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Saturday, 4 June 2016

365 days in office: Senate leadership’s scorecards

When the National Assembly was inaugurated on June 9, 2015, Nigerians had high hopes. It was an era of change and a shift from the old order. The 8th Senate is unique for a number of good reasons. It is the first time since 1999 that ‎an opposition party is producing the Senate president. It is also the first time the Senate is being led by both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
While President Muhammadu Buhari has been given kudos and hard knocks following the celebration of his first year in office, Nigerians are beginning to shift their attention to the National Assembly. For some, the National Assembly, particularly the Senate has made some remarkable progress since June last year. For others, it is a far cry from the high expectations.
In the Senate, there are t‎wo presiding officers, namely, the Senate President and his Deputy. Similarly, there are eight principal officers in the Senate. They are the Senate Leader, Deputy Leader, Chief Whip, Deputy Chief Whip, Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Minority Whip and Deputy Minority Whip.
There are other key members of the red chamber who have made impacts and contributed robustly to debates on the floor of the Senate since June last year. Below, an attempt shall be made to give a fair assessment of the performances of key players in the Senate since its inauguration.
Bukola Saraki
Saraki is the President of the Senate. His ascension to power on June 9, 2015, did not come without a fight. He was not the preferred candidate of his party, APC. Ahmad Lawan was the anointed scribe, but Saraki went ahead and emerged as Senate President. Since his emergence, he has been faced with daunting challenges, part of which is his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) which has been described by some pundits as a political persecution.
Notwithstanding, a number of achievements have been recorded under the leadership of Saraki. Under Saraki, the Electronic Transaction Law 2015 was enacted. Also, there was the enactment of the FCT High Court (Amendment) Law 2015. Similarly, the enactment into law of the Insolvency and Debt Recovery Bill 2015 sailed through under his leadership.
There are also the on-going consideration of the amendment to the Public Procurement Act, reintroduction of the Petroleum Industry Bill for passage into law and amendment of the outdated Railway Act about to be concluded. One of the most visible achievements recorded under Saraki’s leadership is the 167 bills that have passed first reading. There are 39 others which are in second reading stage, while six are in third reading.
The Senate under his leadership has reviewed 54 laws affecting ease of doing business in Nigeria with a view to amending them. The Senate under his watch has considered 162 motions and resolutions which are seen to be of top benefits to Nigerians.
Some of these motions and resolutions include ban on Nigeria Agriculture Export products by European Union, flood and erosion disaster and landslide in parts of the country etc
In the last one year since Saraki emerged as Senate President, 125 petitions have been presented to the Red Chamber. Out of this figure, 32 have already been concluded, while 82 are under consideration. Since his emergence, the Senate intervention has led to the review of CBN policy to enable small business owners access to forex. It has also probed and saved Nigeria N20 billion from the implementation of the TSA policy. Senate motion has also led to the abolition of fixed charges in electricity tariff and an investigation by the apex chamber exposed the abuse of import duty waivers on rice.
To Saraki’s credit, for the first time, the Senate has democratised debate on budget by holding public hearing with stakeholders on the 2016 appropriation bill. It has promoted Made in Nigeria and has also adopted a legislative agenda to set a benchmark for the 8th Senate. For the first time, the Senate under Saraki is proposing to set up a Transparency and Anti-corruption Commission.
There are however some low points of the Senate president. Some pundits believe that the crisis rocking the Senate would have been better handled by Saraki by accommodating the interest of his party, APC.
Ike Ekweremadu
Ekweremadu is the Deputy President of the Senate. He has been functioning in that capacity since 2007, when he was first elected. At the moment, Ekweremadu is the only PDP member occupying the highest political office in Nigeria since the defeat of his party last year. His emergence in June, 2015, is seen by many as historic and unprecedented.
Mohammed Ali Ndume
Ndume is the Leader of the Senate and hails from Borno State. In the days leading to the inauguration of the 8th Senate, Ndume was touted as one of the key contenders to emerge as president. Since his emergence however, Ndume has succeeded in stabilising the Senate in very difficult moments. In many instances, Ndume has taken it upon himself to explain the position of the Senate whenever there is a clash of interest. However, political pundits believe that his replacement with Senator Lawan maybe the way out of the crisis rocking the Senate.
Godswill Akpabio
Senator Godswill Akpabio is a former governor of Akwa Ibom State and the current Minority Leader of the 8th Senate. Apart from his good sense of humor, Akpabio, in collaboration with Ekweremadu, has successfully managed the affairs of the opposition in the Senate. Whenever necessary, Akpabio has openly spoken up in defense of his colleagues, the PDP and Nigerians in general.

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