By Fred Itua, Abuja
After a keenly-contested election that produced Godswill Akpabio as the President of the 10th Senate on the 13th of June, 2023, a number of major activities have taken place in the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly.
Prior to the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly, there had been fears that Akpabio’s emergence as President of the Senate, will signal the continuation of a rubber stamp Assembly.
Almost 100 days after Akpabio’s emergence, it appears the once-disrespected upper legislative chamber is finally getting its strong footing. Contrary to popular expectations, the 10th Senate has so far barked and may bite where necessary.
In July, Akpabio-led Senate asked the Federal Government to halt the planned increment of the electricity tariffs in order to lessen the burden of the poor masses.
The Senate, in a unanimous decision, insisted that Nigerians were now going through hard times as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy. The Red Chamber maintained that the price of gas, which was the major item being used by electricity companies to generate power, had not been increased.
The Senate, therefore, resolved that henceforth, town hall meetings on electricity should be held at the headquarters of the companies. It added that communities that bought transformers or any electrical appliances should be compensated.
Again, the 10th Senate disappointed many Nigerians, when it told President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to explore diplomatic options in resolving the crisis in Niger Republic following a recent coup d’état that dethroned the democratically-elected President.
Tinubu had in a letter emphasised on the relevance of the issue. At its extraordinary sitting to confirm ministerial nominees, the Senate had planned to approve Tinubu’s request for “the implementation of the resolutions of ECOWAS on the political situation in Niger Republic”.
Contrary to expectations, the Senate urged President Tinubu and ECOWAS leaders to explore more diplomatic solutions, while calling on ECOWAS Parliament to immediately take a position on the issue.
Akpabio said: “The Senate commends President Ahmed Bola Tinubu and other Heads of States and Governments of the ECOWAS for their prompt response and the position taken on the unfortunate development in Niger Republic.
“The Senate recognises the fact that President Tinubu by virtue of his correspondence has not asked for the approval of this Senate to go to war as being erroneously suggested in some quarters.
“Rather the President and Commander in clChief had expressed and I quote, He ‘wished to respectively solicit the support of the National Assembly in the successful implementation of the ECOWSS resolutions as outlined in the said communication’. “The leadership of the Senate is mandated to, with the President on behalf of the Senate, to explore more diplomatic solutions.
“The Senate calls on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as chairman of ECOWAS to further encourage other leaders of ECOWAS to strengthen the political and diplomatic options and other means with which to resolve the political impasse in Niger Republic.
“The National Assembly calls on the ECOWAS leadership under President Tinubu to resolve the political situation in Niger and return the country to democratic governance in the nearest future.
While the administration of President Tinubu was yet to settle down, resident doctors embarked on a nationwide industrial action, thereby crippling activities in government-owned hospitals.
National President, Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr Emeka Innocent Orji, after an emergency meeting with Akpabio and other senators in August, stated that “we had a very fruitful meeting with the Senate led by the President of the Senate and from our discussions with them, we are very hopeful that when we table our discussions today before the NEC, something positive would come out.
“From our interaction with the President of the Senate and the practical demonstration he did before us today, we are very confident that there would be light at the end of the tunnel in the next 24 hours.
“Because of the intervention of the President of the Senate, who is the number three citizen and the assurance he has given us, our planned national protest has been cancelled while the decision on the ongoing strike would be taken as soon we meet.”
In August, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), planned an industrial action, following the removal of fuel subsidy and government’s delay in rolling out the palliatives.
A last-minute intervention by Akpabio-led Senate saved the day. Confirming the role played by the Senate, the national treasurer, Hakeem Ambali, said: “Protest suspended due to the Senate intervention and meeting with President Tinubu yesternight.” In July, while the House of Representatives embarked on its annual recess, the Senate suspended its own vacation to enable it confirm ministerial nominees of President Tinubu.
Senate spokesman, Yemi Adaramodu had said: “Screening will commence on Monday. We have suspended all the rules to accommodate the screening of the nominees.
“We were supposed to proceed on our vacation today (Thursday) but it has been suspended for this screening. We are starting the screening on Monday. We are not going to allocate time to nominees to talk.
“We will start by 11am on Monday and other days at 10am. We are ready to sit all day to screen them, with no limitation of hours. We won’t even time them. We would listen to them reel out their blueprint to us. The screening would be done in the presence of Nigerians.”
The screening exercise was held weekends and into the late hours of the night, to enable lawmakers conclude work in record time.
For the first time in over 10 years, the Senate refused to confirm ministerial nominees, despite insinuations that an Akpabio-led Senate will do the bidding of President Tinubu.
Nasir El-Rufai from Kaduna, Stella Okotete from Delta State and Abubakar Sani Danladi from Taraba State, were not confirmed by the Senate. The action sent shock waves and for days, political stakeholders could not come to terms with how Akpabio pulled off that move.
A political pundit put it this way: “The diligence in the Ministerial nominees’ screening which occasioned the decline on the approval of three nominees. This asserts that the Nigerian Senate is on a strong pedestal of institutional integrity.”
Before embarking on its annual break, Akpabio named chairmen and their deputies for the various standing committees.
Former governors and critical leaders were named. Senators Orji Kalu ( Privatization), -Mustapha Sabiu ( Agriculture) , Aliyu Bilbis ( Communications) , Asuquo Ekpenyong ( NDDC) , Godiya Akwashiki (Airforce), Shehu Kaka (Special Duties) and
Lawal Usman (Education) were named chairmen of Committees.
Senators Titus Zam ( Rules and Business , Sunday Karimi ( Senate Services) , Okechukwu Ezea ( Ethics and Public Petitions) , Shehu Umar Baba ( National Security and Intelligence) , Garba Musa Maidoki ( Legislative Compliance), among others were also named. Unlike previous experiences, there were no protests or plans by those named to challenge Akpabio. It is very unlikely that anything will change when the Senate resumes later in the month.
With many daunting challenges confronting the country, expectations are high from the 10th Senate. But Akpabio has assured that things will be different.
He had said: “Nigerians expect robust legislative debates. They expect us to focus on Nigeria and they expect us to help Mr President to take decisions that will improve the lot of Nigerians, they expect us to take decisions that will ensure total empowerment.
“Above all, they want the improvement of the economy, they want to see palliatives, they want everything about the wellbeing of Nigeria to be taken seriously, just like it is in the Constitution that the primary purpose of government is about security and welfare of the people.
“Once we take care of those things, we would have met their expectations but I assure you that we are poised to do so.
“To the Nigerian people, I say this: your dreams, your aspirations, and your well-being will be at the heart of everything we will do in this Senate. I urge you to remain hopeful, steadfast, and united. Nigerians must remember that the nation Is caught up in global challenges and upheavals which have far-reaching consequence; the impact of armed conflicts in Europe and Africa, as well as global political and economic realignments, are but a few of these events impacting Nigeria, other countries in Africa and even beyond. Our Senate will remain watchful of, and will be responsive to, these events.”
Akpabio’s spokesman, Eseme Eyiboh, while defending the Senate President’s records in his recent outing, said: “When this particular leadership of the National Assembly NASS emerged, there were rumours that the Senate would be a rubber stamp but the first indication of ethical integrity was when Mr President sent a request to the Senate for deployment of troops to Niger Republic, many thought it was just going to be a mere formality but today, we are proud to note that that particular Senate did not only deprive, but contributed immensely by saying that all diplomatic measures be exhausted. Just few days ago, the ECOWAS Parliament aligned with what the Senate said, that diplomatic measures be exhausted.
“Secondly, when the electricity companies and the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission NERC wanted a 40 percent hike in electricity tariff, the Senate rose to the occasion and said Nigerians were already suffering and decided to ensure the stoppage of that increment. That intervention has gone so far in assisting Nigerians.
“Thirdly, this is a country with opportunities but which cannot come to fruition without the rule of law. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) because of the withdrawal of fuel subsidy went on strike for one day. The federal government was engaging them and it went to court to stop Labour and thereafter, when there was increase from N540 to N617, Labour said no and rightly went on strike. The Nigerian Senate engaged labour constructively and it culminated into the NLC appreciating and understanding the situation that we found ourselves. On our part, we are saying that the NLC did very well for opening up the corridor for discussions and we also appreciate the Senate for its intervention.
“In health, the resident doctors embarked on strike. They wanted to go on a nationwide protest. They were very genuine in their requests, acts and conduct. They did well. The same Senate decided to engage them and the outcome of that engagement was the calling off of the strike by the resident doctors and we are very grateful to them. We are also very grateful to the Nigerian Senate for this intervention.
“Still in the effort to establish the independence of the legislature and that it is not a rubber stamp, the President sent 48 ministerial nominees to the Senate and they were invited for screening. Out of the 48, the Senate stepped down approval for 3. You would have naturally expected that the Senate would have returned the same number to the President but they sat even on non-legislative days like Friday, Saturday and Monday and sat into the night, screening the nominees.
“In conducting that exercise, they went ahead to screen them and asked probing questions. Take a bow is associated with parliamentary precedence and privilege but it did not in any way affect their final submissions.
“We are therefore appealing to Nigerians to give them the benefit of the doubt and support the presidency of the Senate under Akpabio to succeed in the interests of all.”