Back to Work

The National Assembly, last Tuesday, resumed plenary after taking five weeks off to consider the 2021 Appropriation Bill, report Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu

After the suspension of plenary for a month by both Chambers of the National Assembly to consider the 2021 budget, the lawmakers returned to the hallowed Chambers last week to deliberate on issues considered of importance to the country.

Issues Considered at the Senate

At the Senate, issues like compensation for riot-ravaged states, the confirmation of Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the amendment of the Electoral Act ahead of the 2023 general election were considered.

The Senate as part of its resolutions asked the federal government to reserve one per cent of Value Added Tax (VAT) proceeds for Lagos and other states badly hit by violence recently. It also asked the government to set up a visitation panel to evaluate the extent of damage in the affected states.

Senate’s resolutions were sequel to the adoption of two motions by Senator Olujimi Abiodun and Senator Gershom Bassey, who called on the National Assembly to compensate states affected by the crises.

In their arguments, the two senators disclosed that large-scale destruction of public and private property, including police stations and other public facilities, and the residence of serving and former lawmakers in Lagos and Cross River States, occurred during the violence.

Olujimi lamented the extent of destruction suffered by the Southwest and Lagos State in particular, adding that private and public assets destroyed by hoodlums in Lagos were estimated to be over N1 trillion by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Bassey lamented the crisis in Cross River State, saying, “It is unfortunate that what started as a peaceful protest was hijacked by hoodlums, unleashing terror on innocent citizens.”

However, there was uproar on the floor of the Senate as the debate took a different dimension, when Senator Sani Musa (Niger East) said the compensation should include states suffering from banditry and Boko Haram attacks.

Musa, in his contribution, said: “Any intervention by the government should be holistic and not restricted to Lagos State or Calabar.” Other Senators also canvassed for compensation for their respective states.

Also, the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), last Thursday, screened Professor Mahmood Yakubu for the coveted office of INEC Chairman.

The screening of Yakubu came after members of the red chamber considered the request of President to confirm his reappointment as INEC boss.

The Green Chamber later referred the President’s request to the Senate Committee on INEC for further legislative action and is to report back on Tuesday.

The screening session however took place a day after in Senate committee room 204

During the screening, Yakubu appealed to the National Assembly to pass the Amended Electoral Act Bill latest in the first quarter of 2021, adding that passing the piece of legislation within the timeframe recommended was critical to the success of the 2023 general election.

He informed the lawmakers that the electoral body had submitted several areas for amendments in the Electoral Act.

“It is extremely important for the electoral legal framework to be finalised in due time. INEC cannot conduct elections under uncertainty. We would continue to deepen the use of technology for elections and explore other ways in which the electoral process could benefit from technology,” he said.

The House and Her Deliberations

The nation, for almost two decades, had been on a journey with Petroleum Industry Bill, with a lot of anticipation and promises, which failed overtime in previous assemblies.

The bill was first sent to the National Assembly in December 2008 by the then President Umaru Yar’Adua. A presidential committee set up in 2007 to look into the oil and gas sector came up with the idea of this bill, which aims to increase transparency in NNPC and to increase Nigeria’s share of oil revenue.

Then, the Bill was never passed into law due to objections from the International oil companies (IOCs) and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over the content in its drafts. In 2015, then Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu said the PIB was to be amended to speed up its passage. Consequently, the Bill was broken into different parts, to address various aspects of the oil industry.

In 2016, the Senate showed signs of readiness to begin deliberations on the Bill, set to be moved for a second reading by the Chairman of Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), Senator Omotayo Alasoadura.

Ahead of the debate on the Bill, Senators from the Niger Delta area, who had moved for the suspension of the bill some months ago, because they believed that the non-inclusion of the community demands in the first phase might aggravate tension in the oil producing areas, concluded plans to meet to brainstorm on the resuscitation of the bill and ensure that the work on its passage moves fast. The plan to ensure that it was passed before the end of the legislative sitting, for 2016, did not come to life.

Currently, the passage of the Bill is one of the priorities listed by the Ninth National Assembly in its legislative agenda. Following its transmission to the National Assembly by President in September, it seems the Ninth Assembly would break the jinx surrounding the PIB this time around, as the House, barring any further delay, had commenced necessary legislative work.

The lawmakers on November 24 after over an hour of debate passed the PIB for second reading.

The legislation entitled: ‘A Bill for an act to provide legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian petroleum industry, the development of host community and for related matters (HB.1061)’, among others, is proposing the establishment of Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission to be responsible for the technical and commercial regulation of upstream petroleum operations.

The bill seeks the commercialisation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to become Nigerian National Petroleum Company, and to be incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act by the Minister of Petroleum.

It further seeks to scrap the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), and replaces them with a new agency to be known as Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority (NMDRA), which shall be responsible for the technical and commercial regulation of midstream and upstream petroleum operations in the industry.

Leading the debate on its general principles, Leader of the House, Hon. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, called on the lawmakers to support the passage of the bill.

Ado-Doguwa said: “Permit me to take the House down memory lane. This was a bill that began at the sixth Assembly. Unfortunately, this bill has not been able to see the light of the day. Whatever controversies surrounding the bill, the bill is now before us. It is my hope that members will look in this bill and ensure it is passed.’’

On his part, the Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Ndidi Elumelu, while contributing in support of the bill, said its passage is long overdue.

He said: “I rise to support that this PIB is long overdue. The essence is to remove some uncertainties and institutionalise the ease of doing business. If passed, the bill will institutionalise good governance and ease of doing business.

It will attract investors if passed fast. Our four refineries are bad. That’s why we import petrol from Niger Republic, when we are supposed to be giving it that country, and not us importing from them. We need to pass this PIB as soon as possible.”

Contributing, Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, opined that the bill, if passed, would solve the importation of petroleum products from Niger Republic.

According to him: “I am for it. If Nigeria has four refineries that are not functioning, if the PIB will cure it, I am for it. If the opportunity we had in the 1970s and 80s will come back, I am for it. If we pass the Electoral Bill and also PIB, I will say that we have done a wonderful job. We should pay every attention to this bill. We should make sure that all the landmines that will come along the way are jettisoned.”

The Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Upstream, Hon. Musa Sarkin Adar, while contributing stated that the Bill came at a time Nigeria could hardly afford to keep losing scarce financial resources especially, as a direct fallout of the covid-19 pandemic.

He said with the discovery of oil in different African countries; Nigeria needs to operate an oil sector that will ensure maximum profitability that can ensure wealth for Nigeria and Nigerians. This, he stated, will reduce social inequality.

On her part, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, stressed that the passage of the Bill was long overdue and hoped that the issues that made the Bill not to receive presidential assent in the past have truly been dealt with so that the process could be completed this time. She wondered why some stakeholders, especially external forces were bent on frustrating the Bill. She urged for patriotism so that the Bill could be passed.

The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, in his submission, assured Onyejeocha that the differing interests will not be able to frustrate the process this time, as the Ninth Assembly is keen on seeing the Bill passed and assented to.

The Bill was thereafter passed for second reading and referred to the adhoc committee on PIB.

Less than 24 hours after it was passed for second reading, the Ad hoc Committee on Petroleum Industry Bill, held an inaugural meeting, during which the lawmakers called on Nigerians to make inputs on by submitting memoranda, assuring them that the bill would be passed by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Mohammed Monguno, said the committee had taken liberty to create a website which will serve as one of the platforms where stakeholders and interested members of the general public could download the text of the Bill and upload comments, inputs and memoranda to same.

The House also last week passed for second reading, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2020, which seeks to reduce excessive campaigns expenses, ensure the strict use of card readers, ban on substitution of candidates by political parties, and late releases of polling funds to the INEC ahead of the 2023 elections.

The legislation entitled, “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Electoral Act N0. 6, 2010 (As amended 2015) and enact the Independent National Electoral Commission Act 2020, to regulate Conduct of Federal State and area Council Elections and for related matters, 2020,’’ was sponsored by Hon. Aisha Dukku.

Dukku, in her lead debate of the bill, said the amendment has become necessary because of the flaws observed in the electoral system.

She explained that the Act, when amended, the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at the presidential election shall not exceed five billion, governorship N1 billon, senatorial 100million, House of Representatives, 70million, state assembly 30 million, chairmanship for area councils in the case of the FCT 30million and councillors 5 million.

According to her, there are several clauses, which need amendment including the title bill, adding also that the bill has the input of INEC, Senate and the Federal Ministry of Justice.

Gbajabiamila said there must be a strict usage of the card reader, without the application of other technological devices in all polls.

Elumelu also canvassed strongly for the reduction of statutory campaign funds for councillorship, chairmanship and House of Assembly candidates, if the candidates for those offices were found to be cerebral and resourceful. The House adopted and passed the Bill for a public hearing and subsequent third reading.

In the weeks before proceeding on Christmas break in December, the two Chambers of the National Assembly might consider and pass the 2021 Appropriation Bill, which is being presently collated by the Appropriation committees of the Senate and House of Representatives.

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