The 7th National Assembly (2011 – 2015)
When on June 6, 2011 Nigeria’s Seventh Senate was inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan, its leadership was also birth with 56 standing committees to pilot its affairs towards the realisation of the yearnings of the people of Nigeria through making of good laws and providing the watchdog role on the Executive arm.
In his inaugural address to the lawmakers, Senate President, David Mark, appealed to his colleagues to put behind them their parties’ affiliations and work towards the realisation of democratic dividends to the people while ensuring that they do not compromise their oversight function to the Executive arm.
Mark also stressed the need to give priority attention to continuing the second phase of the amending the 1999 Constitution in addition to been discharging their committees responsibilities.
He also assured Nigerians that the Senate will ensure the passage of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which the Sixth Senate could not passed before it wind up its sessions.
It is interesting to note that shortly after the inauguration of the standing committees, an ad hoc committee comprising chairmen of Public Accounts, Senator Ahmed Lawan, Police and Finance led by Senator Paulinus Nwagu and Finance, Senator Ahmed Makraffi flagged off investigative Public Hearing on the mismanagement of proceeds from the sale of the nation’s assets that was sold by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the guise of privatisation and commercialisation of the nation’s wealth by the Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE).
Findings from the probe opened the eyes Nigerians to the glaring corruption that orchestrated the sale of the nation’s assets. In the course of the probe, past and present Directors General of BPE were invited to testify on their involvement in the exercise.
Given the role of the legislature in exposing corruption in public service and recommending appropriate punishment to the Executive while leaving prosecution of offenders to the Executive arm of government. Based on the findings of the Probe Panel, the immediate past BPE Director General, Bolanle Onagoruwa, was sacked in accordance with the recommendations of the Senate panel.
Again the upper chamber of the National Assembly also constituted another joint committees on Establishment and Public Service, chaired by Senator Aloysius Etok and chairman Senate Committee on States and Local Governments, Senator Kabiru Gaya, to carry out investigation into the Pension Scam that rocked the Pension Administration of Police Affairs and other government agencies. At the end of that probe, the committee indicted chairman of the Pension Task Force, A. Maina of billions of naira.
Also to fast track the review of the 1999 Constitution before the expiration of the Seventh Senate, the leadership of the Senate appointed the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator, Ike Ekweremadu, to chair its committee on Constitution Review with members drawn from the 36 states of the Federation. The committee was able to conclude its assignment before the National Assembly went for its Christmas and New Year recess.
It must be noted that contrary to the promise made by the Senate President that creation of more states would be given priority, leading to the massive demand by states that needed to be given additional state that thronging to National Assembly with their request for additional states, the committee later dashed the hope of most Nigerians for additional state, saying it was not within their purview to create new states.
Again, the senate committee under the chairmanship of Senator Ahmed Makarfi with the Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Senator Magnus Abe, chaired the probe into the alleged missing $49.8 billion from the sale of petroleum, which was eventual reduced to $1.4 billion referred to the Executive for forensic auditing.
Senate Committee on Aviation, chaired by Senator Hope Uzodinma, also carried out probe of the fraud that rocked the aviation sector, which lead to the sack of chief executives of some of the agencies under the aviation ministry.
Again Senate Committee on Defence, chaired by Senator George Sekibo; Committee on National Security and Intelligence, headed by Senator Mohammed Magoro, and Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Chris Anyanwu, and Chairman, Senate Committee on Police Affairs, Senator Paulinus Igwe Nwagu, constituted joint committee that had series of closed-door meetings with the military on the current insurgency in the North Eastern part of the country.
Chairman, Committee on Education, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, apart from holding interactions with the Education ministries and over-sighting its parastatals just mention but a few.
Sunday Independent also went further to carry out an in-depth analysis into the score cards of the members of the Seventh Senate with a view to letting their representatives know their contributions to the progress of the senate within period under review.
It is instructive that within the last three and half years of Senate, Senator Benedict Ayade sponsored a total of 38 bills to rank the highest in the league of senators of the Seventh Senate. Ayade, who is currently the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Cross Rivers and also Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology. Most of his bills hinge on the improvement of our environment.
Also within the period under review, Leader of the Senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, ranked second by sponsoring a total of 24 bills out of which three were passed.
Next in the ranking is Chairman, Senate Committee on Business and Rules, Senator Solomon Ita Enang. Enang (Akwa Ibom) sponsored a total of 20 bills out of which two were passed.
Senator Domingo Obande (Edo) sponsored a total of 17 bills out of which two were passed.
Again, Chairman Senate Committee on Health and governorship candidate of the PDP in Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa sponsored 10 bills out of which one was passed.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, sponsored three bills which were passed.
It is interesting to note that two senators, who died in the course of their representation in the senate, Senators Pius Ewerido and Dahiru Kuta, contributed so much to the senate to the extent that each of them had one of their bills passed even when the have left this world.
Well in the course of our probe into the performance of the serving senators it was discovered that about 40 per cent of the senators that constituted the Seventh Senate fall within the sponsorship of one to nine bills, whereas about 50 per cent of the entire senate membership did not sponsor any bill.
The lawmakers could be regarded as bench warmers who only come into the senate to watch others move motions and contribute effectively to the progress of the senate.
However, it is instructive to note that while few members of the senate struggled to leave their names in the annals of history as lawmakers that made laws for the country, others came to the senate as a place of retirement. Such crops of Senators only see the senate as a hideout from law enforcement agencies. We also discovered that most of these senators are former state chief executives or retired government functionaries and have spent larger part of their years in the public sector.
It must be noted that the Seventh Senate spent larger part of its session in engaging in party activities, especially within the last two years of their stay in the senate. It was also discovered that rather than oversighting the ministries and government agencies, they rather wait until a major scam was identified in the ministries and parastatals they supervise. If the Committees on the Petroleum Sector were to properly oversight the NNPC and its agencies the hue and cry for corruption in the sector would have been nipped at the bud. No wonder, Mark has never hidden his anger at some of the standing committees for not leaving the comfort of the senate to oversight their ministries and parastatals.
A major challenge facing the senate as it rounds off its session in June is its inability to pass the so much talked about Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Mark has severally assured that the senate would pass the PIB before it leaves office on June 6, but the realisation of this promise is yet to be achieved.
However as the Seventh Senate rounds off its tenure and the electorates get ready to elect members of the incoming Eighth Senate, Nigerians are challenged to elect selfless representatives who will know why they are elected to represent the people. It should no longer business as usual. The election of members of the National Assembly should no longer be based on the highest bidder; rather, Nigerians should vote for true representatives of the people.