In several ways the 8th National Assembly was different. It adopted an approach of resolving problems in a rather methodical manner. It also set out clear and assessable performance objectives, for which the overarching goal was to grow the economy, create jobs and promote the Nigerian economy for investment.
As a result of the drastic fall in crude oil prices between 2014 and 2015, at a time the new administration assumed the responsibility of managing the affairs of the country, the Nigerian economy was thrown into severe stress and the prognosis was weak. There was a massive loss of jobs and industries where relocating from Nigeria to other more favourable climes, even in West Africa. This led to high levels of economic uncertainty that was made worse by growing insecurity across the country especially in the North East.
It became an imperative to identify new sources of employment for our teeming and energetic (especially young) population, create more revenues and diversify the economy for greater prosperity. It was also important as well to reduce our infrastructure gap which was obviously growing beyond and outstripping the capacity of the country’s annual budget capacity: a World Bank Report released at the time estimated that Nigeria will need to invest about $100 billion every year to address this deficit. The government had nowhere else to go but to find new capital to invest in the country’s infrastructure.
Nigeria’s Eighth Senate was inaugurated on June 9, 2015 as contained in the proclamation order to that effect issued by President Muhammadu Buhari. As provided for by the constitution and its standing order, members of the upper legislative chamber immediately elected the two presiding officers: Senate President and the Deputy Senate President. Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, a second-term senator representing Kwara Central and member of the majority All Progressives Congress (APC) which had 60 of the 109 members, was elected unopposed as Senate President. Senator Ike Ekweremadu, a fourth-term Senator representing Enugu West and member of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), defeated Senator Ali Ndume to emerge Deputy Senate President. This was reminiscent of the scenario that played out in the Second Senate, in 1979, when Dr. Joseph Wayas (Cross River, NPN) emerged Senate President while Sen. John Wash Pam (Plateau, NPP) became his deputy.
It should be noted that some APC senators were absent during the inaugural plenary – attending a meeting at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja. This development stirred up a controversy around the election of the Senate leadership, especially as it appeared the conveners of the ICC meeting preferred different candidates for the top offices.
Nonetheless, on September 29, 2015, 84 senators sponsored a motion for a Vote of Confidence on the leadership of Dr. Saraki, the new Senate President. There were no dissenting voices when the motion was put to vote on the floor. The Saraki-leadership immediately swung into action and started receiving delegations from home and abroad – professional groups, foreign missions, development partners, pressure groups, civil society organisations, labour unions and government agencies. These and many more started paying courtesy calls to canvass one matter or another, or seek support for issues and ideas that, in their view, merited legislative intervention.
The controversy over the emergence of the new leadership raged on, and at times, almost threatened to overshadow the work of the Senate. Groups emerged in support and against, with external forces playing key roles in sustained machinations to destabilise the emergent order. Forces propelled by the Executive arm of government, working with some senators, were bent on toppling the new Senate leadership. They initiated a case on asset declaration against the Senate President at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), as well as a forgery case at the Federal High Court against both Saraki and Ekweremadu. Both cases were eventually resolved in favour of Saraki and Ekweremadu.
Saraki used the constitution of committees and deft statesmanship to rally his colleagues and made popular a ground rule to the effect that: ‘Senators are elected to work for Nigeria and when the interest of the country is at stake, there are no PDP Senators or APC Senators.’ This slogan helped weld the Senate into a cohesive unit. They were then able to soldier on as a powerful team, taking on the most difficult Bills, Petitions, Motions and a plethora of issues with gusto. By the end of its first two years, the Senate had surpassed the previous Session in the number of bills and petitions successfully passed and treated.
The 8th Senate had a most intense and successful stakeholder engagement strategy. For the first time in the history of the Nigerian legislature, Public Hearings were being held on the yearly Appropriation (Budget) law passage. Courtesy calls on the Senate leadership went from the traditional meet-and-greet photo opportunity sessions to become ideas generating and information sharing meetings on what bills or interventions would help improve the living conditions of the people.
The Senate under Saraki adopted the method of engaging with professional groups, academics, development partners, NGOs, CSOs and other organisations to work on important Bills and issues. This led to the formation of the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER). The Roundtable had the aim of reviewing laws to reform and restructure the business environment to enhance Ease of Doing Business – to bring our laws in line with international best practices and generate mass employment opportunities, as well as the development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).The Senate ultimately developed a highly influential Legislative Agenda with a focus on reforming the economy.
In general, the 8th Senate adopted a consultative approach supported by a piecemeal, ‘Break-it-Down’ method in which complex pieces of legislation were deconstructed and re-arranged into several, more malleable bills. This allowed for different aspects of the subject matter to be passed in phases. It also helped push through the legislative crucible those subjects that ordinarily would fail when lumped under a single header. And so, for the first time, constitutional amendment was executed through separate bills and on time. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which had consistently failed to materialise in 12 years, became a reality, albeit in phases, with the governance component, the PIGB, already passed by both chambers while other aspects including Fiscal and Host Communities proceeded to the final stages.
Roundtable Dialogue sessions also became a regular fixture, organised by the Senate and held in areas most affected by the issues in discourse. This improved community participation, engagement and synergy between constituencies and their senators; while allowing for on-the-spot assessment of issues, sentiments and the sociological component of lawmaking. Visits to Maiduguri and Yola on the Boko Haram insurgency led to the establishment of the North East Development Commission (NEDC), to meet the relief, recovery and developmental needs of the region and bring stability to affected communities. The 2-Day Senate Roundtable on Drugs Use Crisis in Nigeria, held in Kano, led to the formulation of two bills to tackle the problem – one on Drug Control and the other on Mental Health. Another Roundtable in Benin City, on Migration and Human Trafficking, led to the ramping up of laws, targeted initiatives and proclamations by the Edo State Government and the traditional institution headed by the Oba of Benin.
The 8th Senate will go down in the annals of Nigeria’s political history as instructive regarding the timehonoured idea of independence of the Legislature as a co-equal arm of government, even under the constant onslaught of an often hostile and overbearing Executive. The Senate leadership defended and exemplified the principle of Separation of Powers at all times, and did not allow itself to be dictated to by any other arm of government. It maintained this stance through political turbulence which lasted virtually the whole of the 8th Senate – in some instances even targeting the legislative process itself. For example, there was strong political opposition to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which a group calling itself the Parliamentary Support Group for Buhari (PSGB) alleged was targeted at the President. Despite the intervention of the Senate’s Ethics and Privilege Committee, the conflict escalated into the infamous incident of the ‘snatching of the mace’ – the parliamentary symbol of authority – on April 18, 2018.
Other unsavoury incidents included that of July 24, 2018, when police officers barricaded the homes of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President to prevent them from presiding, perhaps in the hope of facilitating forceful impeachment. August 7, 2018 saw a full invasion of the National Assembly by agents of the Directorate of State Services (DSS) who prevented elected members and National Assembly staff from gaining entry in order to – as speculated by many – effect a forceful change of Senate leadership. The Senate President eventually made his exit from the ruling APC and joined the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on July 24, 2018. Despite the subsequent, constant refusal of presidential assent to many critical bills such as the Electoral Act, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) and over 20 others including constitution amendment bills – the Senate remained focused on fulfilling its constitutional mandate, and was committed to the defence of democracy till the close of its tenure.
The historic 8th Senate achieved many firsts, and led many unprecedented initiatives that will change the face of lawmaking in Nigeria into the future. Great progress was recorded in the process of legislation, oversight, representation and advocacy. 285 Bills were passed in 47 months – more than double the achievements of any Senate before it. A staggering 192 Petitions were also cleared within the same period. Overall, the Eighth Senate has blazed a trail in many areas of Nigerian national life, surpassing existing records and creating unique templates that can be improved upon by the successors. Ultimately, it is this record of towering achievement that will stand as a testament of history, leaving a lasting legacy for the legislature in Nigeria.
Abuja, May 2019.