SPEECH DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE, AHMAD IBRAHIM LAWAN, PhD, CON, ON THE RESUMPTION OF THE SENATE, TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 24, 2019
Distinguished colleagues, I am pleased to welcome us back after a well-deserved recess. The recess was another opportunity for us to interact and engage with our constituents. It also helped us to individually and collectively reflect on the tasks before us. The recess was indeed one more chance to take some rests, ahead of today and even beyond.
A couple of colleagues could however not enjoy the rest. The distinguished Senators from Kogi and Bayelsa states participated in the primary elections conducted to produce the flag bearers of their party. We all know how gruelling such contests can be.
This resumption is surely a new beginning in our service to fatherland. I can confidently say that we have made a good start with the appropriate constitution of committees and the expeditious screening of ministerial nominees. The senate committees were importantly constituted to function optimally. It is noteworthy that the senate delayed its recess by a week to screen Mr. President’s ministerial nominees. The exercise was eventually successfully conducted.
I congratulate the Honourable ministers for their appointments. The stage is now set for government to do well. It is important to mention that the ministers and other heads of government agencies are inevitably expected to work very closely with committees of the National Assembly, to enable us have meaningful outcomes.
We shall maintain the spirit of sacrifice and commitment to duty and national interest, which Distinguished Senators displayed during that onerous screening exercise. We have been able to show through our achievements so far that we are a cohesive senate, ready to work in the interest of the people, despite our political differences.
It is important we remain united so that we can succeed. Our political parties may be different but we are one Senate-The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What this means is that we should be bonded in goals and in objectives.
We should not be pulled apart in matters of good governance for the sake of our people. The challenges of unemployment, insecurity, illiteracy and inter-ethnic conflict are not partisan challenges. They are challenges that affect everyone. The challenges are therefore our collective challenges and can only be addressed if we work together in truth.
As a senate, we are saddled with the responsibility of providing different levels of leadership. In leading therefore, our focus should be the satisfaction of the interest of Nigerians. We cannot also lead alone. We have to continue to work with our sister arm, the House of Representatives, and indeed the Executive.
In working with the Executive especially, the maintenance of our independence shall be a guiding philosophy. Our complementary role as an arm of government can be best done if we are truly separate. Independence is however not about confrontation and aggression, but about proper checks and balances, for good governance.
It is about a productive use of our constitutional powers to get the other arms of government to be equally responsive. In working together, our relationship should be based on mutual respect, cooperation, coordination, consultation and partnership. Together we will engender unity, faith, sustainable peace and the desired progress in our dear country.
Pursuant to the above distinguished colleagues, we now have to set the ball rolling on confronting our challenges through diligent law making, effective representation and thorough oversighting.
We are aware of the problems in the educational sector, where statistics say 11 million children are presently out of school. The importance of education in the development of the mind, the provision of knowledge and skills cannot be overemphasized. We should think of reforming our educational sector through legislative intervention.
We have to ensure the implementation of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Law, passed by this institution. This is to guarantee that these children are given the opportunity to have the required basic education. In this regard, we will work with the executive arm of government and indeed the state governments, and other major stakeholders for the achievement of this improved educational objective.
The Petroleum Industry is long overdue for reform. Several efforts and attempts were made in the past three sessions of the National Assembly but they were unfortunately not successful. It however remains a legislation that should succeed. We are going to renew and redouble our efforts at the reform, by doing things differently this time.
The previous efforts were lone efforts either on the part of the executive, as witnessed in the sixth and seventh sessions of the National Assembly, or the part of the legislature, as seen in the eighth session. Perhaps an early consultation and collaboration between the two arms of government will yield the desired outcome in the overriding national interest. Our priority is to have an oil industry that is functional and productive, in a fair, just and transparent environment.
Youth unemployment is yet another challenge we cannot allow to continue. Youths are ideally a present and a future fulcrum of a nation’s work force. They are therefore a priceless asset of a nation’s population. While noting the ongoing reform in the agricultural sector, an improved agricultural road map could make the sector attractive to our youths and then contribute to resolving the problem of youth unemployment.
To further improve on the agricultural sector, peasant farmers should continually be encouraged through funding, materials and mechanization, to increase their productivity, towards national self-sufficiency in food production.
The recent xenophobic attack on Nigerians in South Africa was rather a sad development. I appreciate the response of the Federal Government to the unfortunate incident. In the light of this and other previous xenophobic attacks on Nigerians, we need to review and strengthen our citizen diplomacy. We are ready to support the Executive to ensure that our citizens are safe and protected anywhere they choose to live in this world.
Let me also commend the Federal Government for the appropriate response to the $9.6 Billion judgement debt against Nigeria, in favour of Process and Industrial Development (P&ID), by a British Court. The case is another reminder on why we should strengthen our processes and procedures, so that questionable firms would not take advantage of us. The Senate is following government’s efforts with keen interest and is hopeful that issues around the scandalous transaction are quickly resolved in favour of Nigeria.
The spate of kidnapping, ethnic conflicts, rural and highway banditry, herdsmen and farmers’ conflict and cattle rustling in the land are disturbing to the senate. It is time we probably review our security architecture. The 8th session of the senate set up an adhoc committee to review the security arrangement of the country. We will revisit the report of the committee in addition to making new efforts at finding solutions to the security challenges presently facing our nation.
We commend our security agencies for working hard to tackle these challenges. We cannot however overemphasize the need for collaboration amongst them. Other than adequate funding, we might need some structural changes to enable them perform at the optimum. We must strengthen the agencies to make them more efficient.
We appreciate government desire to lift 100million Nigerians out of poverty over the next ten years. The alleviation of poverty is an honorable cause worthy of appropriate legislative interventions. Senate also notes government’s social investment and related programmes geared towards economic growth.
We are not just interested in the continued expansion of available opportunities in these spheres, but also in their sustainability. We will collaborate with the executive arm of government to ensure the realization of these laudable efforts towards meeting the outlined targets.
Let me commend President Muhammad Buhari for setting up the Economic Advisory Council (EAC). The Senate and, indeed, the National Assembly will work with the executive arm of government to ensure that our economy continues to receive the necessary legislative support to perform better. The Nigerian economy must be on the trajectory of sustainable growth and should be an all inclusive one.
We are determined to address the present undesirable Budget Cycle. We must have a cycle that is timely and predictable on the delivery of its promises. The return to a January to December annual budget cycle will therefore be a priority.
We will try to consider and pass the 2020 budget before the end of December 2019. This is pursuant to our resolve to avoid delays in fiscal and governance processes. We invite all other stakeholders to be equally committed, as we begin working on the 2020 Appropriation Bill soon.
Distinguished colleagues, I shall say again that this resumption is a time for action. It is time to proceed on key issues of governance. Our committees shall be our engine rooms. We will do all that is possible to improve their operational efficiency.
I need to note again that our committees are an essential part of the legislative process. They will continually oversight and monitor government operations. They will gather, evaluate and identify issues requiring legislative reviews. Pursuant to this, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are required to be steadfast, so they can be in synergy with our determined committees.
As representatives of the people, we are obliged to work towards satisfying their yearnings and aspirations. In doing so, we shall continue to be steadfast, conscientious and courageous. This is the obligation we have as representatives. So help us God!
Welcome back once more my Distinguished colleagues, and many thanks for your kind attention.