SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY SENATOR ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI (CON), AT THE 11TH ANNUAL BUSINESS LAW CONFERENCE OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION- SECTION ON BUSINESS LAW
It is a great pleasure to be in your midst today. I’d like to take a moment to thank the organizers and also express my sincere gratitude for the invitation extended to me to be with you here today to speak on this very vital theme “Law and the Changing Face of Legal Practice”.
When I was invited by the NBA in 2015, I made the issue of the economy the central theme of my conversation with you. Today, once again, I come back with the same message. I remember calling on the NBA to come join hands with us the legislature into a new partnership to make the Nigerian economy great again. I am glad you heed to the call. Again, this is important because in our view a surviving democracy must be built around citizen’ participation, broad stakeholder engagement, deliberation and transparency.
The Nigerian Bar Association remains not just a stakeholder but one of the most critical voice of reason within our body polity. This is why we at the Senate have continued to seek out and engage you for advice and consultations on national issues. The role the NBA plays in shaping public perception and the opportunity it offers as a vehicle for promoting good governance have continued to grow. This is why when we opened up consultations and engagement with the private sector and the wider civil society on our legislative agenda which has been anchored on the economy, the NBA was one of our first port of call.
I remember the promise I made to you then in 2015 shortly after we took office, where I pledged that we will run a much more transparent National Assembly ready to protect our common wealth through effective lawmaking, oversight and representation. I called the NBA to partnership in our lawmaking role. I charged the NBA to come up with ideas on laws that would help us reform the economy and deepen our democracy. today, in partial fulfillment of that promise and the desire to deepen the democratic ethos of the National Assembly the 8th National Assembly is breaking down barriers to engagement and public scrutiny.
We have as a matter of deliberate policy put the daily plenary on the worldwide web for all to see and gain first-hand knowledge about the inner workings of the Assembly. We have for the first time in the history of the National Assembly uploaded our line by line budget to the public, subjecting our finances to greater openness. As part of this Open NASS initiative, the 8th National Assembly is today the first National Assembly to hold a joint public hearing on the budget as part of the budget approval process. Also, we are the first Assembly to deliberate and consider the full detail of the budget on the floor before passage. We are without a doubt the most civil society engaging National Assembly in the history of the consideration and approval of the federal budget. All of these we have embarked on to further strengthen and encourage the continuous interaction and mobilization of our people towards building a more virile people’s parliament.
We have continued to expand and push the bar of engagement ever farther. Today, the NBA-SBL and other private sector groups and the civil society are participating in the law-making process as we work through our economic priority bills by providing and engaging with relevant committees on technical advisory and support. This is another area where we have found very robust engagement and involvement with our private citizens. Aside the added advantage of enhancing the quality of the bills we pass, I am a firm believer that the laws coming out of the parliament must be owned by the people for it to have the value to change lives. Because law is a tool for social and economic re-engineering. Let me therefore use this opportunity to thank all of you in the NBA-SBL and the wider civil society that have so far participated in this process and offered us their expertise. The National Assembly is grateful for all your effort at ensuring that we build a new Nigerian economy. I hope that our timeous passage of the bills you have been involved with has encouraged you that we mean business and we are dedicated for more. For those who have not keyed into this lofty initiative, we extend our invitation.
The National Assembly is leading a new role to use legislative intervention as a mechanism for achieving economic reform. While the National Assembly has pursued economic reforms in the past, much of it had not been anchored on a solid legislative reform of the obsolete laws that guide economic exchanges. This has been the missing gap to sustaining meaningfully the economic policies of the past including the vision 2010, 20- 2020.
The current 8th National Assembly has placed premium on creating the right legal framework for empowering entrepreneurial development, building investor confidence on our economy and renewing our infrastructure base across board. On infrastructure alone, experts, including the minister of Budget and Planning that Nigeria will need about $3.05 trillion in the next 30 years in order to implement the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan, NIIMP. With the state of the revenue basket, it is clear that unless we are able to expand the financing base to incorporate other sources of funding and mobilisation we may not be able to meet our infrastructure target and reduce our deficit. Otherwise, health, education, water sanitation, security and other essential public services will continue to suffer.
This is why today, we have a framework for collaboration with the private sector, the civil society and the development partners where we can share ideas, engage and consult with one another towards innovative ideas that could help us expand the financing model for our infrastructure development and financing. I am here to say that I am proud that the NBA is a major player in this framework and that we are making tremendous progress so far.
The state of the Nigerian Economy as we met it is worrisome. With an estimated $900b infrastructure deficit, crude oil price falling down to $50-40 from a high of over $140. With a production level still hovering around 2m barrels and a Niger Delta region that remained fragile we had an economic scenario that was challenging. This is further exacerbated by the fact that in the mist of all of these, we had a none oil revenue base of less than 5% and oil was still accounting for over 40% of the federal revenue base. It is within this scenario that we are to create more jobs and stop people losing their jobs.
When we came on board we were confronted with the daunting task of creating jobs in an economy with over 13% unemployment. This administration was immediately faced with closing the infrastructure deficit gap of over $350b in an era of sharply dwindling revenue and high rate of divestment. We were confronted also with the need to stop restiveness, secure our peoples welfare, provide more opportunity for our youths on the street and raise their standard of living. This we had to do within the context of the shrinking economy struggling to meet with its recurrent obligations that we inherited. The only option was for government to keep borrowing which is unsustainable with very high negative repercussions on upcoming generations. As a forward-thinking legislature, we knew that we had to do something to ameliorate the challenge.
It was on this background that the Senate then decided to frame for herself a legislative agenda with the overarching objective to use legal reform as an enabler for modernizing the Nigerian economy for greater competitiveness and attractiveness for investment. Today, working together with the NESG, NBA and the ENABLE DFID Program and other partners under NASSBER. I am happy to report that the National Assembly is making steady progress towards a methodically legal reformation of the obsolete market laws we have. This is already signaling to the world that Nigeria is ready for business and global competition. Our policy drive is simple; to create jobs and enable SMEs for growth. The focus has significantly been on infrastructure mobilization, access to capital and credit and the reduction in the cost of doing business to encourage investment.
By the end of the second session of the 8th Assembly, we have successfully passed the following bills aimed at creating a modern Nigerian business environment including; The Electronic Transaction bill 2015, Bankruptcy and Insolvency bill 2015, the Credit Reporting Bill, The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Bill, the Independent Warehouse Regulatory Agency Bill and the Secure Transactions in Movable Assets Bill. The Companies and Allied Matters (Act) (CAMA) (Amendment) Bill and the Investment and Securities Act (ISA) (Amendment) Bill are today undergoing committee consideration. It is expected that with the passage of these bills together with others we will have a new Nigeria business regulatory environment that is pro innovation and business growth.
On infrastructure, we have put together 6 important infrastructure reform bills to help revamp our infrastructure. These include The Nigerian Railway Bill, The Nigerian Ports & Harbour Bill, The National Road Funds Bill, the National Transport Commission Bill, the National Inland Waterways Bill and the Federal Roads Bill. These laws draw from the experiences of other countries with similar demographics with Nigeria. Leaning heavily on enabling the participation of the private sector in the construction and maintenance of roads, railways and ports as well as their operations. The net effect will be more investment in the country, reduced pressure on the FOREX market and public funds will be channeled towards more governance oriented public services.
To put into context the economic implication of what we have done, two of our laws have been identified by World Bank to move Nigeria 40 points ahead in its indicators on ease of doing business, the Credit Bureau Systems Bill and the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Bill. In addition to reducing the cost of doing business, these two bills and the Warehouse Receipts bill will create new capital mobilization scheme for SMEs while also reducing the potential for non-performing loans.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Nigerian citizen is remarked worldwide for his industry. we have seen many advancement that Nigerians across the globe are achieving both in the field of innovation and technology and also in the most difficult areas of human endeavor. We therefore see no reason that the Nigerian petroleum industry is yet become a player in the global oil industry. But the reason is simple, the law on which the industry relies, is no longer an enabler of for efficiency, innovation and development. It has rather become very obsolete and incapable of solving the current problems facing the industry.
Today, after 17 years of trying the Senate has passed the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill the first of the two tranches of bills to reform the petroleum industry for competitiveness and efficiency. The implication of this bill is that will see a total reformation of the NNPC and the creation of a new and efficient Nigerian Oil Company. The derivable efficiency will stop in its track the level of corruption being associated with the NNPC today, it will free up more monies for governance and development that would impact positively on the people and give us a chance to play in the global oil market like other oil producing countries with their national oil companies.
One other major legislative intervention that the 8th Senate has pursued to date has been the review of the Public Procurement Act. The reason for this amendment is simple. We cannot be seeking the development of the economy without taken very positive policy action on the issue of patronizing those who have invested in our dear country. The Senate has made this a major plank of its legislative policy. The intended amendment is intended to compel government to patronize made in Nigeria goods, especially where these are very simple with adequate local capacity.
The goal here is to ensure that a substantial percentage of the N2.5 trillion set aside for capital expenditure in the budget is retained in the local economy and put in the pockets of our people. That is one of the ways to achieve wealth creation, create jobs, increase the GDP, encourage local industries to grow and stimulate increased productivity among our people. It is also our creative way of creating mass employment. We are drawing inspiration from other developed economies that had done the same thing. US did the same thing around 1922 with the Buy America policy promoted by the Herbert Hoover administration. China, South Africa and other countries also have similar laws.
In agriculture, we have target access to finance and policy stability as the key intervention areas. Here, the National Assembly has passed the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (Act) (Amendment) Bill 2016. The objective being to increase the band of the scheme and reduce bureaucratic bottlenecks hindering access to agriculture financing. We are at the moment working on a bill to ensure policy stability in this critical area of our economy. If there is anything we have learnt over the years about investment in the agriculture sector, it is that policy somersaults have made investment unattractive in this potentially rich sector of our economy. We are also pursuing monetary policy interventions with the CBN to reduce the cost of foreign exchange. We have just recently also met on the issue of the interest rate regime- a very sensitive and complex area but for which we think we must again creatively and deliberately look at to further bring down the cost of doing business in Nigeria.
On power, we are working closely with the Executive and key stakeholders to revitalize the power sector. The intervention here is multi-pronged at the policy levels and on the legislative side; we are working to empower mini-grids. I see light already at the end of the tunnel.
We have in the last month passed a new Customs & Excise Bill. The implication of this law for those familiar with the sector is huge. We believe that the law will bring significant stability, certainty, public participation and reduce too much discretion in the management of tariffs on goods. This is one highlight out of many that will affect doing business in Nigeria positively in the new custom regime that would follow when this bill is signed into law.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, these are all watershed legislative interventions in their own rights and represents what is possible when we work together dedicated to one vision. The cost implications are huge for doing business in Nigeria as you can now in the comfort of your couches and bedrooms get into and complete contracts both public and private electronically saving transport fairs, time spent, cost of papers and printing and storage by simply going electronic without fear over legitimacy and effectiveness. Our farmers and other small businesses will now be able to use their warehouse receipts to get loans and advances and owning a land will no longer be the only means of securing credit.
Our Vision going forward is that with the capital outlay and regulation it is expected that Nigeria will create 7.5 million jobs in the next 5 years owing solely to their infrastructure reforms.
To ensure a sound economy, our legal regime must be equally sound and provide an assuring platform for investors, entrepreneurs and businesses.
Gentlemen of the Bar, it is upon you who work with these legal instruments and on whom the business community and the courts will rely on providing the right advisory that will see to the realization of the full potential of these laws when signed into law. As you deliberate on your conference theme, it will be good to see the NBA develop new legal culture that will help promote these new laws for effectiveness. We will like to see new tools for better commercial contract development and enforcement, conflict management, private property protection and judicial protection and security of enterprise.
This is why our next steps in this ongoing reform will focus on investment securities and the enhancement of rights. Here, we will be working to modernize our intellectual property regime including copyrights, patents and designs and other systems that will help us ensure the safety of investors innovation, unique works and ensure that sharing and distribution of Nollywood movies and our people’s music products are done within the law and in such manner that enables them derive the benefits of their ingenuity. May I once again, urge the NBA-SBL to actively engage with us as we work through these issues to provide cutting edge and comprehensive legislative review on these issues and many more as we enter into the 3rd session of the 8th National Assembly.
On the issue of corruption, while we have continued to pursue this issue using our oversight scheme, and for which there has been remarkable success, we however, think that unless we innovate and apply smart technology we will not go too far. The 8th Senate is expanding its anti-corruption policy by empowering its committee to now receive corruption petitions. The National Assembly is also taken another look at the issue of expansive discretionary powers under our laws that may be contributing to make corruption fester. We would therefore want you to ponder on this and work with us to use law amendments and new legislative proposals to narrow corruption opportunities to the barest minimum.
Corruption is one area of our national life we cannot afford to play politics with. on the prosecution of cases, it is clear that there is a whole lot of more work to be done to ensure we succeed against corruption. The trend today with the cases we have seen play out indicates that a lot more work needs to be done to guarantee better outcomes. From the prosecution culture to capacity there is a need for thorough investigations to take precedence over media sensations. There may be need for better trainings and strategy building. Let me once again charge you as lawyers to help come up with your ideas on what legislative path we can take to help us close the gap.
I will not end this speech without referencing once again the critical role the NBA played in the outcome of the 2015 General Election and the need to ensure that we continue to improve upon what we have already achieved. It is for this reason, that the Senate recently passed the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill to further empower INEC as a neutral umpire and through technological adaptation reduce the corrupting human interface in the process to the barest minimum. It is our hope that this bill will soon be signed into law once it achieves concurrence in the House of Representatives.
It is our hope that since we have adopted these level of direct engagement with you, which has borne so much fruit so far, I hope then that our close and constructive relationship will continue to blossom and we will continue to gain from your insight and your observance of the spirit of these laws in the course of your legal work for the overall benefit of growing the Nigerian economy into a well-rounded and modern economy able to meet with the expectations and aspirations of the Nigeria of the 21st Century.
Let me therefore congratulate all lawyers and renew my call for us work even more closer to bring about an even better future for Nigeria.
I wish you successful conference. God Bless Nigeria.
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