By Douglas Baye – Osagie
At the heart of every democratic state is the Legislative arm of Government, which forms a complementary tripod of governance with the Executive and Judiciary arm. Nigeria operates a Presidential system of Government with the National Assembly playing a pivotal role. Every state of the Federation has equal representation of 3 Senators in the Senate, while the Federal Capital Territory has one elected Senator. The 9th Senate was inaugurated in the red chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday 11th June 2020. Delta Central has the towering and visible presence of the Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Augustine Ovie Omo – Agege –serving a second term as the elected Senator representing the collective interest of all Delta Central citizens.
Although the legislature performs three key functions of lawmaking, oversight and representation, it assumes its primary importance globally as a lawmaking organ of government. Conspicuously outlined in Section (4) 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides that the “National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive list set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule of this Constitution. In a developing country, like Nigeria, the intellectual aspect of conceptualizing, drafting and passing bills into laws by legislators get minimal commentaries unlike the allegations of bogus salaries, constituency projects and chairmanship tussles in the media.
It is an open secret that majority of Nigerian citizens are angered by the political class. Senators like most politicians take their share of criticisms and abuses on a daily basis even when some honestly carry out their jobs dutifully to meet the demands of the electorate. Every national parliament even before independence has not escaped potent verbal attack by the Nigerian public. Going back to 1948 in one of Nnnamdi Azikiwe’ s contribution in the Legislative Council held at Kaduna on March 5, 1948, which sought to pay Nigerian legislators 600 pounds per annum for their law making services. There was a public outcry and a lot of Nigerians termed it wasteful and selfish. As part of his submission, the great Zik said;
“It is however evident that a person who is not economically secure cannot be free to express his opinion without fear or favour in a legislature of this nature. By being compensated, a member of the Legislative Council will become independent to some extent and he will be free from manacles which otherwise would make it impossible to stand by his convictions.
“I also agree with my with my honourable, the fourth member for Eastern Provinces , that it is an honour to serve this country in a legislative capacity, but I would remind them that Churchill, Nehru , de Valera and others , who regard service to their country as a privilege and an honour , have to be granted some sort of compensation, perquisite or allowance for doing so.’’
The 9th Senate like every other Assembly has had its fair share of criticism but has kept its nose to the grindstone in plenary – where it possesses the democratic legitimacy to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the federation. It has surpassed previous Senates in its law making functions in a period of one year despite a prolonged absence from plenary following the outbreak of COVID-19. Of course, the quantity of legislation passed does not always amount to quality. But for posterity sake, it is useful in quantifying the sheer volume of work the Senate has done within their constitutionally allowed. It speaks of their dedication and pragmatism in the job they have been elected to perform.
Compared to the 8th Senate which in its one year anniversary had 299 Bills introduced of which 4 Executive Bills, 186 on first reading, 47 on second reading and 11 on third reading awaiting concurrence by the House of Representatives, the 9th Senate has 365 Bills introduced of which 245 are on first reading stage, 109 Bills on second reading and 11 on third reading awaiting concurrence by the House of Representatives.
As a legislator, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege has not been found wanting in his duty post as a Senator in plenary. He has arrived each plenary session with so much gusto and verve, a sound knowledge of the law and a persuasive lobbying skill to push through his submissions. It is worthy of note that even with one of the busiest political itineraries in the country, the Deputy President of The Senate who is also Chairman of the Committee to review the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has the highest number of individual bills so far by a Senator in the 9th Senate. Another interesting fact about the 19 Bills sponsored by Senator Omo Agege is that the bills were all conceptualized by him.
Putting aside the massive infrastructural, human capital and charity causes embarked by Sen. Ovie Agege in Delta Central Senatorial district ,the following Bills which are on different stages of passage will define the legacy of the Senator’s service to the people of Delta Central and Nigeria at large.
- Federal Polytechnic Orogun Delta State (Est, Etc) Bill 2019
The Bill has been passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and awaits transmission to the President for assent into Law. Senator Agege has been able to rally support from his colleagues in both chambers to pass this Bill for the benefit of his people. The importance of a federal institution in a community like Orogun, holds tremendous socio economic importance to the people of Delta State and Nigeria. Taking into consideration the large amount of oil wells in Orogun community in Ughelli North Local Government of Delta State, which generates so much income for Nigeria, it won’t be asking for too much to site a Polytechnic in Orogun. In the context of globalization and efforts towards reducing poverty among the rural community, a tertiary institution will open Orogun to the world and create a business hub for indigenes and dwellers within and around the host community.
- ELECTORAL ACT (AMENDMENT), BILL 2019
It is absolutely impossible to think about democracy without elections. The legitimacy of a democratic government is predicated on the credibility of the electoral process. If eventually passed and signed into law by President Buhari, the comprehensive amendment to the electoral act been spearheaded by Sen. Omo Agege might go down in history as a defining moment of the 9th Senate. Amongst vital amendments, the proposed Electoral Act amendment Bill would focus on resolving issues surrounding INECs introduction of modern technologies into electoral process, particularly accreditation of voters and over voting. Also, the bill would mandate INEC to publish the Voters Register for public scrutiny at every Registration Area and on its Website at least seven days before a general election. The Bill provides greater clarity in the process of reaching the final announcement of election results, starting with sorting of ballots , counting of votes and announcement of results. If signed into law, this is one of the most important bills which will cast a positive light on the 9th Senate. The Bill has passed 2nd reading and its in the stage of public hearing.
- SEXUAL HARRASMENT BILL, 2019
This bill which the Senator first introduced in the 8th Senate summarily criminalizes any act of neglect or failure by administrative heads of tertiary institutions to address complaints of sexual harassment within a specified period and it also made provisions to adequately punish anyone found to have leveled false allegations of harassment against lecturers and educators. The punishment of a five year jail term for those found guilty should serve as a deterrent in a society that urgently needs to address the issue of sexual harassment. The Bill is waiting to be committed to the floor of the House for Third reading and passage after it successfully completed the public hearing.
4 DORMANT ACCOUNT FUNDS MANAGEMENT BILL 2019
The objectives of this Bill is to create a public custodian to hold and mange monies in dormant accounts and unclaimed dividend in banks and financial institutions in Nigeria , guarantee payment of monies in dormant accounts and unclaimed dividend in banks and financial institutions in Nigeria to the rightful owners and sanction defaulters of the provision of this Bill. The Bill has just been read a first time on the floor of the senate.
5 NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT (AMENDMENT) BILL
The proposed amendment of the NIC Act will provide a channel for appeal and take away the finality of judgment from the National Industrial Court. A new section is introduced to give litigants the right of appeal against the decisions of the NIC in all civil matters in addition to questions of fundamental rights and criminal proceedings where the right of appeal already exists.
6. COURT OF APPEAL ACT (AMENDMENT) BILL
The proposed amendment of the Court of Appeal act works in pari passu with the National Industrial Court amendment bill which is proposed by the Senator because when passed into law, it will provide enough clarity regarding the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal on decisions of the NIC and the right of third parties to seek leave to appeal against the decisions of the NIC. The bill has just been read a first time in the Senate.
By convention in the Senate , the Deputy President of the Senate chairs the committee on Constitutional Review. And like a man who was born ready for responsibilities, the Senate has started working with different professional bodies and institutions to ensure Nigeria gets a very implementable constitution that represents all interest. Sen. Ovie Omo Agege shocked most political observers when he said the Senate was going to have a very inclusive review of the constitution by considering some of the recommendations of the 2014 Constitutional Conference in its constitutional review process. He also said the committee will consider the Governor El Rufai led committee on restructuring . With Sen. Omo Agege driving the process , Nigerians will be rest assured that the ongoing constitutional reform process will be designed to create a workable and sustainable democratic environment. In the words of the Deputy President of the Senate; ‘’ We will also consider the need for devolution of power, full local Government fiscal autonomy, full autonomy of the judiciary in the area of administration of justice , youth inclusiveness in governance , gender parity or affirmative action,’’ he said
As a prepared lawmaker who is driven primarily by procedural reforms to the constitution, Sen. Omo – Agege has sponsored the following Constitutional Amendment bills on the floor of the Senate,
- A Bill for an Act to alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to preclude the Federal High Court from entertaining Pre election disputes emanating from Congresses, Conferences, conventions or other meetings convened by political parties for purpose of electing members of its Executive committees or other governing bodies and for related matters, 2020 SB 318.
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to preclude the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory from entertaining Pre election disputes emanating from Congresses, Conferences, Conventions or other meetings convened by political parties for purpose of electing members of its Executive committees or other governing bodies and for related matters, 2020 SB 319.
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to preclude the High Court of a state from entertaining Pre election disputes emanating from Congresses, Conferences , Conventions or other meetings convened by political parties for purpose of electing members of its Executive committees or other governing bodies and for related matters , 2020 SB 320.
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to provide for the establishment of separate tribunals to hear and determine pre-election matters and election petitions respectively , in the Presidential, National and State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections and for related matters 2020 SB 321
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , to amend section 308 of the 1999 Constitution by excluding immunity for public officers ( Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor) on misappropriation of public funds or sponsoring thugs to perpetuate violence resulting in death or injury of a political opponent , family member etc and for matters related 2020 SB 322
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to define who is an indigene of a State and for related matters , 2020 SB 323
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to enable womwn be identified as indigenes of a State by virtue of Marriage when running for office and for related matters, SB 324
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to specify the minimum number of Youths and Women appointed as Ministers, Ambassadors and State Commissioners and for related matters , 2020. SB 325
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to specify the time frame for the conduct of population census, 2020 SB 326.
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to change the selection process of judges serving as members of an election Tribunal , 2020 SB 327.
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to empower the Accountant General of the Federation to make payment directly to the Houses of Assembly and judiciaries of States from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation for other related matters 2020, SB 439
- A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999 to bring in consistency in the retirement age of Judicial Officers of Superior Courts of record , the pension rights of Judicial Officers and enhancement of their remuneration and fro other related matters 2020, SB 440
With the above bills which are in different stages of legislative process , Sen. Ovie Omo – Agege has proven that he is very much in tune with some of the fundamental defects in our constitution and subsidiary legislation . He has also provided strong support for his colleagues with progressive legislations that will engineer transformation of the country. With the modest performance of a public spirited legislator like Sen. Omo Agege after one year in office, Nigerians will be hopeful that when the curtain of the 9th Senate is drawn, the Senate would be credited to have deepened our democratic ethos and added value to human capital development of the nation.