A SPEECH DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, SENATOR (DR.) DAVID A.B. MARK, GCON, fnim, THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, ON THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE RESUMPTION OF THE SENATE FROM RECESS ON WEDNESDAY, 19TH SEPTEMBER, 2012.
My distinguished Colleagues, Senators of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria, my bosses!
Permit me to begin by thanking God most fervently for sparing our lives during the recess and bringing us back safely.
The activities of the Boko Haram sect were at its peak when we dispersed for our recess to the far flung districts of our nation still under the grips of sectarian violence.
It was therefore with bated breath and anxiety that I watched distinguished Colleagues disperse in late July. You can imagine how relieved I am to welcome you all back to this hallowed chamber, hale and hearty. We return from our recess to meet a nation sorely in need of healing, a nation previously free from strife and anomie, but now convulsing from a genre of violence that we all thought was alien to our shores. A new but formidable evil has now combined with old and familiar perils to present our nation with perhaps the greatest challenge to its corporate existence since the civil war.
In the course of interactions and consultations with your constituents during the recess, you would have noticed the fear and anxiety in their eyes. You would have also noticed that almost everyone expects the Senate, nay the National Assembly, to lead the campaign for a solution and for national rebirth.
Distinguished Colleagues, that expectation is not misplaced. Legislators are the gatekeepers to the realm of the public good. We are the vanguards of democratic norms and we carry the aspirations, hopes, and expectations of the people, and even their fears.
The legislative tradition of recess sharpens the synergy between the legislator and his constituents, because it affords the lawmaker an opportunity to feel the pulse of the people – and by extension that of the nation. The emerging feedback, distinguished colleagues, is not too encouraging.
I urge you all, therefore, to prepare to take on the unprecedented challenges facing our nation. The times call for sacrifice and statesmanship, and for everyone to rise above narrow and parochial interests. We must therefore resolve to pursue with determination and vigour, a legislative agenda that entrenches the promotion of the common good as its driving force. The National Assembly must act in complementarity with both the Executive and Judicial arms of government, to bring succour to our troubled nation.
We recognize that the task reserved for the Legislature by the Constitution is indeed onerous, sombre and encompassing). Section 4(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), vests the National Assembly with “power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof”. This enablement casts the legislature as the driving force of our Constitutional democracy.
Let me emphasize then that as a legislature, we are a pivotal part of the government. When the people blame the government, the legislature is also in the dock with the other arms of government. The legislature can only absolve itself from blame and culpability by doing what is constitutionally right. And this it must do with firmness, fairness, justice, patriotism, diligence, honesty, transparency, courage and commitment.
As we brace ourselves to squarely face our constitutional role, an elementary first step would be for us to improve on our time consciousness and attendance. As legislators and role models at a time of national anxiety, we must leave a legacy of promptitude, diligence and vigour. The culture of ‘African time’ is an anomaly we must do away with, in discharging our legislative tasks, including committee and oversight assignments, and indeed, in all spheres of our lives.
I have harped on time consciousness because the current legislative agenda is loaded with critical activities. As we resume plenary, we will have to deal with the 2013 budget, the Petroleum Industry Bill, the Amendment of the 1999 Constitution, Review of the Anti-Terrorism Act in the light of our experiences so far, the Amendment of the Money Laundering Act, the consideration of reports from the committees on the implementation of the 2012 Budget, and the review of the performance of Ministries, just to mention a few.
Distinguished Colleagues, we return to plenary primed to commence a scrupulous consideration of the 2013 budget estimates, once it is presented. It is therefore important that the Executive presents the budget early to afford us sufficient time to consider and debate it exhaustively before we can pass it. And our goal would be to pass it before the end of the year. When passed and signed into law, we will insist on full implementation.
Over the years, our national budgets have raised hopes for a better life. Such hopes have remained largely unrealized. This is not surprising because there is a definite correlation between the parlousness we observe in several critical sectors of our national life and the haphazard and inconsistent implementation of the budgets. The Senate will activate and deploy its weapon of oversight to meticulously monitor the implementation of the budget. We have felt the pulse of the people, and the condition under which they live has rekindled our resolve to ensure that their living conditions are substantially improved as a reward for their faith in democracy. The war against poverty must therefore be an unrelenting one. Its ultimate objective should be total eradication of poverty, and not just poverty reduction. A nation as blessed as ours has no business with poverty.
When we, as a Legislature, discharge our functions with faith and commitment, as we always do, we will also insist that the other arms of government do likewise. The Senate will, with deep patriotism and a keen sense of responsibility, always live up to its constitutional obligation to serve as a check on the other levers of government. In a constitutional democracy, the principle of checks and balances is the greatest bulwark against the exercise of arbitrary power.
In response to the yearnings of our people, the Senate will continue to foster a constructive discourse of the national question. But this can only be done within the ambit of the 1999 Constitution. It is in this connection that I must mention the on-going effort to further amend the 1999 Constitution.
I urge anyone disenchanted with the Nigerian condition to join the ongoing national discourse that will lead to the amendment of the Constitution. But I have no doubt that the vast majority of our people prefer to live in a united, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria. They would prefer to be governed in accordance with democratic norms in a diverse federation made viable and dynamic by the rule of law! I therefore call on our compatriots on the extreme fringe to sheath their swords, embrace dialogue and reconciliation, and join the on-going national discourse. No tangible political mileage can be achieved through violence. Terror and violence have no doubt brought death, misery and sorrow to our nation. But the perpetrators have failed resoundingly to break the spirit of our country men and women, and will never break it! Fifth columnists may now see in the prevailing security situation an opportunity to spread discord and to excite recrimination. But let me say this loud and clear – to play politics with security issues is an open invitation to chaos and anarchy, a situation from which no one will profit!
If the campaign of terror is the thunder by which a tiny fraction seeks to drown the voice of the nation, or to curtail the basic freedoms and civil liberties that we all have worked so hard to entrench, that attempt will fail. The Senate will work to protect all liberties except one – the liberty to do away with other liberties.
Distinguished colleagues, one issue that worries me deeply is the decline of our nation even in areas in which we once excelled. The reasons for this decline are not far-fetched. Corruption, sloppiness and tardiness in preparations, mismanagement, degradation and lack of maintenance and vandalization of national assets, absence of rigour and thoroughness in planning – these, and more, are the reasons for the rot. Perhaps no singular event reflects our current attitude to things, and exemplifies our decline, as the fiasco of Nigeria’s participation at the recently concluded 2012 London Summer Olympics. You will recall that our contingent failed to win a single medal in the games. Our fortunes are even more dismal in football, which is a national pastime, and a great unifying factor.
This should not surprise you, Distinguished colleagues. Afterall, the National Stadium, Abuja, our supposed symbol of sporting excellence, was recently discovered to be decrepit, overtaken by weeds and reptiles. What is surprising, and very worrisome, is that our psyche is beginning to accept this malady as normal. Ordinarily, such an appalling state of affairs ought to have been followed by voluntary resignations, or mass purges. But nobody has resigned, and nobody has been fired! Distinguished colleagues, there is no doubt that a drastic overhaul of our sports administration is long overdue.
It is heartwarming, however, that the tale has not been defined entirely by gloom. Almost unexpectedly, and just as we were about to yield to despair, a glimmer of hope appeared. Thanks to our gallant and patriotic paralympians whose exploits at the just concluded London Paralympics, have buoyed the national spirit. Defying physical challenges and often chaotic preparations, these matadors soared, and left millions of our countrymen and women once more beaming with pride. Their heroism reminds us of the old Nigerian spirit of tenacity, of endurance, of perseverance and of excellence.
On the issue of the proposed introduction of N5,000 notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), we listened to the raging submissions of distempered advocates on both sides. Yesterday, the matter was exhaustively debated in this chamber. With sagacity and accustomed wisdom, the Senate resolved that the President should direct the CBN to stop the issuance of the N5,000 notes and all matters connected therewith in consonance with the wishes of Nigerians.
Those who manage the national economy cannot afford to chase shadows while the economy is in the doldrums. What Nigerians expect, and deserve, is the introduction of fiscal and monetary policies that will create jobs, fix healthcare and infrastructure, and stimulate the economy.
I congratulate all those who were recently conferred with National Honours, especially distinguished Senators. It is gratifying that our nation has recognized your sacrifices and contributions to nation building.
Distinguished Colleagues, I thank you all for your past sacrifices, and trust that you are braced for even greater sacrifices. History teaches that there is no challenge that a nation cannot overcome through sacrifice, faith, patriotism, determination and constructive compromise.
As has happened in the past, through our prayers, sacrifice and dedication, the arc of our history will once more bend away from anarchy and turbulence, towards freedom, justice and national rebirth.
Distinguished Colleagues, my bosses, with these few words, I welcome you back to this chamber.
Thank you and God bless!
Senator (Dr) David A. B. Mark, GCON, fnim
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE