ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN SENATE, DAVID A.B MARK, GCON,fnim, ON THE RESUMPTION OF PLENARY ON TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2011
Distinguished colleagues, it is my immeasurable pleasure to welcome you back to this hallowed Chamber after a well deserved recess. I am sure the recess afforded you the opportunity to catch some rest, interact with the family, connect with constituents, and attend to some personal matters.
As you are all aware, we did what we could to assist the Government take off before we went on recess. Forty-two ministerial nominees were diligently screened in this hallowed Chamber in line with our constitutional duty. Out of these forty-one nominees were confirmed as Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
May I therefore seize this opportunity to commend you for the high sense of patriotism, maturity and unparalleled commitment exhibited throughout the screening exercise. I thank you for massively attending the plenary and for patiently staying through the long and hectic sittings that the exercise demanded. Those were clear indications of the import and sense of duty you attach to your call to national service. But above all, I thank you most profoundly for your honourable conducts which made our first major assignment in this 7th Senate hitch-free and most importantly, scandal-free.
I also wish to thank in a special way, the members of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Privatization for their sense of duty and sacrifice so far. Even when most of us had gone on recess, they stayed back and continued to work in line with the mandate we gave to them. I wish to assure them and indeed all Nigerians that this Senate will do justice to the report without fear or favour when it is eventually presented.
We thank Nigerians who have understandably shown enormous interest in the work of this Committee.
Distinguished colleagues, permit me to note, albeit most sadly, that in the past few months, our dear nation has come under grievous attacks by forces of darkness and agents of insecurity and destabilization. Innocent lives have been mindlessly wasted and properties wantonly destroyed through bomb explosions and related acts of violence. Emotions have been ruptured, rivers of tears ripped open, and the land needlessly drenched with the blood of hapless innocent citizens. Indeed, what we have witnessed are gravely discordant with our cultural and religious values of the sanctity of life and our age long tradition of being our brothers’ keeper. I have no doubt therefore that you share my view that this is most deplorable and totally unacceptable. We must address the issue of insecurity squarely, head on once and for all.
May I on behalf of this Senate, send my heartfelt condolences to families and friends who lost their loved ones in the various bombing incidents and acts of violence across the country. As we pray for the peaceful repose of the dead, I would like to assure all that we will do whatever it takes to bring lasting peace so that everybody will live and thrive without fear.
Meanwhile, it is imperative to recall that the Senate has never rested on its oars in the search for greater peace and security in the land. In the discharge of our responsibilities as a sensitive parliament, this hallowed Chamber has hosted security chiefs at various times on the security situation in the country. The National Assembly also enacted the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011 to boost not only our internal security, but also the global security.
Dear colleagues, while we appeal to all Nigerians to recourse to dialogue and democratic modes of ventilating feelings and pursuing legitimate courses, permit me to emphasize that we cannot allow the people we represent to continue to live in fear.
What the times call for is greater collaboration, not only between the Senate and the security agencies, but also between our constituents and us. When evil men conspire, all good men must congregate. We represent every segment of this country from where we draw our mandate and we must therefore return to the people and work with them in addressing our security challenges. The bombers and their sponsors live amongst us. Therefore our constituents should spare nothing in assisting to find a lasting solution to this national embarrassment. I urge the Federal Government to take decisive steps to stem this ugly tide. It must rise to emphatically make this land most infertile for all sponsors and peddlers of terrorism and anarchy. And in doing this, there must be no sacred cows.
I earnestly hope and pray that God will assist us all to overcome this challenge as soon as possible. It is also with a heavy heart that I note the worsening spate of natural and environmental disasters in parts of the nation in recent times.
The number of tragic floods experienced across the country in the last few months has been very unusual, both in intensity and in human and material tolls on our nation. From the devastating floods of Lagos to the most recent and by far the most catastrophic incident in Ibadan; it has been a gale of tears and sorrow. On behalf of the Senate, therefore, I send our heartfelt commiserations to all the affected States, especially to persons who suffered human or material losses in the unfortunate incidents.
Let me reiterate, that the degree of abuse and environmental degradation as evidenced in the recent report on the impacts of man-made disasters orchestrated by oil exploration interests in Ogoniland is condemnable.
As an institution, this Senate will continue to provide all the requisite legislative frameworks that will fully support every concerted effort towards addressing the human factors that have worsened our environmental challenges. Importantly, I expect our Standing Committee on Environment, when constituted, to be up and doing in working with all stakeholders to preserve our environment, life and property.
However, it is indeed my pleasure to note that it had not been all sad news during our recess. I wish to formally inform us that one of our own, my brother and friend, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu was elected the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament during our recess.
It is a great plus not only to the Senate and the National Assembly of Nigeria, but also a boost to Nigeria’s leadership role in the West Africa sub-region. I congratulate him on behalf of this Senate and reaffirm our total support for his leadership and our belief in his capacity to take the Community Parliament to an enviable height. We wish him the very best and remarkable four-year tenure.
My dear colleagues, now that we are back, there is no doubt that we have great legislative challenges to face and the high expectations of our countrymen and women to meet. But we are not intimidated by these enormous challenges, especially given the quality and experience of the present crop of Senators. Already, we have hit the ground running.
I recall with great delight that in the days following the inauguration of this 7th Senate, the leadership of this Senate was fully put in place in readiness for the tasks ahead without rancour. Permit me to express our immense appreciation to you once more, for the great confidence you have reposed in us whom you have chosen of your own free and democratic will. I wish to reassure you that you remain our bosses and we are your humble servants. The Senate leadership is firmly anchored on mutual respect, trust, and collaboration. We can only work according to your collective directives, the dictates of your conscience, and in the best interest of the ordinary people of Nigeria.
Amending the Constitution
Distinguished colleagues, let me note that constitution amendment remains one of the top priorities of the 7th Senate. Our success in the electoral reforms is now obvious and has been widely acknowledged after the 2011 general election. I congratulate members of the 6thNational Assembly, once again, for breaking the jinx of constitution amendment in Nigeria. The onus is therefore on us to build on this success. We shall endeavour to produce a workable constitution that will stand the test of time.
Nigerians expect us to revisit some fundamental issues such as State creation, the Local Government system, devolution of powers, revenue allocation, State Police, State INEC, uniform minimum wage, joint account and other contentious but important issues.
- Should we allow State Police? Will it enhance policing duties and reduce criminality in the country?
- Is the current revenue formula equitable? Will a change in favour of the States enhance the deliverables to the people?
· Should power distribution be on the Exclusive Legislative List? Shouldn’t States that invest in power generation be allowed to distribute?
· Is it necessary to create new States? Will it bring government nearer to the people and address cries of marginalisation?
- How effective are the local governments? Should they be made to function independently of the States?
- Is the Joint State/Local Governments account still necessary?
We will not run away from any of these issues. I therefore expect that in this session, we will not only deal with them, but also with other issues that will guarantee good governance, peace, justice, and development in our country.
Furthermore, in the course of pursuing our legislative agenda, we will most likely review the Electoral Act, 2010. Now that primaries and elections are over and the tribunals are addressing the aftermaths of the election in accordance with the Electoral Act, we should be able to draw from the lessons learnt and further amend the Act accordingly. Thus, while the 2010 Act laid the foundation for possibly the best election in our democratic history, like any other human products, it is still not perfect. In our quest to continue to improve our electoral processes, we will work with the Independent National Electoral Commission, political parties, and other stakeholders to revisit the 2010 Electoral Act to address the issues arising from its operation ahead of the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in some states and the 2015 general election.
In addition, we have received a number of executive and private member bills in the present Senate.
There are also a number of other bills on which we could not conclude actions in the last Senate, and have therefore been carried over to the 7th Senate. We should strive to expeditiously consider the bills, and in doing so, we will identify priority bills and give them accelerated consideration. We should quickly address the bills that will add immediate values to the lives of the people of this country.
Distinguished colleagues, I am not unmindful of the place of the capacity building agendum in the realisation of our overall legislative agenda.
Instructively, in line with our long term legislative goals and in view of the immense challenges we face as a parliament in an emerging democracy, such as the persistent high turnover of parliamentarians in the country, the 6th National Assembly enacted the National Legislative Institute Act, 2011 for vigorous capacity-building for our legislatures.
We are working fastidiously at realising this dream. I am happy to inform you that steps are now being taken towards the immediate take-off of the Institute. This Institute is envisioned to serve, the capacity building needs of the National Assembly, various state and sub-regional parliaments in Nigeria and beyond.
In the same direction, this Senate and indeed the National Assembly will continue to reach out, build, and strengthen symbiotic relationships with other parliaments across the world. We will continue to expose our lawmakers to international best practices through participation in international parliamentary activities in ways that build their knowledge, confidence and competences. Presently, we have through the International Law Institute, Washington DC, reinvigorated our relationship with the Congress of the United States of America. This is a strategic relationship, given the fact that both countries operate a presidential system, a federal system, and a bicameral legislature.
I therefore expect that there would be great and rewarding cooperation, exchange of ideas, experience, and networking between us and the United States Congress in the months ahead based on mutual respect and benefit.
Dear colleagues, I have mentioned issues I believe are important for our considerations and pursuit in this session. They are certainly not exhaustive. It is pertinent to note that lawmaking and the roles of parliamentarians are dynamic. Most likely, issues may arise on contingency basis and this Senate will always strive to deal with them accordingly. Our past record demonstrates our ability to deal with challenges requiring legislative intervention.
Distinguished colleagues, let me say that the 7th Senate has no illusions of the challenges that lie ahead. We must make nation building our priority even as we give this country the much-desired legislative compass and a sense of direction. We must rise above the petty divides of ethnicity and religion and join hands together to midwife the birth of one indivisible Nigeria. We must overcome all our differences in the best way known to man, through dialogue and adherence to democratic norms. Democracy by itself cannot make a country, as this must be accompanied by a resolve among the leaders, and indeed the led to build a country on the foundations of “unity and faith, peace and progress”.
We must be detailed in our over-sight functions. And as natural barometers of the Nigerian people, we need to listen to their cries, wipe away their tears, and nip in the bud, the simmering frustrations before they snowball into something dangerous. “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor,” says the late US President John F. Kennedy, “it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Indeed, our nation faces numerous challenges. The deteriorating infrastructure, the energy crisis, and a near total collapse of education, healthcare and other social services make poverty worse.
This Senate must therefore, through robust, painstaking and detailed legislation and oversight ensure that people derive the benefits of good governance.
In conclusion, permit me to add that this Senate will continue to legislate transparently and firmly and uphold, the principle of participatory democracy in all our legislative activities. Parliament remains the people’s arm of government; hence, the essence of public hearing, which is based on the presumption that lawmakers do not know it all, and that citizens have an inalienable constitutional right to participate in the making of laws and policies under which they live.
I therefore wish to call on Nigerians, the civil society, interest groups and indeed all stakeholders to take the opportunity of our public hearings to actively participate and make inputs to the legislative processes. A situation where people would rather sit back and ignore public hearings, only to pick holes with the finished legislative product is hypocritical and antithetical to democracy and good governance.
Distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic, as we return to full business, I know I have your consent to use this opportunity to affirm to our constituents and indeed the entire nation that we are committed to their best interest. My prayer is that God will grant us all the life, good health, wisdom and knowledge to discharge our constitutional responsibilities most creditably. We pray that history will judge us correctly.
Once more, I welcome you back. As we take the great leap forward in legislating and working for the good governance, peace, unity, and development of our dear nation, may God give us the grace to serve with humility.
God bless you, and God bless Nigeria.