REMARKS DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE, HIS EXCELLENCY (DR.) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, CON, AT THE OPENING DINNER FOR THE SENATORS-ELECT AND THE MEMBERS-ELECT OF THE 9TH NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, HELD AT THE HILTON ARENA, TRANSCORP HILTON HOTEL, ABUJA, ON SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2019.
1. It is a pleasure to welcome you all to this Opening Dinner for the Senators-Elect and Members-Elect of the 9th National Assembly. Let me congratulate all the newly elected lawmakers who won the mandate to represent their constituents in the federal legislature. This is a worthy achievement. I wish each and every one of you a successful tenure.
2. As we all know, the legislature is the bedrock of democracy and the closest arm of government to the people. Legislators are held in a position of trust by the people, and the responsibility is a great one. You are now part of a National Assembly whose role is clearly defined, and that is geared towards safeguarding freedoms and ensuring socio-economic development. No doubt, this Orientation Programme will form part of your preparation as you take on this important national assignment.
3. In its constitutional role, the National Assembly carries out oversight, makes laws and ensures constituency representation. In carrying out constitutional functions, lawmakers must always recognise that the independence of the legislature is non-negotiable. It is an independent and co-equal arm of government. Therefore, it behooves members of the National Assembly to lead the way in asserting the principle of Separation of Powers, thus ensuring accountability in governance. To achieve that, it is expected that members will carry out their duties in a manner that commands that respect from other arms of government as well as the people you represent.
4. That done, you will have a real chance as lawmakers to overcome any negative perception of the legislature in the public out there. The Nigerian National Assembly is far from unique when we talk about this problem of perception. All over the world, studies have shown that the legislature is often the most misunderstood arm of government.
5. In Nigeria, the misapprehension as to the role of the legislature is compounded by its being the youngest arm of government in our developing democracy, in a country that is not long out of military rule. The legislature also often appears to be the weakest arm of government. It is therefore necessary to focus on strengthening this important institution. The legislative arm of government must be strong, because when the legislative arm is strong, democracy will be strong.
6. Therefore, we need a continuation of our determined efforts to engage the public, in order to make the lawmaking function a more participatory process, so that Nigerians can better understand the National Assembly, and see their aspirations reflected in its activities.
7. One pervasive misconception has people looking to lawmakers for the provision of infrastructure – for example -whereas this is not at all the function of the legislature. I am confident, however, that if we continue to take the needed steps to build the institution, Nigerians will gradually start to grasp the true significance of the legislature as a bulwark of the democratic system of governance.
8. When this greater appreciation begins to manifest, I have no doubt that the people will support the institution and accept that lawmakers are doing necessary work for the good of all. Of course, this also means that you must be seen to be working assiduously to address issues affecting Nigerians, chief among which are: poverty, inequality, insecurity, corruption as well as empowerment of citizens.
9. For my part, I am proud to say that in the 8th Senate is going out on a high. We have passed 274 Bills in 46 months; and cleared 192 Petitions in the same period. There were major milestones in the area of the economy, with the passing of landmark legislation such as the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which is undoubtedly the most comprehensive review of business laws in this country in 30 years. Other gamechanger laws include: Bankruptcy and Insolvency (Repeal and Reenactment) Act, and the Credit Reporting Act.
10. To support the anti-corruption drive, we passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill (NFIU), as a direct result of which Nigeria was readmitted into the Egmont Group. We successfully amended the Constitution, and this made progressive changes possible, such as the Not Too Young To Run law. Additionally, we saw to the implementation of the 1% budgetary provision for primary healthcare, to make for a stronger Nigeria. These are just a few examples. I am sure our legislators will be able to build on the solid foundation and achievements, and record even greater success.
11. Let me add that, since the interest of the people is paramount, legislators must have the courage to follow their own mind, guided by what is right. The 8th National Assembly made a lot of interventions on everyday human issues affecting Nigerians, be it unfair price hikes, examination malpractices, sexual harassment in our educational institutions or the drug problem ravaging our communities. I encourage you also to take a keen interest in the welfare of Nigerians, and to be a voice for those in need of similar interventions.
13. It is my hope that you will enjoy this opportunity to make positive impact on our national life. I trust you will find the work interesting and engaging; and that the experience will be an enriching one in your own lives and for your families. I encourage you to take the opportunity of this Orientation Programme to learn up on the work involved with Bills, Oversight and so on. I wish you the very best of luck.
14. I now declare open the Orientation Programme for Members-Elect of the 9th National Assembly.
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE