As it resumes from a two-month end of session recess on Tuesday, September 15, the Senate is under immense pressure to demonstrate its parliamentary role of representation, particularly on critical issues that pitch the Federal Government against the people.
Agitations against the contentious Water Resources Bill, Hate Speech Bill, CAMA law, among others, as well as the recent hike in the price of petrol at a time electricity tariff was increased by over 300 per cent, have called the representational role of lawmakers in the National Assembly to question.
In parliamentary parlance, it is settled that in fulfilling the functions of lawmaking and oversight, parliamentarians must at all times represent those that elected them in principles and in deeds. And many believe that for a parliament to maintain legitimacy, it is critical that accountability to voters should take place systematically throughout the parliamentary term, rather than just at election time.
The Ahmad Lawan leadership, it was learned, is at the moment being put on the edge to allow a full debate on some critical national issues with a view to determining their acceptability by Nigerians.
A survey across several political and geographic caucuses in the Senate showed that the recent hike in the price of petrol and increase of electricity tariff, the controversial Water Resources Bill, as well as the much-criticised Hate Speech Bill and CAMA law, are among issues that would attract immediate attention.
Senate spokesman, Ajibola Basiru, and many other prominent lawmakers contacted, believe the senate would not shy away from addressing the issues, particularly to the satisfaction of Nigerians.
However, the agitations among senators for the convening of an emergency session might have been shelved following spirited efforts said to have been made by the leadership to persuade lawmakers against it.
A lawmaker in a key northwest state disclosed that because the timing of the emergency session was become close to the September 15 resumption of plenary, superior reasoning had prevailed and the decision among the majority of lawmakers was that every agitation is put on hold until the plenary is opened on Tuesday.
Similarly, a world press conference being planned by opposition lawmakers had been put off. The office of the Minority Leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, believes that at plenary on Tuesday, the contentious issues would be best addressed.
On the petrol price hike, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Sports, Obinna Ogba, could not wait for Tuesday plenary to announce his opposition.
He said the increases in electricity tariff and fuel price at a time the economy was yet to recover from the deadly effects of COVID-19 showed that the government is highly insensitive.
According to him: “The country and indeed the whole world is facing a serious problem right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, these increases are not good at all. They are adding salt to injury.
“The government is just showing insensitivity to the plights of Nigerians because by increasing the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff, the suffering of the people will become worse. The whole thing is not funny at all.
“You cannot put the blame on the agencies, because there is no way any of the agencies can increase the price of its commodity or service without first getting directive from the leadership of the country.”
Another lawmaker disclosed that many senators had received serious complaints from their constituencies against the abrupt increase in the price of petrol and an increase in electricity tariff.
“I can tell you that legislators are more worried about these price increases because we are closer to the people and many lawmakers have been put under serious pressure by their constituents.
“That is the more reason the executive arm ought to have consulted and listened to us before embarking on this painful exercise,” he added.
The Water Resources Bill, which had put the senate under pressure since it went on holiday, would eventually be laid bare shortly after the plenary is opened.
A principal officer of the chamber said it is better to allow debate on the Bill and many other controversial Bills than keeping them.
The Water Resources Bill is attracting serious criticism, because, among others, it seeks to put the use of all waters, rivers, their banks, and their resources under the control of the Federal Government, at a time many are calling for restructuring, true federalism, and devolution of power from the centre to the states.
The proposed law, first sent to the parliament by the executive in the 8th National Assembly, was passed by the House of Representatives, but the Dr. Bukola Saraki-led senate put it abeyance because of heated criticism against it.
However, incumbent President of the Senate, Lawan, opened the wave of controversy when he openly declared that the Bill would be passed by the 9th National Assembly, adding that the mischief by critics was why it failed to pass in the last senate.
The Bill is a consolidation of existing laws, such as the Water Resources Act 2004; National Water Resources Institute Act; River Basin Development Authorities Act, and the Nigeria Hydrological Services Act.