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN on whose ticket he returned to the senate. Surprisingly or maybe being the deft political tactician he is, Mark drew back from battle and allowed Akume’s nomination as minority leader to scale through.
So, Mark and his one time great friend turned domestic foe agreed to a détente that set the stage for Akume to lead the opposition in the senate dominated by Mark’s Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Following the inauguration of the National Assembly on June 4, 2011 Mark had pledged to lead the Senate to confront headlong, issues that had hindered the country’s development in all spheres.
The first area of interest to him, he said, would be the nation’s budgeting system as he pledged to work to decrease the country’s high cost of governance.
In the first year the senate was able to receive a total of 178 bills out of which 127 bills passed first reading according to Senator Ita Enang, chairman Senate Committee on Rules and Business.
In the second year, the Senate resumed with a full determination to consolidate on its achievements. As it settled for business, the challenge of creating more states, ensuring fiscal federalism, state police, immunity for executive positions and a host of other nationally germane issues came up in its bid to amend the country’s constitution.
As constitutionally required, it conducted zonal public hearings and collated opinion from stakeholders from the various geo-political zones of the country. The Senator Ekweremadu led committee that was saddled with the responsibility of amending the constitution submitted its report last Tuesday and extensive deliberation on it is being awaited.
Among the bills that stirred controversies in the 7th Senate in the last two years is the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which has torn senators apart based on regional sentiments due to the provision of a 10 percent derivation fund for petroleum producing communities. Although, the bill has scaled through second reading, there are fears that it is not yet over, following renewed calls in some quarters, especially in the North, that legislators of the zone should not support the bill to be passed.
The State of the Nation Address Bill which seeks to mandate the president of the country to stand before the joint session of the National Assembly in every second legislative week in July to present his yearly scorecard, the Same Sex Bill, Corporate Manslaughter Bill and the National Health Bill were among the bills that received enthusiastic support in the 7th Senate.
The superiority contest between the legislature and the executive arms of government which almost evaporated with the appointment of Senator Joy Emodi as Special Adviser to the president on National Assembly appeared to return in 2013 after the delayed assent of the 2013 Appropriation Bill.
While the National Assembly altered the amount presented to it, the executive claimed the legislature overstepped its bounds. This development delayed the president’s assent to the budget until late February. However, relations continued to be managed especially on account of the goodwill of Senator Emodi across both arms of government.
Senators, nevertheless remain bothered that their many resolutions arising from well-debated motions are not getting the appropriate treatment from the executive arm.
This is essentially because of the perception by some senior presidency officials that resolutions emanating from the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly are advisory and do not have the force of law.
Besides the budget face off, the relationship between the two arms was also troubled by two different resolutions demanding the sack of two executive office holders. The second and even more recent was Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina who the Senate insisted should be sacked as Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT.
Although, the president was stiff in adhering to the demands of the Senate, he nevertheless, unbent following the unwavering posture of the Senate on the two issues. Both personalities eventually received the boot.