Law News
Hard nuts await legislators as NASS resumes

THE National Assembly on July 17, 2014 embarked on its annual vacation to allow the legislators have some rest after hectic legislative assignments. It also afforded them the opportunity to consult with their constituents, oil their political wheels ahead of the 2015 general elections as well as commission their constituency projects.

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

Before the vacation, there were unresolved issues,  bills and committee reports that have been pending before the lawmakers for a long time.

Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB
As the Senate resumes legislative deliberations today, issues expected to dominate the session will among others include, constitutional amendment, the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which has raised suspicions on the sincerity and seriousness of the National Assembly on the bill following allegations that some oil giants  in the country have made efforts to thwart the passage of the bill.


The Senate

The coalition of Civil Society Organisations recently warned that if members of the National Assembly did not pass the PIB into law before the 2015 elections, the masses would mobilize against them to ensure that they are not re-elected.

The Environmental Rights Watch/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, alongside Green Alliance Nigeria, GAN, the Host Communities Network of Nigeria, HOCON, and the Students Environmental Assembly Nigeria, SEAN, had few months before the vacation staged a rally at the National Assembly over non-passage of the PIB.

The Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Dr. Godwin Ojo had said that the PIB has popular support not only among the civil society groups but also among communities across the Niger Delta and other oil-bearing communities that have for decades borne the weight of degradation and dislocated livelihoods on account of oil exploitation.

His words: “Broadly, we see some of the provisions of the PIB as a conflict resolution mechanism to the decades of violent conflicts, and the restoration of transparency and accountability in the petroleum sector in Nigeria to which the National Assembly has been called upon to act quickly.

We state strongly that failure to pass the bill will have political costs for sitting lawmakers.

“So far, we would like to commend the efforts of the 7th National Assembly for their response to popular agitations for the complete overhaul of the PIB 2012 as it presents an opportunity to check corporate rule, total disregard for local livelihoods, and reckless degradation of the environment, violence, corruption and theft which have been the sad hallmarks of the Nigerian petroleum industry.

“We believe that with the antecedent of the present National Assembly, in their staunch refusal to bow to corporate lobby and blackmail, Nigerians will ultimately get a law that they will be proud of.”

According to him, the PIB if passed, would strengthen the transparency and accountability driven by the removal of non-disclosure clauses from the bill in line with the EITI principles which Nigeria is now a compliant state, and the discretionary powers being granted the President and the Minister.

It would also ensure the inclusion of communities’ interests in the petroleum sector, by allowing communities through Community Foundations to manage the 10 per cent equities being devolved to them and not to be swallowed up by administrative processes under the petroleum minister.

Dr. Ojo pointed out that the PIB would ensure inclusion of provisions for the protection, conservation, clean up and re-mediation since the polluter pays principle should apply as well as ensuring the inclusion in the bill of adequate compensatory mechanisms for victims of the negative impacts operations in the sector as well as end gas flaring and the impunity of oil companies.

Jonathan’s $1bn insurgencyloan
President Goodluck Jonathan had before the Senate proceeded on the vacation sought approval for   $1 billion loan for the fight against terrorism especially the Boko Haram insurgency in some parts of the country.

President Jonathan in the letter addressed to the Senate President, Senator David Mark which was read a day before the vacation explained that the loan would be used to upgrade equipment, training and logistics of armed forces and other security agencies.

The Senate did not deliberate on the letter but the Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, SAN, in an interview with Vanguard assured that it would be given adequate attention.

He said:  “You recall the request came in a day or two before we proceeded on annual vacation. When we resume, we will address it because the situation in the North East has even become more challenging than it was before we left on recess. It is of great concern to Nigerians and we are going to address it.”

On the pending Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, the Senate Leader said that though the bill was very important to the country, the Senate wanted to do a thorough job and assured that it would be passed.

He said: “I want to assure Nigerians that the PIB will be passed before the end of the Seventh Senate. I have said it again and again that it is a very technical bill.
“It is an important bill and we want to make sure that when it is passed, it sufficiently captures every aspects of the industry and essentially, protects the overall interest of Nigerians.”

Probe of N135 billion police funds
Also pending in the Senate is the report of the investigation into alleged N135 billion said to have been injected into the Nigeria Police in the last three years as part of reform measures.

Specifically, the controversial amount was said to have been pumped into the force between 2011 and 2013 by the President Jonathan’s administration with a view to repositioning the police following public outcry over poor funding in the past.

The Senate had directed its committee on Police Affairs to immediately commence probe of the management of the funds and report back in the shortest possible time.
The Senate action came after heated debate on   a motion tagged: “Reforming the Nigeria Police”, brought   before it by Senator Abubakar Tutare, PDP, Taraba Central, on the level of funding and implementation of the Nigeria Police Force Reform Programme.

Senator Tutare, who is the Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Police Affairs, in the motion, noted that over the years, the Nigeria Police was neglected in terms of offices, residential accommodation, kits, vehicles, arms as well as communication equipment.

He said with the myriad of problems, the Nigeria Police Force had failed in the discharge of its statutory responsibility of crime prevention and detection and protection of lives and property.

He observed that arising from this development, the Federal Government initiated a Police Reform Programme to provide “all what it takes overhaul the police and make them to be more professional, effective and efficient in the discharge of their duties with a take- off grant of N75 billion”, insisting that the government followed up with appropriation of N25 billion, N15 billion and N22 billion in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 budgets respectively.

The senator regretted that despite the take off grant and the provision of a total of N57 billion appropriated between 2011 and 2013, “there is still nothing to show that the reform agenda is on-going in the Nigeria Police Force.”

The Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, had said that beyond poor funding, the Nigeria Police Force was facing problem which he referred to as “structural defect”, noting that the situation called for the creation of State Police to ensure effective policing of the country.

On his part, Senator James Manager, PDP,Delta South, said:“What we should do is to reopen the debate on decentralization of the Police.
“There is something organically wrong with the Police and Nigerians have to decide whether a central Police or decentralized Police is appropriate.”

The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, observed that the solution to the problem of the Police called for urgent decentralization of the force.
The Senate President had said that the creation of State Police to effect structural changes that would enhance effective policing of the country had become necessary.

He said: “I used to be a strong advocate of federal government Police or central Police. I am sure you have noticed that sometimes ago I also changed my mind to say that maybe we should experiment with State Police and see what it is. There are basic problems with the current system but we must try to address them in a manner that has nothing to do with politics in any form at all because if this country does not survive we will not play politics.”

But several months after the committee was said to have submitted its report, no legislative action has been taken and it is expected that the report will be presented and deliberated on the floor of the Senate.

Ezzu River probe


*House of Representatives members in session

Another important report which has not yet seen the light of the day in the Senate one year after the two committees that were mandated to unravel the circumstances surrounding the over 35 strange dead bodies found floating on Ezzu River, Amansea, a town on the border between Anambra and Enugu states.

The unidentified dead bodies, mostly males, were discovered floating on the river in the early hours of Saturday, January 19, 2013, by some villagers of Amansea, in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State.

The situation generated panic across the state as people wondered where the bodies could have come from, given that no community had come up with claims of missing members.

Two weeks after the incident, precisely on January 31, 2013, the Senate, after an intense debate on a motion brought on the development, by Senator Andy Ubah, PDP, Anambra South, mandated its committees on Police Affairs as well as Security and Intelligence, to immediately carry out a thorough investigation into it and report the findings within two weeks.

The Senate had during the motion, entitled: “Strange Dead Bodies found in Ezzu River of Anambra State,” expressed concern that the inability of the country to unearth the cause of the incident  could adversely affect her reputation.

The joint committee, headed by Senators Matthew Nwagu, PDP,  Imo North and Mohammed Magoro, PDP, Kebbi South respectively, which was mandated to carry out an indebt investigation into the matter and report its findings to the Senate committee within two weeks, is yet to submit the report 11 months after.

Bill to amend University of Lagos Act
The proposal by President Jonathan to change the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University generated serious controversy but despite that the President forwarded executive bill to the senate seeking an amendment of the Act that set up the university so as to carry out the proposed change of name.

The bill tagged: “A Bill for an Act to Amend the University of Lagos Act,CAP U9 LFN 2004 to make Provision for a change of name of the university from University of Lagos to the Moshood Abiola University, Lagos 2013”

The President sent three executive bills to the senate asking it to amend the act setting up the three institutions so as to give room for certain amendments of the universities among which he said, was changing of their names after some Nigerians who have distinguished themselves to the services of the country.

According to the bills, while the University of Lagos is to be re-named Moshood Abiola University, Lagos, the Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike and the Federal University of Technology, Yola, are to be re-christened Michael Okpara University, Umudike and Modibo Adama University, Yola, respectively.

Although the President had tactically withdrawn from the proposed name change, when the University of Lagos alumni association secured a perpetual
injunction restraining him from going on with the change pending the determination of the case the body instituted at the Federal High Court, Lagos, the bill has not been officially withdrawn from the Senate.

Alleged remark against Senate leadership
It is also expected that the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions over alleged uncomplimentary marks made by Senator Oluremi Tinubu may also dominate debate especially as the Senate had on many occasions been divided along party lines.

The Senate leadership had directed Senator Tinubu to appear before the Senator Ayo Akinyelure committee over her alleged uncomplimentary remarks against the Senate leadership, but it was gathered that the committee was unable to form quorum till the time the Senate went on vacation.

Immigration tragedy
Another Senate report that is said to have been dumped after the committee submitted its report is the Immigration recuitment tragedy where about 18 youths including a pregnant woman lost their lives and several others  were injured at various recruitment centres across the county during a stampede.

The tragedy took place in March this year and after many months the Senator Abubakar Bagudu-led Senate Committee on Interior submitted its report; it was yet to be attended to.

Going by the dust the incident raised and alleged plans to sweep the report under the carpet, some senators are expected to demand debates on the report.
The decision of the Senate not to treat the report in a hurry, as gathered, may not be unconnected with reported damning revelations of the committee and the attendant recommendations which are said not to be favourable to a top government appointee said to be close to the Senate leadership.

The Senate had, on March 18, three days after the Immigration recruitment tragedy of Saturday, March, 15, 2014, mandated the committee to carry out comprehensive probe of circumstances that led to the  tragedy which claimed 18 lives of job seekers and l

Even as members try to keep sealed lips over the outcome, there are insinuations in some quarters that the report of the committee had found some top government appointees wanting.
It is expected that the Senate will be busy to trash out some of these and other pending issues as it resumes for legislative duties today.

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