Senate and its Compassionate Motions

Bukola Saraki

Motions and bills are the lubricants of democracy and democratic governance. They are the ingredients which the legislature uses to weave and sustain democracy.

A parliament is usually assessed by the number of motions, bills and other interventions from it that impact positively on the lives of citizens. Though motions are not laws, they are persuasive and tend to put pressure on the executive to do the bidding of the electorate.
The eighth Senate led by Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki has been consistent with issues that affect the members of the senatorial districts.
One motion in recent times that has raised a lot of concern is the one on the federal government’s directive banning the importation of vehicles through the land borders. The Senate reacted through a motion because of the dire consequences of the bill on Nigerians, especially, the immediate loss of over 500,000 jobs. It was in view of this that the Senate moved to halt the implementation of this directive.
In the motion, the Senate, mindful of the negative effect of the directive, called on the federal government to suspend action on enforcement of the ban on the importation of vehicles through land the borders. The motion sponsored by Barau Jibrin (APC-Kano) was co-sponsored by four other senators at plenary last week. It sought to mandate the Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff to investigate the circumstances that led to the ban by the federal government.
In the lead debate on the motion, Jibrin said people engaged in the business of vehicle importation and handling services in the border areas were already losing their jobs. He maintained that it was not economically expedient to ban the importation of vehicles through the land borders based “on the allegation that the importation of vehicles through land borders no longer holds good prospect for the revenue generation because of large scale evasion of import duties.”
Jibrin said, “Rather than stop or suspend the importation of vehicles, it would make better economic sense to allow the importation of vehicles through one border post in each geopolitical zone.”
The chairman, Senate Committee on Poverty Alleviation, Senator Ali Wakili, while supporting the motion, said from his experience as a one-time controller of customs, “It will be very difficult for us to impose this ban. The Custom Service will be overstretched; there will be hostilities from the border communities and there will be rise in transnational crimes.”
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over plenary, in his remarks, said it was necessary for the federal government to revisit the policy, which many Nigerians were not comfortable with. He stated that because the government was accountable to the people, “the executive should yield to the concerns of the people by suspending the ban because we are in office at their instance.”
As a listening and compassionate legislature, the Senate under Saraki also raised an ad hoc committee last week to investigate the violence that took place in the southern part of Kaduna State and other places where violence has taken place recently. The resolution followed a motion by Senator Danjuma La’ah titled, “The recent killings in Southern Kaduna”.

The Senate said the investigation would cover other parts of the country with similar experiences.
The lead sponsor of the motion, La’ah, observed that since 2011, various communities in southern Kaduna had been consistently attacked by herdsmen, resulting in deaths, injuries, loss of property and displacement of communities. According to the lawmaker, on December 23, and “even as we speak, communities of Ambam, Gaska, Dangoma, Tsonje, Pasankori, Gidan Waya and Farin Gada of Jama’a and Kaura local government areas have been under serious attack by the herdsmen, resulting in deaths, injuries, and wanton destruction of property worth billions of naira.”
He noted that the killings amounted to violation of the right to life, security of human persons, the respect of dignity inherent in human beings and right to property, not only guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution, as amended, but also the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Right, of which Nigeria is a party.
According to the senator, “This deliberate systematic killing demands the awakening of Nigerians to avoid a repeat of what happened in Darfur, Sudan.”

La’ah urged the federal government to investigate the killings and bring the perpetrators to justice. He also prayed the Senate to urge the federal government to rebuild the ravaged cities of southern Kaduna; and establish a joint security patrol of military, police, civil defence and civilian JTF for constant patrols and surveillance of affected areas.
Saraki thanked La’ah for the motion, saying, it is noteworthy that the federal government, in obedience to the motion, has since deployed the military to maintain peace in the area.
Furthermore, in response to the humanitarian crisis in the Internally Displaced Persons camps in the north eastern part of the country, the Senate has constituted an eight-man ad-hoc committee to ascertain the funds that had been released to the Presidential Initiative on the North East and how the funds were disbursed.
In the motion preceding the setting up of the committee, titled “Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East”, Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai (APC:Borno) observed the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the North-east. He drew the attention of the Senate to a recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which stated that about 4.5 million people were in dire need of assistance with about a million people at the verge of extreme malnutrition.
In his contribution to debate, Senator Garbai recalled some of the concerted efforts the National Assembly had made to try to end the crisis. He highlighted that the Senate increased the amount allocated for IDPs in the 2016 budget from N 6 billion to N10 billion. He regretted that the Presidential Initiative on the North East inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 is yet to show any tangible result in ameliorating the humanitarian crisis in the North-east, despite the release of over half of the said sum appropriated and several donations by agencies and philanthropists.
Contributing to the motion, Sen. Joshua Lidani (PDP Gombe) also quoted a UNICEF report that stated that between seven and eight children would die of malnutrition daily if the matter was not addressed urgently. In addition to the Senate resolution, the lawmakers agreed to contribute N300, 000 each for the maintenance of IDPs in the North-east and investigate the alleged diversion of grains and other food items from the strategic grains reserves, NEMA and other sources for the IDPs.

— Okocha is Special Assistant to the President of Senate on Print Media.