By Olu Onemola
Like an old car parked in the garage, nobody cares about propaganda politics anymore. It’s tires are now flat. It’s methods are now known and its inaccuracies are now easily decipherable with the quickest click of your smartphone. This is why throughout 2017, the Nigerian Senate, under the leadership of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, carefully worked to meet the demands of Nigeria’s ‘New Governance Order’ — an order that is defined by delivery and performance over orchestrated publicity, and effectiveness over obvious hype.
Despite the many attacks, and in spite of the countless distractions that were thrown at the 8th Senate from external forces, the focus of the Senators, their persistence on people-centered legislation, and their collective commitment to always put Nigeria and Nigerians first, allowed the Upper Chamber of Nigeria’s federal legislature to achieve various notable feats in 2017.
This is why, when people ask: “So, what should we expect from the 8th Senate in 2018?” you should tell them: “Look back at the Senate’s performance in the past, it will give you an idea of its future.”
Looking Back at 2017, we all remember that the year started off with the budget. Talks about #OpenNASS accompanied the conversation about the 2017 appropriations bill — and commentators across the social-media-sphere all had a thing or two to say about the alleged secrecy behind the National Assembly’s annual spending.
Some predicted that 2017 would be ‘no different’, while others laughed at the idea of the legislators agreeing to open up their books for the first time since 1999. This status quo narrative permeated through Facebook and Twitter, all the way to ‘those-annoying-broadcast-messages-that-your-parents-send-you-on-Whatsapp’ — and the consensus in the court of public opinion was clear: #OpenNASS would never happen!
While the naysayers preached ‘Never!’, and the self-proclaimed political pundits speculated and hypothesized, people on the inside knew that the Senate President was a man of his word. He had promised to release the budget — and he would deliver. Though it was difficult at first, however, through constant consultation with his colleagues in both the Senate and the House, and the political will of the entire National Assembly leadership, on Thursday, May 11th, 2017 — in a move that shocked observers — the National Assembly released the breakdown of its annual budget to the world. This budget is now on the National Assembly website. You can check it out yourself.
Fast forward to two weeks later — if Drake was Nigerian, his ‘Back to Back’ chorus would have been the Senate’s soundtrack. Following the release of its budget details, in quick succession, the Senate passed the historic Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (#PIGB). This piece of legislation that had tripped up the 6th and 7th National Assemblies, scaled the 8th Senate within 24 months.
Right now, many people still do not know that the PIGB passed by the Senate in 2017 is aimed at unbundling the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for better performance, creating a sustainable framework for the effective governance of Nigeria’s petroleum industry, and putting an end to the issues that cause fuel scarcity across the country.
The Senate did not stop there. It went on an anti-corruption sprint. It passed the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between Nigeria and Other Foreign Countries Bill. In July, it passed the Whistleblower Protection Bill to protect people that inform the authorities about corruption. And, it also passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill (NFIU) Bill at the end of July — in order to get Nigeria re-admitted back into the EGMONT Group after its suspension. This move was aimed at giving our nation the previous access that it once had to the network, resources and expertise of 154 other financial intelligence units around the world in our war against corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing.
Similarly, the Senate responded to Nigeria’s 2016 economic recession by fast-tracking the passage of the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Bill and the Credit Bureau Services Bill in 2017. Both bills, which were signed into law by the then-Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in May 2017, were aimed at providing Nigerians across the country with easier access to credit.
The impact of both ‘Access to Credit’ Bills passed by the Senate, and the National Assembly as a whole, were brought to the fore when in September 2017, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria announced that due to the access to credit legislation — which began in the Senate, 20,684 movable assets valued at N392 billion had already been registered on the National Collateral Register (NCR). Similarly, in October 2017, the World Bank rated Nigeria among the top 10 most improved economies in its 2016/2017 Doing Business Report. All of this was due to the fact that the Senate had focused on creating more opportunities for MSMEs in Nigeria through well-crafted legislation.
Of course, we cannot forget the Senate’s 2017 comprehensive amendment to the electoral act of 2010, which ensures the full biometric accreditation of voters with Smart Card Readers; the instant transmission of accreditation data and results from polling units to the collation centers; and giving INEC unfettered powers to conduct elections by electronic voting.
We also cannot forget the Review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This exercise, brought about the approval of notable pieces of legislation like the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill, which reduces the qualifying age for election into the House of Representatives from 30 years to 25 years; the age qualification for contesting for a State House of Assembly office from 30 years to 25 years; and the age qualification for contesting the office of President from 40 years to 35 years.
The #NotTooYoungToRun Bill and the other constitutional amendments passed by both Houses of the National Assembly, are currently making their way through the State House of Assemblies, and are likely to become the focus of a lot of political discourse this year.
To close out 2017, the Senate received a few final and significant notches on its legislative belt, when President Muhammadu Buhari signed six Bills into law on December 30th, 2017. Notable amongst them were the amendments to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act, which now mandates the gas producing and processing companies to contribute to the development of the Niger Delta region. Additionally, with the signing into law of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshots Act by President Buhari, all Nigerians with gunshot wound will now be able to receive immediate medical treatment — instead of having to file police reports. This Bill that started in the House of Representative, but was fast-tracked by the Senate through concurrence in the later half of 2017 will definitely save many lives.
There are countless other Bills passed by the Saraki-led Senate in 2017 that have not been mentioned in this piece. However, as we look back at the year that has just passed, to give you a snapshot of where it currently stands, the 8th Senate has already passed 140 Bills in 30 months. This is more than the 5th Senate that passed 129 Bills in 4 years, the 6th Senate that passed only 72 Bills in 4 years, and the 7th Senate that passed 128 Bills in the same timeframe. This Senate has also cleared over 120 public petitions in 2 years and 7 months. You can do the maths.
In this regard, when people ask you this year: “What should we expect from the 8th Senate in 2018?” You can tell them: more people-centered legislation that will impact various aspects of our national existence; more thorough oversight on government spending to ensure transparency and accountability in the utilization of our national resources; and more focus on getting Nigeria’s economy back on track by creating more opportunities for everyone.
“All performance. No propaganda.” Make this the motto.
I rest my case.
Olu W. Onemola is the Head of the New Media Department in the Office of the Senate President. He tweets at @OnemolaOlu