AN ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE
SENATE, SENATOR ANYIM PIUS ANYIM TO MEDIA
EXECUTIVES ON THE OCCASION OF THE THIRD EDITION
OF THE SENATE ROUND TABLE HELD AT ROCKVIEW
HOTEL ABUJA, THURSDAY MAY 3 2001.
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the third edition of the Senate Round Table- a forum set aside for frank exchange of views between the Senate leadership and media executives. I am particularly enthused with the turnout of this event. It is an eloquent testimony of the willingness of the media executives to engage in constructive discharge of their responsibilities as the Fourth Estate of the realm – a role that is indispensable if our nascent democracy is to be sustained and nurtured to maturity. It is my hope and expectation that the public will share in the gains of this forum. Ladies and gentlemen of the media, you are most welcome.
This edition of the Senate round Table is particularly significant because it gives us the opportunity to review the work of the Senate so far and to project our vision for the future as we approach the half way mark in our tenure as elected representatives of the people. In a way this Round Table may well be regarded as an opportunity to present our half term report. Ladies and gentlemen, as you are all well aware, the National Assembly in general and the Senate in particular has experienced a sustained period of turbulence in all its ramifications. There is nothing unusual about it. Indeed it would have been out of character with the practice of democracy if we did not experience this period of discomfort in our learning process. Although as a nation, we are forty years old, our democratic age is about ten years. Therefore, mistakes are bound to occur. What is however of critical importance is what we make of the lesson drawn from our mistakes. If we make the most of these mistakes, the nation will be better for it.
At the National Assembly, I believe we are working hard to avoid the mistakes of the past in the conduct of our legislative business. There is therefore no gainsaying that we have made giant strides in the last 8 months since I became the President of the Senate. At this juncture, I would like to enumerate some of our major accomplishments in the period under review.
1. ADOPTION OF LEGISLATIVE CALENDAR
In order to facilitate the productive work of the Senate, the Senate has adopted a Legislative Calendar. The Legislative calendar simply put is a scheme or schedule of work. This means that the Senate has scientifically put before it, the amount or scope of work it must accomplish within a given period. It enables the distinguished Senators to be effective, as they already know ahead of time what is expected of them and the period for it.
2. CALABAR RETREAT
The Senate Calabar Retreat held early in the year was planned and intended to refocus the Senate to its onerous duty and to make it more purposeful and responsive to the expectations of the Nigerian people. In the Calabar Retreat, the senators took off time to reflect and re-evaluate achievements, limitations and rededicated and recommitted themselves to this mandate. The Calabar Declaration, which is the product of the Calabar Retreat, enunciated the following: The need for economic transformation with a minimum of 10% annual growth of the GPD. It recognized the people as the center for development among other considerations.
3. NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SERVICE COMMISSION
As a follow up, to the passing of the National Assembly Service Commission Act, the Senate has forwarded the names of the nominees to the President for assent. The National Assembly Service Commission is intended for the first time in the history of law making in Nigeria to give the legislature a good start and solid foundation. It is meant to instill discipline and make staff look up to its leadership.
4. ADOPTION OF A NEW ACCOUNTING SYSTEM
In order to willingly shut the door on financial recklessness, we have adopted a new financial system whereby there are no floating funds in the coffers of the Senate. Every Kobo is attached to a particular committee. There are no slush funds to spend anyhow.
5. THE SENATE AND LEGISLATION
The thrust of our legislation has been towards economic empowerment of all Nigerians, good government and social stability. From the 23″ January 2001, when the Senate resumed, forty-two Bills were considered and are at various stages-
a. 29 bills have undergone First Reading
b. 11 bills have enjoyed a Second reading and have been referred to appropriate standing committees
c. 1 (Legislative House (Powers & Privileges) Bill 1999) is scheduled for a joint conference
d. 1 passed by the Senate (Supplementary Appropriation 2001).
The Senate has resolved to give urgent attention to certain bills whose passage will impact directly on the people of Nigeria. Some of these bills include:
i. The Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency Bill 2001
i. Small and medium industries development Agency Bill 2001
ili. Procedure for the Local government Election Bill 2001
iv. Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education Programme Bill 2000.
You will agree with me, ladies and gentlemen, that the passage of these bills into law will bring a soothing balm to the various frayed sectors they apply.
Your Senate has passed key motions with a view to better the lots of many Nigerians. In this direction the Senate passed a motion to mandate its Committee on Housing to look into the National Housing Fund with a view to making the fund more responsive to the housing need of all Nigerians. Due to widespread
complaints from Federal Public servants, Senate also mandated its relevant committees to get to the root of the delay in effecting payment of salaries to affected federal public servants. Senate also passed a motion for the immediate stoppage of the illegal funding of the National Examination Council (NECO) until
an enabling law establishing the council is enacted.
7. SPECIAL AND STANDING COMMITTEES
From the foregoing, it is evident that the committee system needs to be strengthened so as to make the Senate more productive and responsive. This is what informed the expansion of the existing 53 committees to 63 special and standing committees. Each committee, it was decided, should be given a reasonable degree of autonomy and a car was also approved for each standing committee. You will recall in my last Roundtable with you here, I told you how I had to consciously resist the prodding of some of my colleagues to reconstitute the committees upon my election as President of the Senate. I believe that there is time for everything. I was not about to reconstitute the committees for reconstituting sake as to achieve a cheap political score. I had to wait to make sure that the exercise when carried out will add or create value to the productive work of the Senate. In addition, I made sure the leadership of the Senate was carried along at all times.
8, KUTA/OYOFO COMMITTEES.
During the last session of this forum, there were opinions in several sections of the media that the leadership of the Senate has decided to kill the Kuta Report. Others alleged that the report ha been swept under the carpet and will not see the light of day.
Gentlemen of the press, as you are all aware, that report as harmonized by the Oyofo Committee has been adequately addressed.
9. OTHER CONSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES
The Senate has constitutional powers for the screening of ministerial nominees, ambassadors, etc. In pursuit of these powers, the Senate screened and approved Ten (10) ministerial nominees and two ambassadorial nominees as were brought by the executive.
10. AD-HOC COMMITTEES
Due to pressing demands from Nigerians, it became necessary for the Senate to set up ad-hoc committees to address specific issues.
-MASSOB (Movement for Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra)
-Importation of Adulterated Petroleum Products
-Constitution Review Committee, among others.
11. OATH OF ALLEGIANCE BY NEW SENATOR
The peoples Democratic Party (PP) candidate won the Enugu West Senatorial election. Accordingly, Ben Collins Ugochukwu Ndu took his oath of allegiance on the floor of the Senate on the 5th of April 2001.
12. CONDOLENCE VISITS
On a sad note however, the senate lost Senator Adamu Augie (APP Kebbi State) in a ghastly motor accident to the cold hands of death. As a mark of respect, business was suspended on the floor of the Senate and a high- powered delegation took part in paying the last respect to our distinguished colleague (May his soul rest in peace).
In a similar vein, I led a delegation of Senators to condole with the governor and people of Plateau State over the sad loss of 23 students in a fire accident in Gindiri.
Ladies and gentlemen, these gains have not been without some difficulties. It is not unexpected naturally that a few individuals may not be entirely in agreement with the line being pursued by the leadership of the Senate. Indeed it will be foolish not to expect both inter- party and extra-party opposition as we continue to prosecute people oriented programmes articulated by my leadership.
Opposition is an essential element in democratic governance. Democracy without a virile opposition is no better than military dictatorship. I therefore welcome constructive opposition in the conduct of our legislative business.
It is nonetheless, important to recognize that persons who wish to conduct campaign of vendetta on the Senate leadership because they feel that their personal and selfish interests have not been adequately protected do so in futility. I would like to cease this opportunity to assure you that I will not relent in my campaign to rid the Senate of corruption. No amount of orchestrated media onslaught on the leadership of the Senate will derail us from pursuing policy initiatives articulated for the good of the people.
In recent times, there has been an orchestrated, deliberate and massive programme of misinformation through the media to manipulate public opinion by a few mischievous members of the Senate. They and their cronies have stolen vouchers from the accounts section of the National Assembly. They have forged, embellished and created stories in order to paint the Senate leadership in bad light. Sometimes I am tempted to ignore them and carry on the good work we are doing. On a second thought, I appreciate the society we live in and that silence can be interpreted to mean acquiescence. Let me say it loud and clear, there is no financial impropriety or recklessness in the Senate under my leadership. Some rich but mischievous Senators are using some sections of the Press to paint this picture in the belief that with constant repetition, falsehood will assume the nature of truth.
These are the enemies of democracy. They know that weakening the parliament is the best way to destroy our democracy. They will not succeed Ladies and gentlemen of the media as leaders of the acknowledged 4th Estate of the realm, you owe it to your conscience and our people to report news and analyse the information accurately and objectively for the good of our people who rely almost entirely on the media for their knowledge and experience of democratic governance. We will be doing the unsuspecting masses a great disservice if they are continuously fed with diets of misinformation, innuendos and blatant lies orchestrated by selfish persons to present the National Assembly in bad light.
We must resist the temptation to score cheap political goals against our opponents-more so if the long term impact on our democratic experience will not be in the interest of the governed.
Finally, I thank you once again for coming and implore you to guard your independence and integrity jealously because in the long run, the nation will be better for it.