For Bukola Saraki, President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the celebrations of his one year in office and the first anniversary of the inauguration of the eight Senate of the Fourth Republic on Tuesday, was an opportunity to bare his mind on the state of the nation.
He did, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to run a more inclusive government that would give every Nigerian a sense of belonging and the opportunity to help solve the monumental challenges facing the nation.
“There is no other time in our history than now when the business of government needs to be conducted with great inclusiveness,” he said in a lengthy address to his colleagues in the hallow chambers of the Senate, adding: “We must find a way to bring the best brains in our country on board wherever they may be found.”
Pointing out to the President that the challenges facing the nation required a bipartisan approach, which might mean going outside the All Progressives Congress (APC) fold to source for resource persons, Saraki said: “Even those who did not vote for us but believe in the change that we all believe are necessary to move our country forward should be given a seat at the table.”
According to him, “If we are able to mobilise the best human resources that God has bountifully blessed our country with, I have no doubt that with God on our side, we shall overcome.”
In perhaps the most telling introspective assessment of the APC-led federal government’s performance in the last one year, Saraki regretted that the nation’s leadership had failed to adopt policies meant to draw a productive economic roadmap for the nation.
He said: “We have failed to take the necessary steps in policies and legislation that would set us on the path to developing the kind of economy that we desire.”
He said the drastic fall in the global price of crude oil made it important for the government to put on its thinking cap with a view to promoting investments in other sectors.
“The collapse in oil price has without doubt brought huge shock to our economy on a scale that perhaps, has never been experienced before. This requires us to develop creative strategies that would stimulate business and investments into other sectors,” he said.
Saraki implored the Niger Delta militants to sheathe their swords as he charged the warring militants to respect the nation’s democratic institutions and channel their grievances through appropriate quarters, noting that the nation could ill afford further damage to the ecosystem of the region.
He asked the federal government to adopt dialogue and engagement as a more lasting option towards resolving the violence in the region.
He appealed to leaders in the area to play their part and mediate in the face-off between the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and the government.
Saraki said in view of the recent poor rating of the country by a foreign agency, the Senate had taken measures to review 54 extant laws in order to open up the economy for investment.
“The Ease of Doing Business Report that ranks our country 167 out of 189 countries is not likely to attract business into our economy. This Senate understands this. With the support from our international development partners and the organised private sector, we commissioned an expert report which identified 54 extant laws that must be reviewed and brought in line with international best practices in order to open up our economy for private investments and business,” he said.
He enumerated other activities of the Senate in the last one year, listing the bills passed by the eight Senate.
According to him, “This legislative intervention yielded about 15 major economic reform bills and seven business environment bills. Some of these bills have since entered the dockets of the Senate and are at various stages of consideration as some also have been passed by the Senate. Chief among those passed include: the Electronic Transaction Bill 2015; Debt Recovery and Insolvency Bill 2015; and the Railway Bill which is being considered through the final lap. All these bills represent a watershed in economic and business legislation in our country.
“The Electronic Transaction Bill 2015 for example, will be the first legal framework ever in our country that provides the legal foundation for electronic signatures and guarantees predictability in contracts made electronically. Once signed into law, this bill will offer full protections to contracts entered into via emails, and transactions conducted with online shops, electronic commerce and services platforms, which are currently not provided for in our laws. Another obvious benefit of this bill is, it will reduce the cost of doing business by eliminating transportation and other logistics cost. By passing this bill, the Senate has given legitimacy and local application to the United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 23rd November 2005 (the UN Convention).
“Another important bill that has emerged from our Ease of Doing Business intervention is the Bankruptcy & Insolvency Repeal and Amendment Bill 2015. These are the super structure on which a 21st century Nigerian economy must be built on. Nigeria has been ranked very low in dealing with corporate insolvency due to the multiple, costly and unwieldy resolution framework under the old 1979 Act. Aside from removing the clogs in the process of transiting insolvency to administration, this new bill guarantees that the process becomes even more efficient, less exhausting and result oriented.
The primary objective of this bill is to shift the paradigm of business administration from focusing on penalising failures to encouraging credit and entrepreneurship. This is one bill that has the potential to transform the Nigerian financial landscape by enabling consistent supply of credit; attracting new capital and expertise into business revival; improving creditor recoveries and lowering the cost of credit.”
Responding to Saraki’s address, Senator Ben Murray Bruce (Bayelsa East) said a number of things had gone wrong in the country as he advised the federal government to ensure that next year’s budget gives 50 per cent allocation each to both capital and recurrent expenditure.
He also said it was ridiculous to allocate a paltry N1.5 trillion out of a total budget of over N6 trillion to capital expenditure, noting that if only 2.2 million civil servants out of 170 million population consumed 75 per cent of the nation’s budget, then the nation was in a serious problem.
He said: “When the budget for next year is presented, President Buhari must give Kemi a direct instruction: recurrent expenditure should not exceed 50 per cent of the budget. It is ridiculous for us to talk about capital expenditure of N1.5 trillion in a N6 trillion budget when in fact we should be talking about the N6 trillion budget, the capital expenditure budget should be the only budget, recurrent expenditure is a fixed amount regardless of what happened you have to pay salaries.
“We cannot survive as a nation if all we do is pay salaries for 56 years. It is a very serious problem and here is a subject nobody talks about, population explosion 18,000 babies born every single day and these are excluding babies born from rape victims. This is a serious problem.”
The Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, said the nation was in a bad shape. “No matter the political party we belong to, the country is in a turmoil. The economy is in a bad shape. Insecurity is very high. Unemployment is unimaginable. The next one year must not be like the last one year. We must make a difference.
“Some things have not gone on rightly in the last one year. If we say we have no sin, we lie and the truth is not in us. We need to tell ourselves the truth. We need to put our past behind us and work together,” he said.
The Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, said there was crisis in every part of the country except the South-west, which he said had been relatively peaceful.
He said the Buhari administration should stop de-marketing the country.
“The way the APC is saying the country is full of criminals, investors will not come here to invest. They must change the way they talk about Nigeria. Things need to change,” he said.
The Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said he was proud of the accomplishment of the eight Senate.
“On the 9th of June 2016, as I look back now, there are a number of our colleagues who were not here, but today everybody is here. We were divided along the lines of Unity Forum, Like Minds and non-aligned, but today we are united as one indivisible Senate, working for the progress of our nation,” he said.
Reviewing the activities of the Upper Chambers, the Senate Committee on Rules and Business said it passed 11 out of the 300 bills initiated in the last one year.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Babajide Omoworare, said four of the 300 bills came from the executive while others were private members’ bills.
He also said 186 of the bills had passed first reading while 45 others had passed the second reading and were at the committee stage.
“Several others are awaiting publication in the journal while three were withdrawn for re-presentation by sponsors and were negative. So far, a total number of 11 bills have been passed by the Senate,” he said.