WELCOME BACK SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY (DR.) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, CON, TO SENATORS OF THE 8TH SENATE ON RESUMPTION FROM THE 2017 END OF YEAR RECESS ON TUESDAY, ON JANUARY 16, 2018.
1. Distinguished colleagues, it is a privilege and an honour to welcome you all back to work as we embark on the legislative endeavour that will define our country in the year 2018.
2. Let me take this opportunity to wish you – my distinguished colleagues, your families and all Nigerians – a happy new year. I am not unmindful of the sobering fact that the new year has met many citizens in a reflective mood. Many were on the queue for petrol; many households are grief-stricken. This mood of reflection is also one from which no lawmaker is immune; what affects one, affects all. When one part of the body is hurting, the whole body hurts, and this holds true for the entire nation.
3. We have all been witnesses to the hardships with which many Nigerians saw in the new year, stuck on fuel queues tailing from petrol stations in many of our cities. It has been disheartening to see, especially during the festive period when Nigerians should have been enjoying carefree time with their loved ones, with enough petrol in their tanks to make that cherished journey to the various hometowns.
4. We, as representatives of the people, feel the pain of the people. Things being the way they were, we could not but respond to the crisis. I therefore had to direct members of the Senate Investigative Panel on Fuel Scarcity cut short their recess to commence hearings into the lingering problem; and that work is ongoing. I commend the committee for their prompt response and the work carried out.
5. We seek the cooperation and understanding of Nigerians as we try to get to the bottom of this issue. My own estimation of the fuel scarcity phenomenon is that it is man-made. We thought we had left the problem of fuel queues firmly in the past in this country, but sadly, that appears not to be the case. In any event, there is a problem, and it must be solved. We await the findings of the Investigative Panel on Fuel Scarcity, firm in our resolve that whoever is responsible must pay the price for visiting this needless hardship upon our people.
6. Distinguished colleagues, you will agree with me that even more sober reflection attends the killings in some parts of the country, particularly recent tragic events in Benue State. We condemn these killings in the strongest terms, and we declare that mindless bloodletting has no place in our society. I offer our sincerest condolences to the people of Benue, and indeed to all who have suffered the loss of their loved ones as a result of these wanton acts.
7. Human life is sacred. We state without equivocation that Nigerian life must become sacred. When we fail in our duty to protect Nigerian lives, it is a tragedy and an indictment on us all. We as the 8th Senate stand ready to help find solutions to assuage the hurt to affected parts, to bring the perpetrators to justice and to enthrone peace in all four corners of this country.
8. Let me state that the 8th Senate is disturbed by these unfortunate incidents, and we have been for some time. We were concerned enough to have inaugurated the Ad-Hoc Committee on Security in November of last year. And so it was that, with the shocking reports from Benue, Rivers and other places, the Security Committee members also cut short their recess to resume sitting, with a view to fast-tracking their investigations, in order to present an interim report for the Senate’s consideration immediately on resumption. I really must commend the committee for their swift action in this regard; and I am happy to note that the Interim Report is ready for the consideration of this chamber.
9. We are a people-oriented Senate, and I believe I speak for us all when I pledge that we shall continue to demonstrate similar dedication to our duties this year, as worthy representatives of the people who voted us into office.
10. Distinguished colleagues, the 8th Senate has continued its historic run, because by the end of 2017, we had passed 140 Bills over a period of 30 months. The landmark Economic Bills we passed, helped to propel the country’s emergence from recession, powering us upwards in the Ease of Doing Business Report. While the legislative feats of the year gone by shall go down in the annals of lawmaking in this country, what is also true is that we cannot lose momentum, nor can we afford to rest on our oars.
11. Going into the new year, I can only wish each and every one of us the best as we prepare for the task ahead. It is a crucial year. As you all know, this, in all probability, will be the last productive year before we go into the 2019 electioneering period. Not only is there a need to up the ante in terms of productivity, it is important we keep our eyes on the big picture. Let us not be caught in the political fray before due season. To each and every thing under the sun, its own time. This is Nigeria’s time. Let us devote ourselves to her service. It is therefore imperative that we speed up consideration on the various bills on which legislative work remains outstanding – particularly economic bills. Calling for similar attention are the other parts of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) related bills still to be passed, namely: the Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill and the Petroleum Host Community Bill.
12. Distinguished colleagues, it is my appeal to each and every one of us, that our legislative duty to Nigeria and her people, must be uppermost in our minds. We must not allow the upcoming 2019 elections to overshadow our work for the people that elected us – or distract us from that which we are mandated to do by the constitution and the trust reposed in us by the people.
13. This is my appeal: it is too early for 2019 politicking to override the legislative agenda and the larger work of governance. We have begun a good thing with the economic core of our agenda; let us see it to its proper conclusion. It would be most insensitive to the needs of the people of this country if we were to do otherwise. I am directing this appeal not only to us in the chamber but to the National Assembly as a whole, as well as to the Executive and indeed all political actors.
14. Distinguished colleagues, let me opine that 2018 will be defined by the collaboration between the two chambers of the 8th National Assembly as regards the number of items due for concurrence. We must work to build on the very cordial relationship between the two chambers as witnessed so far, and elevate the level of cooperation, for the benefit the people. To this end, I urge you all to reach out to our counterparts in the House, so that we can fulfil the lawmaking function in the most expeditious manner. This will help streamline the process – and clear the way for the passing of various legislations – making for improved synergy and joined-up working between the two chambers.
15. Currently, distinguished colleagues, there are two major ongoing issues before us – namely the Constitutional Amendment process and the 2018 Appropriation Bill. It is encouraging to see that the Assemblies in the States have already started work on the Constitutional Amendment; I urge us all to keep a keen eye on developments on that front. With regard to the 2018 Budget, let me take this opportunity to give a word of encouragement to the Committee as they work to ensure the proper conduct of the process.
16. Once more, my distinguished colleagues, we are a people-oriented Senate. Nigerians already have a measure of who we are, particularly through our interventions and engagement in areas such as Job Creation and Youth Empowerment, the Welfare of Nigerian Students Overseas, and the Drug Abuse Epidemic ravaging through Nigerian Communities. We will not relent in our efforts in these arears.
17. In conclusion, it bears reiterating that we cannot waste a moment of this year that rolls its boundless opportunities out for us. As the legislative arm of government, we must do everything we can to transform the developmental firmament of this country, to bring succour to the masses, and to leave our prints in the sands of time. There is really no other choice. The work is upon us. We can get it done.
18. I wish the entire members of this chamber – and indeed every one of our countrymen and women – a most productive and prosperous 2018.
Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, CON
THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA