By Ezrel Tabiowo
Whilst going through the news feed of my social platforms on Friday evening, an analysis written by a Senate Correspondent of an online platform, Premium Times, on the performance of the Ninth Senate under the leadership of Senator Ahmad Lawan caught my attention.
It reads: “In two years, Lawan’s Senate records more failures than successes”. Though I felt a sense of outright disagreement with the caption of the report which I perceived as strongly biased, I nevertheless decided to read its contents for very obvious reasons.
1. To determine the rationale behind the writer’s position;
2. To examine the strength of arguments in reaching what I perceived to be a rather misleading conclusion;
3. To establish and understand the parameters used in coming to such erroneous judgement; and
4. To understand the reporter’s level of competency and professionalism
As one who has covered the proceedings of the upper chamber in the last 10 years under the strict supervision of very meticulous line Editors, I learnt to avoid falling for the temptation to skew analysis in my weekly column to only reflect my personal thoughts or opinion on a matter devoid of supporting facts.
In other words, my credo as a Reporter at the time was to live up to the ethos of what Helen Sissons considers “Good Journalism” in the book titled ‘Practical Journalism: How to Write News’.
For Sissons, “Good Journalism requires accurate writing”, as carelessly written reports can mislead the audience. With respect to the analysis by the Premium Times reporter, it brings to mind what then ought to constitute Good Journalism? In response, I would say, the provision of accurate facts.
Now, let us examine the parameters used and facts provided by the reporter in reaching such misleading position. In essence, what were the highlighted facts suggestive of the purported failure of parliament within the context of the analysis? For the purpose of clarity, I advise that due attention be given to parenthetical observations in the following paragraph.
The reporter gave them as follows: Approval of Executive Loan Requests; Checking Excesses of Executive Appointees and Colleagues (not recounting the Senate’s summons on the Health Minister during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the Former Service Chiefs and IGP over lingering insecurity and many others); Holidays and Lateness (again, not disclosing the number of times the Senate bent its rules to sit beyond 2pm and most times till 4pm or the circumstances of the pandemic which compelled the upper chamber to adjust plenary sessions from three to two sitting days in a week); Budget Padding (in this instance not taking into consideration that the National Assembly has the legislative and constitutional powers to review executive requests in this regard); and Checks and Balances (which by the way makes no reference to, or recourse to the efforts of the Legislative Compliance Committee of the Senate).
What I find even ludicrous on the other hand is that these purported failures were made to tower above the outstanding legislative accomplishments of the Lawan-led Senate in a way intended to undermine the achievements of the Ninth Assembly.
Much as journalists are expected to hold government accountable as the fourth estate of the realm, such responsibility must not be seen to trample on objectivity, foster bias, or suppress truth.
This takes us to the bigger question, what then is the objective approach to assessing the performance of the ninth Senate in the last two years?
My response: an objective approach that juxtaposes the Senate’s accomplishments side-by-side with its legislative agenda to measure whether or not the upper chamber has indeed lived up to expectations. Only a newbie or rookie to parliamentary reporting would attempt to do otherwise.
How to assess the mid-term performance of the Ninth Senate
When Senator Ahmad Lawan threw his hat in the ring to contest the Senate Presidency a second time in 2019, he very much went for it fully prepared with a robust legislative agenda.
Tagged: “A National Assembly that Works For Nigeria”, Lawan’s clearly defined agenda remains the first ever seen from any candidate contesting the Senate Presidency since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.
He also was the first candidate ever in Nigeria’s history to take his campaign round media houses across the country in a bid to sell his Senate Presidency and as well seek the support of the media as partners in having a National Assembly that works for all Nigerians.
His legislative agenda targeted the following key areas: Security, Economy, Criminal Legislation Reform, Public Finance Management Legislations, Youth Unemployment and Substance Abuse, Standard of Education, Healthcare Services, Social Safety Net, and Constitutional Amendments.
Other aspects include: Independence of the Legislature, Electoral Reforms, and Reviving the Real Sector and Infrastructure.
While delivering his 2nd Anniversary speech during a special session last week, the Senate President announced that the upper chamber in the last two years passed 58 bills out of 742 bills introduced.
Surprisingly, some analysts like the Premium Times reporter jumped at it and fell for the nonsensical and shallow approach which adjudges the success of Parliament by the number of bills passed as against those introduced over a specified period of time.
They however fail to realize that the actual success of parliament is measured not by the number of bills passed as against the number introduced, but by their numbers spread across the legislative agenda in meeting with the expectations of citizens.
The 58 bills passed in the period of two years by the Senate addresses and touches on critical aspects of the economy, security, public finance, employment, education, healthcare and so on.
On 7July, 2020, the Senate passed a landmark legislation which criminalized sexual harassment in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.
With the passage of the Sexual Harassment bill, the Nigerian government would be fulfilling part of its obligations undertaken through the ratification of the United States Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The upper chamber during the last two years also passed bills to upgrade some polytechnics across the country such as the Yaba College of Technology and Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, into full-fledged Federal Universities.
This is not to mention the passage of bills to establish new tertiary institutions across the six geo-political zones of the country as well as put an end to discrimination between First Degree and HND holders by employers.
In its bid to improve healthcare services across the country, the upper chamber considered several bills and passed some seeking to upgrade Federal Medical Centres to University Teaching Hospitals.
Among such bills is one passed on June 1, 2021, seeking to establish the Modibbi Adana University Teaching Hospital, Yola in Adamawa state.
The Senate also on May 19, 2021, passed a bill for an Act to provide the legal framework to establish Federal Medical Centres in the country, as well as equip and maintain them to provide facilities for diagnosis, rehabilitation and treatment in medicine.
The upper chamber also approved the establishment of the National Dermatology Hospital, Garkida, Adamawa, State.
The bill seeks to revive an international hospital that would specifically focus on the treatment of leprosy, skin cancer and other skin-related diseases.
In addition, the Senate on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, passed for second reading the Public Health Emergency Bill, 2021, and referred same to its Committee on Primary Health and Communicable Diseases for further legislative work.
The bill seeks to repeal the obsolete Quarantine Act 1926 and provide an effective and efficient legal and administrative framework to address challenges from a sudden outbreak of infectious diseases.
It also seeks to facilitate the provision of funds and accountability mechanisms to contain the spread of dangerous infectious diseases, as well as prescribe offences and punishments for violations associated with the control and management of such diseases.
The ninth Senate in contrast to past assemblies since 1999, passed the most impactful legislations targeted at strengthening the Nigerian economy.
It recorded a significant feat with the restoration of the nation’s budget cycle to the January – December timeline which before now was an unbreakable jinx.
The restoration of the budget cycle by then ninth assembly saved Nigeria from an economic recession during the first quarter of this year.
The move is expected to turn around the fortunes of the country’s fiscal plans and boost local and foreign investors’ confidence in Nigeria’s economy.
In a similar attempt, the upper chamber also passed the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act (Amendment) Bill 2019 which defied all attempts by previous assemblies to amend since is enactment.
The bill which has since received presidential assent pushes Nigeria’s revenue figure accruing from International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in the country from $150 million (USD) to $1.5 billion (USD) annually.
Also passed was the Finance Bill 2020 which, specifically, amended 17 key aspects of the extant laws.
They are: Capital Gains Act; Companies Income Tax Act; Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Act; Personal Income Tax Act; Tertiary Trust Fund Act; Customs and Excise Duties Tariff; Value Added Tax Act; Stamp Duties Act; and Electronic Transaction Levy.
Other areas amended include: Federal Inland Revenue Service (Establishment) Act; Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority Act; Oil and Gas Export Processing Zone Act; Crisis Intervention Fund; Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund; Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020; Fiscal Responsibility Act; and Public Procurement Act.
President Muhammadu Buhari, had in a letter dated 25th November, 2020 said the passage of the Finance Bill would support the implementation of the 2021 budget through key reforms in taxation, customs, excise, fiscal and other laws.
Given these achievements, I daresay that the Senate President reserves the right to constantly remind Nigerians about his milestone accomplishments which before now were unrealisable under previous assemblies since 1999.
Disturbed by the growing number of unemployed youths in Nigeria, the Senate President in his legislative agenda identified this as a challenge and has remained focused in ensuring its reversal through legislative support to executive requests.
Drawing from the cordial relations between the Executive and National Assembly, the exit strategy identified by the Buhari-led Federal Government to address youth unemployment targets the provision of critical infrastructures that would create jobs for the thousands of young Nigerian graduates churned out by universities across the country.
However, getting the support of the National Assembly would require its approval for loan requests from the Executive to finance the implementation of such critical infrastructures and projects.
In one of such moves last month, President Buhari while seeking the upper chamber’s approval of donor fund projects under 2018-2020 borrowing plan in a letter addressed to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, dated 6th May, 2020, explained that same would enable projects listed to be financed through sovereign loans from the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), French Development Agency (AFD), Islamic Development Bank, China EXIMBank, China Development Bank, European Investment Bank, European ECA, KfW, lPEX, AFC, India EximBank and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
He added that the projects are geared towards the realization of the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan that cut across key sectors such as Infrastructure, Health, Agriculture and Food Security, Energy, Education and Human Capital Development and COVID 19 Response efforts in the six geo-political zones of the country.
There are yet other numerous achievements or issues addressed by the Ninth Senate in just two years which the Premium Times reporter either inadvertently forgot or mischievously left out in her write-up probably to justify her biased conclusion.
Ezrel TABIOWO is the Special Assistant (Press) to the Senate President.