By Carl Ndukwe
The Nigerian Senate does get quite a telling from the citizenry, and sometimes they very well deserve it. However, there are also many things, when they do, make the people proud. So, as we take stock of the year, here are some of those memorable bills through which our Senators have demonstrated that their service and fealty do indeed rest on the interests and wishes of the people.
1: Passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill
Here we saw a Nigerian Senate that not only listens but also has it finger on the pulse of the people. By passing the NotTooYoungToRun Bill, which reduces the required ages for seeking political offices, the Senate has ignited greater participation of the youth, not just in politics but also in political leadership. For a country with over 70 percent of its population under 35, this is a wonderful development. Little wonder the passage of the bill has received widespread commendation across the country and beyond.
The Senate also went beyond just addressing youth participation in politics to deal with pressing constitutional issues that range from…. All together, the Senate passed 33 Bills as part of its Constitutional Review Exercise, 29 of which have now been forwarded to the State House of Assemblies for review. Here is a detailed analysis of the bills:
2: Passage of #OpenNASS
If the Senate’s passage of the NotTooYoungToRun Bill demonstrated ability to listen to the people, its decision to open the Budget of the National Assembly to the general public displayed an exemplary commitment to transparency and accountability. This was the first time, since Nigeria’s return to democracy over 17 years ago, that anyone could Google up and see, in fine print, every dime that the Senate did intend to spend and how it planned to spend it. Such move has raised the level of confidence and trust that ordinary Nigerians have in the Nigerian Senate and the important work that they do there.
3: Passage of the North East Development Bill
No single issue has, over the past decade, caused so much economic and social destruction to our country as the extremist insurgency in the North East of the country. So, it’s been a thing of great pride to see how everyone has contributed their best to this painful road of recovery. Here again, the Senate has led with commitment and focus, passing the North East Development Commission Bill (signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari), which among other things establishes a commission tasked with the responsibility of rebuilding and rehabilitating the North East whilst ensuring the resettlement of the internally displaced persons into their homes. Surely, rebuilding the North east is the most definitive way to defeat the insurgents, and it’s great to see the Senate playing its part in the fight.
4 & 5: Passage of the Ease of Doing Business Bills
While the insurgency in the North East has been one of our biggest challenges, it is not the only one. Sadly, we rank very lowly on the global scene when it comes to the ease of doing business, so it was a very welcome development when the Senate tackled the issue head on. Over the course of the year, the Senate Passed two Access to Credit Bills (now signed into law, both of which has significantly boosted Nigeria’s ease of doing business rankings.
The first bill, the Credit Bureau Services Bill Passed in May 2017, helps reduce the risk of lending or engaging in business with individuals or companies with a financial history of not paying back while the second, The Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets, enables ordinary Nigerians use invoices and receipts to access loans and working capital. Together, both laws smoothen the rough edges of doing business in Nigeria by securing lenders from working with people who have questionable financial history and also enabling more Nigerians to borrow towards growing their businesses. This, no doubt, would translate in unlocking more growth potential for our economy.
6: Passage of the Whistleblower Protection Bill
Perhaps, just as important as empowering businesses is to growing our economy, so too curbing corrupt and improper conduct in the public and private sector. In this regard, it has been great to see the Senate take the lead in this campaign by passing the Whistle-blower Protection Bill.
So many memes have been out of this Bill on social media, and it goes to show just how popularity of the action taken by the Senate. The Bill is also very thoughtful in what it seeks to achieve in that it guarantees protection from all forms of victimization for Nigerians who speak up when they see something wrong.
7: Passage of The INEC Reform Bill
Understanding that the viability of our whole democracy lies in the integrity of our electoral system and the Senate did well to shore up our voting process through its INEC Reform Bill. Thanks to the bill, there shall now be full biometric accreditation of voters with Smart Card Readers, INEC Officers must now instantly transmit accreditation data and results from Polling Units to various collation centres and INEC is now mandated to keep Electronic registers of voters. INEC is now mandated to publish voters’ registers on its official website(s) for public scrutiny at least 30 days before a general election.
The bill also ensures that people are held responsible for their actions by prescribing jail time for defaulting INEC officers. But the best part of the bill is that it kick-starts, in earnest, the technological evolution of our voting system. INEC now has unfettered powers to conduct elections by electronic voting, is mandated to keep a National Electronic Register of Election Results as a distinct database or repository of polling unit by polling unit results for all elections conducted by INEC. Collation of election result is also now mainly electronic, as transmitted unit results will help to determine final results on real time basis. Such technology drive by the Senate would make our elections more free, fair and transparent.
8: Passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill
From sanitizing our electoral system to cleaning up the petroleum industry, the Senate made another landmark achievement with its passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill. This Bill aims to introduce new operational and fiscal terms for the management of the revenue that is accrued from the sector. In essence, it’s high time we got more out of our petro-dollar, especially now that oil prices have rallied.
The way the Senate also went about it is smart. It’s Bill not only allows the Nigerian government to retain a higher proportion of the revenue that it derives from oil industry operations, it also seeks to create a conducive business environment for petroleum operations and other SMEs. The Bill also enhances the exploration of petroleum resources for the benefit of all Nigerians whilst providing for the inclusion of more local content in the petroleum industry.
9: Passage of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill:
If there’s anything we’ve learnt from the anti-corruption cases of the past few years, it’s the importance of financial intelligence. That’s why the Bill, by the Senate, to create a robust, independent Financial Intelligence Unit is very much welcome.
The NFIU Bill also empowers the NFIU to, in line with international best practices, seek and exchange information with partner countries in order to improve international coordination on issues around financial crimes at home and abroad. The passage of the Bill into law would also re-admit and improve Nigeria’s standing within the Group while increasing their levels of cooperation and coordination to ensure that Nigeria achieves membership of FATF.
10: Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill:
Still riding on the need for greater international cooperation to combat crime, the Senate also passed the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, which would enhance collaboration between the Nigerian government and its foreign counterparts. This would significantly ease the challenges our law enforcements currently have identifying, recovering and confiscating proceeds of crime located abroad. Simply put, with this bills, no one can steal public money and transfer it in foreign banks for safekeeping, such stolen funds, or the properties with which they are acquired, would be easily retrieved or seized.
It’s important to note that as encouraging as these legislative actions are, a bill by itself just unlocks the door to opportunity. Someone still has to reach for the door handle, turn the knob, and walk through the door. It’s up to members of the polity to take advantage of this chance with both hands and drive towards the collective goals we seek for Nigeria in the vehicle provided by the Senate
Carl Ndukwe is an Abuja-based communications professional.
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