OrderPaperToday – The 9th Senate has set the ball rolling in its six months of existence with the consideration of several notable bills and motions.
Although only a few bills have been passed such as the 2020 budget, Production Sharing Contract (Amendment) and Finance bills; the Senate is actively considering several bills, including the controversial Social Media and Hate Speech bills which have attracted criticism with many alleging it is an attempt to infringe on freedom of expression among citizens.
These are the bills and motions that have defined the 9th Senate so far:
2020 Budget and return to January to December circle
Barely two months after President Muhammadu Buhari submitted the budget to the National Assembly, it was passed by the Senate on Thursday, December 5, 2019.
The passage followed the consideration and adoption of the report of Senate Committee on Appropriation. Chairman of the committee, Senator Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano) said that for the first time, the parliament worked “harmoniously” with the executive arm of government to ensure speedy passage and a return to January to December budget cycle.
The passed N10.594 trillion budget set statutory transfers at N560 billion, debt service at N2.725 trillion, recurrent expenditure at N4.842 trillion, capital expenditure at N2.465 trillion, fiscal deficit at N2.28 trillion and deficit/GDP at 1.52 per cent.
The Senate adopted a daily crude production rate of 2.18 million barrels, as proposed by the executive although 57 dollars oil benchmark was approved by the Red Chamber as against the 55 dollars proposed by the executive.
The budget has since been signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari and will take effect on 1st January, 2020.
Sexual Harassment Bill
Following the huge public outrage that followed the BBC documentary on sex-4-grades in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, the Senate reintroduced a Bill for an Act to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions, sponsored by the deputy Senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta).
The bill forbids any sexual relationship between lecturers and students and upgrades sexual intercourse in such relationships to statutory rape. The sponsor of the bill, during its second reading, stressed that provocative dressing or consent from the student will not suffice as a defence for the lecturer, citing examples of similar legislations in the United States, United Kingdom and South Africa.
Omo-Agege also spoke on the issue of students who may falsely accuse their lecturers of sexual harassment, explaining that such students will be expelled and the lecturers involved are at liberty to sue the student in court for defamation of character.
Social Media Bill
In November 2019, the Senate introduced a bill that will regulate the use of social media. The bill is titled ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019,’ and sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa (APC, Niger).
According to the sponsor of the bill, the legislation will curb fake news on the internet. The bill has, however, attracted widespread condemnation from members of the public and civil society.
A similar anti-social media bill was introduced by the previous eighth Senate but was later withdrawn after massive public backlash. However, the current bill has successfully scaled second reading and will undergo public hearing before possible passage next year.
Hate Speech Bill
Also in November, the Senate introduced the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill, popularly known as the Hate Speech bill. The bill has generated public outcry with the spotlight on a provision for death by hanging as one of the penalties for engaging in hate speech, among other severe punishments contained in the bill.
According to the bill, hate speech occurs when a person “uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.”
The bill further adds that anyone who violates this provision “shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.”
There have been protests by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and criticisms from prominent Nigerians, including a former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, who hails from the home state of the bill’s sponsor. Nevertheless, the senator in the eye of the storm, Sabi Abdullahi, remains defiant and has promised to pursue the passage of the controversial bill, albeit agreeing to soft pedal on the death penalty proposal.
Communication Service Tax Bill
The 9th Senate in October introduced the Communication Service Tax Bill. The Bill is sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno).
The Bill seeks to enforce the collection of Communication Services Tax (CST) on charges payable by consumers of electronic communication services in Nigeria (excluding private electronic communication services) at the rate of 9%. Voice calls, SMS, MMS, data usage (from telecommunication services providers and internet service providers), pay per view TV stations are all subject to the levy.
The bill states that the “tax shall be paid together with the electronic communication service charge payable to the service provider by the user of the service”. Furthermore, the levy is payable, whether or not the person making the supply is permitted or authorised to provide electronic communications services.”
In addition, all service providers are required to file monthly returns not later than the last working day of the month immediately after the month to which the tax returns and payment relate. Failure to file this returns attracts a fine of N50,000 and an additional N10,000 for each day the returns are not submitted. Also, non-payment of the tax by the due date attracts monthly interest on the tax due at a rate of 150% of the average of prevailing commercial banks’ lending rates as published by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The bill has similarly been criticised by members of the public as it will increase the cost of using telecommunication services.
Tax raises as finance bill births
The Finance Bill designed to promote fiscal equity by mitigating instances of regressive taxation and reforming domestic tax laws to align with global best practices has been passed by the Senate.
The bill seeks to help generate additional revenue from increased taxes. The tax laws covered by the Finance bill to include Company Income Tax Act, Value added Tax Act, Customs and Excise Tariff Consolidation Act, Personal Income Tax Act, Capital Gains Tax Act, Stamp duties Act, Petroleum Profit Tax Act.
The increase to taxes will, however, not affect pharmaceuticals, educational items, white bread; cereals including maize, rice, wheat, millet, barley and sorghum; fish of all kinds; flour and starch meals.
Others are: Fruits, nuts, pulses and vegetables of various kinds; roots such as yam, cocoyam, sweet and Irish potatoes; meat and poultry products including eggs; milk; salt and herbs of various kinds; natural water and table water.
The passage of the bill was, however, immersed in mild controversy as senators complained that they had not seen a copy of the legislation during the second reading of the bill.
Nigerians have also complained over the increased taxes due to the prevailing harsh economic conditions in the country.
Production Sharing Contract Bill
The Senate passed an amendment to the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) Act to ensure increased revenue for the government and help fund the 2020 budget.
Section 16 of the PSC Act provides that where the price of crude oil exceeds US$20 per barrel, the Act will be reviewed to ensure that the share of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) in the additional revenue is adjusted to the extent that the PSCs shall be economically beneficial to the FGN and that in any event, the PSC Act may be reviewed after 15 years from its commencement in 1993 and every 5 years thereafter.
However, since the Act became effective 26 years ago, it was not reviewed despite oil prices rising far above the $20 per barrel until the Senate passed an amendment to the Act recently. The delayed amendment over the years, however, cost the country a revenue loss of $21 billion according to Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP, Anambra).
Move against gender discrimination in police bill
A bill to amend the Police Act 2004 by expunging the gender-discriminatory provisions has passed second reading in the 9th Senate.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Ezenwa Onyewuchi (PDP, Imo) and read for the first time on October 10.
It seeks to expunge the provisions of regulations 122, 123, 124 and 127 from the principal act.
Regulation 122 restricts female police officers assigned to the General Duties Branch of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to telephone, clerical and office orderly duties.
Regulation 123 prohibits women police from drilling under arms while Regulation 124 mandates female police officers to apply for permission to marry while the intending fiancé is also investigated for criminal records. It also stipulates that a police woman who is single at the time of enlistment must spend three years in service before applying for permission to marry.
Constituency Project Bill
The Senate is currently considering the Constituency Project Bill which seeks to allocate at least 20 percent of annual budgets to constituency projects across the country. The bill sponsored by Senator Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra) and titled “Constituency Projects (Budgetary Provisions) Bill, 2019 (SB170)”.
According to the bill, schemes to be included in the constituency projects submission form should be a minimum of five and a maximum of 20 per constituency each financial year. The bill also makes provision for joint projects by two or more constituencies.
Constituency projects have been a controversial matter leading to frequent face-offs between the legislature and the executive. The scheme has been tainted by accusations of corruption and mismanagement.
Zonal Commission Bills
A key highlight of the current Senate is the influx of several bills designed to establish development commission in various zones of the country. In the last six months, bills seeking to establish South East, South West, North Central and North West Development Commissions have scaled first reading in the upper chamber.
If these bills are eventually passed and signed into law, it will mean that each zone of the country gets a development commission. The South-South (Niger-Delta) and North East already have existing development commissions.
Electoral Amendment Bill
A bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and for other related matters, 2019 (SB. 122)” sponsored by the deputy president of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta) and co-sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC, Borno) is currently before the Senate.
The Electoral Amendment Bill was controversial in the last Senate and rejected multiple times by the President Muhammadu Buhari.
The new bill, which was read for the first time on the floor of the Senate on 29th October 2019, seeks to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accommodate new technologies in the accreditation of voters during elections.
It also seeks to reduce the cost of nomination fees charged by political parties and also grants party agents the right to inspect original electoral materials before the commencement of polls. Furthermore, the bill provides for INEC to suspend an election in order to allow a political party that lost its candidate before or during an election to conduct a fresh primary to elect a replacement.
In addition, the legislation prohibits members of political parties from taking up employment in INEC and compels INEC to publish the voters register for public scrutiny at every registration area and its website seven days before a general election.
The Senate has re-introduced the Companies and Allied Matters Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill. The bill is sponsored by the majority leader, Senator Abdullahi Yahaya.
It will be recalled that the bill was passed by the 8th Senate in May 2018 and also passed by the 8th House of Representatives on 22 January 2019. It was transmitted in March, 2019 to the president for assent. However, President Muhammadu Buhari was quiet during the window allowed for him to assent or decline the bill.
Motion on 20 trillion unremitted stamp duties
On 10th December, 2019, Sen. Ayo Akinyelure sponsored a motion titled “the need to improve Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the Federal Government of Nigeria significantly by over N5 trillion annually through non-oil revenue sources available at its disposal.”
Following the consideration of the motion, the Senate mandated its Committee on Finance to investigate over N20 trillion unremitted stamp duties revenue due to the Federal Government from banks and other financial institutions through NIBSS, a subsidiary of CBN for 2013 to 2016 and financial accountability of stamp duty collections from 2016 when the CBN officially directed all banks to collect on behalf of the Federal Government to date.
This is not the first attempt of the Red Chamber to probe the alleged unremitted stamp duties running into trillions of naira as similar efforts were made in the 8th Senate without producing definite conclusions to resolve the matter.
Motion on Kogi election
The Senate on 26th November, 2019, condemned the spate of killings during elections in the country and observed a minute silence in honour of those that lost their lives in the recently concluded Bayelsa and Kogi elections.
The condemnation followed a motion by Senator J.T Sekibo (PDP, Rivers) who observed that since the commencement of the fourth republic in 1999, elections have been stained with violence, which has risen to unimaginable dimensions with skyrocketing incidents of killing and destruction.
Ban on textile importation
The Senate on 12th November, 2019 called on the Federal Government (FG) to ban the importation of textile materials for the next five years in order to boost local production. It also called on the FG to maintain the closure of the borders.
The calls followed a motion by Senator Kabir Barkiya (APC, Katsina) on the “urgent need to revamp the nation’s comatose textile industry”.
The upper chamber in its other resolutions called on the Federal Government to “encourage local textile manufacturing companies by providing them with soft loans and easy access to credit facilities through the Bank of Industry.”
The Senate also urged the Federal Government to “provide the necessary infrastructural facilities especially power supply to local textile manufacturing companies.”
However, in his remarks, Senate president, Ahmed Lawan observed that banning the importation of textile materials could prove difficult after Nigeria signed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, urging the government to rather focus on addressing the “twin evils” of epileptic power supply and smuggling.
Motion on Avastin blindness
The Senate on 3rd July, 2019 directed the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to suspend the use of Avastin injections after the drug was linked to the loss of eyesight of ten persons in Kaduna.
The directive followed a motion on the matter sponsored by Senator Aishatu Dahiru (APC, Adamawa) and seven other senators.
Speaking on the motion, Dahiru revealed that ten patients suffering from poor eye sight due to cataract and other minor ailments visited the National Eye Centre, Kaduna, on May 28, 2019. However, the patients soon went blind after they were injected with Avastin at the centre.
Motion on gas flare commercialization programme
The Senate has called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to intensify efforts to diversify from crude oil to natural gas production.
The Senate mandated its Committee on Gas to monitor the implementation of the Nigerian Gas Flare Commercialisation Programme (NGCFP) and recommended penalties for non-compliance with global best practices in crude oil extraction.
The move by the Senate followed a motion by Senator Betty Apiafi (PDP, Rivers) and 47 others titled “the need to monitor the Nigerian Flare Commercialisation Programme towards ending Gas flaring by 2020” on 6th November, 2019.
Apiafi, while moving the motion, revealed that data from the World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership 2018, indicates that Nigeria is the sixth largest gas flaring country globally and the second largest in Africa after Algeria.
“Flaring of associated natural gas is quite simply burning money. In 2018 alone, according to data obtained from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Oil and gas firms operating in the country flared a total of 215.9 billion standard cubic feet (SCF) of natural gas amounting to a revenue loss of over N197 billion,” she said.