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Interrogating The Priorities Of The 10th Senate

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Interrogating The Priorities Of The 10th Senate

By Mon-Charles Egbo

A legislative agenda is to the parliament what a navigation compass is to a ship. Apart from offering direction, it guides appraisals. It is not a legal requirement but it is a mark of diligence and commitment to benchmarked accomplishments.

However, in Nigeria, it has always been one thing formulating an agenda defined by ambitious projections and yet another thing getting them actualized, even if not completely.

For the 10th Senate, the priority areas of its agenda are food security, ending poverty, economic growth and job creation, access to capital, inclusivity, improving security, rule of law and fighting corruption.

Remarkably, there is an open acknowledgement that these are “in line with the Agenda of the President, H.E. Sen. Bola Ahmed Tinubu” and also that they are “ambitious yet realistic, visionary yet grounded in the needs of our people”. As such, the theme of the Senate’s agenda is Renewing Hope For A Better Nigeria.

Though this piece is just an overview of the policy thrusts essentially to track performance, it is instructive that in a developing democracy like Nigeria, where the president enjoys absolute powers and influence sequel to a faulty constitution, it is only by deliberate collaboration that the other arms can meaningfully function. Put differently, a legislature can deliver optimally only when there is a fair balance of influence or relative equalization of powers between it and the executive. This is common knowledge, anyway, and of course, the major reason the Constitution deserves urgent attention.

Hence, the president of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, is not wrong in asserting that this Agenda is a reflection of “the collaborative spirit between the 10th Senate and the Executive”.

Again, it is noteworthy that those highlighted areas of focus are interrelated thus necessitating largely holistic strategies.

As an instance, and given the inter-connectedness of poverty, food shortage, unemployment and insecurity as indices of an ailing economy, the proposed measures include the passage of laws that prioritize technical and vocational education as well as skills development, healthcare, transportation systems, energy, export-oriented industries and non-oil sectors including the creation of opportunities for the digital economy and other emerging technology-driven sectors including, generally, an atmosphere for private sector investments.

Above all, the Senate shall initiate two specialised bills. One is to establish the National Poverty Alleviation Management Commission taking into account, the unemployed, underage, older people, and those with disabilities. Among others, there shall be provisions for “the support needed to participate fully in the economy and society” in favour of the vulnerable population, and also, “unemployment insurance schemes to provide temporary financial assistance to unemployed individuals actively seeking work”.

Then the second legislation shall create the Small and Medium Enterprises, SME, Development Fund that offers low-interest loans and grants to verified SMEs. These grassroots-oriented initiatives shall be backed up by strategic policies to “attract both domestic and foreign investors”, make it easier for the banks to lend to the SMEs and generally, guarantee “a stable environment for economic activities”.

The other intended bills are on tax reform, microfinance and small business support, to stimulate sustainable investments and wealth creation, in addition to the ones that “focus on improving working conditions, enforcing minimum wage laws, and supporting workers’ rights to organize”. The rest are “to allocate more government funding to the agricultural sector, focusing on infrastructure development such as irrigation systems, storage facilities, and rural road networks to facilitate access to markets”; ensure the safety of farmers, prevent disputes over lands and empower the agricultural research institutions for resourcefulness and productivity.

Then towards attaining accelerated improvements in farmers’ income and access to technology, private sector investments, quality of fertilizers and growth of the seed industry as well as access to local and international markets, there shall be an integrated review of the National Agricultural Policy, Agriculture Promotion Policy, National Food Security Council, National Fertilizer Quality Control Act, Seed Act, Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, Rural Development Policy and Special Agricultural Processing Zones. The Senate shall also pass the Food Safety and Quality Bill to discourage food importation and ensure safe food products. Again, it shall review and expand the social investment programmes and other related existing frameworks for effectiveness.

On insecurity, the senate proposed “the formal integration of community policing into the National Security Strategy, emphasizing the role of local communities in intelligence gathering, conflict resolution, and maintaining public order”. Equally, it is poised to consciously promote economic development programmes for the geo-political zones with an emphasis on job creation, education, and infrastructure development, and quite proactively, create “a legal framework for national reconciliation processes, including truth and reconciliation commissions, to address historical grievances and ethnic or communal conflicts”. There shall also be specific laws for “the enhancement of border security through improved surveillance, intelligence sharing, and cooperation with neighbouring countries to prevent cross-border movements of terrorists and arms”.

To broaden these interventions, the Senate shall seek to strengthen the Money Laundering, Terrorism, Proceeds of Crime, Armed Forces and the National Security Agencies Acts. The other key legislation slated for similar attention include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Cybercrimes, Nigeria Police, Anti-Torture, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and the Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Acts as well as the National Security Strategy.

Furthermore and towards entrenching inclusivity, transparency and rule of law in every aspect of our national life, particularly in “politics, governance, decision-making and economic development”, the legislative agenda provides that the Constitution is to be amended “to establish quotas for women, youth, and persons with disabilities in elective and appointive positions to ensure their representation in governance” and also prohibit “all forms of discrimination in employment, education, and access to services”.

Additionally, there are planned actions aimed at enhancing “the credibility and transparency of the electoral process” with a special focus on engendering popular participation from all segments of the populace, irrespective of status or background.

Again, and overtly reassuring, the 10th Senate shall “fund public campaigns aimed at changing societal attitudes towards marginalized groups and promoting the benefits of inclusivity” and also encourage “private companies to implement Corporate Social Responsibility programmes that address inclusivity, such as scholarship programmes for underrepresented groups and internship for young graduates”.

Is there a better way to underscore legislative responsiveness in the history of democracy in Nigeria?

Commendably again, the protection of citizens’ rights shall receive profound attention. In this wise, there shall be “independent bodies tasked with monitoring and reporting human rights violations, with the power to hold perpetrators accountable”, deliberate reforms to “promote the timely resolution, ensuring that justice is not delayed or denied” and also that “public service appointments are merit-based and transparent, promoting professionalism and reducing political patronage”.

Continuing, the Senate shall review some “statutory and regulation frameworks and policies, which collectively are intended at strengthening the rule of law”. It shall also strengthen the relevant laws to ensure “the protection of whistle-blowers” and a “high standard of transparency in all government dealings, including public access to information on government contracts, expenditures, and processes related to public procurement”. These are added to institutionalizing periodic disclosure of assets and liabilities by all public officials, “detailed publication and easy accessibility of national and state budgets, including expenditures and allocations”, including, unprecedented again, compulsory “anti-corruption education and training for all public officials, emphasising the legal and ethical responsibilities of their positions” and also “e-procurement systems to reduce human interaction and the potential for corrupt practices”.

Still on the Constitution alteration, while the independence of the local government shall be vigorously pursued to take governance closer to the communities, the Senate shall “enact laws to further safeguard the judiciary’s independence, ensuring that judges are appointed based on merit through a transparent and impartial process”. It has also proposed “measures to protect judges from undue influence, intimidation and harassment to uphold the integrity of judicial decisions”.

Expectedly though, the Senate shall uphold the clamour for rationalization of the ministries, departments and agencies towards reducing the cost of governance. Similarly, it will consolidate the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Money Laundering, Fiscal Responsibility, Public Procurement, Freedom of Information, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, Central Bank of Nigeria and Proceeds of Crime Acts.

Of course, there are mechanisms for robust oversight responsibilities.

Therefore, the programme of action is quite elaborate. But once again, this is just an overview purposed to invite close monitoring for an informed assessment in the fullness of time.

This is because the eventual success of the Agenda is largely dependent upon the quality of cooperation from the executive and of course, the public.

Thankfully, there is yet another corporate acknowledgement that “through these focused areas, the Senate demonstrates its commitment to supporting the government’s reform measures, signalling a unified approach to national development”.

The senate president corroborated it, noting that “this Agenda, therefore, is more than a document; it is a call to action for all stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, and international partners, to join hands with us in this noble quest”.

So, the journey has begun!

While it is hoped that the presidency will sustain the “collaborative spirit”, constituents are enjoined to always empower their representatives with the right information and also poke them with the right questions.

But in the interim, the 10th Senate’s innovative stance on mandatory anti-corruption education for leaders, direct sponsorship of ethical and value re-orientation campaigns, protection of human rights and specialized bills for economic revitalization deserves an overwhelming embrace.

Egbo is a parliamentary affairs analyst

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