ANALYSIS: How Ninth Senate fared in 2019

Senate in Plenary
Senate in Plenary

The ninth Senate was inaugurated six months ago and many members of the chambers took their oath offices then.

This was after President Muhammadu Buhari issued a proclamation letter about two weeks after he was sworn in for a second term.

The letter proclaimed the termination of the eighth assembly as well as commencement of the ninth.

Lawmakers, thereafter, elected leaders for both chambers. They elected Ahmad Lawan as Senate President and Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Upon resumption, the Lawan-led Senate has, on many occasions, assured Nigerians that the legislative arm will work for the good of Nigerians.

While many have commended some legislations of the ninth Senate, other actions of the lawmakers have been criticised with many Nigerians tagging the Senate and its leadership as a rubber stamp.

In this analysis, PREMIUM TIMES reviews some of the highs and lows of the ninth Senate so far.

HIGHS

1. Cordial relationship with the Executive

One striking feature about the new assembly is the new found love that exists between it and the executive. It is as though both are parties are willing to do anything to make the other comfortable.

Past assemblies, especially the eighth Senate, had sour relationships with the executive. Many setbacks suffered by the eighth Senate was largely as a result of lack of understanding between both arms of government.

Being one of his campaign promises, Mr Lawan has, so far, managed to maintain that good relationship with the executive.

2. Speedy budget passage

This is probably the biggest achievement of the ninth Senate and the entire National Assembly in 2019.

Delays in passage of national budget had been a major failure for previous assemblies as it usually takes not less than three or four months to pass it.

This was not different in the eight Senate. In 2016, President Buhari presented the budget on December 22 but it was not passed until March 23, 2017.

The 2018 budget was presented on December 14, 2017 and passed on March 11 of the next year. The 2019 budget was passed on April 30 after it was first presented to the National Assembly in December 19, 2018.

The National Assembly had blamed delayed budget passage on late presentation, failure of MDAs to appear before committees, oversight functions, among others.

But this time, the 2020 budget was presented on October 8 and passed on December 8.

This time also, all MDAs were present to defend their budgets – this is not unrelated to the president’s instruction asking representatives of MDAs to remain in the country until after their budget defence.

This is also not unrelated to the new found ‘understanding’ between the executive and the legislative arms of government.

3. ‘Prompt’ attention to crucial bills

One other characteristic of the ninth Senate is the prompt attention as well as speedy passage of bills that are deemed important.

Some of these bills are the Appropriation Bill, which was passed within two months, the Finance Bill, which was quickly attended to even though lawmakers did not have copies of the bill at the stage of second reading; the Deep Offshore and the Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act and the Public Procurement Act.

Other actions speedily addressed include the confirmation of nominees sent by the president. Some of them are the nominees for the board of Niger Delta Development Commission, Asset Management Coporation of Nigeria, INEC RECs, NAHCON, Chief Judge of Federal High Court, among others.

LOWS

1. Budget padding

As it has been with previous assemblies, the ninth Senate is no different in this regards.

The ninth Senate has been found guilty of inserting extra costs into the 2020 budget – most of which are hidden under dubious implementation of projects.

Members of the National Assembly had on December 8, passed the 2020 budget of N10.6 trillion against the N10.3 trillion presented by the president – a difference of about N264 billion.

PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the budget was padded with the Federal Capital Territory Administration and Universal Basic Education Commission getting the biggest chunk of the increments.

Surprisingly, President Buhari, known for strict attention to transparency, signed the budget without raising the issue of additional costs in the budget.

In 2016, the parliament was accused of padding the budget with about N481 billion. Also, Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo in 2017, delayed signing of the budget because of the removal of priority projects and introduction of new projects by lawmakers.

In 2018, Mr Buhari accused the lawmakers introducing non-essential projects in the budget.

He said the lawmakers introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion. Similarly, before signing the 2019 budget, the President said the addition of about N90 billion to the N8.83 trillion he submitted to the legislature would make it difficult for the government to realise its set objectives.

The president’s decision to sign 2020 budget without raising alarm is again, not unrelated to the new found love between the two arms.

2. Non-transparency of budget

Even though N128 billion has been allocated to the National Assembly, details and releases of line items remain unknown weeks after the budget has been passed and signed.

Many Nigerians and civic groups have urged the legislature to make public its budget with details of specific funding for each budgeted item.

3. Checks, Balances

Despite the cordial relationships that exists between the two, the ninth Senate has failed to check most of the actions of the executive, especially that of impunity.

One of such instance was the president’s decision to disobey the rule of law by ignoring court orders in the case of activists, Omoyele Sowore.

Mr Sowore was arrested alongside an activist, Olawale Bakare, on August 3 by the State Security Service for planning a protest to call for revolution. They were charged with treasonable felony, fraud and ‘abusing’ the president.

The court had granted the duo bail twice, but the SSS, which reports directly to the president, failed to obey the court orders and instead kept them illegally in detention.

Barely 24 hours after they were released, armed officials went into the court premises to violently apprehend the duo, the first time in the nation’s history.

This time, both the Senate and the presidency kept mum on the matter. The Senate only reacted six days later by asking its committee on Judiciary “to investigate the matter”.

Another instance is failure of the Senate to question the $29 billion loan request of the president – a loan which he said is to execute key infrastructural projects across the country between 2016 and 2018.

Even though the same request was rejected by the previous Senate, the Senate President has said the ninth Senate will approve the request.

A former lawmaker, Shehu Sani, had also explained that the eighth Senate rejected the President’s loan request “to save Nigeria from sinking into the dark gully of a perpetual debt trap.”

But the Senate, currently filled with loyalists of the president, has already begun considering the loan request.

4. Lateness

What was a norm in the previous Senate, has continued in this Senate.

Since its inauguration, members of the upper chamber have portrayed lateness to seesions and disorderliness with all the principal officers culpable.

A report by this paper in 2017 showed how this menace characterised the previous Senate. Also, the former chief whip, Olusola Adeyeye, who spoke at the valecdictory session to mark the end of the eight Senate, had, among other things, urged members of the ninth Senate to curb the habit of resuming plenary late.

By interpretation of the standing order, plenary is supposed to start at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. But never have the lawmakers complied with this rule.

As a matter of fact, the first session on June 13, commenced at 10:35 a.m. – this was 14 minutes after the Senate President walked into the chamber.

Subsequent plenary sessions have been delayed by at least 20 minutes or even an hour.


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