NIGER SENATORS AND THEIR LOVE FOR CONTROVERSIAL BILLS

Criticisms have trailed the role of the three Senators representing Niger State at the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly. In this report, DANIEL ATORI writes about Senator Bima Enagi from Niger South, who wants generating sets banned; Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, Niger East, sponsor of Social Media Bill, and Senator Abdullahi Sabi Aliyu, Niger North, with the Anti-hate Speech Bill

T

he award-winning Nigerian playwright, Ola Rotimi must have been a futurist when he took a comic swipe at ideological misfits and opportunists who strut the ever-accommodating political landscape of contemporary Africa, when in 1977, and wrote the comedy “Our Husband has Gone Mad Again.”

Just like the former military Major, Lejoka Brown in the play who took to politics with motives far more to do with vanity than patriotism, and his attempts to adapt to a situation he hardly comprehends, these three senators from the Power State when compared to their predecessors, late Dahiru Awaisu Kuta who proposed the Hydroelectric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPPADEC) Bill, Hajia Zainab Kure who stood firm and championed women and youths related issues and Nuhu Aliyu Auna are nothing but inconsiderate in their proposals.

These three lawmakers representing Niger State in the Senate have caused more public uproar against the National Assembly than the remaining 106 senators in the 9th Senate and their states.

Public analysts believe that the APC senators from the same state have put the 9th Assembly in a state of ridicule and have attracted wide criticisms against the present Federal Government.

They have equally been accused of portraying Nigeria wrongly as a repressive and barbaric country through the bills they’ve sponsored by people in the state.

The people of Niger State who are supposed to be beneficiaries of campaign promises made have frowned at, and reacted angrily to the three proposed bills which have been termed controversial.

While Nigerlites are urging these lawmakers to pass Bills that will better the economy of the country, protect citizens and property, the nation’s highest lawmaking body, the Senate are preparing laws that are laughable and meaningless.

An analyst in Minna, Isah Abdullahi said: “These senators are embarrassing us. How can they propose bills that will make it possible to sentence to death by hanging anybody convicted of spreading hate speech?

“They are selfish in their proposals; they did not even consult with their constituencies, let alone following the trend of things in the country and even the state. What better Bills have they proposed to better the people they are representing?”

An APC member in the state, who did not want his name mentioned, said: “The reason we are facing these kind of embarrassment is because some of them came as a result of automatic ticket and whereas those who are concerned about national and state issues are left in the lurch.”

A civil servant, who only gave his name as ‘Shuaibu’, said: “These lawmakers should focus on HYPPADEC and stop proposing bill for nonsensical things. Why can’t they propose bill for emergency funding and immediate take off of Baro Port?”

One of the bills currently before the Senate is seeking to ban the importation and use of generating sets (generators) in the country, which is anticipated to curb the menace of environmental pollution. The Generating Set (Prohibition/Ban) Bill, 2020 (SB.366) was read the first time at plenary Wednesday in the Senate.

The Bill is sponsored by the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Muhammed Enagi Bima, All Progressives Congress (APC), Niger South.

Whereas, stable power supply in Nigeria and indeed Niger State the ‘Power State’ continues to be a challenge, the sponsor of the bill led the debate at penultimate Wednesday’s plenary in the upper chamber of the National Assembly in Abuja and it has passed first reading.

The lawmaker said: “This bill seeks to ban the importation and use of generating sets (generators) in the country and to curb the menace of environmental pollution which leads to potential health hazards it poses to the whole nation. The bill prescribes a 10-year jail term for importers and sellers of generators.”

The bill seeks to prohibition/ban on importation  and sale of generating sets by anyone stating that violators shall be guilty of an offence and be liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not less than 10 years.

The ban/prohibition of generating sets shall not, however, include generating sets used for essential services which include medical purposes (hospitals and nursing homes and healthcare facilities), airports, railway stations/services,  elevators (lifts), escalators, research Institutions, and such facilities that require 24 hours electric power supply. However, he said small generating set for domestic use shall be excluded from the ban.

Enagi argued that he was moved to sponsor the bill after seeing the high number of generating sets imported into the country daily, along with over nine companies importing such generators, arguing that should these co-exist with the nation’s poor public power supply, the country would never solve its power problem.

Currently, the Nigeria is battling with power distribution problem, and the DISCOs have been incapable of distributing the about 13,000 megawatts available because of dearth of power infrastructure. Only about 4,000 megawatts of power are distributed to the country’s 200 million population.

While the bill has been proposed “to facilitate the development of the power sector,” Nigerians say maybe the power sector should be developed first before generators are banned.

Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode on his Twitter handle said: “The senator that sponsored the  

Bill to ban generators in Nigeria and send those that sell or use them to jail must be … He ought to be tied up, placed in a straight jacket, put in a strong sack filled with weights and dropped in the deepest and darkest part of the Atlantic ocean!”

Reacting to the proposed Bill, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) and the Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria (ASBON) warned that the move to ban importation and sale of generators in the country will kill many small businesses that rely on generators for operation.

The Director-General, NECA, Dr. Timothy Olawale, described the move as crude while reacting to the bill for an act to criminalise the importation, sale and use of generators in Nigeria.

In his own reaction, the President, ASBON, Dr. Femi Egbesola, said the move was laughable, as the power sector in the country still remained epileptic and businesses could not rely on it for their production and service activities.

He said what the lawmakers should be concerned about was how to fix power and making laws that would create an enabling environment to make businesses thrive and not further stifle it”.

Also, it should be recalled that on November 12, 2019, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, a lawmaker of the ruling All Progressives Congress Party (APC) representing Niger North and the current Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, presented to the chamber, “A Bill for the Establishment of the National Commission for Prohibition of Hate Speech.”

The bill was widely criticised and at that time, it was glaring that Nigeria legislators were preparing the legislation that could mean the death sentence for anyone found guilty of hate speech. This also contemplated new media laws that have earned it the accusation of trying to curtail free speech.

Former Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism in Niger State, Mr. Jonathan Vatsa, condemned the bill seeking the death penalty for anyone convicted of ‘Hate Speech’, saying “you cannot stop people from expressing their freedom of speech.”

Vatsa, a former spokesman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the state, wondered why the APC controlled Senate would ever contemplate what he called an “unpopular bill”, criticising the party for riding to power in 2015 on the waves of hate speech.

A Nigerlites from Bosso LGA, Jeremiah Iliya said “our Senatorial District is worst hit by bandits in Niger State but all these are secondary to Senator 313, he is more interested in the Anti-Social Media Bill.

“As I am speaking, five students and a teacher of a community school who have been kidnapped for the past two weeks are yet to be freed, but no word from neither him, nor his colleagues Senator Sabi Abdullahi Aliyu or Senator Bima.”

Speaking also, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Yahaya Mohammed Usman said: “These senators are very funny. The recent bill is surprising. Do you know that thousands of people are living in schools as IDPs? Unfortunately, that is not their priority, their  headache is how to ban free speech and generator.

“Niger State owns most of the hydro power dams in Nigeria, contributing over 750MW to the national grid but can’t get 100MW and so the people sleep in darkness, small businesses are as good as dead. Even theatre operations are done at the IBB Specialist Hospital, using light from mobile handset when power goes off during operation.”

The controversial Social Media Bill by Senator Sani Musa, christened ‘the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019’, was introduced in early November 2019.

The bill which has already scaled through second reading at the Nigeria Senate has been widely criticised by Nigerians, with many saying it was a plot to stifle freedom of expression in the country.

Recently, the senator said he did not consult anyone before introducing the controversial social media bill, stating: “When I conceived this bill, I did not consult with anybody.” A tweet on the Nigerian Senate’s handle quoted Musa to have said during a public hearing on the bill in Abuja, “I have been in social media for the past 15/17 years and I know the impact.”

Furthermore, Yahaya Mohammed Usman said the senators parade themselves as billionaires with no visible businesses to show in Niger, and when people ask questions they are rattled.

He added that the senator whose only wish is to pass a draconian bill that will gag the press and free speech, only want to protect the rich and powerful against criticisms and accountability.

From all indications, the bills are unsettling and are not in the interest of the public. In particular, while the Anti-Hate Speech and Social Media bills violate constitutional provision of freedom of expression, it has been argued that Nigeria’s statute books contains more than enough laws to regulate defamation of character.

The lawmakers are accordingly advised to focus on people-oriented and developmental bills, while they consult widely on needs of their constituents and legislative assistants to better the lot of Nigerians.