By Ezrel Tabiowo
Since assuming office as President of the Senate on June 11, 2019, Senator Ahmad Lawan has practically demonstrated at intervals that he possesses the grit to take the Ninth National Assembly to record breaking heights under his leadership.
Without a doubt, his long years of stewardship as a lawmaker from his days in the House of Representatives down to the Senate justifies the intelligence and experience he exudes particularly on issues of legislation, and how same translates to good governance.
Lawan’s stint as Chairman of the National Assembly in the last six months paved the path for the implementation of the Senate’s legislative agenda with very clear focus on securing a better deal for Nigerians.
As a legislator who understands the dynamics of governance and the extent a cordial relationship with the executive could be to Nigerians and the country, Lawan would rather pursue vigorously the interest of Nigerians than involve the National Assembly in unnecessary rancour with the executive arm of government.
For critics who consider this a form of weakness or being a ‘Yes man’ to Presidential requests, it is on record that the Senate President, as a serving lawmaker under David Mark’s Presidency between 2007 – 2015, had a history of striking a harmonious working relationship with the Majority party in the Senate at the time.
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Lawan was never embroiled in unnecessary confrontation with the Peoples’ Democratic Party-led executive arm of government.
Rather, as a member of the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in the Sixth and Seventh Assembly, he sought to demand transparency and accountability in government spending through constant interface with Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government.
For Lawan, finding a middle-ground in the executive – legislature relations remains a sure way to go as against the counter-productive path of feudalism.
Stability in the Ninth Senate
While running for the Senate Presidency, it would be recalled that Ahmad Lawan had severally harped on the need for lawmakers to shun partisanship in the upper chamber if the Senate must forge as a united front that puts nation first before any other consideration.
So far, Lawan has walked the talk by ensuring that legislators irrespective of political divide are treated as first among equals. This played up on several occasions, particularly after the confirmation of President Buhari’s nominees for Chairman and Members of the board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, following receipt of the NDDC budget by the Senate, had kicked against any move by the Joy Nunieh-interim board to defend the Commission’s budget before the National Assembly.
According to Abaribe, doing so would amount to violating the provisions of the NDDC Act which does not provide for, or allow an interim board to defend the Commission’s annual budget.
Despite political considerations weighing in the balance, the Senate President stood with the position of the Minority Leader who belongs to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by declaring the interim board void with the confirmation of the appointments of the NDDC board members.
Another instance was with the consideration and passage of the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Contract Sharing Act.
Despite being sponsored by a lawmaker belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Bassey Akpan, the overall interest of the nation was placed first with lawmakers across party lines throwing their weight behind the passage of the legislation which will earn the country over USD$500 billion in the year 2020 alone.
Barely weeks after emerging the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan began the push for the country’s return to the January-December budget cycle.
At the time, his vision to put an end to Nigeria’s deformed budget cycle was considered a somewhat lofty idea that was practically unrealizable given the impeding bureaucratic bottlenecks which made same impossible for over a decade.
But sticking to his guns and relying on his power of negotiation with agencies of government, a relentless Lawan pursued vigorously his dream of strengthening that nation’s economy with the support of the executive.
For the first time in a very long while, the budget was presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to a joint session of the National Assembly on October 8, 2019.
The presentation of the 2020 budget in October signaled the end to Nigeria’s unpredictable budget cycle.
Determined to sustain the tempo already fired-up by the Executive arm of government, the National Assembly moved into action and started work on the proposal before it.
On December 5, 2019, the National Assembly finally passed the annual budget for the 2020 fiscal year, a development which gave finality to the country’s return to the January-December cycle, and stands a historic achievement under Lawan’s sterling leadership.
Just like King Midas from Greek Mythology, Lawan seems to have a way with achieving legislative feats which proved unachievable for previous Assemblies.
Other milestone achievements in the 6 months leadership of the Senator Lawan-led National Assembly are: the passage of the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act, the Finance Bill, 2019 and, of course, the critical Public Procurement (Amendment) Act.
Just as each of the above legislations to a great extent determines the successful implementation of the country’s annual budget, they were in the past considered the most problematic when up for consideration by the National Assembly as was the Production Sharing Contract Act which defied all attempts at amendment since its enactment in 2004.
However, with Lawan’s touch, the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin bill, 2019 was passed on October 16, 2019 by the Senate and later signed by President Muhammadu Buhari into law.
Also, the Public Procurement Act was amended and passed by the National Assembly to rid Nigeria’s procurement processes of several obstructions which interfere with the smooth implementation of the nation’s annual budget.
On the problematic Petroleum Industry Bill which defied passage by the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth National Assemblies, the Senate President had last week assured Nigerians that the Ninth National Assembly will do things differently to break the jinx with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) next year.
The upper chamber, according to Lawan, will as a matter of urgency prioritizes the consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill alongside reforms of the Electoral Act when it returns from the Christmas break in January.
“The Petroleum Industry Bill was first introduced in the National Assembly in 2007 but is yet to be passed in its entirety.
“The National Assembly will this time around adopt a different approach to make the passage of the PIB a reality.
“We want to see a situation where the legislature and the executive work very closely to have a PIB that will attract investment into the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.
“We want to create an investment climate that will be competitive. We know some other countries have this product; therefore we have to be competitive. We have to create an environment where the businesses make profit.
“This is a journey that involves everyone. We want both government – and that includes the legislature and executive – on the one hand and other relevant stakeholders in the sector, particularly the IOCs (International Oil Companies) to work together to ensure that this environment we are trying to create is an environment that will work for all of us,” Lawan said.
Defender of Women’s Rights
It won’t be a bogus claim to say that the Ninth National Assembly under Lawan in comparison to previous ones has shown very favourable disposition towards the protection of women’s rights with the consideration of two critical bills so far that attest to this.
First, is the Sexual Harassment bill sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege and under consideration by the National Assembly.
The bill seeks to prohibit all forms of sexual harassment against female students by teachers in tertiary institutions across the country.
The bill, which has 27 clauses, proposes up to 14 years jail term, with a minimum of 5 years, without an option of fine for any educator who commits sexual offences in tertiary institutions.
The bill, which has scaled second reading, defines sexual offences as including sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student or intimidating or creating a hostile or offensive environment for the student by soliciting for sex or making sexual advances.
Other forms of sexual harassment listed by the bill include grabbing, hugging, kissing, rubbing, stroking, touching, pinching the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student; or sending by hand or courier or electronic or any other means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student, and whistling or winking at a student or screaming, exclaiming, joking or making sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalking a student.
Another bill under consideration by the National Assembly aimed at protecting the rights of Women in Nigeria is the Police Act Amendment Bill, 2019.
The piece of legislation essentially seeks to end discrimination against women serving in the Nigeria Police Force by expunging the provisions of Regulations 122, 123, 124 and 127 from the principal Act.
Sponsor of the bill, Senator Ezenwa Onyewuchi (PDP, Imo East) said the Act under amendment prohibits women police from drilling under arms; mandates female police officers to apply for permission to marry, while the intending fiancé is investigated for criminal records.
While prescribing discriminatory treatment – dismissal from service – for an unmarried police officer who becomes pregnant, the Act 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.
“An analysis of the Police Act and other regulatory/policy documents governing the internal and external workings of the Nigeria Police Force reveals a preponderance of discriminatory regulations and workplace practices that reinforce gender discrimination.
“The examination of gender issues covers various spheres of policy and practice ranging from language, recruitment, training and posting; to marriage, pregnancy and child bearing.
“Many of the Police regulations particularly Regulations 122, 123, 124 and 127 are overtly discriminatory to female officers,” Onyewuchi said.
For instance, Regulation 127 in the Police Act states that “an unmarried woman police officer who becomes pregnant shall be discharged from the Force, and shall not be re-enlisted except with the approval of the Inspector-General.”
According to Onyewuchi, such regulations of the Police Act were enacted in 1968, “at a time when the societal attitude to women in the workplace was very different from what it is today.”
He added, “There is no rational justification for the imposition of these discriminatory provisions, since they do not in any manner promote the efficiency or discipline of the female police officer.”
“Since a male police officer is not subjected to the same inhibitions, the current regulations are inconsistent with section 42 of the Constitution and Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex,” the lawmaker said.
Driven by the passion to ensure that Nigerian youths have access to quality education regardless of the geographical zone which they belong to, the Senate under Lawan recently passed seven bills seeking to establish tertiary institutions of learning across some States of the Federation.
The bills which were passed on Wednesday, December 18, 2019, seeks to establish and give legal backing to Federal Universities and Polytechnics.
The passage of the seven bills was sequel to the consideration of the reports of the Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND chaired by Senator Babba Kaita Ahmad (APC, Katsina North).
The bills passed by the Senate seek to establish the Federal University of Gashua; Federal Polytechnic, Orogun; Federal College of Education, Illo; Federal University of Education, Kontagora; Federal Polytechnic, Daura; Modibo Adama University of Technology, and Federal University of Agriculture and Technology, Funtua.
Bills passed and introduced by the Ninth N’Assembly
Aside the Production Sharing Contract bill, 2019, Finance Bill, 2019 and Public Procurement (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that were passed, 185 bills have also gone through first reading in the ninth Senate, while 32 other bills have passed second reading and are now undergoing the necessary further legislative processes at the relevant Senate Committees.
As part of its statutory roles, the ninth Senate confirmed 12 key appointments, including those of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ministers of the Government of the Federation, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria; and chairmen and members of eight Commissions, Services and Corporations.
Before adjourning on December 19, 2019, the Senate forwarded for screening, the Presidential nominees for the National Hajj Commission, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCOM).
The upper chamber also considered and passed the 2020 annual budgets for the Nigerian Communications Commission, the Universal Service Provision Fund and the Federal Capital Territory.
Ezrel Tabiowo is the Special Assistant (Press) to President of the Senate.