By JOSEPH ERUNKE
Senator David Mark had promised on his record re-election as Senate President promised that the Seventh Senate would enact remarkable legislations to forever change the course of Nigeria’s history. With three-quarters of its term gone, how far has Mark and his colleagues gone?
In his speech after his election as Senate President on June 5, 2011, Senator David Mark had promised that senators would be accountable.
“To you our constituents, you have sent us here to represent you. You are our bosses and we are simply your messengers. We will consult you on regular basis, we will brief you and we will seek your advice, guidance, and direction from time to time. We are here to serve you.”
He harped on the need for the National Assembly to key into the vision of President Jonathan on his transformation agenda but reiterated that for that to happen, the country’s budgeting system needs a radical overhaul.
“There is a need for collaboration between the Executive and National Assembly to ensure that Nigerians get a budget that can be effectively implemented. Nigerians complain that our democracy is too expensive. “Our target is that hopefully, this session of the National Assembly shall set a historic record by passing very critical legislations that would propel Nigeria to the 20 most advanced economies.”
Not quite long after the speech, the Senate took one major step by setting up an Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the activities of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, from 1999 till date. That singular probe heralded other probes in the Seventh Senate.
That probe followed a motion by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Ahmed Lawan, APC, Yobe North. In the motion, he demanded answers on how the privatization exercise was being run.
Four months after, the Lawan-led committee submitted its report to the Senate demanding the sack of the BPE Director General, Ms. Bolanle Onagoruwa, after finding her “grossly inefficient in her assignments.”
Series of probes subsequently came up, chief among which was the contentious fuel subsidy scheme by the federal government.
The probe of the fuel subsidy scheme came following a motion by Senator Bukola Saraki, Kwara Central, calling for the investigation of the fuel subsidy management and the challenges it posed to the implementation of the 2011 budget.
In his motion, Saraki noted that the NNPC and the oil ministry breached the 2011 Appropriation Act by spending N931 billion on fuel subsidy between January and August 2011 with fears that the illegal spending could increase to N1 trillion before December 31, 2011.
By the time the Senate debated the motion, the oil subsidy had climbed to a hefty N1.3 trillion; N1 trillion more than the N240 billion approved for the scheme for the fiscal year.
Although Saraki did not state any constitutional breach in the motion on notice, it was clear that the extra-budgetary spending is in contravention of section 80 of the 1999 Constitution. Besides, the spending is unknown to the National Assembly which has been empowered by the 1999 Constitution to approve any spending by the executive.
Section 80 and 81 (4) specifically states that all revenues accruing to the Federation must be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation from where it is shared by all tiers of government.
In the last three years, the Senate was able to introduce over 250 bills with several others in various stages of legislative consideration.
The third legislative year appeared to be the most challenging year for the Senate, following the defection of some senators and threat of change of its leadership which pitched senators against one another, based on party lines.
The moves were strategically handled by the Senate President who prevailed on the senators to wait for the outcome of the court since the matter was pending in court.
Having ended its third legislative year on 5th June, the Seventh Senate has proceeded on a two-week break with a view to resuming for the fourth and last legislative session on June 24, 2014.
But as it is awaiting resumption, some bills are waiting for treatments. These include the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB. The PIB, since its introduction in 2008 into the National Assembly by President Umaru Yar’Adua, has remained controversial. The bill has, however, not gone far as it has largely met stiff resistance from vested interests.
Although it has passed second reading and is now at committee level, the prospects of it not progressing beyond that stage are very high despite continuous government lobbying.
Currently the bill has scaled second reading at the Senate. Before now, the bill had led to division of the National Assembly along North/ South divide.
There was the regional fear that given his geopolitical affiliation, the Senate President would align with his brothers in the North to frustrate the bill, seen in some quarters as anti-North. So far, Senator Mark has proved to be a core nationalist. He has demonstrated a strong belief in the unity of Nigeria.
The task before David Mark’s Senate is therefore to use the current constitution amendment to strengthen local government institution to really take democracy and development to the grass-roots.
It is argued in some quarters that an act of quiet blackmail by Senator Enang may have forced the Northern Senators to again allow the bill to progress.
Enang had at a Senate session alleged that more than 75% of oil blocks in the Niger Delta were owned by northerners suggesting that there should be a total revocation of existing oil blocks for onward re-allocation for equity in the oil industry.
Another controversial bill awaiting treatment as the Senate resumes for its fourth session, is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alterations) Bills 2013
Although, the provision for state creation which was seen as the most contentious has been set aside by the Constitution Review Committee other contentious areas are still conspicuous. They include local government autonomy, abrogation of state/local government joint account, six-year single term for president and governors, the clause barring vice-president and deputy governors from seeking election to succeed their bosses are among other numerous clauses awaiting consideration.