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Senate: Strong, sour times

Despite the controversies that have shadowed the Senator Bukola Saraki led Senate, it has in its way tried to imprint its legacies in the sand of time.

By Henry Umoru and Joseph Erunke

The controversies that trailed the Senate leadership contest on June 9, 2015, blew the alarm of a raucous time ahead for the Bukola Saraki led leadership.

However, no one ever expected the extent to which the Senate would go, or the integrity of the Senate would be battered in the year ahead.

Saraki had been elected as president of the Senate against the inclination of the top hierarchy of the All Progressives Congress, APC, which became the first party in the history of the Fourth Republic to displace the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the majority party in the Senate.

Even more problematic for the institution of the Senate was the unprecedented fact that while the APC had the majority, that the PDP by the act of grit was able to produce the Deputy President of the Senate in the person of Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

 Signal of crisis

Ministerial screening6 The unlikely projection of Saraki and Ekweremadu as presiding officers of the Senate was the first signal of crisis which erupted in the Senate in the early days with two groups, the Senate Unity Forum and the Likeminds dividing the legislative chamber.

Senators supportive of Senator Ahmad Lawan, who was Saraki’s rival in the leadership contest, not long after the inauguration dragged the duo of Saraki and Ekweremadu to the police alleging the forgery of the Senate Standing Rules with which the election of the presiding officers was conducted.

Inconclusive petition: That petition has remained inconclusive with the police dithering over what to do.

As these challenges were confronting the Red Chamber, Saraki, in order not to allow the development wane his leadership dream for the legislature, quickly inaugurated an 18-member committee to draft a legislative agenda for the 8th Senate. Saraki said this was to set a benchmark for the performance of 8th Senate.

Saraki’s emergence: Besides the crisis arising from his emergence, another one that seemed to test his loyalty to his party, the APC, came not long after. Given the circumstance around his emergence as Senate President, many were eager to see how he would dance when President Muhammadu Buhari forwarded his list of ministers for Senate approval.

Indeed, many were surprised when Senator Saraki defied his supporters in the PDP when he ruled against the PDP senators’ insistence on truncating the nomination of former Governor Rotimi Amaechi.

Saraki’s action led to the walkout of the PDP senators. The walkout by the PDP senators also tested the wits of Senator Ekweremadu, who in deference to his position as a presiding officer opted not to join his party members in walking out.

Senate Committees: The next crunch for the Senate President was the constitution of Senate Committees.

The development again, brought bad blood in the chamber, as senators who had never hidden their dislike for Saraki’s emergence accused him of favouring opposition senators with juicy committees to the detriment of senators of the majority party, the APC.

Senator Kabir Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central, who speaks for the Unity Forum, indeed accused the Senate President of favouring the opposition to the detriment of his party.

Saraki’s trial: Unarguably, the most revealing point in the Senate in the year under review was the arraignment of the Senate President before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on accounts of false declaration of assets and alleged acts of corruption.

Saraki sought severally to quash the charges or stop his arraignment, but his appeals alleging bias on the part of the Code of Conduct Bureau and the tribunal at the courts were defeated leading to the unprecedented arraignment of the country’s number three man at the CCT. It was the first time in the history of the country that the country’s number three citizen would be arraigned in court. The arraignment was inevitably traced to politics as it was alleged that it was a fallout from the leadership contest.

Public sympathy: Whatever sympathy that Saraki got from the public was to some extent suppressed by the nature of the charges that were brought against him by the prosecution which alleged several allegations against the Senate President including non-declaration of assets and that he continued to collect his salary as governor even after he left office.

The trial of the Senate President led several times to the abandonment of sittings as his supporters including Ekweremadu followed him to the court in solidarity.

However, public agitation against the closure of the Senate on the trial days forced Ekweremadu to stop the practice.

Another entanglement for the Saraki leadership was the uproar that arose from the procurement of vehicles for the Senate President and senators. The purchase of the Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles at N36.5 million each was lampooned by Nigerians including organised labour who saw the Senate as insensitive to the public mood.

The issues against Saraki, however, did not stop the legislative body from performing its legislative functions.

Legislative functions

In all, a total of 167 bills have passed first reading, 39 are in their second reading stage while six are in third reading.

Also, the Red Chamber, within the period, reviewed 54 laws affecting the conducive business environment in the country just as a total of 162 motions were considered.

New PIB: One of the bills is the new version of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which removes the strategic Host Community Development Fund as proposed in the botched PIB.

The proposed industry-wide regulatory framework titled Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIGB was prepared by the two chambers of the National Assembly. The removal of the Host Community Development Fund as envisaged in the original PIB is, however, set to reawaken ethnic and geopolitical fractures in the country given the immense support for the proposal in the country’s oil-producing regions in the Niger Delta.

Other controversial bills were the Frivolous Petitions Bill, otherwise known as anti-social media bill, Amendment to Code of Conduct Bureau Acts and Amendment to the Code of Conduct Tribunal Acts. The bills were greeted with condemnation from the Nigerian public while a bill like the Sexual Offences Bill, got the nod of the public.

Another bill that sparked off controversy and never saw the light of the day was the Gender Equality Bill, sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi, PDP, Ekiti South. As known, the bill had sought equality for both men and women in all dealings, but the majority of the senators, mostly from the Northern part of the country rose against its passage.

The Senate in the period under review considered 125 petitions and has so far concluded deliberations on 32 while 82 are still under consideration.

In line with its legislative agenda to expose inefficiencies in the system, the Senate in the course of the eventful year also exposed a N447bn fraud from tax waivers in the last administration.

Electricity tariff issue

The Senate also disclosed that four companies were yet to remit N23.603 billion to the Federal Government.

To address the serious crime of kidnapping, the Senate also adopted a report earlier in the year, recommending the death penalty for offenders.

The Senate has also, from the beginning of the year in review, led efforts to restore peace in North-east through top-level visits by its leaders to the region.

Within the period under review, the Senate also went on the promotion of Made in Nigeria Goods by Senators led by  Saraki just as it proposed a Transparency and Anti-corruption Commission, and is considering a bill to establish a Northeast Commission to rebuild the North East.

The current Senate has intervened on the electricity tariff issue, and their efforts led to the abolition of the fixed charges.  Last week, the Senate held a well-attended public hearing on the recent increase in the same tariff, and it will soon announce the result of the investigation.

As the Red Chamber begins another legislative journey from June 10, so many challenges await it.

But whether these odious tasks would be tackled under the leadership of Saraki, whose fate lies in the hands of the judiciary is what no one can foretell.


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