OrderPaperToday – The year 2021 recorded some interesting moments at the national assembly. The Senate and House of Representatives made several interventions through motions, petitions and bills to address some of the country’s challenges. While some Nigerians commend the lawmakers, others are of the opinion that the legislature has failed to live up to expectations. The 9th Senate, in its legislative business in 2021, spurred intrigues, drama and controversies. And of course, some notable achievements. Here are some highlights of the year:

Insecurity defined debates…

On the perennial issue of insecurity bedeviling parts of the country, there was hardly a plenary session in the senate without a bill or motion being raised. The deliberations, most times, followed reports of attacks on different communities across the country which resulted in deaths and destruction of properties. However, there was a heated debate in the 9th senate on March 17 over a bill seeking to establish a commission for the armed forces. Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South), senate minority leader, who sponsored the bill, said the commission was needed to deepen federal character in the appointment of military and service chiefs. Some senators kicked against the bill, saying the military will be politicized if the bill is passed.

PIB finally becomes law…

The journey to the long awaited passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) on the 1st of July by the Senate could be described as a tough one. The passage was sequel to a clause-by-clause consideration of a report of the Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream and Downstream) and Gas, chaired by Sen. Mohammed Sabo (APC, Jigawa South-West). During the consideration of the bill in the committee of the whole, the percentage that should be allocated to the host community development fund caused a division among senators. The host communities had demanded that they be allocated 10 percent. The joint committee recommended three per cent, a decision controversially carried and causing Sen. Thompson Sekibo, (PDP, Rivers North-East) to call for a “division” to challenge a ruling of Senate President Ahmad Lawan. While some senators spoke in favour of the division, others kicked against it. Senate Leader, Abdullahi Yahaya (APC, Kebbi North) described the move as a “bad precedent,” adding that his “heart bleeds” over Sekibo’s motion. Yahaya pleaded with the Rivers lawmaker to withdraw his motion and Sekibo did. Also speaking, James Manager, senator representing Delta south, said five per cent was not too much for the host communities. The bill was eventually passed by Senate and assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari.

9th Senate and the January-December Budget Cycle…

On the economy, the senate has scored the fine point of strengthening the country’s budgeting framework for sustainable national development. The consistent passage of the annual budget before year end in 2020 and 2021 to enable a return to the January-to-December fiscal cycle has become one of the most trumpeted achievements of the Lawan-led Senate. Indeed, he has kept true to the pledge in his inaugural speech that, “every Nigerian wants to see the National Assembly pass the budget in good time and it’s something both chambers have bought into -to pass the budget within three months,” adding that it was the intention of the National Assembly “to process and pass the budget and send it to Mr. President to sign in December before Christmas.” In addition, the yearly passage of the Finance Bill since 2020 and the Public Procurement Act (Amendment) Bill are to ensure high-level performance of the budget. This passes as additional credit to the senate.

The electoral bill is passed but still stalled…

On Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the plenary at the senate turned rowdy over the Electoral Act Amendment Bill on 17th July, 2021. A heated argument broke out when Sabi Abdullahi, Senate Deputy Whip, proposed that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) be required to certify that national coverage is adequate and secure while the National Assembly must approve before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can transmit election results electronically. The upper chamber moved into a closed door session to douse the chaos and matters on the bill stayed pending until the Senate returned from its annual break. Subsequently, Senate President Lawan, on October 13, 2021, constituted a seven-man conference committee to meet with their counterparts in the House of Representatives to harmonize the differences in the Senate and House versions of the bill. Thereafter, the Senate passed the report of the conference committee on Electoral Act amendment bill on Tuesday, November 9th, 2021. It retained direct primaries for political parties and allowed INEC to determine transmission mode of election results. This did not meet the expectations of President Buhari as Lawan read a letter from him (Buhari) explaining his decision to withhold presidential assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021. This development angered some senators as moves were made to veto this decision. But Lawan, in a swift intervention on Wednesday 22nd December, said that the Senate would consult with the House of Representatives on how to respond to Buhari’s letter. This matter pends till the lawmakers return from Christmas break later in January.

Gale of defections hit PDP…

On 29th and 30th of June 2021, four Senators from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The lawmakers who resigned their memberships are: Senators Sahabi Ya’u (Zamfara North); Lawali Hassan Anka (Zamfara West); Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta North), Hassan Mohammed Gusau (Zamfara Central). These defections were topped by defection of Senator Stella Oduah (Anambra North) from PDP to APC in August this year.

Gender bill suffers another setback…

The phoenix Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill seeking legislative framework to empower women suffered another setback back in the 9th Senate in 2021. The bill titled: “A Bill for an Act to make provisions for the empowerment of women and gender equality to establish a legislative framework for the empowerment of women”, was sponsored by Sen. Biodun Olujimi (PDP-Ekiti South) .According to the sponsor, the bill sought to align all aspects of laws and implementation of laws relating to empowerment, appointment, and representation of women in decision making positions. Recall that the Bill was presented to the Senate during the 7th and 8th Assemblies but never scaled through.

Speedy approvals of President Buhari’s loan requests… 

Another striking event in the 9th Senate in the outgone year was approvals of foreign loans requests by President Buhari. One of such was the $2.6billion out of the $5.5billion external borrowing requests approved on 21st of April, 2021 for financing of priority projects. Chairman of the Local and Foreign Debt Committee of the Senate, Clifford Ordia, said the approved sum of €995 million euros was for financing priority projects of the federal government, while $1.5 billion (USD) would be disbursed to the 36 state governments to finance critical projects. Out of the total sum approved, $1.5 billion is to be sourced from the World Bank; €671 million euros from the Export-Import Bank of Brazil; and another €324 million euros from the Deutsche Bank of Germany. The tenor/moratorium of the loan to be sought from the World Bank is 25 years at an interest rate of 2.45 percent per annum; while that from the Export-Import Bank of Brazil is for 15 years at an interest rate of 2.935 percent; and the loan request from the Deutsche Bank of Germany for seven (7) years at 2.87 percent interest rate.

Teeth for AMCON…

The 9th Senate, in 2021, amended the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) Act via bill passed on Wednesday 28th April, 2021. The amendment bill which received concurrence from the House of Representatives and subsequent assent from President Buhari, empowers the Corporation to, amongst others, take possession, manage or sell all properties traced to debtors, whether or not such assets or property is used as security/collateral for obtaining the particular loan(s). It also empowers the Corporation to access the Special Tribunal established by the BOFIA, 2020 Act for dealing with financial related matters. Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central), had, during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, sought to know the rationale behind empowering AMCON to take possession of assets outside of those used as collateral in obtaining a loan request. Another lawmaker, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan (PDP, Akwa-Ibom North East) argued that, “you cannot go outside the asset presented for the facility.” But Senator Adamu Aliero however explained that some “debtors are taking government money, and they are using it freely and going free, and we need stringent measures to be enforced to recover the money.” The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, at this point called for voting on the contentious clause, which eventually was adopted by lawmakers in the majority, following Lawan’s ruling.

Stalled probe of CCT Chairman’s assault on an Abuja security man… 

Another issue that got Nigerians talking was the Senate’s intervention in the case of assault between the Chairman of Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Umar and a security man at a popular mall in Abuja, Clement Sargwak. The Senate, had through a petition written against the CCT Chairman by Sargwak, mandated its committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate the matter which occurred on the 29th of March. But the CCT Chairman, in an apparent face-saving move, filed a suit at the Federal Court in Abuja to challenge the “constitutional powers” of the Senate to conduct an investigative hearing on the assault case. In response, the Senate withdrew from the investigation.

2022 budget presentation… 

In what has become a tradition, President Buhari presented the 2022 budget proposal to the joint session of the National Assembly on Thursday, October 7, 2021. The budget was increased by both chambers of the National Assembly from N16.39trillion proposed to N17.126trillion passed by both Chambers. In assenting to the bill, President Buhari raised strong concerns about ‘budget padding’ occurrences.

Rejection of Lauretta Onocie for INEC…

Another event that triggered worries in the minds of Nigerians was the nomination of Ms Lauretta Onochie as a commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The Senate, had on 13th of October, 2021, received a request from President Muhammadu Buhari for the confirmation of Onochie and five other nominees as Commissioners for INEC. President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, as is the practice, promptly referred the nomination to the Senate committee on INEC. Already, a massive public outrage had been mounted against Onochie, an aide to the President on social media who had consistently conducted herself controversially.

Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South), Chairman of the Committee, while presenting a report on the screening, said the Committee received several petitions against the nominations of Ms. Lauretta Onochie.  Gaya disclosed that the petitions were against the backdrop of her involvement in politics and alleged membership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He stated further that her nomination violated the federal character principle as there was a serving National Electoral Commissioner from Delta State, Barr. Mary Agbamuche-Mbu. The senate therefore found a valid ground to reject her nomination.

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