By Mohammed Isa
At its inception in June 2015, the 8th Senate under the leadership of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki left no one in doubt about its determination to use its constitutional mandate to stop the business as usual syndrome and move the country forward. Based on that firm resolve, the Senate fashioned out a well thought out, detailed plan and cohesive legislative agenda for renewed national cohesion and development.
It is in fulfilment of the objective of the agenda that the Senate President in November 2015 initiated a discussion with development partners, professional bodies like the Nigeria Bar Associations (NBA) and the academia. The result was the formation of a committee of experts charged with the responsibility of providing a framework for holistic review and improvements of legislations and policies affecting business, so as to create a better business enabling environment, leading to increased and sustained private sector development and investment in the country.
The legislative effort paid off when on February 29, 2016, the committee of experts, supported by Department for International Development (DFID) with the strong participation of Nigerian Economic Support Group (NESG) presented its detailed report to the Senate President.
Presenting the168 page report titled, “Comprehensive Review of the Institutional Regulatory, Legislative and Associated Instruments Affecting Businesses in Nigeria,” the Team Leader, Prof Paul Idornigie (SAN) identified eight Reform Bills currently pending before the National Assembly as of priority importance to doing business and overall private sector participation in Nigeria.
According to Idornigie, “even if no other recommendation in this report is implemented, the enactment of these Bills will be the major achievement of the 8th National Assembly.”
The bills are Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill 2015, Federal Roads Authority Bill 2015, National Inland Waterways Authority Bill 2015, National Roads Funds Bill 2015, National Transport Commission 2015, Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Bill 2015, Nigeria Postal Commission Bill 2015 and Nigeria Railway Authority Bill 2015.
The team, he said, also reviewed 54 Acts and 50 Bills pending before the National Assembly, and rated them in order of priority to help the legislature focus more on areas that require urgent intervention.
Some of the recommendations by the experts were; passage of the reform bills, establishment of federal legislative clearinghouse, access to finance and property, establishment of a national legislative forum, improving commercial dispute resolution and simplifying the payment of taxes.
The report further recommended that the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives should collaborate to ensure proper coordination and implementation. It urged the Constitution Review Committee of the two chambers to take into consideration “ constitutional challenges highlighted by the report, especially that of Land Use Act vesting the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in the Federal Government, the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court and that of the Tax Appeal Tribunal and other matters that are in the Exclusive Legislative List – for example, railways”. The recommendation, they noted, will lead to the consequential repeal of the Petroleum Act, the Mines and Minerals Act, amongst others.
Receiving the report, an elated Saraki said the present economic challenge facing the country presents an opportunity for her leaders to show leadership, courage and ingenuity.
The nation, he said should use the present economic situation to set the stage for a post-oil era in which the private sector will steer the ship of the economy while government provides the enabling environment.
“The National Assembly through our legislative agenda seized on the moment to chart a new course for the nation’s economy. The legislative agenda we have adopted is one framed largely around good governance, accountability, opening up of the economy for greater investment, ease of doing business and security of lives and property”, he said.
He added that the 8th National Assembly would give priority to the amendment of obsolete laws, noting that, “ without these laws the Executive will be handicapped to drive the economy. This is part of the executive-legislative collaboration to move the nation forward”.
While urging the Executive to ensure full implementation of such laws when they are eventually passed, the Senate President assured them that the relevant committees would be empowered to ensure effective oversight on such laws.
Saraki said the collaboration with the private sectors, development partners, professional groups, like the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), as well as the academia in the on-going process to review laws affecting doing business will give birth to a new business environment that will boost the economy, solve the problem of unemployment, curb social vices and restore the nation’s values and pride.
He stressed that the Senate and the House of Representatives are on the same page with President Muhammed Buhari’s policy on diversification of economy, “our President has laid out a vision to fully diversify the economy beyond oil and has been committed to the actualization f the project.
“The overarching objective of the agenda targets private sector investment and business development as a major plank of the plan. This is because of our belief in the ingenuity, creativity, entrepreneurship of our people, and that in order to to create jobs, give our people better opportunities, the private sector remains our best option.
“This is at the heart of the clamour for diversification; from agriculture business support, to credit, economic reform bills, to MSMEs, taxation, conflict resolution, regulatory reform bills, our agenda is firmly rooted on increased participation, diversification and capital formation”. Saraki assured.
The report, he said will in few weeks from now at a special economic and business environment roundtable, be subjected to further interrogation, validates its conclusion and get the buy-in of key stakeholders in the business environment, so that its final outcome will leapfrog the nation’s economy into the first 20 word economies.
In his remarks, chairman, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Bukar Kyari who represented the private sector, commended the initiative of the Senate President in involving all the stakeholders in the preparation of the report. He said “the collaboration marks a significance milestone in the nation’s democracy, as this is the first time in the history of the National Assembly that NESG and other stakeholders would be engaged to provide a roadmap that will assist the legislature in carrying out its activities.”
The report noted the poor rating of Nigeria in “Doing Business Report” survey by the Word Bank, a situation the committee of experts described as “worrisome, extremely poor and in need of urgent reform.”
In his comment, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, who was represented by Hon. Tijjani Yusuf lamented the non-optimal utilisation of specialised courts, such as Investment and Security Tribunal (IST), Industrial Courts amongst others for business dispute resolutions and called for concerted efforts to make those courts function effectively.
In their separate contributions, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweramadu and Senate Leader, Ali Ndume commended the committee of experts for the report and expressed confidence that the identified priority bills will make the Senate achieve the goal of its legislative agenda.
Though Nigeria as a nation is not in short of such reports in the past, what makes this one different is its inclusive nature, the determination of the Senate President to give the legislature a new direction and the commitment of President Buhari to bring about change on how things are being done in Nigeria.
Isa is Special Assistant to the Senate President on Public Affairs.