By Abubakar Jimoh
Senate President, David Mark
“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in”, says Napoleon Bonaparte, a French military and political leader, who lived between 1769 and 1821; also known as one of the most influential figures in European history.
As Nigeria’s political atmosphere takes a heightened shape and new dimension towards 2015 general elections, it becomes imperative to draw attention of members of the National Assembly—who have been busy dancing to various unjustified political rhythm, to important pending issues in their corridor awaiting urgent attention.
It is no more news that in recent times, legislative members are found neglecting their constitutional mandates—representation, law making and oversight, and are preoccupied with externally motivated plans, giving space for unwarranted interference, needless hitting of polity, and resultant disregards for legislative chambers experienced in 2014 both at national and in some State Houses of Assembly.
Consequently, non-completion of the mandated sitting days in a year by legislature, as required under Section 63 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria become a subject of the day.
Interestingly, as at December 18, when the House of Representatives went on Christmas and New Year vacations, a total of 244 legislative outputs came out during plenary sessions that spanned a period of 42 months. It was revealed that the lawmakers treated an average of two bills per month. When compared to the 6th House (2007-2011), which introduced 481 bills and passed 187, the present House, introduced 668 bills as at December 2014, less than six months to the end of the 7th Assembly. The 6th Assembly passed 187 bills as at the end of its tenure; and from all indications considering the high level of political terrain in the House in the last three months, various independent analyses have doubted the possibility of 7th House repeating success of the 6th Assembly.
Similarly, the seventh Senate can score itself into the history books with the passage of some landmark bills and motions before the expiration of the assembly on May 29 this year. So far, the Seventh Senate has passed the Pension Reform Act, National Health Act, Cyber Crime Act, Occupational Safety and Health Bill, Court of Appeal Act, Act authentication Act, HYPPADEC Act, Retirement Age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, Universities Act, Federal High Court Act, National Automotive Design and Development Bill, Transfer of Convicted Offenders, Prisons Act, Terrorism Prevention Act, Money Laundering Act, Institute of Registered Safety Professionals, Customs Act (Repeal and reenactment bill) and State of the Nation Address Act.
However, reports have accused the Senate in some quarters of having too many breaks to the detriment of legislative work. For instance, after the resumption of the fourth session in September, 2014, the Senate barely had one full month of legislative work due to a number of recesses. The trend may continue this year as the general elections are barely a month away and the Senate may go on a two week recess to enable its members participate in the senatorial and gubernatorial elections. The Senate will also go on a two week recess for the Easter break in April. These have clearly revealed that there is little or no time for legislative work before the expiration of its tenure on May 29.
It would not be a surprise when Paul I. Adujie in a piece titled “Impeachment Threat: As Blackmail And Ruse” wrote, “Watching the antics of some members of Nigeria’s National Assembly can be frustratingly unnerving! Too many of them, too frequently, waste valuable time indulging in the most useless of our national pastime, grandstanding for no national purpose at all! Why are some of Nigeria’s lawmakers vigorously frivolous? It makes you wonder why some of these national assembly members choose to engage in these ostentatious fiddling of the most vainglorious type? Why do they engage in frivolities, when there are national challenges that are begging for attentive solutions?
“Our national lawmakers and public officials ought to learn to appreciate the power and position that they have with the positive impact or effect therein for all Nigerians, when and if these persons at the helms of our national affairs, actually engage their focused attention in sustained positive way.”
Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)
Considering the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has been lying at the National Assembly for the past 12 years even though it portends significant growth and progress for the nation’s oil and gas sector, it is worrisome that all attempts to get PIB passed have waned considerably. Failure to get PIB passed without doubt has hampered the growth of oil and gas sector thus, making it impossible to make significant progress from where it was when commercial oil was first discovered at Oloibiri in present day Ogbia local government of Bayelsa state in June 1956.
Unlike Venezuela, Kuwait, Gabon and Iran, Nigeria has over the years relied on foreign countries, including nations that have no oil deposits for refined petroleum products and consequently, expending huge sums of money to subsidise local consumption of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).
Speaker of the House, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal
Asides other associated laws such as the Associated Gas Re-injection Act 2005, Motor Spirits (Returns) Act 2004 and Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Act 2004, the industry has majorly operated on the basis of the 1969 Nigeria Petroleum Act—which provides for the exploration of petroleum from territorial waters and the continental shelf of Nigeria, vested the authority and ownership of and all on-shore and off-shore revenue from petroleum resources in the Federal Government.
Meanwhile, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) through its various advocacies on the passage of PIB has discovered that efforts by the federal government to replace the obsolete Act with a progressive law like PIB have received stiff resistance from the international oil companies and other parties, primarily for selfish interests.
CISLAC believes it has become imperative to fast-track the passage of PIB before the end of seventh assembly to: strengthen the capacity of the industry to accommodate greater number of indigenous operators in the sector; reduce the level of exploitation, improved revenue from exploration and production activities; eliminate gas flares, promote proper fiscal, legal and regulatory governance of operations in the sector; and establish commercially oriented oil and gas entities.
Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill
Another Bill awaiting passage by the National Assembly is Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill, which addresses various gender issues such as female circumcision, domestic violence, early marriage, rape, harmful widowhood practices amongst others. It also prescribed harsh sentences for rape and other sexual offences; compensations for rape victims and institutional protection for women from abuse through restraining orders.
The Bill seeks to abolish all obsolete laws relating to the subject matter such as rape, assault etc. and bringing them into consonance with present realities. It re-defines rape to include penetration of any orifice of a woman such as vagina, anus, and mouth which is an improvement on the penal/ criminal codes definition. VAPP Bill makes provisions for compensation to victims and the protection of their rights. It also makes provisions for indecent assault and Sexual violence against any person and Prohibition of female genital mutilation. It provides for the Prohibition of harmful widowhood practices even as section 19 prohibits the abandonment of spouse, children and dependants without sustenance.
In Nigeria, majority of girls and women face real-time poverty, gross inequality, molestation and injustice, denying them effort to acquire meaningful skills and contribute positively towards the nation’s development. Series of discrimination and atrocities against women include poor education, poor nutrition, violence and brutalization, vulnerability and low pay employment.
It was against this backdrop that Jonathan Nda-Isaiah in a piece titled “The Imperative of The Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill wrote, “…it has become very compelling for the senate to do the needful. Domestic violence has been on the increase in Nigeria and it is safe to say that the country is gradually becoming a hot-bed for the vice. It is reported that over 50 % of women in Nigeria are abused by their husbands.” He cited the cases of Akolade Arowolo who was sentenced to death for allegedly stabbing his banker-wife Titilayo 76 times, leading to her death, stating that Titilayo would have been alive today if the VAPP Bill had been passed today more so that there are thousands of cases of women suffering in silence as they have been suffering abuses regularly in the hands of their husbands.
In support of the above, the National President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Hauwa Shekarau in an interview with journalists added, “Over the years we have seen very ridiculous sentences being handed down by the courts. I have read in the papers where someone pleaded guilty to rape and in sentencing the person, the judge recommended that he should be given 20 strokes of the cane and allowed to go. For some of us who are women rights activists we see this as some kind of insensitivity to the main issue by some of our judicial officers, and who do not seem to understand what women go through when they are victims of sexual violence.
“Possibly that might explain why sexual violence is so much on the increase. With the high rate of sexual violence, it is rare to hear of convictions where maximum punishments are melted on a guilty perpetrator. As long as we shy away from giving maximum punishment for such offences, it will not serve as a deterrent to anyone. One of the reasons for laws is to serve as a deterrent for future offenders and for them to know that they cannot commit an offence and go scot free.
“Contrary to the criminal law which stipulates that someone who is guilty of an offence could be punished up to a period of seven years, the VAPP Bill says you cannot go below the minimum and one of the recommendations of the bill for rape for instance is life imprisonment. In fact the way it is, no judge has the right to give less than that life imprisonment except that person is not guilty. We believe that if that bill is passed into law it will help address the issue of deterrence, challenge of perpetrators of violence going free, or the culture of impunity that we are seeing in our country.”
Whistle-blower Protection Bill
Of course, there is presently no legal protection for whistle-blowers in Nigeria—Whistle-blower Protection Bill, 2011 has not been passed. The Whistle Blower Protection Bill is one of the tools that can be used to fight against corruption. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria allows freedom of expression. This includes speaking out in a case of observed wrongful conducts and corrupt practices.
In recent times, reporting misconduct has caused some whistleblowers to be victimised by their employers as well as fellow employees, thus they generally do not feel protected enough to come forward with information on misconducts and corrupt practices.
It would be recalled that in August, 2011, Dr. Ben Agada of National Women Development Centre, Abuja was dismissed from service for exposing N300million meant for poverty alleviation programme allegedly embezzled by some top officers at the Centre. In November 2012, the Executive Director of Technical Services of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Bashir Gwandu was being relieved of his position for uncovering alleged corruption in Commission.
Similarly, the recent revelation of wastefulness in the Aviation by one Mr. Nicholas Edwards, a staff in the Ministry of Aviation has posed some threats against his job and life. These among other cases have brought to the fore the importance of whistle-blower’s in Nigeria. Though whistleblowing would have gone a long way at exposing all manner of corrupt practices in the nation’s socio-political and economic atmospheres; but the absence of laws guiding whistle-blowing and protecting whistle-blowers has restricted effort of whistleblowers to expose corruption.
Also, on Thursday 20th February, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi from office on the grounds that he revealed unremitted $49.8 billion oil revenue and $20 billion kerosene subsidy to the Federation Account by NNPC.
In his opinion, Dr. Abdulsalam Ajetunmobi, a Lecturer in International Law, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom argued in favour of the Whistleblower Protection Bill when he said, “By and large, whistle-blowing, as indicated earlier, is a burgeoning anti-corruption tool around the world. When new needs creep in the society, new exceptions should be created. It is crucial, therefore, to have an enabling environment that will encourage those who suspect or observe corrupt act (in public or private organisation) not to ‘look the other way’ or ‘stick their head in the sand’, but to come out and report such act to the appropriate authorities.”
Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill
Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill is another very important Bill awaiting passage by the National Assembly. The purpose of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is primarily to give effect to chapters II and IV of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the International Conventions on Human Rights which affirms the principle of non-discrimination and proclaim that all humans are born equal, in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights set out without distinction of any kind including distinction based on sex. It was introduced to domesticate two instruments—United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and African Union Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa.
CEDAW is a United Nation Convention which seeks to implement the principles set forth in the declaration on the elimination of discrimination against women and to adopt measures required for the elimination of such discrimination in all its forms and manifestations. It defines minimum standards and norms for achieving equal status of men and women and urges government to adopt measures to speed the attainment of equality and balance between men and women in all spheres of the society.
The protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa on the other hand, is a special agreement adopted by African countries under the African Union. It draws inspiration from the African charter provisions that enshrine the principle of non-discrimination and provides for the elimination of discrimination against women and ensure the protection of the rights of women.
It is worrisome that women constitute over 50 percent of the world’s population; perform two-third of the world’s work, yet receive one-tenth of the world’s income. Nigeria has the highest population of in African continent with 38 percent of its women lacking formal education as against 25 percent for men and only four percent of women have higher education against the seven percent of their male counterpart.
Since democratic rule in 1999, women are under-represented in all key political decision making bodies in Nigeria, as only 25 out of the 360 members of the Nigerian House of Representatives and about 4% of local government councillors are women.
In eight Northern States, over 80% of women are unable to read (compared with 54% for men), as reported by UK Department for International Development (DFID) in 2012; owing to some traceable factors such as lack of funds, existing traditional and religious inclination, non-provision of educational facilities by government, poor funding of the educational sector, weak educational policies, early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation and ignorance. Nigeria records one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa, with majority of women concentrating in casual, low-skilled, low paid informal sector employment.
Oby Nwankwo, a women’s rights and good governance advocate and member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) acknowledged the fact that Nigeria was yet to domesticate the CEDAW. She highlighted among other reasons the challenges around the domestication of the convention including the factors of Nigeria’s cultural and ethnic diversities, the challenges of protecting women’s rights within and across the legal regime. “…where we have a tripartite legal system of statutory law, Sharia Law and Customary Law, the misperceptions of gender and what it holds for people which has impeded the collective endorsement and realization of our commitments to the CEDAW convention.
“I would like to use this opportunity to appeal to the government at federal and state levels – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary…to show the world that Nigeria has turned a new leaf in the area of gender equality and empowerment of women. It would be beneficial if these institutions strive to restore the world’s confidence in Nigeria as a nation and our respect for human dignity, gender equity and equality. To achieve this, Nigeria should ensure the immediate passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill which has been pending before the NASS for three consecutive legislative tenures. …After almost 30 years of ratifying the Convention and give the same response that the CEDAW bill is still pending before the National Assembly,” she lamented.
National Tobacco Control Bill
In 2013, a report of World Health Organization (WHO) on the rising dangers associating with tobacco use among the young population brought to the fore, an event for the official release of 2013 Report of Nigeria Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), primarily to provide a framework to generate comparable data and indices for tobacco study in Nigeria.
So far, the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that tobacco smoking remains a major cause of diseases and premature deaths especially among young people with the associated health impacts constituting a financial burden on the elderly; by putting increased pressure on existing public health systems.
The Country Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Rui Gama Vaz bemoaned that about 6 million people die from tobacco use annually, while no fewer than 600,000 people are exposed to second hand smoke in the process. He said WHO statistics show that by 2030, 80% of the projected deaths from tobacco use will occur in low and medium income countries.
“As a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI), Nigeria should play an active role in protecting her citizens by domesticating these international conventions in the country”, he said.
Mr. Okeke Anya, Senior Programme Officer of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) added that effort to domesticate the FCTC resulted in comprehensive National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) presently awaiting passage at the National Assembly. He said: “The Bill recommends the creation of a National Tobacco Control Committee to be coordinated by the Minister of health, and to embrace all stakeholders; adoption of higher taxes and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption; ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship; and enacting 100 percent smoke-free laws that ban smoking in all indoor workplaces and public places (including restaurants, bars and other hospitality venues) and public transport, and non-creation of Designated Smoking Areas (DSAs).”
Other key recommendations in the Bill include prominent graphic health (picture) warnings on tobacco packages covering 75 per cent of the principal display areas; exclusion of the tobacco industry from tobacco control policies and implementation; prohibition of the sale of cigarette to and by minors; and prohibition of sale in single sticks: cigarettes should be sold in packs of not less than 20 sticks, among others.
The Director Corporate Accountability and Administration of Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi advised that “Nigeria must show leadership beyond the FCTC, as the country has a huge population of highly impressionable youths exposed to massive foreign culture influence especially due to limited legislation to control and restrict tobacco use due to the non-domestication of the FCTC and implementation of the TFI in Nigeria”.
Also, the West Africa Sub-Regional Coordinator of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), Mrs. Hilda Ochefu, warned that it has become imperative to reduce tobacco use among young people, noting that Nigeria must put in place strong tobacco control policies as the tobacco industry continues to use their financial capacity to get lure young people to tobacco use addiction. “We must act now to put strong legislation in place like Togo and Ghana.”
Protection of Persons with Disabilities Bill
There are millions of Nigerian citizens with disabilities who are yearning for equal access and protection of their fundamental human rights to effectively contribute to society. With Nigeria’s current situation, the country cannot afford to ignore this important segment of the population. The security issues being faced, economic and unemployment crisis, and other related issues pose further challenges to individuals with disabilities.
Reports revealed that many years now, persons with disabilities through the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities have been demanding the passage of the National Disability Bill. Twice, the bill had been passed into law by the National Assembly, has been denied presidential assent on the two occasions. Yet, Nigeria is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which under Article 4 mandates member states to pass national legislation on disability.
The Bill seeks to establishment an Agency that will cater for the needs of persons with disabilities including healthcare, employment opportunities, and easy access to both public and private establishments. It gives persons with disabilities right to equality and shall not be discriminated against on grounds of their disability. Rights of disabled persons include protection from inhuman treatment and equal protection and safety in situations of risk, armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters.
In support of the Bill, Goldie Adele, U.S-based Nigerian Attorney specializing in disability law wrote, “Granted, it can be difficult to pass such a substantial bill, even in a developed country, but the Nigerian government needs to approach this bill as a matter of national emergency. With all the increasing security, economic, social, political, educational and related challenges the country currently faces, passage of this bill will be a positive jolt towards improving conditions in the country.”
Over the years, Nigerian security forces have been regarded among the crudest in the world as a result of the intentional use of excessive force and extra-judicial killing, verbal attacks and psychological intimidation reportedly mounted on a suspect to extract confessional statements and killing of robbery suspects without judicial trial.
While observing torture in part of Nigerian Police, in 2010, an article titled “The Psychological Effects of Police Brutality and Torture” written by Law Mefor, Consulting Psychologist and National coordinator of Transform Nigeria Movement confirms that with Nigeria as a typical example, police brutality exists in many countries. He regarded police brutality as one of several forms of police misconduct, which include false arrest, intimidation, racial profiling, political repression, surveillance abuse, sexual abuse, and police corruption.
Mefor wrote: “Police brutality is closely related to torture. Torture could actually be an extreme form of police brutality. Technically, the term ‘police brutality’ is now generically used to cover all government security agencies – police, prisons, military, name it. One aspect of torture that must engage our attention here is psychological torture, which is less well known than physical torture and tends to be subtle and much easier to conceal.
Similarly, in August 15, 2013, a report published by the Vanguard Newspaper lamented that the deployed Joint Task Force including both military and police in the northeast “…have been accused of widespread atrocities. These have included summary executions, arbitrary arrests and torture, according to leading rights groups.”
In 2014, another report titled “Welcome to Hell Fire – Torture and Other Ill-treatment in Nigeria” published by Amnesty International revealed that countless people have suffered, and continued to suffer torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (hereinafter ill-treatment) in the hands of the Nigerian security forces, including the police and military.
Conversely, relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantee the right to freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. Consequently, any act of torture is a violation of human rights. Just as section 33(1) of the Constitution guarantees the right to life and states: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty.”
In the context of the United Nations General Assembly, torture constitutes an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. To the European Commission on Human Rights, the word ‘torture’ is often used to describe inhuman treatment, which has a purpose such as the obtaining of information or confessions, or the infliction of punishment, and is generally an aggregate form of inhuman treatment.
Also, in a report titled “Nigeria: Navigating Secrecy in the Vetting and Selection of Peacekeepers” launched by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), it was revealed that corruption, especially in relation to the payment of allowances for peacekeepers has been responsible for undermining the morale of peacekeepers and has also been a cause for indiscipline among the contingents, including possibly sexual exploitation and abuse and other human rights violations.
According to CISLAC, “Over the years, sexual exploitation and abuse and human rights violations by members of the Nigeria Armed Forces and the Nigeria Police Force have been rampant with no proactive responses by the concerned institutions to deal with the situation in a systematic manner that would win the confidence of the public.
Last year, in a press statement held in Abuja, Amnesty International had called on the Nigerian legislature for speedy passage of Anti-torture Bill also known as a ‘Bill for an Act Penalizing the Commission of Acts of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishments, Prescribing Penalties Thereof and for Other Purposes’ into law, primarily criminalises torture as a means of extracting information and confession from suspects in detention cells across the country.
The Bill if passed into the law will help to: ensure the rights of all persons, including suspects, detainees and prisoners are respected at all times; and that no person placed under investigation or held in custody of any person in authority shall be subjected to mental and psychological harm, physical harm, force, violence, threat or intimidation or any act that impairs his/her free will; and fully adhere to the principles and standards on the absolute condemnation and prohibition of torture set by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and various international instruments to which Nigeria is a State party.
2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill
Efforts to ensure a level playing field for all participants in the electoral process and enhance transparent process of conducting elections to achieve free, fair and credible elections in the upcoming 2015 general elections and beyond resulted in the introduction of a Bill to Further Amend the Electoral Act 2010.
The Electoral Act has remained a focal point for actors in Nigeria’s political scene. Both chambers of the National Assembly have at various times made adjustments to the provisions of the Act. The Act had gone through a series of fine-tuning in the past, the last two efforts being in 2006 and 2010 respectively. However, members of the House of Representatives say the Act is still deficient in many aspects which they claim inflict serious injuries on actors preparing for elections or those who either celebrate or lick their wounds after each election.
While speaking on the significance of the amendment at a public hearing in 2014, Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Jerry Manwe noted that it became imperative to conduct a Public Hearing after the Bill had gone through second reading in the House and referred to the appropriate Committee for further scrutiny.
Hon. Manwe saw as a serious threat to any democracy, a flawed electoral system which leads to anarchy, instability and disunity of any country, stating that there was a strong link between sustainable development and the entrenchment of transparent, accessible and credible electoral process.
“This Bill seeks to further amend 29, sections of the electoral Act No. 6, 2010 with several new insertions, provisions and new sub-sections intended to either substitute or delete completely an existing provision of the principal. As stakeholders, the important of this Bill in the conduct of 2015 elections cannot be over emphasized thus, the need for all of us to galvanise all the needed input and expertise with which we will create the synergy that will bring to the fore area of the Bill that requires critical and comparative analysis in order for the House to expedite action on its early passage to comply with the six months before election requirement of the ECOWAS protocol on good governance to which Nigeria is a signatory,” he said.
The Speaker of the House, Hon. Tambuwal Waziri Aminu disclosed that the purpose of the amendment was to ensure level playing field for all participants in electoral process with special attention to Person with Disability, voter registration, election observers and monitors, electoral security, votes counting and announcement, electoral offences, electoral campaign and financing.
“As member of National Assembly, we are bound by law and to ensure that our laws are vibrant and vigorous even after we have left. Our goal is to provide a level playing field for all participants in the electoral process and a more transparent process of conducting elections in Nigeria. We must take cognisance of the 2011 bloodshed witnessed in the country through electoral process and avert the future recurrence” the Speaker revealed.
Also, the Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Mr. Clement Nwankwo added that the proposed Bill concentrated on the areas that would help to achieve credible electoral process in the coming 2015 general elections and beyond, calling on the House to work in harmony with the Senate fast-tract the passage of the proposed Bill for amendment.