By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
On Tuesday, the senate commenced its legislative engagements for the week with series of motions. Unfortunately, most of the motions were close to or similar to those already introduced and debated in the 7th and 8th Sessions of the Senate.
This dashed the expectations of parliamentary watchers, who had hoped that the week will break the monotony of motions which has trailed the inception of the parliament since its inauguration on June 11th.
The inability of the lawmakers to make a departure from this solitude created by this reality has raised anxiety among Nigerians on how longer will it take the senators to come up with bills to address the political and economic challenges facing the country.
It is noteworthy that since the inauguration of the 9th session of the National Assembly, the Senate Order paper has been filled with one motion or the other, even as the necessity of most of them is still contestable. No single Bill has been debated on the floor of the 9th senate till today.
During Tuesday plenary session, the motions on the Senate Order paper were on Rape of Minors, which was raised by Senator Rose Okoh. This was followed by another titled: Rising Incidences of Suicides amongst Nigerians, which was raised by senator Theodore Orji, just to mention few.
However, resolutions were passed on these motions, but from history, resolutions of the senate, irrespective of how popular it is, are often treated with levity by the executive. This is because it is never binding on the President.
There is no gain emphasizing the fact that the time calls for haste if the 9th Senate hopes to achieve results for Nigerians. It is not time for some frivolous motions which calls on the executive to take some actions, the time rather calls for the senators to quickly come up with specific bills to address specific problems facing Nigerians.
The expectations on the 9th Senate is understandably high. Nigeria has certainly been at political and economic crossroads, which demands a pragmatic and not cosmetic approach, if there will be a headway.
Successive assemblies of the Senate had always kicked off in somewhat slow and awkward manner, which is in everything uninteresting, however observers believe it is the time for the 9th session to bring about a shift in the paradigm of how things are done.
During the tenure of Bukola Saraki as the Senate President, for about two months, the senate was only introducing flimsy motions with the intent to buy time pending when the standing committees will be constituted.
While the delay in formation of the senate standing committees during Saraki’s time could be understood because of the controversy that trailed his election as Senate President, however, the same could not be said of Ahmad Lawan, whose election was near unanimous.
It is quite disturbing that till this moment the senate leadership is yet to constitute standing committees to deal with the real issue of governance and oversight on the executive. In some cases, one will begin to wonder what is the big deal in formation of standing committees that it will take endless time.
On the 11th of June, the Senate elected its President, after which it adjourned for two weeks to enable the National Assembly equip the respective offices of the senators. Those who watch with kin interest the developments in the parliament have expressed worries that the leadership of the parliament could not seize the opportunity of the two weeks recess to resolve all issues regarding committee formation.
As an insider who has witnessed the activities in the senate for some years, it is clear that there is little a motion can do to address the crossroads which Nigeria has found herself. This is because a motion of the senate and the resolutions thereof is nothing but an opinion or an advice which is lightweight to be binding on the executive.
At the moment, the senate appears to be in a fix as no Bill can be debated until there are standing committees. Even executive Bills if they have been sent to the Senate President, cannot be debated because the legislative tradition requires that after debate on such Bills, it is referred to the relevant Senate committee for further legislative consideration.
Explaining why the senate is yet to constitute Standing Committees, the chairman of the Senate Ad Hoc committee on Media and Publicity, Adedayo Adeyeye, said the senate leadership is looking at composing the committee soon.
According to him, the senate wants to look into the background experience and interest of the senators before deciding on takes over which committee, adding that it will not be right to put the wrong person to head the wrong committee, to avoid counterproductive results. He said the senate is still within the time schedule to put up standing committees.
Observing the mood of the individual senators, one can say with simple intuition that the interest is gradually waning. This calls for quick intervention and change of style if the best can be extracted from the senators.
It is time for the senate leadership to resolve all the pending issues and consultation with whichever stakeholders with a view to get the senate to business. What the time calls for is for the standing committees of the senate to be up and running.
This will add vigour and life in the 9th senate. At the moment, though the senate mostly seat beyond the stipulated time of 2pm, however, the outcome of the sitting is not so interesting because the deliberations are lukewarm.
Speaking on this trend, the Executive Secretary of CISLAC, Ibrahim Awal Rafsanjani, said the senate should have a system by which Bills of the previous assemblies should be carried over to the next session.
According to him, given the huge public resources which are usually deployed to process the Bills in the National Assembly, there is need to ensure that the life span of such bills goes beyond the assembly where they were conceived.
He further noted the need for the legislative staff of the National Assembly to be trained to have the capacity to sustain the bills introduced in the parliament even when the life is over.
In his comment also, the executive secretary of HURIWA, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said the National Assembly should have a bureaucracy that should ensure continuity of the Bills of the previous session in any current assembly.
He said the Clark of the National Assembly should be blamed if the Bills of the past assembly is jettisoned, adding that it amounts to waste of public resources especially given that millions of naira is spent on Bills in the Nigerian parliament.
Onwubiko argue that abandoning Bills introduced in the previous senate can be likened to abandoning projects when there is a change of government both at federal and state levels of government.
He said since there is a secretariat there should be no lacuna, pointing out that the life of the bureaucracy is limited to four years as that of the senators, hence the need for sustainability of legislative activities.
However this issue is looked at, one factor that remains constant is that there is nothing sacrosanct that a Bill that had reached second reading in the preceding session should not be sustained.
The 9th Senate must not insist that bills must be introduced within its lifespan for it to be recognized, as that will amount to loss of public resources and loss of vital legislative inputs by experts, especially where a public hearing has been conducted.
If sustainability of legislative works is not respected, it breeds the unhealthy quest by sitting Senate Presidents to outdo their predecessors in the number of bills passed, regardless of whether such Bills are just repetitions of what was previously done.
Recall that in the 7th Senate, while David Mark boasted that the Senate passed more bills than in the 6th assembly, Saraki also boasted that the 8th Senate passed the highest number of Bills, just as it may be the dream of Ahmad Lawan to outdo Saraki in the number of Bills passed by the 9th Senate.