By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor
IN the next two months, the eighth Senate that was inaugurated on June 9, 2015 will dissolve to pave the way for the ninth Senate.
But as the Senate prepares to leave office, it has passed more than 300 bills.
This is record breaking when the bills are placed side-by-side with those passed by other Senates since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic governance.
The fifth Senate, for instance, passed 129 bills while the sixth did 72 and the seventh 128.
Expectedly not all the 300 bills passed by the eighth Senate and received the concurrence of the House of Representatives have become Acts of parliament because President Muhammadu Buhari refused to assent to some of them.
Significantly, as of last week, the number of the bills rejected by Buhari since 2015 stood at 34.
More may still be returned as some bills are still pending at the Presidency.
Meanwhile, many of the rejected bills are believed to be germane to the growth and development of Nigeria.
One of such bills is the Electoral Amendment Bill that was rejected four times, the last reason being that if signed into law, it was going to be injurious to the recently concluded general elections.
According to the President, some of the proposed amendments may adversely affect the operation of elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He also said the bill had the unintended consequence of leaving INEC with only nine days to collate and compile lists of candidates and political parties as well as manage the primaries of the 91 political parties for the various elections.
One of the other bills passed by the outgoing Senate and received House concurrence, and seeking to amend the Constitution, was for an annual State of the Nation Address by the President.
But Buhari said Section 7 of the bill might need to be redrafted to clearly indicate that it is Section 109 (1) (e) of the Constitution that was being amended.
“Also, there are existing laws that cater for legislative Service Commissions. Finally, prescribing a specific date in the 1999 Constitution for an annual State of the Nation Address may create practical challenges in diarizing this event”, he said.
Giving the reason for rejecting another constitutional amendment bill, the President said some of the functions proposed to be undertaken by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps were already the responsibilities of some agencies of government.
He also declined assent to the Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Amendment Bill.
According to Buhari, he took the action to enable ongoing consultations by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment with relevant agencies on tax holidays incentive regime for expansion projects, investments in rural areas as well as for agriculture/agro-processing to be included.
Rejecting the Immigration Bill, the President said he did so because it will have adverse effect on Nigeria’s position on the Ease of Doing Business ranking, just as he said that the Chartered Institute of Pension Practitioners Bill amounted to the duplication of the functions of an existing body.
According to Buhari, he rejected the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (Amendment) Bill because the bill will interfere with and obstruct the smooth administration of revenue generating agencies of the Federal Government aside other infractions on extant laws.
He added that if signed into law, the bill will confer the powers of oversight of the revenue currently vested in the President and the Minister of Finance on the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission and negate the existing provisions of Section 51 of the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
For the Maritime Security Operations Bill, the President said that he refused assent because the proposed amendments will distort and duplicate the functions and operations of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
He urged the Senate to focus on passing the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Bill before the National Assembly to achieve a more comprehensive review of operations in the maritime sector, within the objective of realigning its agencies for more efficient service delivery and focus on the security of the country’s maritime frontiers.
While he cited drafting errors as reason for refusal of assent to Bankruptcy and Insolvency Bill, the President kicked against the move to weaken his power in the approval and removal of the Governing Council members of Federal Polytechnics as envisioned in the rejected bill.
On the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency Bill 2018, Buhari declined assent because, “Section 32 of the bill introduces (i) 2.5% levy on the profit before tax of the target companies which will increase the tax burdens of the companies while offering no direct benefit to them; (11)a 1 % levy on imports which will also add to the cost of doing business in the country (111) a 5% Ievy on luxury goods which duplicates efforts by the Fed rat Ministry of Finance to raise excise on such goods in a more sustainable manner to the benefit of the Federal Government treasury
“The Agency will have similar objectives to the Bank of Industry particularly with regard to the funding of Small and Medium Enterprises. Accordingly, it is important to streamline its function to avoid a duplication or overlap of functions with other government institutions performing similar functions; and the Bill has the likelihood of increasing public recurrent expenditure by the proposed creation of new public sector bodies.”
On the rejected Energy Commission (Amendment) Bill, Buhari said its provisions infringe on the Rural Electrification Agency’s power and mandates with particular reference to the promotion and development of un-served and under-served rural communities across Nigeria.
He however transmitted to the federal lawmakers an executive bill titled: Transmission of the Food Safety and Quality Bill 2018, for consideration and passage.
The President said he refused to sign the Federal Roads Authority (Establishment) Bill into law because it would make the entire technical supervisory ministry, the Transportation Ministry, redundant.
Giving reasons for declining assent to the bill, Buhari, in a letter dated December 12, 2018, said: “ The establishment of the road sector regulator as a separate and distinctive body in Part 6 of the bill is capable of rendering the entire technical workforce of the supervisory ministry redundant.
“The supervisory power of the ministry over the road sector would be taken over by the road sector regulator and will leave the ministry without the power to exercise its supervisory role.
“I feel the ministry would have little or no desirable role to play in the road sector having regard to the fact that ownership and management of roads would be vested in the road sector regulator such that the supervisory powers would be exercise by it, leaving the ministry without any clear statutory function.”
In another letter, Buhari, while giving reasons for his refusal to sign the Transport Commission Bills, said, “I am declining assent because, one, safety regulatory provisions enshrined in some sections of the bill, which are technical in nature, fall within the purview of central legislations implemented by agencies like NIMASA, NPA, NIWA and therefore should be expunged from the bill.
“Two, the percentage of the amount to be retained by the agency from royalties collected under Section 19 (2)(d) should be reduced from 10 to five per cent. Section 12 (9)(2)(d) stipulates that a portion of the proceeds from royalties collected by the authority empowered to collect royalties from transport service providers should not exceed 10 per cent which is collected by service providers and concessionaires.
“Three, Section 19 (2)(f), which stipulates charge of three per cent freight tariff stabilisation fee on all imports due and exports out of Nigeria including wet and dry cargoes, should be amended and reduced from three per cent to one per cent as this is what is currently contained in the Nigerian Shippers Council legislation.”
The eighth Senate under Saraki has also worked to grow the economy by passing bills like the Companies and Allied Matters Act; the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act; the Credit Bureau Reporting Act and the Warehouse Receipts Bill; Nigerian Railways Authority Bill; National Transportation Commission Bill.
The Senate also passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill; the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill; the Witness Protection Bill; the Whistleblower Protection Bill and the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill “to support the fight against corruption”.
It broke the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, jinx, by passing the Governance Component and conducted public hearing on the Administrative, Fiscal and Host Community Components of this bill — taking it to its farthest stage since 1999.
Also of note is the passage of the constitutional amendment bills like the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ Bill, the Financial Autonomy for Local Government Bill, Financial Autonomy for Houses of Assembly Bill, among others, aimed at improving governance.
Latest rejected bills
The latest of the bills passed by the Senate but rejected by Buhari are the Ajaokuta Steel Company Completion Fund Bill, the controversial National Housing Fund Bill and five others.
Also rejected are the Nigerian Aeronautical Search and Rescue Bill, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency Bill, National Biotechnology Development Agency Bill, National Institute of Credit Administration Bill, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria Bill as well as the Chartered Institute of Training and Development of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill.
Significantly, the rejection of the Ajaokuta Steel Company Completion Fund Bill has expectedly sent tongues wagging as to whether the project will ever be completed.
Established through decree No. 60 on September 18, 1979, Ajaokuta Steel Company was conceived and steadily developed with the vision of erecting a metallurgical process plant cum engineering complex with other auxiliaries and facilities. The complex is meant to be used to generate important upstream and downstream industrial and economic activities that are critical to the diversification of Nigeria’s economy into an industrial one. Ajaokuta steel plant is therefore aptly tagged as the bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialization.
The project was embarked upon as a strategic industry, a job creator and a foreign exchange saver and earner. It was envisaged that the project would generate a myriad of socio-economic benefits and increase the productive capacity of the nation through its linkages to other industrial sectors. It would provide materials for infrastructural development, technology acquisition, human capacity building, income distribution, regional development and employment generation. While the project was expected to directly employ about 10,000 staff at the first phase of commissioning, the upstream and downstream industries that were to evolve all over the nation thereafter were to engage not less than 500,000 employees.
Ajaokuta Steel, according to an analyst, Abah Adah, is unarguably the largest integrated steel complex in the sub-Saharan Africa.
“Yet, Nigeria has been unable to take the lead in steel production in Africa even in her illusory claim of being the giant of the continent”, he said.
“South Africa and Egypt produced 6.1 and 5.0 million tons of steel respectively in 2016 based on data provided by the World Steel Association (WSA). While South Africa is the 22nd on the list of countries by steel production, Egypt is the 27th. Nigeria did not make the list because only countries with annual production of crude steel of at least 2 million metric tons were included. China, the world’s largest steel producer, topped the chart with a production of 808.4 million metric tons which represents about 50 per cent of the global steel output for 2016. Japan and India produced 104.8 and 95.6 million metric tons of crude steel to maintain the 2nd and 3rd position on the list respectively.
“China and India fall in the category of Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs). They were nowhere in terms of steel production in the 19th century and at the start of the 20th century. But they worked hard to advance their steel industries and today they have overtaken even the G8 (forum for the world’s major highly industrialised countries) members like US, Britain and Germany that were hitherto leading the pack in the manufacture of steel”.
The plant by 1994 was reckoned to be at 98 per cent completion in terms of equipment erected. Some completed units of the plant operated at different times but had to shut down due to non-availability of fund.
With the return to democratic rule in 1999 after a military interregnum, the hope was that the people’s government would surmount the challenges of corruption, lack of political will, international conspiracy and policy summersaults/inconsistencies, among others, that have continued to hamper the completion of the project capable of changing Nigeria’s status from underdeveloped. But nothing significant happened.
It took the coming of Buhari in 2015 and the announcement of plans to diversify Nigeria’s oil based economy by prioritising the development of key sectors, which include agriculture, mines and steel, to rekindle hope in the Ajaokuta project.
Then the intervention of the Senate which passed the Ajaokuta Steel Company Completion Fund Bill to make available $1 billion from the Federal Government’s share of Excess Crude revenue for the immediate completion of the project.
The Senate resolution followed the adoption of the bill for concurrence by Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan.
On March 28, 2018, the House of Representatives had approved a similar report of a bill seeking to establish a fund for the completion of the Ajaokuta Steel Company.
The report was considered and approved in the Committee of the Whole, making a clear provision that the Federal Government should complete the plant as against then-plan to concession it.
In the letter rejecting the Ajaokuta Company Completion Fund Bill, Buhari explained that appropriating $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account for funding the project as stipulated in the bill was not the best strategic option for Nigeria at this time of budgetary constraints.
He stressed that Nigeria could not afford to commit such an amount in the midst of competing priorities with long term social and economic impact that the funds can be attentively deployed towards.
Worried by the large turnover of rejected bills, the Senate had, in 2018, set up a Technical Committee on Declined Assent to Bills, chaired by Senator David Umaru, APC, Niger East, to look into the development.
Although the Technical Committee laid its report in December last year, the report is yet to be considered.