Social media regulation, VAT increase, others dominate Senate discussions last week

Nigerian senate chambers where senators attend plenary
Nigerian senate chambers

Social media regulation, hate speech bill, Finance Bill and others dominated the headlines in the Senate last week

The move by the Senate to censor the internet continued to dominate the news that emanated from the Red Chamber. Apart from this, other issues were also discussed last week.

Below are some of these top stories.

Monday

In the previous legislative week, Aliyu Abdullahi (APC, Niger) reintroduced a bill that seeks to penalise hate speech “through death by hanging”.

On Monday he called a press conference to say he has been receiving threats for the bill he reintroduced. He said he is ready to push the bill through and would not back down.

Tuesday

Barely a week after the Senate introduced a bill seeking the establishment of the South West Development Commission, the North Central Development Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2019, sponsored by Mohammed Sani (APC, Niger East), was read for the first time. 

With the bill, it appears all the geopolitical zones of the country seek to have a commission of their own.

On the same day, Senate President Ahmed Lawan read out six bills that were transmitted to the House by President Muhammadu Buhari. He thereafter directed the clerk to gazette the bills and distribute them all senators.

READ ALSO: Nigerian govt considering new national tax policy to increase tax revenue

The bills include: Civil Aviation Bill, 2019; Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria Bill, 2019 and Nigerian College of Airspace Management Agency (Establishment) Bill, 2019; Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (Establishment) Bill, 2019; Nigerian Meteorological Agency (Establishment) Bill, 2019 and Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (Establishment) Bill, 2019.

Also, the ‘Whistleblower and Witness Protection Bill, 2019’, sponsored by Benjamin Uwajumogu (Imo North), was introduced. It seeks to protect whistleblowers against victimisation and loss of jobs.

In a bid to curb the proliferation of fake medical reports emanating from public hospitals in Nigeria, the Red Chamber asked the Federal Ministry of Health to set up an efficient and proper mechanism to identify and prevent ‘the dangerous trend’ in public hospitals. Uche Ekwunife (PDP, Anambra) sponsored the bill. 

The Finance Bill was also debated by senators.

The bill is targeted at reforming the tax regime by amending several provisions in the Petroleum Profit Tax Act (PPT), Customs and Excise Tax Act, Company Income Tax Act (CITA), Personal Income Tax Act, Value Added Tax Act, Stamp Duties Tax Act, and Capital Gains Act.

A public hearing was also convened to discuss the bill with stakeholders.

Wednesday

Concerned about the less attention paid to mental health in Nigeria, the Senate moved to establish the Commission For Mental Health. The bill, which passed second reading, seeks to establish a commission that would regulate issues of mental health and substance abuse services.

Earlier in the week, President Muhammadu Buhari accused past lawmakers of squandering over N1 trillion spent on constituency projects.

In defence of the lawmakers, the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, described the president’s comments as “erroneous”.

Also, during the day’s plenary, some key government agencies like the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Federal Capital Territory Administration were identified by the Senate Committee on Public Procurement to have failed to submit their audited accounts. 

Thursday

The Senate passed the Finance Bill on this day. The bill is to, among others, increase the value-added tax (VAT) from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent.

Also, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, at a press briefing, told journalists that the Senate cannot confirm the appointment of the acting Chairman of the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), because his name has not been sent by the president for confirmation.

In what seemed like the highpoint of the week, the bill to regulate the social media and curb fake news on the internet passed second reading. The bill was sponsored by Mohammed Musa (APC, Niger East).

On Friday, Nigerians on Twitter condemned the bill.


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